self-publishing…quality still matters

I recently attended a lecture about self-publishing. Quite a few were in attendance. I’d not realized how many wannabee writers are out there. Of course there were probably a handful of published authors in the mix. Already speaking when I arrived was self-published author Nathan Everett. He had quite a lot to offer about the design of the self-published book, so that it will closely replicate one that’s hot off the presses of an established publishing house. I liked that idea because I’ve seen a couple of self-published books that resembled pamphlets. I didn’t think they were worth the $8 or $10 asked. I love books, but they need to be worth their weight in cold, hard cash, especially in the current economy.

Cover of

Cover of Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Everett was a good speaker, so good in fact, that he convinced me to purchase his book Steven George & The Dragon. At a hefty price of $15, it sucked me in because of its well-designed jacket. Reading the first few paragraphs also convinced me that Everett’s self-publishing efforts were well worth the price. Or so I thought. The following day I settled into reading the 171 pages of fantasy. I’d not read this genre since childhood. Sorry. I’ve NOT gone ape over the Harry Potter or Twilight books, although I enjoyed the films. I’m inclined to read celebrity biographies, another kind of fantasy. But where I relished the aforementioned fantasy films and bios, Everett’s book was disappointing.

The upside of self-publishing is obvious. A writer can get his work out to readers without using middlemen. That, in turn, allows her to keep most of the earnings, a small percentage going to the company enlisted to do the selling. The downside may not be as blatant. Just because everyone can self-publish, doesn’t mean everyone can write well. I don’t think I’ll purchase another of Everett’s books to see if his writing gets better as he goes along. That’s too expensive a venture for my pocketbook. As it is, I’m not certain I can make it past the first chapter of his dragon book. See if you agree with me after you read the following sample from Steven George & The Dragon.

Once upon a time, there was a dragon-slayer named Steven George. He could not remember whether he had volunteered for the task or had been chosen. He did not know when he would be called upon to slay the dragon. He did not even really know what a dragon was–aside from the fact that it was fierce, and to be feared, and it breathed fire. He knew, however, from his earliest memories that he was the one who would one day slay the dragon. …

The dragon–Steven assumed–lived high on a mountain on the other side of a wide river. Steven had often seen plumes of smoke rise from its peak. Dragons breathe fire. There was smoke on the mountain. Therefore, the dragon must live there. If Steven could just figure out how to get across the wide and treacherous river, he could walk up the mountain, slay the dragon, and be home in time for dinner. But there was no way across the river. So Steven planned his strategy carefully. Exactly 10,230 steps downstream, an equally wide and treacherous river joined the one near his village, and became even wider, more treacherous, and impossible to cross. Steven determined to walk upstream until the river narrowed or became shallow enough to cross, and then he would come back downstream on the other side to the dragon’s mountain.

Steven was ready to shoulder his pack and step off his front stoop–the first step of his journey–when his sweetheart approached.

Phoenix Dragons

Image via Wikipedia

“Steven, dear, I’ve packed you a lunch,” she said. She handed him a small parcel wrapped in oiled skin and looked at him lovingly. “So now you are off to slay the dragon. My hero. All my life I will pine away on our doorstep, dreaming of my brave dragonslayer. People will nod their heads when they pass and say, ‘She loved Steven George the Dragonslayer.’ Poets will write of our love and how you rode off to meet the dragon to protect your village and your love. I am so proud of you.”  

 What was even more disconcerting was the counting of steps as the hero made his way in search of the dragon.

…looked sadly at his sweetheart and took step number one. Two, three, four, five, six. Steven always counted his steps. As long as he knew how many steps from home he was, he knew where he was. Steven had counted the steps to the river, the steps to the pastures, the steps to the field. Steven had counted the steps between his home and his mother’s home. He had counted the steps around the village long-house. Knowing the number of steps he had taken was a comfort to Steven. 14, 15, 16, 17.

Steven walked at the steady, measured pace of 80 steps per minute. …As he moved forward–35, 36, 37, 38… He walked on through the village–51, 52, 53, 54. …as he walked through the village–69, 70, 71. …and continued counting only his footsteps–91, 92, 93. …as he stepped boldly out of the village–103, 104, 105.

And that only took me to page 4 of the book. I may attempt another try at reading Everett’s writing, but probably not in the near future. I credit him with making a living at book designing, as a paid consultant, and book selling. I guess the beauty of being responsible for the total package means the writer can find his own niche among readers. And truthfully, I think that’s the hard part…for either self-published or traditionally published books.

Complete set of the seven books of the

Image via Wikipedia

 Mr.Everett did indicate that his book was intended for an audience of 13-year-olds. In my opinion that age group is more sophisticated and discerning than either Everett or I were at that age. Youngsters these days are masters of the internet, and totally captivated by J.K. Rowling‘s literary master-pieces. I don’t see them reading about Everett’s Steven George.

I had a similar experience with another self-published author a few years ago. My husband and I met the woman on one of his business trips. We had dinner with her and a traveling companion, a young niece. The woman was writing a piece about my husband’s company for AAA magazine. Early in the conversation she told us that she’d just published a book. I don’t think she mentioned that it was self-published. She explained that it was a children’s book, whose idea was spawned from her relationship with her own toddler.

Upon returning home, I went in search of the title at our local Barnes and Noble. A clerk helped us locate the book. Upon seeing it on the shelf I immediately knew it had been a self-publishing effort. Rather than a substantive book, it was a pamphlet. The jacket was mint green with a simple drawing on its cover of a child. Leafing through the pages, I felt no excitement, only monotony. The illustrations lent nothing to the story. Even $5 would have been too high a price for me to pay. I don’t recollect what the actual cost was. I returned the book to its shelf, and left with a disdain for self-published books.

Nathan Everett’s book demonstrates how far self-publishing has come in the design and appearance of the finished product. Purchasing his book was influenced more by my wanting it to serve as a model, when I decide to self-publish my own work. In that regard, I know I’ll reap the benefits of the $15 spent. I consider it a small investment. But the biggest gain already realized is knowing what’s written between the covers, had better justify going the whole 9 yards to self-publish.   

just because it can be done…doesn’t mean it should…and that’s the $64,000 question…with which i’m still wrestling…hugmamma.

justin bieber…huckabee rival?

Image representing Mark Zuckerberg as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

Adults are apt to dismiss the young members of society as not having anything of substance to contribute. But I think that’s definitely changing. No longer can we admonish them with “children should be seen and not heard,” as was the golden rule in my younger years. Not that those approaching middle-age were ready to relinquish power without a fight. It’s more that upstarts like Bill Gates and Paul Allen at the tender ages of 13 and 15, respectively, began turning our world on its ear when they sought to create what became a global power, Microsoft. Others followed in time, Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg. These of course are the more prominent among the brainiacs of their generations. I think it’s safe to say these young men who were probably considered “still wet behind the ears” by their elders, grabbed the world’s attention, never letting go.

I personally have witnessed the power of those younger than me. My 25-year-old daughter continually teaches me about life, its radical highs and lows, as well as its moments of calm and serenity. The tables have turned, where I taught her, she now teaches me. Although sometimes I wonder if she hasn’t been giving me lessons all along, ever since she was a babe in my womb.

As I’ve made my way through this, at times overwhelming, internet adventure, 20-year-olds have reached out to help me. Blogger Scriptor Obscura was the first to regularly “like” my posts and leave comments. More recently, author B.C. Young agreed to be interviewed about self-publishing, sharing insight into an area that’s still evolving. In turn he invited me to share a fictional piece of my own on his blog, introducing me to his readers. More than anything this young man gave this senior writer a “hand up.”

Thanks for giving me my first break, Ben. It’s heartwarming to know that there are published writers, like yourself, who will give a hand up to those of us still struggling to have our words read in printed form.

“mahalo”…thank you…millie aka hugmamma.

Yesterday when I volunteered at the office of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association, Trevor Barnes, the assistant director, shared encouraging words of support when I expressed doubt that I even belonged among such an elite company of published writers, as per the bios I viewed on PNWA’s website. Trevor assured me that there were thousands of members like me, just looking to write something that would someday be published and read. I left the office with hope. And I got that from someone in his 20s.

One Less Lonely Girl

Image via Wikipedia

So when I saw the following I felt inclined to share it. Why? Because quite simply I was shocked to learn that the young pop idol, Justin Bieber, had something going on under his blonde, mop of hair, than just hip-hop lyrics. I think you’ll be as astonished as I was.

“Go Ahead, America, Leave It to Bieber”
by Joe Queenan (Wall Street Journal, 2/26/11)

Justin Bieber got slammed good last week when he opened his yap about abortion in Rolling Stone. Some people objected to his views, others scorched him for the way he phrased them, still others questioned the very notion of a 16-year-old boy offering his opinion on any serious moral, political or legal question.

Susan Sarandon at the premiere of Speed Racer ...

Image via Wikipedia

The apoplectic response to Mr. Bieber’s comments is not fair. As of Tuesday, when he will be exactly one year short of the age when he can legally vote, drink or kill Taliban, the diminutive Canadian has every right to express himself on any issue he feels passionately about. The idea that youth somehow disqualifies him from speaking out on issues is the very thing young people–now grumpy old Bieber-Bashing Baby Boomers–fought against in the 1960s. After all, Justin Bieber is at least as smart as Susan Sarandon.

But the worst thing about all the Rolling Stone kerfuffle is that it has drawn attention away from other opinions Mr. Bieber has offered on major issues of the day. And in his clear, articulate, reasoned analysis of these issues, Mr. Bieber has shown himself to be that rarest of creatures: the precocious youth whose opinions must be heeded.

It’s Mr. Bieber, for example, who was the first person to warn that spiraling commodity prices would lead to unrest in Bahrain and Yemen. Interviewed by the BBC in January, he said: “Once you see that disconnect between pork belly futures and 30-day wheat, look out! When food prices spike–and this goes all the way back to the days when Mark Antony had to import grain from Egypt–there is no way to put a cap on civil unrest back home. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, maybe even Iran. It’s the domino effect.”

Mr. Bieber’s comments did not go down well in the futures markets, where copper and tin immediately tanked. Who died and left this punk in charge? Why should anyone care what a celebrity of any age, gender or height cares about anything important? Don’t you have to be at least as old and gray as George Clooney before anyone starts taking you seriously?

Gaga on The Monster Ball Tour in Toronto

Image via Wikipedia

Generally speaking, this anticelebrity bias is justifiable. Sean Penn is an idiot, Madonna a dope, Christina Aguilera a nitwit. Lady Gaga never says anything that isn’t stupid, obvious or self-serving, and Martin Sheen should have spent less time protesting in the streets and more time in the home parenting. As for Bono, who definitely seems like a sincere, well-meaning sort, exactly how much wisdom can one impute to a man who wrote the music for the Spider-Man musical?

But in Mr. Bieber’s case, the animosity and condescension are not jusfified. Mr. Bieber, after all, was the first person–not the first celebrity, but the first personto warn that Ireland’s economy would implode because of a bloated real-estate market. More recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he was way ahead of the curve when he suggested that cash-strapped states like Illinois and California should simply threaten to default on their debt if it was the only way to get unions to come to the negotiating table.

“Trash the muni market and you’ll see unions fold like a cheap accordion,” he says, “Just look at the yield curve.”

Not everything Mr. Bieber says is astute or prescient. He was wrong when he told a Japanese TV reporter that 3-D TV would take off last Christmas, and he seriously underestimated the ability of Apple’s competitors to respond to the appeal of the iPad. His forecast of a 4.5% GDP growth rate for the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter was way off base. What’s more, he has a lamentable tendency to express his views on topics where he has no expertise whatsoever; whether the Knicks gave up too much to sign Carmelo Anthony, whether learning a second language can help stave off Alzheimer’s, why the next pope should come from Bolivia. But for every target he misses, he hits at least one bull’s eye. And when he speaks out on issues that pertain to the world of music, he is wise beyond his years.

Mike Huckabee's band at the Lincoln Day Dinner...

Image by IowaPolitics.com via Flickr

“If Huckabee doesn’t stop trotting out that stupid bass guitar,” Mr. Bieber told Rolling Stone, “he has no chance in hell of winning the Republican nomination. The American people are not going to elect a president who plays the same instrument as Sting and Flea. Not now. Not ever.”

i have to chuckle…but i also have to…wonder…if out of the mouths of babes?…hugmamma. 

(note: who the heck is “sting and flea?”)

365 photo challenge: publisher

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. My first attempt at putting a piece of writing “out there,” is occurring within a few days.

Author B. C. Young has given me the opportunity to publish a story on his blog, “The Time Capsule.” You might say, Mr. Young is my first publisher. His inquiry came after I posted his interview on my blog about self-publishing. Grateful that he would promote something I’d written, I’m encouraged to add to, and eventually finish the piece, whether as a short story or a novel.

I invite you to visit his blog at http://the-time-capsule.com over the next few days in anticipation of my piece, “A Long-Held Secret.” Of course I’ll alert you when Mr. Young advises that he’s published my work. He enjoyed my piece; I’m hoping you will as well. I look forward to reading comments you leave on his blog.

hoping you agree with b.c. young…hugmamma.