Now Trending: The Unimportant

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In the top right hand corner of Facebook there is a box called “Trending” and in it are the top three most popular topics of conversation for that moment. The top two this morning: Michael Jackson and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Right.

What about the woman from Sudan who was freed from prison? What about this dog-eating festival in China that has protesters up in arms? What about missing girls? Or missing planes? Or controversial political decisions?

What about the fact that the Canadian Conservative Government attacked the NDP for spending $5000 on flowers (which were for visiting state officials, politician and/or celebrity funerals, stage decor for TV appearances, and thank-you gifts to party members who had done outstanding at their jobs in that quarter). That’s right, $5000 over three months or so. Compared to some of the costs for flights, hotels, and fancy rental cars that have been pinned on the Conservatives over the years, and compared to the Christmas bonuses the Prime Minister probably received, $5000 is chump change. As a big corporation what it spends on flowers and fruit baskets in the course of wooing clients. I’m betting $5000 is chump change where they’re concerned too.

There are three slots on that box, three trending stories, and they update an average of three times a day. I’ll get the top nine stories of the day. They’ll be about movie stars dying, new movie trailers, which athlete is signing with which team, the latest celebrity marriage/divorce, the latest sports’ score, celebrity drug/alcohol usage (relapse, rehab, etc) – and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get one about an important global political or economic matter.

Let’s face it people. While social media and the internet are great for networking, fact checking, research, and communication, it’s also the largest time waster, the largest source of misinformation, and the largest social/political distraction of our time. TV came under the same fire once upon a time. Instead of doing something about the major issues we’re tweeting about them. We have 24/7 access to what our favourite celebrities (whether they place sports or sing or act) are doing, good or bad, and we care more about that than what our governments are doing. We care more about the dollar value of Kim Kardashian’s latest divorce than how much money the members of parliament spend on their vacations. We care more about which team a ball player is signing with than which party is in power.

Don’t believe me? Check out what’s trending. Check out what’s on the NEWS stands at the grocery store. 99% of what you can buy at the NEWS stand is gossip and rumour. Only 1% is the local paper and even they have a sports section and an entertainment section.

Okay, movies, music, and sports are part of our culture and we need to stay culturally involved. I get that. But people, this is getting out of hand.

I don’t have television. I’m a stay at home mom so I rarely drive (and my car radio is busted so I only get radio on the weekends when I get my husband’s car). I get my news second hand from my husband who reads the paper at work and listens to CBC radio on occasion. Or I get it from my grandparents and dad. Or from (yup, I’m guilty of it) Facebook conversations. If I wanted to be more informed I could follow CNN or CBC News or BBC news. I’m not the guru of news worthy by any stretch. But I worry when 1 out of 9 trending stories in 12 hours has anything to do with the political/economic/social issues of our world.

We have in our hands the greatest tool ever invented for staying informed. And we’re choosing to be informed about the wrong things.

Society has to rank the political/social/economic issues above celebrity gossip and movie trailers. An uninformed public says to the government “Sure, do whatever you want” and that’s dangerous. Every science-fiction novel and movie since the beginning of science fiction that has dealt with this subject agrees. When a government gets too much control it doesn’t turn out so good for the every-man character.

Lets get informed about what really matters. (And that goes for me too. CBC news, here I come.)

How to Save a Life

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What do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

In this case it’s my younger cousin. The situation is complicated. My aunt is adopted but had some contact later in life with her biological siblings. Her biological sister has 3 children that we know of. My aunt adopted the first two, the third one had major developmental issues and my aunt just couldn’t keep her. 

So, my cousin, she was born premature, has always had some development issues stemming from severe FASD, and is now on meds. I’m not sure what the meds are for but they’re the type that make you feel good and stable, like you don’t need meds, like you aren’t sick anymore. Once she’s off her meds she has major freak-outs. She doesn’t like taking her meds because they’re making her gain weight. She throws them down the sink or threatens to take all of them. 

She tried that once and ended up in the hospital. This was after cutting for months with the blades from pencil sharpeners. 

Then, because of an argument with her mom, she held two knives to her stomach and threatened to kill herself. She’s now with protective services.

Yes, they have her on a list of psychiatric help. Yes, we are all trying to be positive and supportive. You know what makes it really hard? All these damn depressive memes on the internet. “No one hates me more than I hate myself”. “My friends mean the world to me but I feel like they wouldn’t even notice I was gone”. “I’m only pretending to be all right”. And on and on and on.

I fully support freedom of speech and self-expression. I think it’s great that people are working out their issues. But this stuff is feeding the depressive, self-indulgent, attention-craving attitude of teenagers. They’re all posting this crap so people will pat them on the head and say, “we love you, don’t die”. I fully support suicide intervention, and positive reinforcement, but when this crap is fueling her suicidal thoughts it’s hard to stay unbiased and accepting.

And before you suggest taking her off the internet, take a quick guess what the above mentioned fight was about. Her only friends are on Facebook and Instagram. The only people who care about her and understand her are on the internet. Anyone who takes that away is cruel and mean and heartless. Yeah, it gets that bad.

So, what do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

How do you convince them that you would love them? How do you find all the subversive jerks in their life and make them stop being jerks? How do you build their self-esteem? How do you make their skin thicker? How do you make them see themselves as important people instead of as victims? How do you put value in their lives? How do you make them believe they are valued?

I don’t know.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a social worker. I’m not a doctor. I don’t even get to see her that often.

I am her godmother. And her cousin. And my heart is breaking because there is nothing I can do. 

So I’m doing something.

I am doing the only thing I’m good at. I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book about a teenage girl who is mildly overweight but not fat, who has a kick-ass punk haircut and a beautiful smile, and is named after my cousin. I am giving that girl friends who use her, and friends who care about her. I am giving her a loving and supportive family. I am going to show her hitting rock bottom because my cousin hit rock bottom, you can’t deny that or turn back the clock. And then I am going to have this girl claw her way out of that hole. She is going to hate it. She is going to kick and scream and try to stay depressed and alone and her friends and family are going to love her until she sees the love around her. This girl will be surrounded by love. Because it is the only way I can think of to show my cousin that she is surrounded by love.

I’m going to give my cousin a copy as a gift.

And then I’m going to sell this book as an e-book (perhaps the only book I’ll ever self-publish) and I’m going to give the proceeds from the first week of sales to Kids Help Phone, the kids and teens crisis hotline center. Because I support suicide intervention. I support organizations that support teens and children. And because I believe they, and other professionals, have the power to change lives for the better. 

And because I want to show my cousin that her story isn’t over. I want to show her that the bottom isn’t the same as the end. I want to show her that people care enough about the issue of teen suicide to read a story that is based on her, to help her and teens like her.

And because it’s the only thing I can do to show her that I love her and that I would miss her. She is beautiful. I wish I could post a picture of her for you to see her beautiful smile. I might just use her photo for the cover of the book. 

Writing is about inspiration. I have found mine. 

*Note* Originally this said all the proceeds would go to Kids Help Phone but has been edited to give the donation period a deadline. I’m not being greedy, I swear. I don’t have time to monitor and constantly send little donations as sales maybe trickle in. So I’ll do one big push and give one big donation. Thank-you for understanding.

BIG Projects in the Workds

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I have two massive deadlines looming all of a sudden. Two windows of opportunity have opened and I’m going to try a double-jump and get through them both without crashing into the glass. 

First, there is a script writing competition that closes on August 8th – OR – when they reach 200 entries. And last night they were almost at 100. So I have to MOVE.

Second, a good agent just opened up to submissions and I have a romance novel she might like – except it’s still a first draft. That means typing the second draft (the first draft is hand written), doing all the edits, and putting the submissions package together by August 31 because she closes her submission window on September 1.

Third, the script writing contest only requires 3-5 sample scenes (along with a summary and a screen treatment) so once the romance novel is done and sent I have to finish the script. The story is DONE already, I just have to transfer it from prose to script. And winners are notified around November 14th so I have to have it done ASAP in September, just in case.

If I get picked as one of the five winners I’ll be spending A LOT of time on rewrites and marketing stuff for that project over the next year. The only other thing I’ll be working on is that romance novel series IN CASE it gets picked up by the agent. 

Of course it’s more likely that neither will get a bite and I’ll be back to the drawing board.

In any event, I’ll be absent for a few days as I complete the script package. But, here’s the logline for the script:

As global superpowers unleash hundreds of deadly viruses, a Chicago art teacher backs a revolution to prevent a dystopian future from becoming a dark reality.

Any comments or suggestions? I’m not 100% happy with it yet. But off I go to get it all done.

AuthorAuthor

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As I discussed in my last post on self-publishing, marketing and self-promotion can be hard. Readers won’t shell out ANY money for a novel unless they hear good things about it, or know the author. But marketing can be expensive – buying ads, printing book marks as give away items, it’s all out-of-pocket expense that may not pay off.

Well, here’s one idea for you to consider.

AuthorAuthor is a free and free-of-charge short story publishing platform, through which anthologies will be published by topic, at cost price rate for the reader, through the Amazon self-publishing service. For each book Martin van Houwelingen, the founder and directer or the group, hopes to find 12 authors who will each deliver 6000 words, be they complete short stories or story snippets from published or yet to be published books. To gather these stories he is using the Facebook group AuthorAuthor to bring authors together and get the word out about their existence and the books they published at no to low cost. In the first 12 hours of posing the idea of collaboration books, the member count has increased by 600% and is still climbing, though slower now that the first burst is over.
The writer will pay no fees to be published but will receive no profits from book sales as there will be no profits from sales. The book will cost only the printing costs and the Ebook version will be shared freely and for free where ever we can plant it.
Currently the topics consist of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Crime Noir and Erotica, but any topic can be brought into the mix by the writers themselves and start a collaboration. We’re hoping for more specific topics within these as more people join.
The purpose of this is for the writers to get a lot of exposure for their writing and to get their names out. Exposure to the market is the biggest problem writers have to face and I hope to break through that wall in this manner.People interested in their style or story snippet are then able to find the author via any contact information provided (an author facebook page, the author’s actual book on Amazon, or a personal website for instance)
Martin had this to add:
If others want to copy this project they are free to do so, but I do wish to warn that getting 12 authors to write something decent on the same topic and deliver their work on time is proven to be strenuous to say the least, and so I hope people will not set up their own plans, but join this one to create one big flourishing group that can turn out books by the bucket loads instead of a multitude of little struggling ones.
You can find Martin’s group here if you want to join or if you have questions:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/authorauthor/

Now, the reason I am supporting and promoting this project is because of two facts. ONE: FREE STUFF SELLS. and TWO: A reader won’t invest in your work if they don’t already like you.
My mom read everything at the library, and if she liked something she’d go out looking for that author, even if it meant buying their work. I’ve done it to. But getting your work to the library can be hard. So put a sample story, the prologue for your novel, a sample chapter, whatever, into a project like this. People will download it for free, no risk of lost money, and hopefully read it. Then they’ll come looking for you because now they know they like you.

I’m not yet at the stage where I can make use of a platform like this since my novels aren’t finished. But I will be helping out as a line editor and format editor. They’re looking for cover artists on the same terms. If you’re an avid reader I’ll be posting release dates here so you can pick up the free books and support indie writers.

Remember, us creative types are all in this together. If we promote each other and support each other we can make indie publishing better.

Edit: For an update on the first AuthorAuthor project see my latest blog post: https://casiaschreyer.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/authorauthor-fantasy-anthology/

The Struggle of the Self-Published Author

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I’m not a self-published author, but I do have a few books out with a small, digital only press. I have been researching the self-publishing process, and I have been listening to concerns and complaints from the self-published author’s I know. The short version: self-publishing is hard work with little reward.

I discussed a little of what goes into the act of writing in my previous post: A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words – https://casiaschreyer.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/a-pictures-worth-1000-words/ but I’ll discuss it in depth here.

First of all, a novel length project, depending on genre and the preferences of the author, requires at least minimal brainstorming, outline, and character/world development. If this is the only thing the author works on for the 2-4 hours they have each day to dedicate to their craft (between family and work commitments) it can take anywhere from one-to-a hell of a lot of days. Still, let’s say on average about two weeks of consistent time spent to make a cohesive outline, four tops if it requires a full world build. That’s 196-784 HOURS just of writing prep. Some of this will take place before the writing starts, some will take place during the writing process, but it will happen.

Second, the novel needs to be written. If we omit the days when the writer works on other projects, sits in front of the screen suffering from writer’s block, and browses Facebook, it will still take anywhere from 30-365 days, or more, for the piece to be written. And those are just the days when writing occurs. Keeping in mind our 2-4 hour per day schedule that’s 60-1460 HOURS of raw writing time. MINIMUM. And that’s for 30-50k. You want something 80k? Try 2920 HOURS of raw writing time.

Third, there’s the editing that the writer does for themselves. No out of pocket costs, just more time. Say one week total for all the various read-throughs and rewrites. That’s 14-28 hours. Now, add to that the option of buying the services of an editor, at least $50, probably closer to $250.

Fourth, there is the final draft and formatting. This is probably 4-8 hours of setting margins, checking for typos, correcting the header/footer, setting font style and size to industry standards, formatting page size to the self-publish website requirements, etc.

Fifth is the cover. $50-$300 for a semi-professional or professional book cover by an artist. Or 2-20 hours of tinkering with it on your own.

Six is the book blurbs and the promotional blurbs and the summary for your blog and the about the author info. This probably takes another 8-12 hours of fussing and asking for opinions and more fussing.

Seven is sitting for 2 hours and fighting with the various upload systems.

And there you have it, it’s done and online. So what did that cost the writer?

Minimum Time Commitment: 2226 HOURS
Higher Time Commitment: 3354 HOURS
Minimum Cost out of Pocket: 0$
Maximum Cost out of Pocket: $550
Average Cost out of pocket: $100
Minimum Wage (Approximation): $11/hour
Time Costs: $24486-$36894

Cost of the book on Amazon? $1.99
Author Royalties? $0.34
Number of book sales required to break even? 72-110 THOUSAND books sold.

Number of Facebook friends, blog followers, Twitter followers, and offline friends who will find out about the book release (overlap has been taken into account) 100-500 people.
Percentage that will buy books: 50%
Guaranteed sales (sales you can count on before you even finish the book): 50-250 sales.

Yeah, 250 is a lot smaller than 72,000. If every person who bought the book convinced one more person to buy the book it would take 288 successful steps in that chain to reach the 72,000 mark.

It’s possible. The BIG books out there are selling millions of copies. What’s 72k compared to that? But it’s a big step above 250, which is the most sales most of us will ever see. Sad but true.

The one thing we didn’t discuss yet was marketing. All the time and costs that go into blogging, tweeting, Facebook page updates, ad design, paying for ad space, book mark design, time to distribute book marks, etc. This can take as little as one hour per week, and as much as a person is willing to give.

In my next post I’ll be looking at a free marketing platform that may interest self-published writers.

Read Any Good YA Books Lately?

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The internet seems rife with literary debate these days. If we’re not arguing about what our writing and artwork is worth we’re arguing about who is allowed to read which genres. Which is silly if you really think about it. 

Let’s take a break from literature and discuss music for a moment. Here’s a boy, he’s 15 years old, he’s white, he comes from a good home with both parents and a few siblings, hell they even have a dog and a white picket fence. This boy listens to rap music. Can you imagine a society where only black underprivileged teens can listen to rap music? Okay, maybe some people like that idea since they don’t like rap music and don’t want their kids listening to it, but then consider this: if you don’t live in a city center you have to listen to country music only. If you do live in a city center then country music is off limits. You can’t listen to jazz if you’re white. You can’t listen to Latin dance music if you’re white. And all this rock and pop music inspired and flavoured by international sounds? Forbidden! If you’re not from that country you can’t borrow from their musical traditions. Oh, and if you move, you’re musical tastes automatically change.

Right. Does that sound realistic?

Food? Shall we discuss food? How many people here like Chinese cuisine? I love it. My family is descended from various parts of Europe so there’s no Asian in me anywhere. No Italian either so pizza is out the window. No tacos. Hell, no perogies! I love perogies! But I’m from the wrong part of Europe to be eating that.

If we let age, gender, nationality, geography, or hair colour determine what we listen to, or what we eat, or yes, what we read, we’re limiting our experiences, and the experiences of others.

Let’s get back to literature. I am 28 years old. I am female. I am white, of mixed European decent. I have lived in Canada all my life. Am I only allowed to read books about white, female, not yet middle-aged, Canadians? Where do we draw the line, and why?

Why draw the line at 17? Because you’re legally an adult at 18? Does that mean the line in the USA is actually at 21? Is it because you’re graduating from high school and need to leave young life behind you as you step into the read world? And what about the 18-30 year olds? What are we, anyways? We’re adults, sure, but we’re not middle-aged, we’re not old, we’re not seniors? The term New-Adult has been coined to cover that gap. YA fiction is about 14-17 year olds, while NA fiction is about 17-30 year olds. But the line is blurry, and it depends on many things, not just age. 

It depends on a person’s comfortable reading level, it depends on their maturity, and (before you think I’m insulting the maturity of 30-44 year olds who read YA fiction) it depends on why we read.

Let’s go back to the original article, which can be found here should you wish to read it: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2014/06/against_ya_adults_should_be_embarrassed_to_read_children_s_books.2.html

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.  

Hey, I like a happy ending as much as the next person. Yes, I want some satisfaction from reading a book. And just because it has a nice, satisfactory ending doesn’t mean I stop thinking about it. Books with neat, happy endings are fun to read, they’re easy to read, they’re the sort of books you read in order to relax and escape for a little while. And they don’t have to be happy all the way through. We want struggle and pain and trials so we can see a character we care about triumph over something. And maybe that triumph includes loss, but it includes growth and conclusion as well.

The joy of these books is that they do make us think and feel, but in such a gentle, subtle way that we don’t even notice it. We get to experience growth and loss and difficult situations and by the end we’ve enjoyed so much more than a good story, and we didn’t have to work too hard at it.

I’ve read Dickens, and several other big name, long dead, authors during my university career and yes, they were wonderfully crafted books. I’ve never had the urge to go back and read them. But genre fiction? YA fiction? NA fiction? I read those over and over again. Stephen King, Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, George RR Martin, Spider Robinson, Laurel K Hamilton, to name a few. I read storytellers who tell an engaging and compelling story and I find that some of the classics are too slow, too LITERARY, full of heavy devices that slow the reading down. I will never try to diminish the importance of Dickens and Chaucer and Shakespeare (actually I adore Shakespeare) and the Greek classics. They are important, they should be read and studied. But they aren’t the be all and end all of what’s out there.

Lauren Davis wrote a lovely rant in response to the original article, and you can find it here: http://io9.com/really-are-we-still-genre-shaming-people-for-the-books-1587118225?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

In her words: Certain books seem to be particularly vulnerable to finger-wagging from the so-called literary elite: science fiction, fantasy, romance novels, “chick-lit,” and now young adult fiction. Fiction that has been traditionally aimed at women and young people is particularly vulnerable to the criticisms of not being serious enough, not being mature enough. We don’t typically see the same criticisms of, say, spy thrillers, even though some books in that category tick off the boxes on Graham’s no-no list: Namely, that they tell complete stories with nice, neat endings, and may idealize situations rather than teach us big truths about life.

Now, I myself have fallen into the “genre bashing” game when it comes to romance, and that’s because I found romance novels lacking in a strong story, they were too cliched. Turns out I was reading the wrong romance novels is all. Now I’ve even written a few romance novellas. (See my Books page here on my blog for a list of those novellas – end shameless promotion). I felt the same way about romantic comedies. And you know what, I don’t really have a problem with people who like them, they’re just not for me. So I have stopped bashing and simply voice my opinion as what it is, a single opinion that defines me, but cannot define others. 

So many books these days are breaking down walls between genres. The wall between science fiction and fantasy was probably the first to go. Romance can be thrown into any genre now. As can mystery and thriller. Now books with a touch of horror are labeled “dark” – Dark Fantasy, Dark Romance etc. And YA isn’t even a genre, it’s a targeted audience based on the age of the protagonist. 

We were all 17. We can all relate to being a teenager, even if we didn’t all have cellphones and social media in high school. We can’t all relate to being a high priced successful lawyer. We can’t all relate to being a spy. We can’t all relate to being a wizard. But somehow being a teenager (even if the character is a teenage spy, or a teenage wizard) transcends whatever else is going on in the book. The teenage character encapsulates those feelings of awkwardness, of fear and insecurity, of change and growth both physical and emotional, of newness and discovery, of failure, of boundaries and wanting to push past them. Even Ruth Graham admits to these feelings in her original article.

I want teenagers and ambitious pre-teens to have as many wonderful books to read as possible, including books about their own lives. But I remember, when I was a young adult, being desperate to earn my way into the adult stacks; I wouldn’t have wanted to live in a world where all the adults were camped out in mine. 

That’s right, as a teenager she wanted to reach past the boundaries of YA literature and read those unreachable adult books. So why didn’t she? I was reading Stephen King at 12. I was reading Tolkien at 12. I was reading Poe at 12. I was also reading Roald Dahl at 12. And occasionally I picked up my sister’s Bailey School Kids books. My parents didn’t see the boundaries the way the literary world did. If I was mature enough to handle the language and the themes then I could read the book. It didn’t matter the age of the protagonist, or the gender of the protagonist, or when it was written or where it was written. 

We make the boundaries. We can break them down. We can let people enjoy the reading process, and study literature, and read a multitude of books.

Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.

Why does she assume we’re ONLY reading YA lit? Why do we have to be put into neat little slots? Why can’t I read fantasy this week and “serious” lit next week and science fiction the week after? Why do I have to pick only one favourite? Okay, she says “substituting” so she is making a distinction here. She is pointing the finger at those over 18ers who ONLY read YA fiction. Yeah, they’re missing something. But so is she. There is so much out there that’s new and fresh and deep and thought provoking in every genre, targeted at every age group. 

I read a children’s picture book about a mom dealing with cancer!

Bridge to Terebithia has a child dying! The best friend of the main character dies! 

Writing is supposed to tell a great story and in the process discuss some aspect of life – whether it’s coming-of-age, or dealing with difficulties, or sacrifice, or pain, or loss, or great joy, or true love. Some deal with multiple aspects, some don’t. Some deal with those aspects in settings we find familiar, some don’t. 

To take away from a book’s value because of the target audience is to tell a teenager that their problems and issues, their interests and likes, are not valued. They are not valued because their stories are not valued. 

To take away from a book’s value for any reason is dangerous. Obviously some books are better written than others, and time will separate the classics from the one-hit-wonders, it will separate the good from the bad, and it will do it naturally without genre shaming, without age-shaming. If you don’t like a book, explain why. 

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? 

That’s right, it’s written for a younger audience, and maybe Ruth Graham didn’t enjoy it, but that doesn’t make it a bad book. I didn’t enjoy Twilight, my sister loved it. We’re only two years apart. And I love paranormal creatures, and I still read YA books. It had nothing to do with genre or target audience or my age at the time (because I loved Shiver, Linger, and Forever which are also YA books with werewolves). There is so much within a genre and especially within the range of genres written for YA readers, that it seems impossible to write a review of it, as Ruth Graham has tried to do. If she had written a review of The Fault in our Stars and stated “That’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds” I don’t think it would have caused any controversy. I often say, “it’s a good book, I guess, but it’s not a genre I enjoy” OR “it was too easy a read” or whatever complaint I have. Many books I’ve read, or started reading, haven’t been for me. But very few of them have been down right BAD. 

I think it’s time to tear down the boundaries. Yes, marketing agencies are still going to target us by gender and age group, but we need to read what appeals to us, regardless of how it’s labelled, and we need to reach outside our comfort zone every now and then to see what else is out there. 

Give it a chance. You might like it. You might be surprised by what’s out there.

 

A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words

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Today a fellow writer on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page made the following comment:

Paying for artwork… now this has been a hot topic with me before (not sure if it was on here), but I don’t believe any drawing, no matter how good (unless you are friggin Royo) should cost 300 dollars/euro’s/pounds or more. I understand that you want to cash in on your abilities and get paid for the hours you spend drawing, but as a writer, if I calculate an hourly rate of the work I put in it a book would actually be impossible to are willing to trade me a small mansion in the south of France for it. I write because it is my passion, you draw because it is yours. I am not getting vast amounts of cash because your artwork is on my cover (again, unless you are friggin Royo), it’s just something nice to wrap the words in, so be reasonable. A 50 for a drawing is plenty. End rant. Peace.

As you can guess this created quite the debate. For the most part people were advocating that artists get paid a decent amount for their work. The definition of decent varied between 50$ and $300 depending on the size and style of the art, the medium (original painting vs print vs cover art vs digital etc), the talent of the artist, and the preceding fame of the artist. There was also intense argument over how much writers should make, and why the discrepancy between art and writing.

That’s all the recap you’re going to get. The rest of this is my opinion on a hot topic. 

Let’s start with artwork, shall we? Artists are talented individuals, some more than others, and each in their own area. I know many artists, some who work with traditional drawing mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and coloured pencils, some who do graphic design, some digital artists, a few photographers, and a couple of painters. These are people trying to make a living in the artistic world (except the two painters, they aren’t “professional” artists per say but that’s off topic), most of them work as graphic designers for local businesses, taking care of web page maintenance and updates and helping with ad campaigns. They work a 9-5 job for a wage doing graphic design related work. I can’t tell you how much they make because I don’t know, but since they’re all less than 10 years out of college I’d say they’re not making the BIG BUCKS yet.

So, when you buy a book cover, or hire a photographer, or buy a print of a picture in any medium, what are you paying for? Just an image? Just a few hours of someone’s time? Or are you also paying off the four year art degree? And the equipment and supply costs? Look at any other commodity. When you buy fruit at the grocery store the cost includes the produce, the cost of shipping it to the store, the wages of the person who put it out on the shelf, the wages of the person who supervises the shelf stocking staff, and a portion of the costs of maintaining the store (electricity, janitor, water, etc). When you pay for a university course you are paying for the professor’s time and knowledge, access to the classroom for one hour, the wages of the person who has to keep that room clean, the electricity for the lights in that room for one hour, the heating of that room for one hour, and the upkeep on the desks/tables/chairs. When you think about it, there are a lot of hidden costs to everything we buy. And artwork is no different. 

My sister is a photographer. For a one hour photo session she spends 30 minutes checking her equipment and loading it for the session, 15-45 minutes driving to the session location, 15 minutes setting up, 15-30 minutes in conference with the client deciding on poses, locations, group configurations, etc., 60-120 minutes actually taking the photos, 15 minutes packing up, 15-45 minutes driving home, 60-120 minutes reviewing and editing the photos to correct lens glare, red eye, over saturation, under saturation, and blurs, 15-45 minutes loading the photos onto a transportable medium, 15-45 minutes driving back to the client, 30-60 minutes reviewing the photos with the client and collecting the money, and 15-45 minutes to get home. Plus wear and tear on the equipment. Plus fuel costs. Plus someone has to watch her daughter while she’s working. Plus she has a student loan to pay off. So for a 1 hour in home photo session she puts in 5-10 hours of time plus additional costs. And most people want to pay her $20 for one hour of taking pictures. 

Do you think she’s getting paid fairly?

Other artists are putting time and supplies into their artwork. Plus the costs of making prints, and paying for a booth somewhere or internet hosting costs. They have to put those costs into the price of the artwork or they’ll lose money.

How many times have you seen someone ask a friend to do their photos for free, to design something for free, because they’ll get “exposure” for it? When my sister was still in university she would do my family photos for free because she was building her portfolio and because there was no travel time or client conference time since we lived together and we could talk over dinner. But now she’s trying to make a living at it so I get her to do my family photos only if we’re going to see each other anyways (she’s coming over for dinner this weekend and bringing her camera) and I pay her for the time, and I get my own prints at my own expense, and I still let her use the photos for advertising herself. They’ll pay $15 for a 6000 word erotic story – no credit to the writer. 

I work an average of 4 hours per day when I’m on a deadline (two hours while my daughter naps and the other two either before the kids are up or after they’re in bed), 6 days a week. It takes me just over a week to write a 6000 word erotic story. It takes me 5 weeks to write and edit a 40,000 word novella. So at 24 hours per day or 144 hours per week, that would work out to 1440$ per 5000-6000 word short story and $7200 per 40k novella – and that price includes all the editing and formatting. But I’m not getting paid that. I’m getting paid 15-75$ for a story and $400 for the novella – with no royalties. 

Besides time, what are you paying for? I have a BA in English Literature so I understand the mechanics of a story, character building, imagery, subtlety, etc. I took courses in grammar and punctuation and I do take on work as a freelance editor. I have a laptop that occasionally needs work. I have to pay for a word processing program. I have to pay for an internet connection so I can communicate with my clients/publishers and deliver my work on time. I have to spend time managing my various networking and job search accounts so I can promote myself and find more work. And I have a naturally creative imaginative mind which I am putting to work for you – in other words, natural talent and ability. Other writers are also paying for editors and cover artists.

If I self published a novella I wouldn’t charge $7200 for it. The difference between art and writing is that art is a one time sale (for the most part, or a limited sale in the case of prints) They rarely get royalties, even for book covers, and they don’t mass produce. But I have 127 friends on Facebook. Considering that some are related to each other and live in the same household even if every one of them bought a copy of my book out of support that would be 110 copies, tops. Add the 10 copies that other NaNo writers might buy in support, and maybe another 10 that my blog followers might buy in support that’s only 130 copies. Add another 15 for friends and family who aren’t on Facebook and that’s 145 copies. And this is thinking BIG. Realistic would be 75 copies. That’s right. Out of 200+ friends, family, and acquaintances I could count on less than half of them to actually buy a copy of the book to show support and of that 75, only 5 will go back and post a review. Anyways, that book is worth $7200, and I would get about 35 CENTS per copy in royalties through Amazon if I self published it. And we said a guaranteed 75 copies sold? $26.25. To get paid a decent wage for that book I’d have to sell 20571 at $1.99. And I have to do all my own marketing. If I pay for any ads or bookmarks or posters that means 100 or 1000 more copies before I see a profit. 

If you have any friends in the Indie publishing biz ask them how many copies of their books they’ve sold. I’m better 90% have sold less than 2000 copies. 

That $7200 was just for the story. It didn’t include the editor (which runs $50-$300 dollars) or the cover art (which runs $50-$300 dollars – and was the start of this whole debate) because as a freelance writer I’m not expected to provide those things. As an self-published author, I am. So now we’re looking at $7800 for all out of pocket expenses, including time, which is 22,285 copies. Or 22,200 copies more than I know I can sell. 

What about traditional publishing? At least then I’ll get a four figure advance and some chance at royalties. But even at a $2000 advance and $2/book there’s this clause that says the advance is against future royalties, I need to sell more than 1000 copies before I see any extra money. Still, at $2 per printed book, that’s 3600 copies to make back that $7200 figure we’ve been using as an example. But of course you have to pay taxes on that like everyone else, and EI, and CPP (I’m Canadian), and you pay your agent out of that so you’re only getting $1.50 per book before deductions (now we’re looking at 4800 copies). But you don’t pay for the cover and you get the book into physical stores. Still, that’s 4725 more copies than I know I can sell. Which is why it’s so hard to break into traditional publishing.

And it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to spend 2$ on an ebook by an author they’ve never heard of because if the book sucks they’re out 2$. People don’t want to chance it on a $20 book because if they don’t like it they’re stuck with the book cluttering up the house and they’re out the money. At least with artwork you can preview the piece in its entirety before buying. Same thing with music. It doesn’t help that writers and artists aren’t supporting each other – advertising for each other, providing word-of-mouth recommendations for writers they like, liking pages and blogs, sharing links and release news, BUYING from each other. It doesn’t help that so many non-creatively engaged people are surrounded by so many “starving artists” and “starving writers” that they can’t support all of them. It doesn’t help that we’re under-pricing ourselves in the market place. It doesn’t help that our culture no longer values books and art. 

I suggest we work to change things. Charge what you’re worth. Advertise for each other. Let’s put some value into art and literature again.

 

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