A Book IS Its Cover

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I am not going to tell you at this moment how the two images above – baldness and fire – interlock in my new novel, you’ll just have to wait and see.

But after reading a really smart blog about how publishers must up their game on covers, I really started to ponder things. Why are covers so static? I’ve worked with art directors who loved to place one perfect little thing on the cover, put a frame around it and put it on a shelf. I called these art directors THE TURD BURGLARS. Doesn’t matter how pretty that art is, across the room it still resembled a tiny turd.

Yup, they gotta want to buy the book before they can read it. That’s where covers come in.

I am from the FULL BLEED SCHOOL of art direction, as you can tell by the covers on my site. Find an arresting image – often from the past – and blow it up large. That’s the FULL BLEED style and I love it.

I want cinema in every book I do. I just like it that way, I can’t help it. I never can afford the Frank Capra photos from Magnum Photos and it makes me sad.

Lately, as young graphic designers strut their stuff, lots of book jackets resemble writing on the ASIAN CAVE WALL. While very cool and no doubt pleasing to Plato and his Republic, I can’t figure out what it is telling me about the book. But I like it. Just one more thing to feel ambivalence over, I guess.

This smart blogger suggested covers that create huge emotion and action just out of range of the frame, in this case, the cover. Her example was the teary-eyed face of a girl in The Blair Witch Project. I must admit, I too wanted to know what was happening just out of the frame of that picture.

Book covers must generate a lot more excitement than their current state. Visual artists are needed as badly as tech experts. Because books are, by necessity, becoming more visual because of the internet (weird, right?), and they need to compete with the amazing level of images Americans are now used to and expect.

In this new world, why can’t book covers move? Why can’t an alternative ending, on film, begin as soon as you touch the link at the end of the novel? What would a little Tristan und Isolde do in the background as you read the last chapter? Why aren’t we playing with forms? Pushing more? Pissing more people off?

Oh, okay, I’ll guess I’ll just have to do it. 🙂

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PUBLISH. RUN.

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/Beth Wareham
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During some of my forays into publishing, I wasn’t prepared for the people that came after me with various questions and off-the-wall ideas. A young woman in Paris did her dissertation on a small humor book I wrote and sent reams of questions each week. How did she find meaning in the pages of that little mental fart? She did and I took her work as seriously as she did. I hope she got an A, or AH as it were. I don’t know what any of it meant, really.

I spoke at a conference and a woman there seemed to just want to follow and touch me. I’d smile, introduce myself and try to talk. She wasn’t having it. She just wanted to follow and touch. Follow and touch. When someone asked her if she had bought my book, I overheard her say, “she wrote a book?”

The real terror of old-fashioned publishing were the live call-in radio shows. I remember a guy – a first time author – who edited a book of famous writers talking about dogs. During his first question in his first interview for his first book ever, the disc jokey of a live radio show in North Dakota asked, “why do dogs lick their butts so much?” I could hear his tears behind their suppressed sniggers.

I got talked into a corner during a live radio show in Louisiana where a young woman on the phone came unhinged during our exchange. Seems her elderly neighbor had been conning her into during her laundry for months and her rage was at a break point. Maybe this wasn’t about the laundry but BOY was she upset. The host excused herself to make sure the young woman got the number of a hotline of some kind. I forgot what I talked to her listeners about while she was gone.

Don’t ever miss the “glamorous” days of publishing. It was weird and kinda dumb and the last thing anyone seemed interested in was the book. Famous writers would have to travel from city to city, going on local radio shows and chucking water balloons at commuters or passing out cookies at the door of a store.

Today, books are sold off samples and never before has the actual writing been more important. Thank God. I can sell it instead of talk to a woman who won’t talk back and keeps trying to touch me. It’s the way a book should be sold – like music – you hear or see a piece of it and want to buy it and explore it further and deeper.

I miss little about the days of yore and love the anonymity of the internet.:) I just can’t go to any more of those conferences.

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THE NEW TOOLS: Book-making’s Newest, Most Useful Widget…or Something

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I’m a black ops publisher. I named the company Shadow Teams so that authors would understand that we come in, camouflaged faces and knives between our teeth, find that manuscript and WiFi connection and make a book. Then, we float off in search of more writers in distress. Our website gets a lot of hits from Afghanistan.

Being a black ops publisher means you need the latest tools before they hit the streets. You need to be on them, assessing their use for your client, and tossing it in the “stupid” or “useful” bin, depending. A Shadow Team is always learning the secrets of the competition – except if it’s Sony Pictures. Then we run away, vowing to never do what they did.

That is one definition of “shadow team.” Another definition of “shadow team” has to do with Silicon Valley: You hire the entire team away from a competitor and get a huge chunk of corporate knowledge. We did that too.

The most difficult aspect of this black ops publishing company is selling books. Since the highly structured, hugely anachronistic publishing industry began to fall in 2007, retail possibilities for books have all but dried up. You either place your book in that cyberspace landfill known as “amazon” or you email it to your friends so many times, they buy it and never invite you over again.

Try gumroad.com Consider it our Holiday Gift to you. Pull your book out of the amazon ghetto. Add bonus value to your core readers. Bundle books. Change your content or advertising copy. Get paid directly.

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Tough Writer’s Manifesto: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Never Stop

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Richard Bach, author of that 20th century pop icon, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said a mouthful with “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard – who once let me fly his plane – would not like what I have to say about much of his writing. But his work on aviation is magnificent. He was also based in the same squadron as a really professional writer – one James Salter – during the Berlin crisis. Salter, author of A Sport and A Pastime, among others, never chose a wrong word in his life.

A tough writer, amateur or check-casher, doesn’t quit. A tough writer works through problems, wipes out pages, starts over. A tough writer knows how you can get inside a book and slip and slide in it, failing to accomplish much of anything. A tough writer understands the words “begin again.”

Below is some pretty interesting advice I’ve heard from authors and editors in a 20-year career in the larger publishing houses of New York. Some of it will depress you and some will set you free.

You must remember, though, that part of the extreme joy of reading and writing is the discovery of the new voice, seemingly from nowhere, who changes your point of view.

What you also must remember, sitting glumly at your keyboard, is that voice just might come from you:

TOUGH WRITERS MANIFESTO

1. No one is watching you.

The great Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Love and What I Wore, confessed that what she liked about writing was that nobody saw when she wrote a sentence like “She carried the steaming tureen to the table.” Allow yourself all the mistakes you need until it feels right to you.

2. Plan and destroy. Plan and destroy.

Map a plot. Change it. Flush out characters, modify, remove, add more. Throughout the process of putting a book together, you need the plan of a soldier who is ready to shift positions at any moment for a more effective line of attack. Rigid flexibility. Think on it.

3. Who are you writing for?

Too often, especially in non-fiction, authors are writing for peers. That’s fine, if you want to sell books to the 200 other forensic accountants in California. Who is your reader? Who do you see in your mind’s eye as you work on the book? Act accordingly. Don’t use technical words if you trying to reach the layman. Choose communication over showing off.

4. Feed a fever; Starve a cold

If you don’t believe in the muse, then you don’t believe in Faulkner, Mozart and Beethoven. Whole chunks of finished passages just appeared in their heads and the test was to write it down quickly enough they didn’t lose it. This is true of you as well. If you become deeply engaged in writing a scene, stay with it. Sitting down at a computer and doing 500 words a day is the drip, drip of sinuses disengaged from the passion of writing. Stop word counting and start throwing your soul into it.

5. Facts are not the truth.

In fiction, there are no facts but abundant truths. Since all writing is autobiographical to a degree, never got bogged down in the actually memory of a room or character. Remake them anew to meet the truth of what you are writing. You owe no one an explanation for your art.

6. Raw is good.

The closer you can get to the bone, the more you feel what you write, the more your reader will too. This is what Hemingway meant by his comment that being a writer was no big deal, you just sat down and bled on a keyboard all day. Readers know when they are being kept at arms’ length and most don’t like it. Bring them in to you and the story.

7. Detail isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything.

Every detail you choose should further your plot or give us more information about your characters and the “truth” of your book. Here’s a simple example of how you might or might not choose detail for a character:

Meyer’s suit was blue and his shoes were brown.

Meyer’s blue suit shined at the elbows, leading the eye downward to a pair of brown crepe-soled
work shoes.

Simple, right? And no one ever talks about the writer’s eyes; the painters get all that public relations.

8. Simple formulas make powerful books.

A) Tell your story from the beginning and end at the end. Simple. Never fails

B) Try the song form: A,B,A. Used for thousands of years, you can see this form best in a series
like Lord of the Rings: A is the Shire, B is the adventure, C is a return to the Shire with
lessons learned and evil vanquished.

9. Edit like Stalin.

Everyone, EVERYONE, uses too many words. Edit yourself ruthlessly. Any word that is not absolutely necessary to further your story should go. You owe this to your reader: don’t waste their time with overwriting. Proust covered that already.

10. Let the manuscript rest before final carving.

Polishing a manuscript brings up an interesting combination of anxiety and joy. You are close to a finished book. Give it that last read and polish it up. Remove the final unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Tighten descriptions. People will read it soon, thus the anxiety. People will read it soon, thus the joy.

Some will judge you positively, some might not. But somewhere, someone will read your book and it will change his or her life.

And that, my friend, is why you do it.

Stay tough.

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Hey Publishing: It’s About Something More

B2BJzW2IQAAq2Sn.jpg-largeby Beth Wareham

As a publisher spit out of the initial seizure of publishing-shrinkage, I bobbed around like a Styrofoam cup on the waves for awhile. I was angry at industry leadership for fixing prices, lying, lawyers getting all the money. Not writers. Not copyeditors. Not designers. Not agents. Not editors. LAWYERS. What did all this money do? Built an empty library, a room with no books, paper or otherwise. I doubt there were even desks.

Then I removed myself from the industry spin and really started thinking about what e-books meant. Sure, publishing CEOs Carolyn Reidy and John Sargent were testifying in front of Federal Judge Denise Cote with their fingers-crossed behind their backs about price-fixing but, on the other side of the globe (in all respects), the march toward an e-book world continued. Publishing was entrenched in a range war that did not change the fact human beings were afire with information. It was spreading fast and free.

These e-readers, for the first time in history, allowed you to carry the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in your hand. (Well, almost.) These e-readers can be taken where books cannot; down a river to a school, up the side of a mountain to a settlement, into a rural health clinic where mothers are giving birth.

All these e-readers need is to be loaded full of books – on mathematics, science, African novelists, politics, history AIDS, Ebola, conservation, history, medicine, farming, language, animal husbandry, accounting, business – and carried in, by visitors, so they make their destination. The generator charges the e-reader. Believe me, it is achievable now: We still have 30 boxes of kids’ books lost somewhere over the Congo.

Our first school for E-book Africa? Chiawa Basic. It sits atop a slope down into the Zambezi River: Children are lost to crocodiles each year when they go to get water. The former camp of the great “Dr. Livingston I presume” is around the river’s bend and his great Cathedral, built over the slave-fattening pit, is a little upriver. The town is tiny, beyond poor, riddled with AIDS, and beautiful beyond words.

Enter Cherri Briggs and Richard Wilson, owners of Explore Africa and two of the greatest micro-lenders in Southern Africa. They fought off Chinese mining companies and more than a few death threats while keeping their stretch of the Zambezi intact. They provided burials for the kids taken by crocs and eventually got water running up to the school.

Cherri and I started “Chicks for Chicks,” after a foolhardy bounce through Zimbabwe. These vertical chicken farms (watch your predators!) were given to women to create small family businesses. A huge fish farm was dug in the African bush. The restaurants in the capitol of Lusaka are now full of their foods, bought for a fair price.

Cherri and Richard started cracking the code of Africa graft: Go around the NGO and straight to the Village Chief and Elders. When the Chief saw his first e-reader, there were moments of confusion that it toasted something. Then the words sprang up and he shouted. Cherri and Richard knew he knew he was holding magic in his hands. In seconds, the village pushed in on him and they didn’t stop pushing buttons and flipping pages for hours. E-book Africa was on.

So, we begin to our gather of the first 20 e-readers for Africa, Chiawa Basic School, Zambia. We are not teachers and will need huge amounts of help with the books we load. We feel the weight of our task and do not want to choose the wrong words for lives given so little at the start. http://www.shadowteams.com/#!e-book-africa/c22up

Me? I’m still a bit of a Styrofoam cup inside myself, but the work on E-book Africa is helping me fall in love with all of life’s work again. I started a publishing services company, edit a wild range of gifted writers that a publishing company wouldn’t let through the front door, and I write my own books again.

Most importantly, when I got away from the anger and hysteria of publishing, I started to read again and feel the edges of that joy starting to return. I can’t wait to get to Chiawa Basic School in Zambia with those first set of e-readers loaded with intellectual loot. I can’t wait to watch those kids watch us put everything together and then pass them their e-reader.

On their faces I’ll see it, that thing I lost. The words. The possibility. The future. The magic.

Like all givers, I am the one that wins: I need their joy to help bring me back to mine.

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Stuck? Walk Away. #amwriting

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I have heard and read so many discussions about writer’s block, it feels like the commercial about “Going and Going” that air on all three network news broadcasts each night.

Creativity, being a function of your brain, is mysterious. Maybe it’s best to have the same respect (or nearly) for it as you do for love.  I’ve read so many books about creativity that I’ve come to the conclusion that no one else understands it either.  Without it, life is grim.

Science, however, has an explanation. In Dr. Herbert Benson’s The Breakout Principle, he talks about how creativity can be triggered by repetitive movement such as jogging, knitting, yoga, sewing, meditation, golf.  The repetitive motion releases chemicals in the brain.  These are the chemicals that allow different parts of the brain to communicate and make creative leaps and comparisons. It’s on.

The worst thing you can do, in other words, is to sit at the computer watching cat videos or go to dinner parties and bray at your friends that you have writer’s block.

Go fold laundry, run, sit in the bathtub, read to a kid. Release your mind from the struggle at the machine and let it solve the creative problem in its own mysterious way. It just might fall into you brain fully-formed and seemingly from nowhere.

Feed your creativity. It goes with you everywhere. Like a blue stool.

 

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Cured of Hoarding in One Purchase

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I have heard a lot of reasons why humans love books. The love of story is probably the best one. I also like the philosophical idea that a book represents time as it will take you time to read it. The more books you have, the more time you have. Have a lot of books, live forever.

We build special shelves for them, stack them atop one another in a column that reaches the ceiling, pile them beside the bed. They shout, “we’re smart! We read!” to all visitors. We may have read some or all of them. The real answer is probably more like one or two.

Humans love to hoard books. It is more acceptable than gathering large numbers of say, cats or ironing boards, in the same room. It is acceptable stock-piling. It’s kinda weird.

41DjGgGH-5L._AA160_I, too, was once a hoarder of books. I have bought and not read so many of them, I should be on a booksellers’ Hall of Fame list somewhere. I would squat in dingy corners of Half-Priced Books trying to find the 20 I needed that week to live. I would read three or four and feed off the paper molecules of the rest. I was hungry and young and my brain was so needful.

A year ago, I approached one of my piles and pulled up an old favorite. I held it in my hands lovingly, remembering when I bought it. I ran my hand across the cover, smiled, opened the book slowly and a big fat centipede fell out. In New York City. Technology and nature had reached a tipping point in my life.

Kindle Paper whiteWith centipede disgust, I ordered my first e-reader. It arrived and I loaded it with a couple of books, tentatively, like they might explode. I put the reader in my bag. Now, what I loved to hoard – books – could be taken with me EVERYWHERE. It was like I had a Sears shed for my own special hobby and no one could come in and bother me. This e-reader was an anti-boredom machine that would make any journey bearable. The world can do what it wants: I’m gonna read.

Much of the dust-centipede breeding ground has been removed from my house. My allergies are better and I found my first husband, dead, under a pile of coffee table books. It was expected, but still sad.

On your reader, you create your own library, your secret world where your brain can play out of sight. On your reader, you can go anywhere and do anything without the paralyzing fear of not having the RIGHT book to read. On your reader, you have the tools to journey further and further into the world, taking your essentials with you. Sometimes with e-reader in hand, I feel like I’m a rocket ship, able to travel a long long way.

On your reader, you

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build a part of your life and take it with you, drawing on its strength as needed. Sure, I’ve got 237 titles on my Kindle – all stock-piled with glee – but the difference is no one can see and I, like all hoarders, feel better just knowing Euripides is there.

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MARILYN MONROE READING

images-1                                      By Beth Wareham

(With thanks to feminist biographer Oline Ealon for the title.)

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I have a thing for Arthur Miller. Yup, “Attention must be paid!” Arthur Miller, Mr. Death of a Salesman himself. I can’t explain this crush; his glasses were too large. He was from Harlem, seemed like he knew gangsters, talked like a tough guy, WAS a tough guy and wrote great plays. His creative leap between Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee and the Salem Witch trials in The Crucible was breathtaking. His appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee more so.

His wife, Marilyn Monroe, was by his side as he testified. I never really did see what he saw in her. Not really. All pouty wet lips and whispers. Seemed to me that Arthur would like somebody who pushed back, somebody hyper-real.

Marilyn was all pink bubbles to me, impossible to visualize as the wife of a man like Miller, until, that is, I read about the 430 books catalogued in her library at her death. (Thanks, Booktryst.com)

Holy moly.

I’M IN LOVE WITH THE NERDY MARILYN MONROE.

The list is long and strange and exciting. Zola, Proust and Moliere lived with Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers, one of my favorites.) The poetry section was huge, as were books of prayer and spirituality. Goodness Has Nothing to Do with It by Mae West sat by Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds. She read many plays as well as the ancients: Lucretius, Plato, Aristotle. I list below the books that Marilyn owned and read that I owned and read and loved. And if you don’t love her for her taste in literature, you’ll love her for another title in her library: Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson.

That Marilyn, she had it all.

(Click on title to buy book.)

1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Lady Brett Ashley, love triangles, and the running of the bulls in between the great wars in Europe.

2. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Four books, written between 1957 and 1960, exploring modern love in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.

3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
You know of this beautifully written book about the sad man with all the money: it’s America.

4. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
There was good reason James Bond went to film. You’ll find out why here.

5. The Fall by Albert Camus
Jean Paul Sartre’s great frenemy leaves us guessing with The Fall, his most challenging, mysterious work. Camus was in the Resistance against the Nazis, Sartre was not. Rancor ruled.

6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Here are the joys, secrets and strangeness of a small American town in the hands of a master.

7. The Little Engine That Could by Platt and Monk
Who couldn’t use a little “I think I can” everyday of their life. Her copy had a childlike MM scrawled on it and no doubt took the 36-year journey through life with her.

8. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s cornflower blue eyes saw it all, including this story of one kind of love turning into another.

9. The Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
From the woman who said, “what fresh hell is this?” Dorothy Parker’s sharp tongue and command of language never cease to amaze.

10. The New Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer*
A huge all-purpose cookbook, this is America at the supper table with Irma at the head, issuing orders in her no-nonsense voice. Marilyn used the 1952 edition, no doubt.

*This was long before I edited an edition of this book. Marilyn clipped recipes, wrote notes in the margins of cookbooks and cooked. I wish she’d marked her favorites.

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WRITING’S 5 RULES OF ORGANIZATION

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by Beth Wareham

This title is utter nonsense aimed at “I need to write another blog list.” There are no rules of organization in writing. Actually, there aren’t as many rules as you’d think in writing. There are just writers without the talent to break the rules and make it work. The rule breakers who make it work are usually called “geniuses.”

When writing a book of any length, it is easy to get lost in plot, idea, side discussion, subplot. Don’t get lost in anything. Your job as the writer is to DRIVE:

1. At the end of each day’s writing, make notes of what you want to accomplish the next day. That’s what Hemingway did and I’m just passing it along. It sure worked for him.

2. Make extensive notes about character and stick to your own rules. Don’t let a character slip out of voice or contradict their earlier appearance. Be consistent.

3. Books have a beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget to write an ending. (See Donna Tartt’s second book, The Little Friend)

4. Always have your reader in your mind’s eye. Describe him or her to yourself and pin that description where you can see it as you work. That’s who you are trying to reach with every word you choose. If you start selecting words to show off your big vocabulary, you’ve missed the whole point of writing.

5. Know your own focus. If it takes you a long time to get back into the story after the doorbell rings, go write in a completely silent place. Give your talent the right environment to thrive.

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