Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Last July I wrote a blog post about how to run a bookstore:

* Unobtrusive music, café with coffee and snacks, free WiFi for visitors.

* Books and items related to books, CDs and periodicals. No toys or stuffed pillows.

* Self-published books by local authors in a separate, well-marked section.

* Book signings, many by local authors.

* The scent of chocolate.

Now that I’ve solved that problem, how about fixing traditional publishing? Well, Hugh Howey already did it, pretending to be the CEO of the “New Harper-Collins.” Here are his major suggestions in a brief list.

* Move out of New York and into small quarters elsewhere.

* Put an end to the return system. It makes no sense and is bad for the environment.

* Get books out in less than 18 months. If it can be done for late-breaking news, why not always?

* Use Print-on-Demand. Encourage the use of the Espresso Book Machine.

* Do away with DRM. If fact, piracy puts books in the hands of readers.

* Brand books with the name of the author or Genre. Readers don’t care who published the book.

* Publish books digitally first, then produce hard-covers and trade paper at the same time. And lower the prices.

* Pay authors a minimum of 50% on e-books. And pay them every month, not twice a year.

* Eliminate non-compete clauses in contracts. Ditto restrictions on how many books an author can put up.

* Limit license terms to no more than five years.

* Offer free books from time to time or “Buy five and get one free" programs.

I love all these ideas, and, perhaps, some day, legacy publishers will embrace them. Just don’t hold your breath until then.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


This is a busy writing week for me. Well, I’ll do very little actual writing on the novella I’m trying to finish. Instead I’ll write “evaluations,” critiques if you will, on three first chapters of books submitted to the second annual Memoir Writing and Publishing Workshop to be held this Saturday, March 22nd in the Oliphant Auditorium of CSUSB in Palm Desert.

Presented by Emmy-winning TV producer Fern Field Brooks, who is also a published memoir writer, it’s an all-day (ten a.m. to five p.m.) event featuring talks by Brooks, author and script-writer Thom Racina, and yours truly. In addition, participants who signed up will have their work discussed and be treated to lunch.

GOOD NEWS! If you live in the Coachella Valley, or just want to come, you’re welcome to Audit the workshop for FREE!

Okay, you won’t get the free lunch, but you will be given a discount lunch coupon, can park free, and be allowed to ask questions during the Q&A sessions. What a great opportunity to learn what makes a good memoir, or other kinds of writing, and how to publish in the new marketplace. But you must register or you won’t get in. Simply RSVP to

What makes this a busy week for me, besides evaluating the submissions and writing my own speech for the Workshop (about the rise and acceptance of self-publishing and very short, I promise) is that it falls on the same weekend as the bi-annual Arts & Crafts Fair held in the complex where I live. On Thursday, Friday and half of Saturday, I’ll be at the Fair selling and signing copies of my books, along with four other published writers who are members of the club. I started Writers Circle here seven years ago, and it receives ten percent of the money earned by those sales. That income, plus low annual dues, supports cash prizes for our writing contests and allows us to hire speakers.

Occasionally, a customer at our sales table will ask if a book is available in digital for their e-readers (they are) and then we hand them a bookmark so they remember to order it when they get home. But most still want our autographed trade-paper books. And, thanks to Amazon’s CreateSpace, most can offer them at a low price in spite of the club’s commission and California sales tax.

So, no, paper is not going away. Experts say it probably will never shrink below 30% of sales, and that’s fine with us. Fellow writers, do you also offer paper copies to your fans?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I follow several blogs every week, one of them being Joe (J.A.) Konrath’s. Joe was a traditionally published thriller writer in the 1990s, selling many books, most of them named for drinks: Whiskey Sour, Bloody Mary, Rusty Nail, etc. all featuring his main character, Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels.

Joe recounted some of this in his blog post this week called “Identity and the Writer”. Before be sold those books, even after he’d written ten and had an agent, he still didn’t consider himself a writer. Because back in those days, the only way to sell books was to get an agent, get a publisher, and accept whatever contract was offered. It wasn’t until he signed a contract that he felt free to call himself a WRITER. But the first book he sold didn’t magically change because he’d signed a contract. It was the same book, and he’d always been a WRITER.

Although paid as well as authors were paid in those days, he wanted to sell lots of books and took it upon himself - and used his own money - to travel around the country (1200 bookstores in 42 states) to improve his sales and try to make a decent living. However, the coming of the e-reader and Amazon changed his life. He went into self-publishing and now makes millions. But the most remarkable thing about Joe is that he tells everyone how he did it and urges writers to self-publish too. Hundreds, maybe thousands of writers owe their success to him. I’m not anywhere near that kind of success, but his advice has been invaluable and put me on the right track too. (Luck still plays a part.)

Yet, today, years later, many self-published authors don’t consider themselves “real” writers. They mistakenly believe that Identity requires the knowledge and approval of others, those agents and editors. Legacy-published authors will tell them that lie constantly because they realize going through the old process of agent-publisher-contract didn’t make them writers after all. They just don’t want to admit it because it would blur their identity in their own minds.

As one of Joe’s commenters said, “If we pay attention to what these self-appointed bastions of literature have to say about who may call themselves writers, then we’re allowing ourselves to be subjugated and dismissed.”  Another comment reminded us that many artists made no money in their lifetime, but their work is now worth millions. Do we dare to say they weren’t “real” artists?

I especially liked this response by Joe to a comment: “Why do you feel the word ‘author’ is devalued because anyone can now publish?  How are you hurt by that?” Also, “If you need the approval of strangers, you’re doomed to be unhappy.”

Like Joe, I have no quarrel with those who choose to try the Legacy route, and Hybrid authors seem to do well financially. However, if it’s only validation you’re looking for - if you just want someone in the “business” - to say you’re good enough, then try this. I don’t recall who suggested it, but the idea is to pitch your book to an agent. Then, if the agent says it’s good and he/she wants to represent it, say “Thanks very much,” and go away. You’ve got your validation, but you don’t have to pay the agent 15% forever or sign a bad contract. Self-publish and use the agent’s complimentary words in your promotion. Win-Win.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014



Yesterday was National Grammar Day. I’ve done this before, but indulge me while I repeat the grammar mistakes I hope I’ll never see again. But probably will.

1. could of. There is no legitimate reason to use “could of.“ I’ve seen it even in traditionally published books, and it apparently stems from the author--to say nothing of the editor--missing an English class. He/she means “could’ve” a contraction of the two words “could” and “have.“ Example: “I could’ve been a contender.“ or “I could have danced all night.”

2. Try and. Technically there is no “try and” (or almost none.)  If your character is going to try to do something, use “try to,” not “try and.“ Example: “I will try to help you.“ After all, if you say “try and” you imply you’ll succeed. But what if you don’t succeed? You’ve told a lie.

3. I could care less. Wrong. After all, if you could care less, then you must care somewhat. But you’re trying to say that you care so little that it would be impossible for you to care any less than you do. Use “I couldn’t care less.”

4. incidentses. This is not a word. One event is an “incident.“ Two or more events are “incidents” (add an “s” to make a plural). There is no such word as “incidentses.”

5. Unless you’re writing dialogue by an illiterate character, you should never write, “Me and my brother,” “Her and I,” “we was,” or “She don’t.“  But I often see “myself” instead of “me. “ Don’t try to get fancy. Wrong: “She gave the book to John and myself.“ Right: “She gave the book to John and me.“ If John were gone, you’d say, “She gave the book to me.“ Wouldn’t you?

6. doctor’s - apple’s. This is actually a punctuation problem that’s become an epidemic. I can hardly read anything without seeing unnecessary apostrophes. Plural words don’t get them. Right: “The apples were ripe and the doctors ate them.“


Watching the Oscars the other night brought several things to mind, first being it was way too long, and Ellen Degeneres added little of value. Why add that nonsense about ordering pizza?


“In Memoriam” reminded me we lost so many good people last year. One was Sid Caesar, the funniest man ever, a true genius of comedy. Yet he was never elected to the Comedy Hall of Fame. My theory: whoever does those things is too young, maybe not even born when the rest of us were glued to YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS on Saturday night. Tina Fey is cute, but she never came close.


Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from a drug overdose was a loss to Hollywood, but it reminded me how easy it is to get addicted to drugs, even prescription drugs. A close friend came close to such a problem. A few days in the hospital for surgery, a couple of months recovering, a pill to stop pain so she could get to sleep, and, bam, she’s got a monkey on her back like Frank Sinatra and heroin in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM.

What’s on your mind, readers? Any brilliant observations or even pet peeves?

Sid Caesar
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Frank Sinatra