Archive for October, 2017
In this blog posting, I just want to make a few observations on a couple of aspects of writing. To wit:
First, I stopped at a local Barnes and Noble bookstore this afternoon to get another science fiction book. I wandered down the aisle where the sci-fi/fantasy books were shelved and, as usual, glanced briefly at the books that led to the sci-fi section. Those books consisted largely of classics and other fiction, not sci-fi. Then I hit the science fiction section, and the contrast was—as simply as I can put it—eye opening. The classics, all those non-sci-fi books were brilliantly colored: reds, yellows, and oranges seemed to dominate, though other colors were evident too. But the sci-fi books were almost uniformly black. Coal black, black as midnight in a coal mine, black as the ace of spades, to use several well-worn clichés. The actual dividing line was between the classics and the newest releases of sci-fi books, and certainly not all sci-fi books are released in blackened dust jackets. But in this particular case, almost all the new releases seem to have been painted with a brush dipped in India ink. Even a classic such as Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is in a deep blue, and it stuck out only because I was familiar with the name. I did see two or three books in much lighter colors, and I even bought one, an anthology of space opera and military sci-fi called Infinite Stars, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, published by Titan Books. It has a kind of light tannish-red grizzled cover, and it stood out from all the blackness like a sun in the midst of infinite darkness.
I’m not sure I can tell why so many sci-fi books are published in dark covers. Perhaps it’s a trend of the times. There seems a tendency toward dark plots nowadays, of heroes who are not what they seem to be, or who have to overcome vastly destructive personal demons before they can fulfill their destiny and rescue the damsel in distress (or whatever it is they have to do). There are, of course, many sci-fi books released in recent years that are not dark (Victor Milan’s Dinosaur series comes to mind), but there is a serious trend. I, personally, am not in favor of it. If I ever get any of my books published (the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise), I will certainly insist that the covers be lighter, even much lighter. Reds and yellows are common. Even a light blue would be good. What’s that you say? The author doesn’t have any control over the cover? We’ll find out.
Second, I want to comment briefly on one aspect of getting short stories published. I’ve written several short stories, mostly literary in character, and I’ve been trying to get some of them published in literary journals around the country for quite a number of years. Most of the journals state in their instructions to submitters something like: “read a back issue or two of our journal to get a feel of what kind of works we are looking for.” Okay, well said. Good idea. And I have been reading some of the journals I submit to, when I can get to them. But I’m becoming more and more convinced this advice is questionable at best. Several times (more than I can count on all fingers and toes) I’ve read a journal and said, “Aha! I have a short story that will fit well with this magazine. I will give them a try.” So I send in a story, wait a goodly number of weeks or months and, invariably, comes a rejection that says, “We did not feel this story was a good fit for our magazine.” So I wonder, what value is it to read the magazine beforehand if they’re going to reject something the author thinks will fit their editorial style? Granted, the whole process is subjective, and the editor’s decision is the last word, but if the author can’t make a good judgement on the “fit” of the story, that just makes it harder to get published in the first place.
In a short news report I read a few days ago, Sherry Lansing, the former head of Paramount Studios, is quoted as saying, “I’ve come to believe that the marketing of a movie is now more important than the movie. That to me is a very, very sad thing and perhaps it explains why there are less films of social relevance. Because they’re harder to market.”
Now, in this day and age of fake news, I suppose this could be a fake story, but the source seemed believable to me, and anyway, Sherry Lansing, as the former CEO of a major studio, should know what she’s talking about. We’ve all probably seen a lot of trailers for movies lately, and I’ve noticed that many of those movies are ones in which the special effects are prominent, like science-fiction movies. Marketing is certainly a big part of making a movie, that’s for sure.
But as a writer of fiction (but not screenplays), I found myself wondering if the same isn’t true for books. Perhaps not to the same extent as for movies because there are probably a lot more books published each year than movies released. But certainly, marketing for books is an important part of the publishing process. Publishers nowadays do little marketing anymore, leaving it largely to the author, and if you self-publish, you have to do it all. So many things go into marketing a book: you have to have a website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and you’re even expected to go onto other social media platforms, just to get the word out about your book. Book signings, a spectacular book launch, working with bookstores, libraries and other outlets, just to get the book in the hands of the public. Go to book fairs and conventions. Always keep a box of your books in the back of your car. An email list is considered mandatory. Many writers hire a publicist. If you don’t market well, you’re considered a failure. It goes on and on. I wonder if an author does more marketing than actual writing. Does that mean that marketing is more important than the book itself? Do writers spend more time marketing anymore? Are we channeling Sherry Lansing in all this?
Marketing, of course, is selling. To market means to ask yourself, “What can I do to sell my book(s)?” Ours is a selling society. The gradual increase in commercial time on TV is one indication of how TV networks and local stations have to raise more and more money just to produce their shows. I’ve even seen commercials that are five (5) minutes long, for crying out loud. Push, push, push. Sell, sell, sell. It’s getting to be the same in publishing. We have to market more and more just to recoup the cost of producing the books. I’m wondering if there will be a breaking point somewhere along the line where one or more authors will say, “Enough is enough. I can’t sell enough books to make writing worthwhile any more.” I don’t think we’ve reached that point, but I really wonder how far away it is.
The November, 2017, issue of The Writer contains a couple of articles about apps for writers that can (potentially, at least) make the physical act of writing easier. My first reaction when I saw the magazine was very much in the realm of Ebenezer Scrooge: “Bah”, I said, “I don’t need an app to do my writing. I do it myself.” Of course I do.
But now that I’ve read the articles and looked over the listings of products and tools that can make writing easier, I’m beginning to change my mind. Granted, the writer still has to do the actual writing—or at least the mental, imaginative, and creative part of the writing if not the physical act of putting one word after another, because now software is available that will write as you speak. I’m not sure I’m ready for that just yet, but I am leaning toward looking at, if not outright purchasing, one or two apps that might help me get the job done. File storage, social media management, e-book creation, all look like possibilities, if not now, at least in the future.
But I’m not leaning toward any of the large, word-processing apps or downloads. I’ve been using Microsoft Word for—well, let’s just say a long time now—and I’m satisfied with it. I’m very familiar with it, and I can’t see learning a new word processor that does largely the same thing, even though it may have other functions. Some people swear by word processing programs that can help them “organize” their work into, say chapters and scenes and convenient blocks of text. I can’t say I need anything like that. I keep most of that in my head anyway, or on paper. It works for me, and I’ve always felt that writing is best done by whatever works for the writer. Do it your own way.
In the end, of course, you have to do the writing yourself. No app will write a novel for you, though that may be in the not-too-far distant future. Artificial intelligence may make us writers obsolete, and such original material as reports, poetry, novels, biographies, whatnot, may be computer generated. Fortunately I won’t be around to see that, and I suspect that artificial intelligence will never fully replace the human mind. I’m sure AI will do more imaginative, creative thinking than it does now, for better or worse. But it will be a long time before a computer wins a Pulitzer.
So, whether you’re writing one haiku or an exhaustive history of all the dinosaurs that roamed the North American continent, you still have to sit down and write the damn thing. Apps can help, but it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting.