Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Well, not exactly a box, more like a miniature house on a post.

Jean Chapman Snow, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, reported about a new phenomenon in her neighborhood, a free library with a sign reading, “Little Free Library, Charter 4775.” In smaller letters, it read, “Take a book. Return a book.”

As you may deduce from the charter number, there are many such libraries around the country. Started by Todd Bol in Wisconsin in 2009, these doll-house sized structures are in residential neighborhoods in forty-five states and at least five other countries. Most are wooden sided, with a front that's open, or a glass door to keep out rain. With two shelves inside, they might hold between twenty and thirty books. And, of course, it has a website (

In 2001, a similar book-sharing idea ( was launched and is now in 132 countries with 10 million books. The system is different, however. You register a book, get a tracking number and then leave it in a public place. Whoever finds the book is invited to use the tracking number and website to show where it is, then set it free again.

As a lover of books and libraries, this appeals to me, and so, since I can’t build my own library-house, I might try Book Crossing. Although I have a perfectly good library where I live, and many in nearby cities, this is another way of sharing the books you’ve read but no longer want to keep. My own living room bookshelves are filled to overflowing, and I still buy more.

The only thing I seem to have more of is a bunch of stories in my head that I want to put down on paper. Like all other authorrs, I assume, I decided to become a writer because I loved to read. Libraries, whatever form they take, are often the places we indulged our fantasies, beginning as young as six. At several times that age now, I still love books and libraries and always will.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


The cover article in the September issue of the Mensa Bulletin was titled, “The R (regret) Word,” and inside were snippets from stories sent in by members of things they regretted.

One said she regretted not taking Chemistry in school. A man said, “I should have had four children instead of two.” (No comment from his wife.) Another reported his 90-something grandfather regretted he never went bowling.

Here are some others:
* Not learning to play guitar.
* Not learning the bagpipes in junior high band.
* Not going to veterinarian school.
* Not taking the Mensa test sooner.
* Not studying dance.
* My mother not seeing me on Jeopardy.

However, by far the most regrets had to do with family.
* Growing up without a father.
* Not being closer to family.
* Not having more talks with my father.
* Not asking enough questions of parents and grandparents.

Although there are variation of this, I think the earliest came from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. “For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: it might have been.”

Like so many others, I wish I knew more about my family. What was it like for my grandfather to leave England and start a new life in the U.S.? When and where did my mother and father--who came from different cultures--meet? It’s too late to get those answers, but I’m resolved not to have regrets about writing.

Sure, I already regret I didn’t start sooner, although I wrote stories while in grade school. But then I took time off to marry and raise four children. I wouldn’t give up one of them, and fortunately they understand why I spend so many hours at home in front of the computer now, writing books.

What about you, my friends? Will you some day regret you didn’t write more, that perhaps the Great American Novel never got put on paper? Don’t let it happen. Write right now!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


When I began writing (long enough ago that some of you reading this might not have been born), I was told that writers should begin their career by writing short stories before longer works like novels. In those days, there were markets for short stories, so that’s what I did.

Women’s magazines carried at least one short story (usually romantic) per issue along with the required non-fiction about home decorating, fashion and cooking. But then that market dried up, and only “confession” magazines took stories. Those were supposedly “real” stories and carried no author names. One of my friends wrote literally hundreds of them, which replaced her income when she quit her job to write full time. Thanks to her encouragement, I wrote such a story and it sold immediately. It was, in fact, the first money I earned from writing and the day I was sent a check for it, my husband and I went out to dinner to celebrate.

I never sold another “confession,” and I stopped writing them. Even my prolific friend stopped submitting them. Why? Because the magazines paid the same amount to writers that they’d paid twenty or thirty years earlier. This despite the fact their advertisers paid vastly higher amounts every year. As usual, writers got the dirty end of the stick.

However, I did write lots of other stories--romance, mystery, even science fiction--hoping magazines which paid better might buy one. Alas, those didn’t sell either. However, I had a computer by then and I not only switched to writing romance novels (which, in my opinion, is where the short stories evolved when women’s magazines stopped publishing them) but saved my old stories in my computer files. And now I’m glad.

Thanks to either shorter attention spans by readers, or longer waiting times in doctor’s offices, reading short works on an e-reader, tablet or even a smart phone is suddenly popular.

I’ve sold eleven novels and four non-fiction books, but today I pulled out an old story and spent an hour updating it because I have a long list of places to send it. The world has turned again, and I’m prepared. Are you, my fellow writers?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Many newspapers and blogs picked up and reported the statistics in Forbes’ business magazine about the highest paid authors of the year. Even if you didn’t read the article, as a writer you probably already knew who the top people were and how many millions of dollars they earned.

E. L. James, $95 million, James Patterson, $91 million, Suzanne Collins, $55 million, Danielle Steele, $26 million, Janet Evanovich, $24 million, Nora Roberts, $23 million, Dan Brown, $22 million, Stephen King, $20 million, John Grisham, $18 million, J. K. Rowling, $13 million, George R.R. Martin, $12 million.

Those weren’t all. The article my friend sent me listed sixteen million-dollar authors. I’m going to assume she didn’t mean to imply I should throw myself under a Waste Management truck because my 2013 writing income didn’t come close. Close? Those numbers and mine aren’t even in the same galaxy.

And yet... I’m in the black. The income from my obsession (no, I meant occupation) hasn’t affected our family budget and I may yet be in the rarefied atmosphere of having to pay income tax on it.

And the reason I’m not unhappy (okay a tad jealous) is what I told my friend. That’s sixteen people out of how many million writers? (Amazon doesn’t share its figures with me.) A few people make a lot of money and almost everyone else little or none. But that just means publishing is like every other endeavor. Tom Hanks makes millions per picture, but thousands of other actors wait tables to live. Same with sports and music, for which I won’t bother you with statistics.

Three other recent articles offer perspective, posted in the popular blog, The Passive Voice. One from the New York Times was titled, “Long Odds for Authors Newly Published,” to which one can only respond, “Duh!” and another, “It’s Just Books,” by Lara Schiffbauer. She reminds us that “for every lucky, hard-working, talented writer who found success, there are many who didn’t have the stars align in the same way. Whether I sell a zillion copies or two, it won’t change the important things in my life. I’m still a wife, a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a friend. I’ll still write. It’s just books.”

Finally, “Writing Excuses: Survivorship Bias.” The podcast from which it was taken revealed “Survivorship Bias is the skewing of the data when you seek to emulate successes without considering failures in the same space.” Writers who are jumping into self-publishing study those making money there and listen to what they say as if it’s a formula for their own success. Yet, if you talked to people who won the lottery would you think playing the lottery is the only way to get rich?

If failures become invisible, you’ll be pulled toward the successes. Survivorship bias pulls you toward the superstars in everything. As Mark Coker of Smashwords has said, “We cannot promise you your book will sell well even if you follow all the tips. In fact, most books, whether traditionally published or self-published don’t sell well.”

So I am content to be a little fish in a big pond. I write because I want to and it’s part of who I am. But I’m also a wife, a mother, daughter, aunt and friend. That’s my life. The other is just books.

The Passive Voice
New York Times
Lara Schiffbauer

Mark Coker