DON’T GO IT ALONE: AMAZON IS LIKE GETTING BITTEN TO DEATH BY DUCKS

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/Beth Wareham

Of course I’m prejudiced: I have a digital publishing/tech company with a very old-fashioned business model: For one agreed-upon fee, a client receives every service he or she needs to make an ebook and paperback. We build the electronic presence around the book it needs to succeed. We are also responsible for every word in the books. In perpetuity. We’ve done the editing and proofing and have the tech experts to go in and make every change. In perpetuity.

Now, let’s paddle on over to amazon and see how they are handling the explosion in independent publishing. Looks kind of like ducks nibbling for bugs in the grass. For $199, you can pick from one of any ten interior designs for your book. You plunk your beloved manuscript in the template you choose and BAM!, any change you make will cost $79 per change.

If you want something a big jazzier, there is a template level of ten designs for $349 with 10 interior images. More photos – up to 30 on this template – will cost $25.00 per photo for each addition picture. The math on that one is easy.

There are charges for formatting author-supplied indexes, an adjustment to a template, conversion from Createspace to Kindle, a cover design package with one choice and and one change, and a higher package that supplies the writer with two concepts and two changes for not cost. Any more changes to the cover revert the the $79.00 a change charge, I assume.

My goodness. Was the internet merely a way to hasten the death I always felt awaited me when I worked in corporations – that of being bitten to death by ducks? This time, the nibbles are small costs that end up in one big pile of duck poo on your dock and a book that looks like hundreds of thousands of others.

The most shocking part of all this is that I’ve worked in publishing for 25 years and HAVE NEVER seen a manuscript completely error-free, no matter how many eyes ogled it. (Even The Great Gatsby suffered a typo in that first printing: Find one and you win the lotto.)

So I wonder, if I have 18 changes in a book I’ve worked on for years, in amazon’s world, I have to pay over $1,400 to have my book corrected?

More duck poo. I say that you can’t parse this kind of an artistic endeavor down in that fashion, and, as much as I love amazon, these “change fees” might have writers choosing between putting dinner on the table and making their work finer.

That is one crappy choice. Do yourself a favor: find a team to help you publish and you stay on your keyboard, making more art. It’s cheaper in the long run and you won’t have that icky “bitten to death by ducks” feeling.

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Chop Chop Writers

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by Beth Wareham

www.shadowteams.com
So, this meat clever is kinda scary. Blood. Animal? Human? Ha!

This is writer’s blood. From the way the red rises in the middle of the cleaver, forensics tell us someone was killing whole paragraphs. (Little splatters on the end suggest adverb and adjective removal.) Consistent smears along the blade tells us it was a sentence hunting mission. CSI for Writers: The Cleaver Tells All.

Every writer must be a ruthless editor, meat cleaver worn on a tool belt as he or she types. This editing is one of the hardest aspects of writing – we all think our words should be carried around on little velvet pillows – and that thought often embarrasses you later when you have an overwritten, indulgent book no one wants to read.

So, in a wildly simplistic list, here are the things your clever should do for you to progress in your life as a writer:

1. Adverbs and adjectives: CLEAVER THEM. AS MANY AS POSSIBLE.

2. Vary sentence length for dramatic affect. Consider these two scenarios:

“Walter walked in the back door, throwing his jacket to the floor, and commenced his feral wandering from room to room, beer in hand, waiting for a child or slow moving aunt to verbally ambush.”

“The door slammed. Walter threw his coat on the back of the chair. He immediately walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out his customary beer, and began to pace the first floor of the house. The living room was empty as was the front porch. He really wanted someone in his family to appear so he could burn off some of his darker feelings.

3. Don’t go down alleyways. Writers have curious minds and it is easy to write yourself off course. The cleaver must come out if you go on, say, a two page chat about derivatives in a South American love story. Stay on story or it’s the cleaver for you.

4. Don’t say the same thing in a bunch of different ways. We all assume a writer has the skills to tell us a story using different devices. Have enough faith in yourself to pick one story and tell it the way you want to….no hemming and hawing.

5. Write a book of appropriate length. You are writing in the age of the internet, not the 19th Century when entertainments were a bit slower moving. Keep it tight. Test yourself. Use the poet’s skill of distilling words to write prose. Practice writing short on twitter. Write to your time. Word selection is the 21st Century game of the highest importance. Just look at Search Engine Optimization. 🙂

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Rejection: A Case Study for Writers

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-Beth Wareham

Getting through the layers of agents and editors used to be the great head-bangers ball for writers. With as many opinions as there are interns, most books are DOA in the mail room. They sit there, they slowly move upstairs, an assistant opens them and puts them in a big pile, an editor assigns the first read to a younger editor, an assistant or even unpaid help. Someone doesn’t read far enough, doesn’t understand the history or context, spills their Starbucks on the manuscript. The agent calls and inquires as to how the editor liked it. The editor has not yet seen it and around we go.

Helplessness. The creative’s helplessness in the face of the publishing machine has always been a monumental problem. The arrogance of one side and the sheer powerlessness of the other made publishing toxic. The new world order is changing this and books now go straight into production at the author’s behest. They go on sale that way as well. Publishers now approach authors that have broken the sales code in hopes of hitching their wagon to a self-publishing star.

If this new world leaves questions in your mind, I offer a look into the rejection of some of the great writers who came before you. If they could take it, so can you.

16 literary agents and 12 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, was turned down by 14 agents until an employee at Writer’s House picked it up out of the slush pile. That employee now has a job for life.

Alex Haley’s Roots had 200 consecutive rejections and went on to be an international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize Winner, showing American publishing that black people DO buy books.

Mom, a Bloomsbury editor, wanted to reject a book, but her 8-year old daughter insisted she get to finish reading the manuscript about a kid named Harry Potter.

Agatha Christie received editorial rejection letters for 5 years until her first acceptance. She is second in sales only to William Shakespeare.

Louis L’Amour read 200 letters telling him he couldn’t write until Bantam Publishing disagreed. One letter from an editor said, “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” With Bantam, he published 330 million books.

Richard Bach was famously jeered at for his little book about a seagull. Turned down by every publishing company at least twice, a young female editor interested in flying picked up the book and Jonathan Livingston Seagull flew out.

When “Chicken Soup for the Soul” made the rounds of publishing houses, the overwhelming response was “no one reads anthologies.” I mean, I just don’t know what to say about how wrong that is.

When Random House rejected his first novel, The Long Walk, he shelved it and began again. Stephen King got a contract on his next book.

So, writerly-types, the world is getting better. Tons better. It is even HARDER to get inside a publishing company these days, but I think you will find less and less reason to do so as the world develops.

#amwriting

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

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/Beth Wareham

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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Stuck? Walk Away. #amwriting

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/Beth Wareham

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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5 Tips on Revenge in Writing

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/beth wareham

Here are simple ideas for taking revenge into your writing, always a satisfying event, even if no one else reads it. Here are 5 easy ways to get back at people who have wronged you AND have some fun as you sweat and swear over your keyboard:

1. Base odious characters on odious people you know. Give them the same names.

2. Have these odious characters have sex. In unusual ways. A sense of place is good here too.

3. When the book is published, yell “you’re in my book!” as you run past everyone you meet, smiling and waving. You’ll make a lot of sales, I’m sure.

4. Tell your family they cannot read the book before it is published. Do not tell them it is a history of Napoleon’s most successful military campaigns. Watch their faces fall on publication day.

5. Give your book to people at public moments to make them look awkward. If we learned anything from the late Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, it’s that. Remember when he slipped Obama his book during a conga line of handshakes at a G-13 summit? Hilarious.

The next time I publish a book, I want a special laminated bookmark of me, naked, as the promotional piece. It’s just what so many deserve.

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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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10 NO-FAIL GIFTS FOR FOODIES

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10 NO-FAIL FOODIE GIFTS  by Beth Wareham

My business partner and I share a background heavy in food preparation. She is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu. Not some soft U.S. outpost; she trained in Paris. Huge Frenchmen screamed at her and her pastry. She got butter in her hair.

Hey, everybody has to scratch an itch and, if your hands are smeared with flour and fat, you have little recourse but to smear some around. At night, she’d wash it off and call the States, enraged: “I’m gonna get that Frenchman,” she’d tell her little brother. No tears. No trembling behind the door of the walk-in larder. Just thoughts and plots of revenge.

My experience in food preparation covered 20 years as a cookbook editor, with three editions of the Joy of Cooking notched into my pencil plus chefs Daniel Boulud and Bobby Flay. (I LOVE Bobby Flay. I fought off endless urges to buy him fleece. I thought the warm kitchens would take care of it.) Al Roker was in there somewhere with barbecue and, when I think of recipes from The Herb Farm outside Seattle, my taste glands activate.

I’m forgetting at least 25 other chefs and cookbook authors I edited, perhaps on purpose. I know what makes a great recipe and I know one that won’t work within 3 seconds of looking at it. Food and bullshit often go hand in hand.

My partner and I rarely cook now. I’ll do a steak over an open fire and she’ll throw lobsters into boiling water, but that’s about it. Maybe this is our revenge: Simplicity. But if we do host a party or take food to someone, we’ll strut our stuff like the high-stepping, high-achieving women we are. Tell me, kid, ever de-boned a chicken? That’s hot Cougar talk.

Below is a list of cookbooks that, should my partner and I ever encounter them in your kitchen, we’d lean in to each other and whisper “real deal,” as we moved past on the tour of your house. These books are cornerstones of the world’s great cuisines. These books will, if you let them, explore a whole culture through the entryway of their food, a place where family, society and spirituality often meet.

These books are the equivalent of a cooking school course and look into a culture, without the screaming Frenchman and the butter:

1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

This book is so famous it seems silly to write about it. It blew into the American consciousness in the 1960s and had housewives preparing 7-course French meals for the boss and his wife. Julia trained an entire generation of magnificent chefs as they sat in front of the television in their diapers, watching her magic and dreaming of future meals.

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2. The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfort

Twenty years or so ago, America discovered the Mediterranean diet and the books haven’t stopped coming since. A particularly healthy cuisine – tomatoes, fish,olive oil, citrus, raw garlic, vegetables, grains – the flavors are sunny, timeless, and satisfying and no one has ever done it better than Paula Wolfort.

 

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3. Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

I get a lot of phone calls looking for writers to do new Indian cookbooks for the expanding Indian culture in the United States. I always say the same thing: “Why do you need something more than Julie Sahni?” Many don’t know who she is and I suggest if you love Indian food, you get to know her. These complex ancient dishes are brought to life in a simple, vibrant style any cook can master.

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4. The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy

I stand by this statement until the grave: Most Mexican cookbooks steal wildly from Diana Kennedy. Part Indiana Jones, part Julia Child, Diana took to Mexico, learning food ways and breaking that cuisine’s code for the North American cook. Her Lifetime Achievement Award for the James Beard Foundation proved that flashy organizations can promote an authentic intellectual on a quest to understand a culture: that’s Diana.

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5. The Taste of Country Cooking: The 30th Anniversary Edition by Edna Lewis

When Virginia-born Edna Lewis operated the Café Nicholson in New York City, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were frequent diners. You think Edna knew something about Southern food? Edna was snatched up by Julia Child’s editor for a book the New York Times said “may well be the most entertaining regional cookbook in America.”

 

 

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6. How to Cook Everything: 30th Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman

He’s Mr. Minimalist in the New York Times, a persona that matches Mark’s no-nonsense approach to food. This is a big, all-purpose cookbook, much beloved by younger generations, and a perfect gift for those starting a new home. Heavily-branded,there are several versions of How to Cook Everything, including , one to vegetables, and one to just the basics, all good.

 

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7. Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

Home cooks in the United States haven’t taken to Chinese home cooking as they have other cuisines. Two reasons explain this: Chinese food is extremely heavy on prep work and, our Chinese restaurants are so good. Shopping for and cooking with these exotic ingredients is a rush. So is learning Chinese techniques.

 

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8. The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

After a horrific childhood in wartime Italy, Marcella immigrated to the United States and and later published the go-to book for classic Italian cooking. Now, more than 30 years later, this is still the go-to book for classic Italian cooking. In fact Marcella was to Italy what Julia was to France. Marcella was just grumpier and drank more whisky. This book is full of the simple transcendent food of the Italians. Don’t miss the pork braised in milk.

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9. Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia Completely Revised and Updated by Librarie LaRousse

The first edition of this kitchen titan was written in 1938 with a preface by the revered Escoffier. Repeatedly revised, it no longer just covers the deepest secrets of French food: world cuisines have now made it’s pages It was Julia Child’s “desert island book” and any cook that has an inquiring mind will want this reference by his or her side. Weighing in a 8 pounds, Larousse can be used to tone your arms as things bake.

 

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10. The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook:
2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Cooking Magazine

Another all-purpose cookbook, Cook’s Illustrated always reminds me of the “anal retentive chef” from Saturday Night Live. Recipes are perfect. Hints come at you like tennis balls: Did you know vodka makes your crust more tender WITHOUT adding flavor? But throughout, the recipes work perfectly, are delicious and you learn the “why”of it all, an important thing to learn.

 

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The Dying Writer Leaned Forward and Rasped, “HIT PUBLISH!”

More and more, successful writers are putting a few manuscripts back as a legacy – financial and otherwise – for the ones they love. What is the writer’s request on his or her deathbed? That their family lean forward at the desk and hit “publish,” reaping almost immediate financial reward for the writing career he or she – now dead – built.

That means no more “estates.” That means less lawyers and more families steering an author’s work into the future. All we can hope is that those families appreciated the talent and writing. If the writer has built his or her life well, their legacy will be moved forward by the people that have love of person, not just love of money.

Writers are businesses all onto themselves. What they produce has enormous value and sometimes, the market even reflects that fact. But we all learned that markets are fickle. Talent, not so much. It just keeps coming and coming and producing and producing. Innovation hits land and washes the slow and fat before it. It has always been so and always will, Traditional Publishing.

Writers no longer need someone to publish them. They need a little help here and there, getting things formatted for machines, doing a line edit. But what a writer needs is readers and now, in the brave new digital world, they’re everywhere. All the time.

Thank goodness.

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