Category Archives: Making a living

Where Is the Grass Greener?

So, in the grass-is-greener department, here’s the question of the day: Can you earn more money cleaning house than you can editing copy?

Well, the lady who came to my house during the Year of the Surgery charged $80 a hit. But apparently she undercharged. Women I talk to at choir say they expect to pay $100. I had her come in every two weeks, but more affluent types will have them once a week. And one lady I talked to, who was working for a woman who farmed her out to others, discovered the woman was charging $120 for her services.

So let’s say you cleaned one house a day for the supposed going rate of $100 a hit: you’d be earning $500 a week. I’m not earning $500 a week.

My co-editor and I have never calculated how much per hour we’re getting paid to put together an issue of the journal we contract to. I spent most of the day on an article that looked like it had never been through the peer review process—but it’s hard to tell exactly how many hours I racked up, because I work on-again, off-again, with a lot of interruptions. But…22 pages of really difficult stuff? Let’s suppose you can get through a page in 10 minutes, on average: that’s 220 minutes, or 3.6 hours.

I’m sure I spent more than 3½ hours on that thing. But suppose each of us allowed it to absorb that much of our time: it’s an entire day of time wasted on producing a piece that in a rational world would never see print. Did we each earn $100 on that effort? Or even $50?

We get a thousand bucks per issue… Each issue has several full-length articles, some creative pieces, a long-winded editorial statement, and a set of self-aggrandizing authors’ bios. Many of the authors are ESL writers or people who grew up in homes where another language was spoken, and so the copy has language challenges as well as the usual academic ones. If we were to work on only that, full-time, we could probably turn it out in a week. Maybe less: but say five to seven days.

So let’s say you had five women, for whose services you charged $120 to clean five McMansions, each woman taking one house. You’d have to ride herd on them, but most of the time you wouldn’t be doing much cleaning yourself. So each of these women brings in $120/day; you pay them $60 (the lady who told me this story was being grossly underpaid), so you pocket $60 — less the amount you have to pay in your share of the FICA taxes, assuming you report the income. $60 x 5 is $300 per day for your crew. Now, $300 x 5 days a week is $1500 a week, or $6,000 a month. And you’d never have to read another plagiarized student paper or another polemical “research study” whose author insists on replacing every third letter with “x.”

You would have to hustle: marketing would be the key. And managing these women would be a challenge. You’d be riding herd constantly. To field a crew of five people five days a week, you’d need to have more than five on the string. You’d have to do a fair amount of training, too, since many cleaning ladies don’t know how to clean.

Check this out, bearing in mind that one of our mentors thinks we should be getting $60/hour for our time: http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/cleaning-services/

We most certainly do not earn $1500 a week, either individually or between the two of us. Nor do we earn $120 x 5, $600 a week: the amount one of us could earn cleaning house five days a week.

On the other hand, we don’t work 8 hours a day (regularly) on editorial. My cohort teaches full-time at the University of Phoenix, which just now entails juggling twenty-eight sections of 35 students apiece. You could not get me to do that if the only other choice were starvation. I earn some cash blogging, and rather more reading math, business, and biosciences papers by Chinese scientists. Editing, like teaching, is not what you’d call handsomely paid.

if I’m teaching the largest number of sections the community colleges will farm out to adjuncts, I earn all of $1100 a month. On average. Some months, of course, I earn nothing.

When a profession that requires at least one advanced degree (preferably two) and substantial experience makes cleaning house look good…Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Pen-Names, Pseudonyms: When, Where, Why, and How?

When and how to write under a pen name - useful stuffA friend, in the course of chatting about the Publishing Empire, asked how you go about using a pen-name, and by the way…when and where would you use a pseudonym, and why?

Well, the why can be pretty obvious: if you’re tattling on the President of the United States and the CIA, it’s probably wise to call yourself something like Deep Throat.

There are other reasons, of course. You might publish a memoir or a piece of autobiographical fiction that reflects dimly on a relative. Or maybe you write Edwardian-period romance novels and think a by-line that sounds aristocratically romantic will help sell books. Or maybe you’re doing a corporate project written by a number of people and, to avoid confusion, choose a single (real or fake) by-line.

TravelerCover-LORES-764x1024In our case, for example,Roberta Stuart” is actually five writers, all emanating pulp fiction for the Camptown Races Press imprint. Each has written several Roberta Stuart stories over time. The reason we decided to put them all out under the same pen-name was to build brand recognition: a Roberta Stuart story is short, often witty or outright hilarious, sometimes marked by magical realism, and always genially erotic. An incidental benefit is that our authors can choose to or not to reveal their role in creating the persona of the pseudonymous pornography queen. Some of their friends and relatives know nothing; other CR authors are fairly open about this aspect of their writing careers.

How do you go about it? Simply choose a name and put it on the title and the copyright page. When you apply for an ISBN at Bowker (this is an international cataloguing code — you need it to get your magnum opus into Books in Print), the form will ask you for the name of the author, which may be different from the name of the copyright holder. For all the Racy Books, I always list Roberta as the “author.”

You also can list a pseudonym at Amazon. There, it’s a little more problematic, because Amazon limits the number of pseudonyms you can use. If you publish a lot and you’ve published under more than one version of your own name, this can put a crimp on your style, because Amazon regards every version of your real name as a “pseudonym.”

This, of course, is incorrect. If your name is Robert Smith and you write as Bob Smith in some places and Rob Smith in others, none of those are “pseudo” (i.e., false) names: they’re all variants of your name.

But no amount of arguing with Amazon factotums will bring about a change in this inconvenient policy.

robert sidneyI find it particularly annoying because Amazon has glommed publications that I’ve emitted under three variants of my name. My first book, The Life of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, was published under my full, formal name: Millicent V. Hay. A scholarly biography, it came out at a time when I still hoped for a full-bore academic career, and so I wanted it to appear under the name that appears on my curriculum vitae.

But…I happen to hate that name. As a little girl, I was bullied so fiercely throughout grade school that I became suicidal. The sappy name was a ripe target for the little monsters who made my life so miserable that at the age of 10 or 12, I wanted to end it. To this day, the name “Millicent” elicits a physical cringe reflex.

When I escaped that school and that country and started attending schools in the US, I called myself “Vicky,” a familiar version of my middle name. This worked well because it was so plain vanilla it provided no ammunition and never did spur any significant meanness among my stateside classmates.

essential featureIn the fullness of time, I became a magazine journalist: a writer and editor for a variety of local and regional publications. My byline was the name that everyone knew: Vicky Hay. I never wrote a journalistic article under any other name, and my guide to newspaper and magazine writing, The Essential Feature, came out under that name.

With the vast encyclopedia of contacts I built — I knew or knew of every top-flight writer, editor, graphic artist, and photographer in the Southwest — I decided to start a kind of finder’s service. We would put publishing clients in touch with editorial and graphic talent and, if desired, package books and other publications for them. At this time I took on a business partner, a guy who had been a public relations professional for decades.

He felt that “Vicky” was way too informal. He asked me to start using my full middle name: “Victoria.”

MathMagicWe put a lot of stuff out under that name. In one book, where I didn’t want an essay inside the book to coincide with the publisher’s name, I used my mother’s maiden name, Julie DeLong, as a pen-name. Eventually, I cowrote Math Magic with a fellow named Scott Flansburg, and of course used the fancy middle name: Victoria Hay, Ph.D. That one turned into a best-seller, thanks to Scott’s high-level marketing skills.

Now I decide to experiment with self-publishing, pretty much for the Hell of it…and that’s when Amazon informs me that I can’t publish under the name Roberta Stuart because I already have three pseudonyms.

Which are NOT pseudonyms.

So how do you copyright material written under pen names? Anything you create in a reproducible medium — including writing — is automatically copyrighted as you create it. You own the copyright on it by virtue of your having made it. You can publish it and copyright it under any pen name you please. The copyright will always belong to you, unless you choose to sell some or all of your rights in the work.

Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races Press are both imprints (effectively DBAs) of an S-corporation, The Copyeditor’s Desk. Because receipts come in to the corporation and contractors’ fees are paid by the corporation, I register the copyrights in our works to the corporation. The corporation buys all rights to subcontracted works, and the corporation owns the copyright in everything it publishes.

This provides a corporate veil between the principals (me and a business partner) and the doings of the business. Sometimes this can come in handy. And it certainly simplifies the tax accounting.

If you’re just one little person publishing one little book or one series of books, there’s no reason for you to get elaborate, as long as you dutifully pay your income taxes. Just publish the thing under whatever name you please.

The Writing Life: Never Rains but It Pours

Have you ever noticed that weeks and even months can go by without much  happening, and then all of a sudden everything pops at once? It’s been like that around here.

Last week what should come in the door but…well…not one, not two, not three, not even four, but FIVE editing projects! I haven’t seen a lonely scribbler all summer long, and now here’s a mob of them at my door, just as I’m trying to crank 87 gerjillion Camptown Races Press books for the holiday season!

Speaking of the which, we’re about to promulgate our first Hallowe’en Treat: Janet and the Djinn, a whimsical story of a despairing jilted wife who answers a Craig’s List ad and gets a much more spirited romp than she expected. If you’d like an advance copy, come on over to Camptown Ladies Talk and grab one TODAY, before it hits Amazon. Sign up for the newsletter there (the form’s at the top of the page) and we’ll send you a .mobi or a PDF version ASAP.

Craig's List Janet LoResAdvance copy NOW!
Camptown Ladies Talk

So, back to the issue at hand: five freaking editorial projects when we’re trying to crank eight books this month, one of which I STILL HAVE TO FINISH WRITING!

Lordie! I haven’t been able to get to my own stuff in weeks. But I really couldn’t turn them down. We need the money to keep the business going. Not only do I have to cover the regular overhead — the Cox bill, the web hosting bill, the web wrangler’s bill, the association dues, the paper, the ink, the you-name-it — I now have four (maybe five, soon!) writers to pay. Pay for three of these projects, taken together, will keep us going another two months past the date I figured we’d go broke if we’re not turning a profit.

Crazy-making!

But last week I tried a plan that shows some serious promise: divide up the day in chunks, and devote each chunk to one (count it, 1) specific task. Don’t do anything else during that period, no matter how tempting or urgent it seems to be. Okay.

So, Friday went like this:

Three hours: Post Bobbi and the Biker. Publicize: Build widgets, manage Twitter and post tweets there, write blog posts, plan marketing campaign.
Three hours: Edit copy
Three hours: Write scene for The Taming of Bonnie (Ouija Lover II)

Et voilà! There’s a nine-hour day, right there.

I ended up spending another three hours cleaning up some very messy computer files and backing them up to a gigantic flash drive and then to the iMac. That was quite a job, but it’s going to make life a lot easier.

Saturday was blown away with a three-hour meeting of a writer’s group I habituate — plus the two hours it takes to get there and back. When I got home, I discovered the power had gone out while I was gone, and it had knocked the wireless off the air. Try as I might, I could NOT get the wireless back online. I called my son, who was pissed that I bothered him on the weekend and not very friendly about the prospect of having to help me fix it. Continued to struggle with it. Went to bed with no wireless Internet access.

Naturally. Just as I needed to push HARD to publicize our first Racy Book for Racy Readers.

Sunday morning I managed to get the system back online and then fly out the door to choir. Singing occupied the rest of the morning.

I fell in the choir loft when one of my platform sandals came loose and dropped off my foot. Fortunately I wasn’t hurt, other than a few mild aches, but it was embarrassing and disturbing. Got home and had a drink with lunch. And then another. And then didn’t feel a whole lot like writing or editing. Blew off the afternoon with a nap and reading someone else’s naughty book.

So spent all of Sunday evening, way into the night, editing copy.

Today I’m going to try the three/three/three schedule again. It’s already almost 7 a.m. and I haven’t had anything to eat or walked the dogs, but hope to squeeze those things in before sitting down to work. Started around 5 and I’ve updated the Twitter buzz, posted the FREE ADVANCECOPY OFFER(!!!!!) at Camptown Ladies Talk and here, answered comments at Funny about Money, built widgets here and at Ladies Talk, reviewed copy I wrote on Friday, checked a subcontractor’s edits and sent her work, with a bill, to the Chinese academic client, worked briefly on the Mongolian expat client’s work, fielded e-mail, and…not gotten a heck of a lot else done.

It’s starting to rain: that gets me out of having to walk the dogs — they hate rain. Thank goodness!

And so, to post this, plug it on Twitter, and slap up a post at Funny about Money. Then: breakfast. Then: real work.

 

Breast Book Proposal Under Way!

w00t! This afternoon I finally got around to producing a halfway decent draft of a proposal for the Boob Book — the one on making informed decisions when you get a breast cancer diagnosis. And I’ve found a few people to send it to.

First effort was disappointing. The thing has been floating around inside my head for so long, I figured I could just toss it off and be done with it.

Well. No.

Scribbled a thousand-word cover letter. Yes, it covered all the bases. Yes, it distinguished my book from others. Yes, it described the (copious!) market. Yes, it was b-o-o-o-o-o-o-r-i-i-n-g!

It was a thousand-word plod around the bases.

Verbose, to begin with. Maybe if I cut out the overgrowth…

…Shorter, but no less plodding.

Would I buy a book on the basis of this proposal? Could I sell it to my marketing department? Could I sell it to anyone?

Hell, no!

So, I set it aside and went online in search of that old standby, Literary Marketplace.

You can buy a week’s worth of access to LMP for $25. So I ponied up the credit card and bought a username and password.

Disappointing.

The online LMP is not the LMP of yore. Back in the day, when you went to the library and hauled the several-volume work off the reference shelf, LMP was elaborately cross-indexed. And that was what made it a valuable work for would-be book authors. You could search a subject index that would take you to every publisher with anything in its backlist relevant to your keywords. You could search publishers by the various types of books the published — textbooks, for example, or inspirational, or genre works. You could search by just about anything.

Better yet, when you found a promising publisher, you also found a list of the key personnel, including acquisitions editors. You found their names, their titles, their snail-mail addresses, their phone numbers, and their e-mail addresses.

No more! The online LMP does not list any publishing company staff. Leastwise, not that I could find.

So, it looked like I would have to find a new literary agent to replace the deceased.

{sigh} For nonfiction? Ugh. Another layer of gatekeepers to cope with.

LMP‘s literary agency listings are slightly more forthcoming. But just slightly.

I trudged through 14 single-spaced pages of linked listings. Whenever I saw an agency’s name that i recognized (or thought I did), I clicked through to its information. Discarded the ones that weren’t in New York City or Boston.

This process yielded eight candidates.

One agency’s owner, I found on further exploration, croaked over last March. So that left me with seven possibilities.

However. When you try to copy and paste from LMP into a Word file so you can store it to disk, the data is jiggered so it won’t paste into Word!

Well. Some of it won’t. The agency names NEVER paste. Sometimes the agency address will paste into Word; often it won’t. Usually the names and email addresses of specific agents will paste over; sometimes they won’t.

So I had to sit there and type what I needed, character by character, shifting back & forth between Firefox and Word.

Infuriating! For this I paid these clowns 25 bucks?

Oh well. I learned something anyway: When you want to use LMP, go to the library.

That little project done, I returned to the proposal.

By now it had dawned on me that the introduction is full of the kind of lively language needed to write a proposal that looked like it was written by someone other than a zombie.

So: open that file, shoof around, fiddle around, adjust, rework, dork… A-n-n-d at the end of all that come up with…

A Pretty Darned Good Proposal!

By golly, it’s starting to look very good. The first paragraph is a real grabber. The next several grafs engage the attention, and one points out the size of the proposed book’s market.

All right!

Set it aside until next Tuesday, when I’ll send it off to the first agent on my list of choice.

Never email on a Monday. Your message will get lost in the tonnage of incoming that floods an agent or AE’s in-box over the weekend. Wait until the person has had time to shovel out his or her in-box. THEN send your golden words.

It’s been years since I dealt with an agent. The last one shopped a proposal around half-heartedly. Never gave me a clue where she was sending it and what the responses were. Then she died.

Presumably she was sick. That would explain the feeble marketing.

By then I had a job at the Great Desert University, one that paid a real salary with real benefits and even had a real office with a real computer and a telephone. Wonders never ceased. Oddly, in return they expected me to work, and so my book writing days went into a long pause.

I don’t hold out much hope that any high-powered New York agent is going to pick this project up very soon. And secretly, I hope it takes two or three months before it attracts anyone’s attention.

That’s because I figure it’s going to take at least six months to get the naughty book business up and running. If an agent comes trotting back to me with a contract, it will have the benefit of providing me enough to live on for a year…but it will slow down the p0rn plan by about that long.

An advance of 15 or 20 grand will help capitalize Camptown Races Press. However, it will divide my attention. And I’m finding the new enterprise demands all my attention. Wander off to do something else, and forward momentum instantly comes to a dead stop. I’m not at all sure that trying to budget, say, four hours a day to the Boob Book and four to the new imprint is going to work.

So. The longer it takes to find a publisher, I suppose, the better. Sort of. In a way.

 

First Erotica Novelette in Hand!

Hm. Maybe that’s not a felicitous turn of phrase. 😀

Doesn’t take much of this kind of writing to cause you to hear double meanings in about every third word anyone speaks. Who knew?

At any rate, my first effort at writing erotica — the hard-core variety, I mean — is DONE! And sent off to a couple of writing & editing pals for review. One of these wants to fall in with me by way of seeing how this works; she’s more interested in the standard romance formula than I am, and, we might add, a far more gifted writer of fiction.

She being an MFA type, she actually can crank a piece of lit’rature. Me, I’m lucky if I can write a coherent blog post that doesn’t put the reader to sleep. But on the other hand, what we’re proposing to publish hardly comes under the heading of literature.

It took a great deal longer to write the thing — all of about 7100 words — than I expected, since I was in the hospital for five days and pretty much out of it for a couple days after that. Whether I can actually write ten to twenty of these a month remains to be seen. But I suspect once you get the hang of it, you probably can move along at a brisker pace.

And I have an idea for the next bookoid — a piece of spectrophilia. Yes. Believe it or not, getting it off with ghosts is a fetish. And it’s one that’s been around since humans have been human: apparently it stems from a surprisingly common hallucination caused by sleep paralysis. Weirdly, I haven’t come across a story at Amazon specifically revolving around a succubus or an incubus. But there will be one. Soon. 😉

Today, though, I’m going to read some Anaïs Nin. I downloaded Delta of Venus and Little Birds yesterday. Interestingly, her introduction describes the challenge of writing to clinical details in the absence of anything resembling a credible or intellectually interesting plotline. Her client, who was paying her $100 a month to write smυt for a supposed “old man” (who actually was himself), kept urging her to can “the poetry” and just write “sex.”

If you’re used to doing any real writing, that’s easier said than done. In the current biker book, I found myself developing character (as if by instinct) and building motive. Even though I managed to keep the action going at a fair clip, probably more “poetry” intrudes than is desirable.

Heh.

Oh, sorry.

The point is, it’s harder than it seems to build a story solely by moving puppets around on a cardboard stage.

Nevertheless, probably thanks to “the poetry,” Nin is regarded as one of the finest writers of female erotica in English, even though she thought of the stories as caricatures. Which of course is exactly what p0rn is: cartoonish. Clinically cartoonish.

I, on the other hand, do not care if I’m ever regarded as a fine writer by anyone. I just wanna make a living. And not by teaching freshman comp or greeting Walmart shoppers.

 

How Much Can You Earn Writing…uhm…Spicey Novelettes for Grownups?

Over at Funny about Money, which after all IS putatively a personal finance site ( 🙄 ), I’ve added up a fantasy profit-&-loss scenario based on what some people claim they earn writing 3000- to 5000-word er0tica for the adult set. The figures are interesting.

They’re high, but they may not out of the question.

Some people, including an acquaintance of one of my best friends, claim they’re making six-figure incomes on this endeavor. In a more modest scenario with goals set to cover subcontractors’ costs and provide oneself a fairly low living income, it looks…well, possibly do-able.

You’d have to churn out two or three racey novelettes a week, or pay someone else to do it. But I write 3000 words every day, seven days a week. Wouldn’t be hard to direct some of those words toward a specific type of booklet. The marketing plan is described nicely by a person writing under the name of Jade K. Scott in The Six-Figure Er0tica Author.

What say you? Would you resort to writing naughty booklets to get out of teaching freshman comp and editing brain-numbing dissertations translated from the Hebrew?

How Long Will It Take to Write This Book?

Finished chapter 1 of the Boob Book today, and started on chapter 2. With all the research done, it took about a day and a half to write the first chapter.

So I’m wondering how long it will take to compile the 800 pages or so of research material that’s stacked up on the table into a single coherent book.

The book will have nine or maybe ten chapters (depending on whether I decide to break one of the projected chapters into two) plus six short appendices.

If nothing gets in my way, I can get through about a chapter in a day, or maybe two days. Chapter 1 is 2800 words, not an unreasonable amount to crank in one day. Some chapters will be shorter. But let’s say that realistically it takes two days to write a chapter: that would give us about 20 days to write the main body of the book. Each appendix should take less than a day, although the glossary may be lengthy. So maybe a day apiece for those?

That adds up to 26 days: about a month.

But, of course, as a practical matter “nothing gets in my way” will not happen.

My best paying and most reliable client just resurfaced, asking if I’m up for more copy of his. This is a guy that you don’t say “no” to. Probably not even if you wanted to…but most certainly not when he pays you so handsomely to read such entertaining material.

The online summer course is just heading into its most intense period, with three major rafts of stoont papers about to fly onto my desk.

The Latina studies journal is in full production. We’ve moved a set of academic papers but not seen the reviews, the creative work, or any of the front & back matter.

And I should be preparing my fall courses as we scribble.

We await the artwork for the next two installments of my self-publishing empire, and I’m in the process of laying out 18 serials of the Fire-Rider story, which I also will convert to .mobi files and post on Amazon. All of these will need to be marketed, something that I find quite the challenge.

The proposed porn empire awaits. My friend and I are still studying the possibilities. But to make that work will also require cranking at least 3,000 words every day or two.

As soon as I finish chapter 2, I’m sending a proposal to one of my former publishers, for whom (some years ago) I once wrote a best-seller. Unfortunately, like most other American publishing houses it has changed hands and been consolidated into unrecognizability; as far as I know, none of the old editorial crew persists there. But still, I hope reminding them of that former glory will at least get someone to read the proposal. And once anyone with even the vaguest sense of marketability sees it, it will sell.

The median advance on a single book deal today is around $25,000. That’s more than I need to live on for an entire year.

So if a publisher manages to offer even a modest advance, I intend to stand down from teaching for at least a semester, and to farm out the editorial work to subcontractors. Even if it only takes a month or two to draft the Boob Book, I may need the time for rewrites; but it looks unlikely that an advance will get me out of enough work to let me give my undivided attention to the Boob project.

But…if a miracle happens and I can move the thing to the publisher within two or three months, then if I don’t teach and I farm out the editorial jobs, I’ll have another three or four months in which to get 20 existing bookoids online and to begin experimenting with sales of racy fiction.

It looks like a phenomenal amount of work. But around here, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I already work any 18 hours of the day I choose, by and large for poverty-level wages. It would be mighty nice to work 18 hours of the day for something resembling a middle-class income.

😉

 

Advice for a Writer? SHUT UP!

You got it: Shut TF Up when you’re networking and cocktail-partying and otherwise socializing with strangers.

Here’s why: Your job is to learn about human beings and translate their behavior and thinking and wackiness and wonderfulness and joys and sorrows and boredom and humor and pain and ecstasy and fear and anger and all that into the written word.

Your job is not to tell everyone you meet all about yourself.

The problem is, if you really are a writer or if you’re trying really hard to be a writer, you’re spending uncountable hours in your garret, laboring over a keyboard or a notebook. You are, in a word, lonely.

Lonely people get hungry for other people’s company. They get hungry for conversation. They long to tell someone else, anyone else, all the things they haven’t spoken in the past week, the past month, maybe even the past year. When you’re lonely, one of the symptoms is a deep craving to tell all.

Every tiny detail of all.

I’ve been there myself, yakking away til all of a sudden I realize my mouth has been going nonstop and no one around me has had a chance to say a word.

Right now two of my friends are in that mode: yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity oh please stop yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity excuse me… yakity yakity yakity really I… yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity I’m sorry but I… yakity yakity yakity yakity it’s been wonderful talking with yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity but I’ve got to get home and yakity yakity yakity yakity let the dogs yakity yakity yakity yakity out before they yakity yakity yakity yakity yakity shit all over the freaking floor!

It’s not just that this trait is boring and tendentious and maybe even rude. It’s that when you’re in the I’m so lonely I can’t stop talking mode you’re abdicating your job.

Your job is to listen to people, not to talk at them.

The trick is to come loaded with questions: the kind of questions that elicit stories from the people you meet:

That must have been an exciting time for you.
That must have been a difficult time for you.
What was the most rewarding experience you had as a rock climber?
What was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you as a police SWAT team member?
What was the funniest thing that happened while you were a grade-school camp counselor?

When did you realize your calling in life was to become a pole dancer?

The answers are the stuff of novels. It’s the stuff of writing. And when you ask people to tell you about themselves — instead of you telling them all about yourself — they love you. Suddenly, you’re popular!

Don’t talk at people: listen to them.
Don’t show off for people: watch them.

Pay attention. These folks are your bread and butter.

If you’re feeling lonely, go someplace where the whole point is to help people get over being lonely, or at least to let them yak. Join a focus group. Join a church. Better yet, join a church choir. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Join a book discussion club. Take up with a hiking or bicycling group. Become a Democrat. Whatever it is, make yourself UN-lonely for a few hours a week.

You need that time away from your garret, to be a better human being and to learn more about other human beings. But whatever you decide to do…

Shut up.

Why Publish with a Mainstream Press?

One reason: creds.

Several of my friends and acquaintances have immersed themselves so deeply in the indie publishing/self-publishing phenomenon that they can’t see why anyone would want to publish through an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar mainstream publisher. After all, they cry, look at how much more money you can make on sales of your book through Amazon!

To that I have this to say:

a) Fat chance and good luck with that.
b) Even if you make more per retail transaction, you’re still very unlikely to make as much publishing a good, truly promising book through Amazon as you would on an advance against sales from a major publishing house. And…
c) Let’s look at the whole picture.

Here’s the thing: even if you publish regularly on Amazon, you’re not very likely to earn a living on it. Sure, some people do. But most people don’t. And dreaming about being a Writer with a Capital W does not put food on the table or a roof over your head.

Unless you have a working spouse or independent wealth, what you need to be a Writer is a job that will support you while leaving you enough hours in the day, every day, to do the work of writing. And those hours cannot occur after eight or ten hours in the salt mine: writing is every bit as much a job as slinging hamburgers or preparing tax returns or or painting houses or pushing some company’s papers. The Writing hours need to occur when you’re fresh enough and energetic enough to devote your full attention to your job of preference.

There is a type of work that fills the bill: teaching in higher education, preferably at a university. Preferably in a graduate-level writing program. Whereas in the olden days artists and writers were supported by aristocratic patrons — dukes and earls and kings and such — today’s patron is the university.

Universities (and, to a lesser degree, two- and four-year colleges) support artists and writers by employing them in jobs that are light on labor and heavy on prestige. And the “prestige” part is the part they expect you to deliver.

To provide that — to get a tenure-track job at all — you have to be published through a recognizable press. And that does not include CreateSpace. As with any tenurable position, jobs in writing programs require more than just publishing. It’s not that you’re published. It’s where you’re published. You have to be published with a first-line press that has gatekeepers — editors and marketers and reviewers who assess the quality of your manuscript before it’s accepted for publication.

A book or two published through a recognizable house will open the doors to jobs that ask only that you teach two or three sections of creative writing or literature in exchange for freedom and time to build your career as a writer. It doesn’t have to be a Big Five publisher. An academic press or a small (but real…not CreateSpace, not Nook, not iBooks, not Ingram, not Kindle…) publisher will do the job.

I landed a full-time teaching job complete with excellent benefits, very nice office space, a decent salary, and a future on the strength of two books published through university presses and one through a major commercial publishing house. If I were to apply for such a job today, my CV probably would contain no mention of the book published through Amazon’s Kindle platform. Any whiff of a self-published book could be fatal.

Could I earn more by aggressively marketing a self-published book with broad appeal than I would by publishing the same book through a mainstream publisher? Maybe. Let’s even say “sure.”

But that income would be short-term. It would peter out in a few years, maybe even in a single year. To stave off the evil day, I would have to devote an inordinate amount of time to marketing and to hustling sales.

A salary from an academic job, on the other hand, will remain a salary as long as I hold the job, whether I publish more books or not. The academic employer will match contributions to a 403(b). It probably will offer a health insurance plan. It will offer disability insurance. It will give me an annual travel budget to cover junkets to various professional conferences. It will, in a word, support me.

Now, I’m not saying no one ever cobbles together a living wage by cranking out self-published books. No doubt some people do — maybe a lot of people. But it’s an iffy proposition.

If your books are good enough to sell to enough readers that the proceeds will support you, then they’re good enough to sell to a mainstream publisher. And the kind of job you can land with a few mainstream publications on the CV will support you steadily and usually better than a catch-as-catch-can income stream from Amazon will.

Mainstream publication gives you credentials — the credentials you need to persuade an academic patron (a university or college) to support you while you keep on writing.

Promote Your Book: Give a Presentation

Whether you publish through a mainstream press or whether you self-publish, the bulk of the promotion job falls upon you, the author. One fairly easy way to promote your book is to volunteer to do a presentation on some subject relevant to a group’s interests.

For example, my friend Donna Freedman has offered to speak to a large writer’s group about strategies for creating popular, readable blog entries. Because the group’s main thrust is not craft but marketing, members will be very interested in what she has to say — and we hope, in her new online course on writing a blog people will read.

And just today, I talked to a business group about donating directly to breast cancer research centers rather than to self-perpetuating organizations that function as middlemen. Members of this group are active in public service and donate generously to worthy causes, so I knew they’d be interested in the subject. And speaking about the Susan G. Komen foundation and similar institutions gave me an opportunity to plug my upcoming book on the decisions women face after they receive a breast diagnosis.

A successful presentation can’t just have you step up to a podium and plug your book. You need to offer more than that.

Bearing that in mind, it’s pretty easy to create a public presentation that works, if you follow a few basic rules.

In thinking about your angle, consider your audience. Today’s talk, reproduced at my Funny about Money site, addressed a group of small business owners and executives. They’re committed to charitable works and, since most of them are middle-aged, they’re interested in health-care issues. Those who are not women have wives they care about, and so they can easily be engaged by the hot topic of breast cancer.

The material I put into today’s presentation may not go into my book at all, since its topic primarily concerns the kinds of choices women have to make, often on short notice and under a great deal of stress, about any number of proposed breast cancer treatments. It actually is based on information I came across in my research for the book. In thinking about it, I realized it would probably interest group members more and make them less uncomfortable than a frank discussion of what goes on inside the operating theater. For a different group, a different aspect of the topic might fly just as well or better.

Prepare your presentation thoroughly. Check and double-check your facts, and be prepared to answer any questions audience members may ask. Be sure to cover all the ground, even if briefly, within the time limit you’re given. Respecting that time limit is part of your preparation — don’t neglect this key aspect.

Write out a script and rehearse it, preferably in front of a mirror. You should practice delivering your presentation several times — at least three, and maybe more. Ideally, your presentation should be memorized. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible — too little time is given for preparation, or you have to present complex data that’s hard to remember accurately under the stress of public scrutiny.

In any event, do not read your script to your audience. Deliver your presentation as though you were speaking to a small group of friends, as off the cuff as you can make it appear. If you need a cheat sheet, list the main points in outline style and let these remind you of the content that you’ve rehearsed. Print out your notes in 18-point type, so you can read them easily under any lighting conditions.

If you use PowerPoint, for hevvinsake DON’T read the captions and notes in the slides to your audience! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

Watch a few TED Talks, studying the style and demeanor of presenters. Note how the speakers move and how they engage their audiences.

Provide useful information, preferably in the form of a handout. In my talk about the controversy around the Susan G. Komen foundation, I provided a one-page list of cancer research institutions to which anyone can donate. This is worked into the blog post, but it was offered separately to the group members, as a take-home.

Try not to be crass about plugging yourself. Instead of reminding listeners repeatedly about the wonders of your new book, mention it in your bio and — ideally — get the person who introduces you to remark on it. Use your time to provide valuable and interesting information.

But make it easy for audience members to find your book. Have a website that’s easy to find, preferably as your name — JoeBlow.org or some such — and place a link to Amazon or your own store so readers can buy. Bring business cards that carry your book’s title and a link to your website on Amazon (www.amazon.com/author/JoeBlow). And if you have copies of the book, bring a stack to the meeting, hand them around as a show-and-tell, and let audience members buy direct from you.

Look for the right audiences. This of course depends on your subject matter. A church group might be right for a discussion of some moral issue or — say — of philanthropy. Business groups are interested in a wide variety of subjects that bear on daily life and the well-being of members’ cities and commerce. Do a subject search on Meetup.com for groups that meet to talk about or participate in whatever your book concerns.

Don’t be shy about asking. The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you “no.” But you won’t get an invitation to speak if you don’t ask.

Speak early and speak often. You don’t have to wait until your book hits print to speak on your subject. If you have some expertise that you’re working into a book, begin giving presentations before the book comes out. Then when it’s published, you can go back to the group, remind them of your existence, and proudly announce publication.

Once you have a presentation that works, recycle it. Look into massaging it to fit the interests of other groups, work it into your newsletter and send it out to your subscribers, or revamp it into a post for your blog.