It’s happening. Finally, something’s kicked open that rusted, locked door in my brain, releasing the sleeping skills therein stored so long ago. After weeks of scales, arpeggios, and interval training, after struggling to play well-known favorites and failing to be able to sightread even some of what I consider to be rudimentary pieces — Hayden, Mozart, Bach 2-Part Inventions — finally, FINALLY my fingers are finding and playing advanced level music without me having to glance at them and adjust my position. I’m reading, my hands moving where they should, as they should. Of course, what is listed as ‘advanced’ on the music books isn’t really. It’s about on a par with what I was playing at thirteen and fourteen — polyphonic and polyrhythmic — but my eyes are reading the music, my brain instantly translating what is read relatively accurately to my hands. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor is now within reach again, as are pieces by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt….
I had an interesting discussion last night that made me think about the books I’ve written, the published and those sitting in files, real and virtual. An author friend, Laura Belgrave, whose website I manage, admitted that, yes, her books matter to her. I admired that when she said it.
I’m not sure why, but, for me, while the books I’ve written and published delight me when I happen to reread them, I don’t place them as ‘important’ in things I actively care about most: my husband, the animals I care for, the land and trees, friends, my husband’s musical compositions and his instruments, my brain, body, knowledge and skills, maintaining my father’s house, my own musical instruments….
The books I’ve written? They’re just things I’ve done and released into the world. So, too, when it comes to my artwork, and my musical performances.
Laura’s caring about her creative works in contrast to my own curious attitude about my creative outputs gives me pause to wonder at myself. It especially makes me wonder why I write.
I do feel quite happy, even proud, of the books I’ve self-published (not, though, the ones previously published by others). In my opinion, my books — the ones I’ve authored without interference from money men — are very good, despite errors missed in editing, some due to Microsoft Word’s auto word-replace penchant, errors that I should, but don’t, make the time and effort to go back and fix. They’re great stories, written with passion and skill. So why, I wonder, don’t I place them high on my ‘most valued’ list?
I’m not sure of the answer to that question, but I think it might be something of the zentaoist in me. Those books, though brought into existence by my hand, exist completely independently of me, their author. They are, in essence, each their own entity once created. I own copyright, but they are not me, nor I, them. I certainly delight when someone enjoys them, but not because I wrote them. Rather, it is a delight in someone appreciating them, the books themselves, and the animals, aliens, and people, that live within their pages.
And, now, I think I’ve touched on something pertinent: I write to bring the characters within to life, so you, too, can meet, greet, and appreciate them, whether they’re people, animals, the land and its lore, or aliens from other worlds and cosmoi.
I just read an article about professional self-publishing authors versus hobbyists. I thought it was reasonably presented, well-written, succinct, and to the point. There were a couple of things, though, that niggled at me, mostly because my brain is always adding in the qualifiers, quantifiers, and outliers — the means and the extremes. First, though, a short synopsis:
The author, Peter Mulraney, first defines professional versus hobbyist quite nicely. There can be no argument from the tax authority, which is where the distinction is most critical, much as many a self-published author will dodge that comprehension until after they’ve gotten themselves stuck in some auditing mire.
From there, we get a quick summary of product-based business basics:
the business plan
the product and its marketing
And, of course, this is where my brain releases devils within details, the first and foremost being that, in order to do #1 on the list, you have to have previously mastered #5, no small feat for many. Heck, for the majority, it’s tough to even muster enough self-discipline to get up in the morning in time to shower, dress, and head out for the day job with enough time to spare that some unforeseen delay like a train at a railroad crossing doesn’t send them into a frothing frenzy because they’re going to wind up fifteen minutes late for the job …again. Hence, you see that frenetic driver, their body leaned forward in urgency as they weave in and out of traffic to then cross three lanes in a dive for their exit, tires smoking as they round the last corner to scream into the employee parking lot.
Luckily, Peter lays out a nice road map, though, defining a business plan as “setting measurable goals.” He then gives a tidy example:
writing and publishing a book every year – that means scheduling time to write
building a body of work within a defined timeframe, for example, ten books in five years – that means committing to the long term view
setting sales targets, for example, selling 10,000 or 100,000 copies – that means scheduling time for marketing
Let’s take a look at those, shall we? Write and publish a book a year, and — very important this — scheduling the time to write that book. Okay. Do-able. …For some.
But, wait. Check out bullet point number two: Build a body of work within a defined timeframe — ten books in five years.
[Sputter.] That’s two books a year, something even big-name, trad pubbed authors often sweat to accomplish …and they (supposedly) have editors and agents to help them along in meeting that goal.
But there’s help once you’ve got number one out the door. It’s NaNoWriMo!
Voilà! That should get you book number two for the year.
Okay. Onto the second part of bullet point number two: committing to the long-term view. Now, I ask: How many folks can you name, including yourself, who can make a monthly plan and stick to it?
How about just a weekly plan?
A day plan?
Okay. Let’s lower the bar: How about just making and fulfilling a monthly shopping list of everything needed in your household for the month, vowing to never venture out to the store again until thirty days hence? …How about just a week’s worth?
I’m sorry, but most everyone I know these days, save myself and Bill next door, can’t even manage a full day! And you think a five-year plan is going to be a functional reality? Do you remember that research paper you had to turn in by the end of the month in high school? How did that work out? That book you were assigned to read and give a book report on? That chapter of reading for History class?
If the honest answer is, “Great! No problem. Always got my goals and assignments done” or, even, “Usually got my goals and assignments done,” then, yes, do give long-term goal-setting the go. If not, practice completing short-term goals, increasing the length of time for each practice goal by twice every time you succeed. Once you have managed to succeed at setting and accomplishing a yearly goal, then, okay, give longer-term planning a try.
And now we come to bullet-point number three: “setting sales targets.”
In a word, don’t. Not even if you’re a best-selling, trad pubbed author with an awesome advance release team and publicist, plus an in on Oprah …unless,of course, you’re the mob boss in some mafia, syndicate, or cabal with enough influence that will guarantee the numbers you set yourself, by hook or by crook.
As to some of the details Peter mentions, I’m only going to address this one, because it’s to-the-point and on-target:
“Being in business means being flexible with what you write and publish. There is no point in persisting with a product line that does not sell.”
And here’s the translation: If the books you’re passionate about writing don’t sell, are you willing and able to write what does? Because that’s the difference between being a professional self-publisher and being a writer. The bottom line drives the former; passion, the latter. I count as the latter, which, because I do make a profit, because it’s work, not a hobby, makes me, not a professional self-publisher, but a professional author who now just happens to choose to self-publish rather than go back with the trads.
It’s Thanksgiving across America. In countless homes, somebody (or even several somebodies) is up early prepping food to go in the oven. Me? No. I’ll probably grab a hunk of cheddar cheese for my daily sustenance, same thing, same amount I had yesterday.
Food isn’t important to me. Never has been.
Oh, sure. I do love (real) mashed potatoes and gravy. I love a good casserole. Turkey stuffing is the best …when done the old-fashioned way. I eat none of it since my body decided to pack on an additional, unwanted thirty pounds that stubbornly won’t come off, despite years of an 800 – 1200 calorie per day diet that includes no carbs.
Sure, a wonderfully grilled steak is a treat. A good piece of fish or chicken….
Such used to be life. No longer. (Mostly I exist on coffee.)
Thanksgiving is mostly about people, though. And, honestly, people don’t figure prominently in my life. Animals, yes. Not people.
I have a few good friends — cherished friends; I have my best friend — my husband, F. W. Lineberry; I have acquaintances — I’m talking real world people, here. Most of the people I care about now, though, most I name as ‘friend’, are Netizens. I’ve never met them in real life, and we certainly don’t share a meal on Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving used to mean spending several days prior and the morning of prepping a huge turkey, baking squash, homemade bread and special sweet cakes, making stuffing, peeling potatoes, pulling frozen garden veggies from the freezer. There was polishing gold- and silverware, washing up heirloom china, sharpening carving knives, digging out the special table linens, cleaning house from top to bottom. No more. Not for the last few years. I think the last time Forrest and I prepped a Thanksgiving dinner was in 2011, when we lived in town, two years prior to moving back to Dad’s house. It was a smashing success, the guests people who were lonely and alone, folks who had no caring family or loved ones. And, since then, yes, I’ve put on dinner parties, but not a Thanksgiving. (Turkeys sigh with relief.)
In my life, there’s no real reason to make a big fuss on Turkey Day. Dad’s been dead for years. Mom just died. To them, Thanksgiving mattered. So, it mattered to me. No longer. Were my husband home (but he’s not; he’s still fighting nasty roads in BC, Canada), we’d have a meal together, delighting in each other’s company…just like we do any and every day that he’s at home — not often.
I’m a zentaoist. Every day is Thanksgiving. Every day is precious. More, every moment. And, honestly, putting on a feast, unless it’s for those who are lonely and have no family or loved ones who care, unless its for those who need it, makes no sense …to me.
For the lonely? The bereft? Sure. But I do that any day, sipping coffee, water, or tea, maybe even orange juice, sharing a meal of whatever best comes to hand from the pantry and the frig, sitting down around the dining room table with someone who arrived spontaneously and just needs a spirit lift.
I listen to them and, if they get too morose, will liven the conversation with subtly pertinent anecdotes from life. It can last as long as four or five hours. Then, needs fulfilled, they venture back into the world, me returning to my solitude, grateful that I know I’m loved.
Dear Website Owners Selling Something I May Decide to Try,
hide your pricing;
hit me with a persistent pop-up window requiring me to create an account, login with my Facebook account, join your mailing list, and/or anything demanding I share with you any contact information or identity information, forbidding me from exploring your products and/or services unless and/or until I do.
prominently display the benefits of your goods or services and the cost of those goods and/or services;
allow me to decide if I want to create an account and share my identity and contact information with you once and only if I decide to buy.
Your job and your website’s job is to convince me that you’re trustworthy, dependable, offer a worthy product and/or service. Hiding your pricing and terms of service, blocking me from information about your products and/or services unless I jump through hoops to get there is a sure way to lose me as a potential customer.
What the hell am I talking about? Book promotion, that’s what.
As an author, specifically and mostly a novelist, I write ’em — books, that is, (used to publish them, too …until the pirates pissed me off) — but I’m not interested in spending my life chasing futility, much less paying for the dubious honor of being stupid …which is what happens when and if you fall for all the bullshit out there about book promotion.
Oh, sure Number One: Release a new book, and, maybe, a past reader will care, if they see the promo, always chancy because emailed announcements get ignored, posts on social media don’t get seen, ads get missed and blocked.
Release new books regularly, as in every three months, and, yes, you’ll sell some, both the new and some from your back catalog. It’s all predicated on luck and happenstance, though. There are no guarantees.
Oh sure Number Two: Facebook advertising works and doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg …or, maybe I should say, will cost only an arm and a leg, depending on your target demographics.
And, yes, oh, sure, Number Three: Amazon advertising works, with the same caveat as with Facebook.
Newsletters? Oh, sure Number Four: You’ll sell some books because you dun your mailing list subscribers, but you’ll also net a whole bunch of ‘unsubscribes’ in the process, people who will never, ever buy another book from you because you pissed them off by hitting their inbox at the wrong time.
Reality: A check of the numbers, especially when penciled out against time and money spent, means that you are, literally, paying for the privilege of irritating people who may be somewhat interested in your new release …maybe, but, mostly, are irritated by getting yet another “See? Look! I just released another novel” dun on their social media notifications or in their inbox.
I’m sorry, but my time is worth money, plus, I’m not interested in providing folks an extra excuse to dislike me more than they already do because I’m a mouthy, opinionated so-and-so. I especially am not interested in alienating those who do appreciate me because I am a mouthy, opinionated so-and-so, but who don’t like having me push my novels at them. And I’m certainly not into paying for people to unlike, unfriend, and unsubscribe …which is what happens, much as the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus don’t share that consequence — a real consequence!
And that brings me to the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus.
Did you ever notice that the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus never offer to use their “guaranteed formula” they claim works so well to sell your book? That’s because they know that their “tried and true” system doesn’t work. Did it and did they offer such a service, there isn’t a book author out there who wouldn’t part with 50% or even 100% of their royalties for becoming a ‘known’ author to readers. Heck, wannabees would flock to cash in on the service at 1k, 2k, maybe even 5k in USD $$$$ per book. Heck, the gurus would be rolling in the dough, wouldn’t they?
But, no. That’s not what the “How to Sell Your Book” gurus are selling …for a good reason. They couldn’t do it. Their tried and true method would not work, even for them. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and they know it. They know they’d be spending innumerable futile hours, getting way less than minimum wage trying to, no matter how many starving third worlders they employed at pennies a day to plug in their magic formulas.
Instead, they take the easy route to fame and profit. They sell their “guaranteed formula” for success to hungry-for-fame-and-profit book authors, their guarantee only valid (read the fine print) if you meticulously follow all their rules and keep at it …forever. Oh, and buy their latest how-to book, because, y’know, don’t you? The market is always changing, so you’ve got to have the latest greatest along with their previous books on the subject. (“Secret #4 referenced in book 1, secret #9 referenced in book 2… .”)
Here’s the deal: Most all the folks who claim to have the inside edge on how to sell your books make their livelihood and niche best seller fame by selling “How to Sell Your Book” books to pantingly desperate and gullible authors. Now, while some of those methods worked for the instances shown, they don’t work by the time the “How to Sell Your Book” book hits publication. It’s a done deal, that strategy only working for a few weeks, maybe months at the outset for the strategy’s originator and a handful of others who immediately copied them. After that, nope. But the ‘how-to’ formula is still saleable, of course.
Well, what about services like Book Bub and Book Gorilla?
Book Bub is expensive and a PITA to get into (See concluding sentence of paragraph below.); Book Gorilla, inexpensive. But you know who signs up to those mailing lists? Authors interested in checking out those services as a possible path to more sales. (It’s part of the sign-up process, getting you on their mailing list.) The other most notable demographic are Bargain Basement book shoppers, mostly those who read lots and lots of Big R romance. Oh, sure, Number Five: Bargain Basement book shoppers will always grab freebies and, maybe, 99 centers. But that’s it. They ain’t into payin’ for books. It’s gotta be free or dirt cheap.
Onto oh, sure Number Six: There are a minuscule percentage of readers on those Book Bub and Book Gorilla mailing lists that actually are interested in discovering new authors and are willing to actually pay for subsequent books from an author’s catalog, but those folks are rare as hen’s teeth (and, for those not in the know, hens don’t have teeth. Hence, their ‘rarety’. That’s the irony embedded in the saying.) Oh, and, PSST! Book Bub has now become the tool of Trad Publishing, don’t you know? Indies really need not apply, please.
I’ve already covered “How to be a Hugely Successful Published Author“. If you want to know my secret for promoting my books, it’s this: I occasionally and prudently advertise. I put my dead tree books in shops I know will attract buyers. And how about on the Net? My advice: Be yourself. Be active and interesting. Don’t badger people with duns to buy your books or keep announcing them over and over, ad infinitum. It’s enough to put the covers there for the seeing. Folks who become interested in you, the person, might happen to finally decide to read one of your books. And, if they like them, they might buy more of your titles.
If you seriously want to write books for a living, I suggest you either write the consistent best selling genre on Amazon — erotica/BDSM — or find some hungry non-fiction, self-help niche …like book authors seeking the magic secret to fame and fortune, then pump your books out at a rate of one every couple to three months, because, anymore, that’s about what you’re going to have to do for folks not to forget you and your books exist.
I actually started this a LONG time ago, but…. Heck! You know. Life, and all that. Mom deciding to up and head off the planet didn’t help matters. Well, by the time I got back around to this, the file had somehow corrupted, the visuals squeegeeing faster and slower than they were supposed to in chaotic, no formulaic, and, therefore, not easily fixable ways. Wound up having to start all over, something I’m never good at. I rarely procrastinate. Ever. But, when it comes to re-making something already done, then, yeah, I postpone, avoid, defer. But, a promise is a promise, so I beat myself over the head until I sat down and spent the two weeks necessary to redo the editing and splicing. So, here you have it. Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past, performed by zentao Music, namely me and Forrest. As ever, this arrangement is Forrest’s, who somehow manages to capture the essence of any piece he sets his hand to.
If you want to read about the flute playing in this piece, I talk about it here, in “Playing Tull’s Living in the Past“. That’s how I do it, but (…and here’s the biggy) it’s because I can’t get that airy sound that comes easy to Ian Anderson and to beginner flutists. I’ve tired every which way to try to make myself sound airy, but, to no avail. I guess I spent too many hours working very hard not to sound airy. I suppose I could sabotage my flute’s pads, but I won’t. 😀
So you all know Mom died mid-October and, yes, I’ve been way under the radar when it comes to both the real world and the Internet. Why doesn’t have as much to do with grief, though there’s that, as much as it does shock and anger. Mom was not expected to die. Nobody, even the surgeon who fixed her torsion, expected it. Yes, she was that healthy inside, despite atrial fib. That she died came as a complete surprise. That she chose to do it during the two hours I was gone from her post-surgery room in ICU, having left her to go home to check and feed animals with her numbers excellent and stable, that she chose to check out in a matter of minutes to the ICU nurses’ disbelief, her heart rate steadily declining from normal to zero in ten minutes during my absence, felt like opportunism. She took advantage of the fact that I went home to check herself out of life, and all because of the indignity of a stomach tube threaded down through her esophagus into her stomach to drain off her backed up digestive effluent.
I’m not kidding, here. This is no joke. Her aunt and a great aunt — both of them — did the same thing — willed themselves dead, the 101 year old, having just finished doing a batch of pickles, sitting down on a couch and going in 24 hours upon deciding to die and the 103 year old who, likewise decided, but instead took three days to do it. And, according to family lore, it was the nature of these Eurasian women who, having survived child birth to enter old age, then extreme old age, all of them healthy, to simply and suddenly decide that they now wanted to die …and then they’d do it.
It’s always been eerie for me to hear the tales. What’s knocked me into retreat is the fact that she just had to demonstrate the quasi-validity of her stories, much as the pragmatic side of me sits here and vehemently shakes my head ‘no, not plausible’. What brings the shock and anger, though, is something else: She had everything to live for — friends who called, friends who visited at least once a week, opportunities to gad about and socialize, go to dinner and to parties…. She embroidered, still beautifully. She voraciously read books. She lived in my home, then back to her own home with me there to provide for her every whim and need …excepting those things which I couldn’t provide — being the daughter she yearned for — something feminine and pretty, something vain and vacuous, something willing to chat about triteness for hours on end, none of which is me. I’ve never been able to be ‘one of her dollies’, though how she persistently tried to coerce me to be.
I wrote a short story a few years ago. Though it’s slightly fictionalized to preserve some semblance of dignity, I think I’ll share it… because this, for me, is what it was like having Mom live with us …us living with Mom. It’s called A Moment of Morning, written under my pen name, E. J. Ruek and originally posted to that site: https://www.ejruek.com/a-moment-of-morning/
A MOMENT OF MORNING
E. J. RUEK
In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to the faraway, echoing horn of a train. It’s 3:30 AM, my rising time—by habit and need.
My mother sleeps in my living room, slowly dying of self-neglect and petulance, and there’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing that her many doctors, visiting nurses, CNAs, and physical therapists can do. She makes her choices, refusing advice, urgings, instructions. She sticks to those choices. Rigorously. I’m just the maid. My voice doesn’t count, even if I am her only daughter…her only child. (She lost all eight others as fetuses, maybe by choice. I knew by the time I was four that she sure didn’t want me.)
Sipping coffee, waiting for the love of my life to phone home, I cast my mind inward, wondering at a woman who, my whole life, insisted that I “move.” And move I do, more than most, more than any of my contemporaries, except maybe Kathy. Three years ago, Mom moved, too. She was agile and fit. Then, due to her own choices of personal neglect, her ability to do so with ease and vigor vanished. At sixty-eight—did I tell you that I was a very late baby?—she became a maimed slave to a syncopated heartbeat—atrial fib. Now she lays on a bed, ordered to keep her legs up, and delivers me anger seasoned with pouts and, worse, self-pity.
My mother is, in her way, a prima donna—very vain. Yet, she is…or was…generous and caring, too. To and of others. (Never me; never my dad.) She cares for ‘her’ others a lot, especially her anthropomorphized dollies—thousands of dollies.
I keep thinking to myself—what will I do with all of those thousands of dollies, some worth ten thousand, each?
I know nothing of dollies, care nothing for dollies. I find them rather horrifying—porcelain, cloth, plaster, and plastic reincarnations of someone’s symbolically human ideal. (Are humans ideal? Even symbolically? …I wonder in doubt.) “You can tell the artist,” Mother will say, her delicate, model’s hands fondling a dress, a hand, a curl. She’ll line them up and point to the nuances of a particular artist on dolls that cost more, each one, than Dad made in a month. (After she bought them on time, he couldn’t afford the price of his heart pills.)
A friend suggests that I catalog them, then sell them on E-Bay. The very idea exhausts me. The research to price them would, alone, require a year of my time—time I don’t have with running a business and maintaining two households—never mind my writing, recording, and session work.
Then there’s Mom’s piles—decades’ worth of magazines and old newspaper articles, boxes of clothes bought at thrift stores and sales, yards of material waiting to be run up on one of her five pricey sewing machines. There are hundreds of books that she’s never read, toys still in boxes, foot lockers filled with embroideries. There’s hoards of too many dishes and vases and lamps; upstairs is that old wicker couch overflowing with teddy bears….
It’s a five bedroom house, filled to brimming with all of Mom’s treasures—old cradles and buggies, doll houses and miniature tea sets—and all of it’s covered in decades of dust. (She never cleaned house after Dad’s heart began failing—no reason, I guess.)
That’s just the inside. Outdoors, there’s the piles of old garbage, the broken down fences, the rotting car, truck, and trailer, this last a haphazard minefield inside containing a vast store of treacherous gardening tools. (I’d keep the gardening tools and fix up the fences.)
Another train’s passing, its horn dulled by the distance. My coffee is cold and so are my feet. It’s time to close the laptop and get myself started on chores, but I linger out here on the patio, outside in the cold and the snow.
My cell phone rings. I touch the headpiece I wear to hear hubs in my ear, his grumbling voice a relieving welcome.
He’s headed for Canada, a load full of giant, cumbersome coils. He asks after me, then requests some safe truck routes through cities in lower BC.
I oblige, ‘Googling’ the easiest routes. Then, to his question, assure him that, yes, the roof man will be here today to clear barn roofs of snow load.
Did I snowblow the driveway?
No, but I will.
Best do it before the temperature plunges to zero.
Did the dog’s blood work come back?
Not yet. It’s expected today.
I love you.
I love you, too.
In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to emptiness. It’s 4:00 AM and time to get started on morning.