From Stone Tablet to E-book

     

“There’s always room at the top,” said Daniel Webster. But who exactly he was addressing in his famous quote is up for discussion, seeing that he was a thorough-going elitist and excelled at being at the top.

However, it is true that there is always room at the top for those who set their sights on lofty peaks even if they come from lowly beginnings. For example, just look at the history of the Presidents of the USA including the present incumbent in the White House.

And there’s always a demand for talented, gifted writers, with relevant things to say.

These are challenging times for publishers, even perhaps the hardest times ever for traditional publishers. Remarkably it is only one generation ago that books and publishing had not really undergone significant change since the time of Caxton.

We, however, are already living in future-shock!

Nowadays it is fair to ask who or what is a publisher.

In times gone by, the publishing world was dominated by the big boys. The likes of Oxford University Press, Doubleday, Hodder Stoughton, Penguin Books, Faber and Faber, and Thomas Nelson to name but a few.

Now it is more likely to be ‘johndoepublishing.com’.

In the 19th century a whole new era in publishing began. A series of technical developments, in the book trade as in other industries, dramatically raised output and lowered costs. Stereotyping, the iron press, the application of steam power, mechanical typecasting and typesetting, new methods of reproducing illustrations—these inventions, developed through the century and often resisted by the printer, amounted to a revolution in book production.

Today a brave new world technological revolution has transformed the industry. We are on the verge of such dramatic and irreversible change that could effectively mean the demise of the printed, hold-in-your-hand, paper book.

Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, depicted a society where books were systematically burned. In our society we simply don’t need them (printed books that is) anymore. We may see the end of the printed book in our own lifetime. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 we may need to search furtively in the backstreets and alleys of proletariat towns to find copies of old decaying books.

Publishing is about to take a leap into the future. The word out on the streets is change or die. Those who are always looking into the past are often blind to the present.

We can now read books on our laptops, iPads, and cell phones. It is so convenient. I can sit on train and carry a thousand books on my Kindle and access, read, interrogate, highlight, or listen to any of them within seconds.

Public libraries will one day no longer have books on shelves; instead, there will be terminals where we can ‘plug’ in and download any and every book ever written into our own personal private mini-chip. No matter what your point of view is, such a prospect is mind-blowingly amazing.

But where does all that leave publishing?

We have gone from the stone tablet to wax impressions, from papyrus to parchment, from paper to the e-book. It is difficult to predict the future of the printed book, but publishing and publishers will remain. They will, I am sure, change to meet the demands and the fashions of the times we live in. The ability to adapt is, after all, the difference between commercial success and bankruptcy.

To end my blog here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Although electronic books, or e-books, had limited success in the early years, and readers were resistant at the outset, the demand for books in this format has grown dramatically, primarily because of the popularity of e-reader devices and as the number of available titles in this format has increased. Another important factor in the increasing popularity of the e-reader is its continuous diversification. Many e-readers now support basic operating systems, which facilitate email and other simple functions. The  i-pad is the most obvious example of this trend, but even mobile phones can host e-reading software now.” 

I love the touch, the smell, the sound of turning a page in the candlelight when I am reading a real book in bed, but the future is at hand.

In the not too distant future, our children’s children may well ask, “Grandma what was a book?”

But writers will always be needed…

Won’t they?

And of course there will always be room at the e-Top.

What is your view of the changing publishing industry?

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Keep Doggedly at It – Writing That Is!

 

 Isaac Asimov at work                                         

                 

Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century Englishman who penned the first dictionary of the English language said this of writing.

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”

There is a lot of wisdom in this statement. I believe the main thing which separates successful writers from would-be is that most people who think they can write don’t have the stomach for it. Just like any other enterprise of worth it involves hours and hours of hard work.

On the radio this week I heard the story of two 12-year-olds, swimming hopefuls both of them outstanding athletes. The young boy said it was his dream to swim for Great Britain in the Olympics in 2012. The young girl said she had the same dream. The boy talked a lot about winning a gold medal. The girl got stuck into training. Five years later the young girl, now 17, has been picked for the GB team and she has a good chance of getting a medal. What about the boy? Well he’s still talking about winning, but he hasn’t even got a spectator ticket for the event. He dropped out of training long ago.

Here’s a quote from the Novelist Doris Lessing, “I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”

“The only difference between a writer and someone who wants to be a writer is discipline” Ayelet Waldman.

Bah humbug! Discipline, the bane of all who want to be a success overnight, can’t I just have it all without the discipline, the work, and the misery?

We all know the answer to that question. Lee Iaccoca said “The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen.”

Ernest Hemingway used to get up at dawn and write until lunch time then enjoyed his afternoons not writing. CS Lewis had a daily schedule which he kept to and that meant writing 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon. Jean Plaidy wrote 5000 words before lunch. Graham Greene did only 500 words a day, but look at the output. Isaac Asimov awoke each morning at 6 AM and worked well into the night, sometimes churning out entire books in a matter of days, amazing, but not for me.

Whatever your plan is just keep to it, doggedly, and then one day you’ll walk past a book shop with your own creation smiling proudly in the window.

I love this from Harlan Ellison “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing. That you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones about and come down in the morning with a story. But it isn’t like that. You sit in the back with a typewriter and you work. That’s all there is to it.”

I leave you with this quote from your own John Adams, which is good advice to any writer.

“Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.”

How do you maintain discipline in your writing life?

Finding a Publisher – 10 Steps to Success – Part 2

I’m returning to discuss those ever important steps in finding a publisher. You can find Part I that covered steps one through five here.

Step 6 – You may have ten or maybe even twenty publishing companies still on your list. Now take a look at their websites to see for yourself what kind of books they publish. Pick out one or two books similar to your own story and discover where the publisher actually sells them. For instance are they available in book stores or only on internet sites like Amazon. Browsing the books for sale can also tell you if the books are best-sellers. Read the readers’ reviews etc. Spending time in this area can help build up a picture of the publisher, and this kind of research is always fruitful for new writers. Are the publishers small or big, successful or not, new or well established, respected or not? On this last point the internet often has blogs and comments about bad publishers. Read them but be discerning because sometimes the comments may come from an embittered author whose books were repeatedly turned down.

Step 7 – So you have now made a shortlist and want to decide where to send your precious MS. Remember you can send copies of the MS to several publishers at the same time. Better to fire off several barrels rather than just one bullet, scattered guns normally hit something; whereas, the single shot usually misses the target.

Make sure you really read the details of their submission guidelines. Each company will have a different slant as to how you contact them. Some want the whole MS; others don’t. Some want the first three chapters only; whereas, some publishers just want to see a synopsis of the book. Remember to keep strictly to the guidelines, or your MS may end up in the waste paper basket. And always send a stamped addressed envelope so that the copy can be mailed back to you. That way you are more likely to get a reply even if it’s not the one you wanted.

Step 8 – A warning! The ‘sharks’ out there often disguise themselves as bona fide publishers. They might look safe, but all they want is to chew on your money. This is not saying that ‘self-publishing’ companies are predatory. Most often they’re not because in the case of self-publishers you get what you pay for.

I am sorry to say that there are Christian companies out there in the big ocean that act like sharks. One such company contacted me and said they wanted to publish my book, but it wasn’t until the third or fourth email that they told me it would cost $18,000 up front. The contract also tied me into buying a hundred books at $10 a book. If however, you are serious about your writing, find a reputable publisher and use your best judgement to pick the right one. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t!

Step 9 – So you’ve sent your MS off; do not despair if after a short while you don’t hear back. Just be patient, and resist contacting the publisher to find out what’s the score. Most often it takes at least three months to get even an acknowledgement or even longer. I know that you are on tenterhooks, but the best way to stay sane is to ‘forget’ about the submission and get on with the next project. If you get rejections, don’t lose heart. Some of the most famous authors had hundreds of rejections before someone smart bought the book. Remember a lot of publishers make errors in their choices. The Harry Potter series was turned down by loads of agents and publishers. Have faith and keep knocking on doors; you’ll win in the end. The writers who found success are those who never gave up believing.

Step 10 – If you are a Christian writer, here’s a Ready auto transport service you can use. In short, what it does is post three chapters of your book and a brief author bio with your contact details on their website. The website is known to many Christian publishers who take a peek on a regular basis to see if there’s anything worthwhile posted there. It’s inexpensive, and your submission stays on the website for six months. One last piece of invaluable advice for Christian writers is this: remember the Lord is keenly interested in you and your work. Pray every day for success. I found success with an agent and a publisher who were five thousand miles away from where I live.

Care to share some of your publishing experiences?