Sunday, March 1, 2015

Did the Era of Neighbors End?

I was out taking down my Christmas lights and I thought about how lonely it was in my neighborhood. I literally don't see my neighbors except for passing each other in cars. Some of them I never see. And no one socializes. Now our houses are spaced apart. This could account for some of this. And maybe you could say everyone is just really busy. But maybe there is something else.

Take my old neighborhood. Everyone got together. Everyone was friends. You might say that was a function of having young children. Maybe. But when I go back to my neighborhood which has since turned over the people who are still there say people don't socialize  like they used to. They said the new people have no interest in getting together or being social. Some of this can be explained by urban versus suburban or even conservative versus liberal. Our old neighborhood was closer to the city.

But the fact that my old neighborhood seems to be suffering from a lack of socialization like my new one tells me that the age of neighbors might have ended. Of course we all know what replaced it. The online world. We now stay inside our forts and socialize versus venturing out to see what the neighbor is doing. Some of it is two income households. Clearly. Some of it we are more insular by nature with our ear-buds and smartphones. Or maybe we are just too damned busy.

The big porches on homes are really no longer. Most new homes don't have them. In my grandfathers time people used to get dressed up to go out on their porches in the evening. Then like a grand procession people would pass by and pass the time of day. Something we no longer possess.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Writers Can't Write Another Book

The amazing thing that has come out of the Harper Lee Saga and it is a saga now is that we are finding out she could not complete a follow up to To Kill A Mockingbird. As an author this is nothing short of amazing. Here she has the publisher telling her just give them anything because this book has headed for the moon and anything you publish will sell like crazy and just give us something. She could not.

And the question then is why? So we delve into the saga. Here is a woman who submitted a manuscript that was rejected by the publisher all those years ago. That manuscript is what is being published now. But the publisher saw no book there. So she told her to rewrite it. More than that she told her to bring in each chapter as she went along. This kind of hand holding does not usually happen these days. This process went on for two years.

TWO YEARS. She rewrote with the editor for two years and at the end out came To Kill A Mockingbird. But then then they said ok write something else. She could  not. So then you have to go into what makes  a bestseller. Timing. A story. The intersection of history and events. Luck. Writers are aware of all these things. That is why only a few hit. But then there is that next book. Why could she not produce something else?

Harper Lee might have been a one book writer. She might have had nothing else to say. We can say now that without that heavy editorial hand there would be no To Kill A Mockingbird. And once writers are cut loose to go on their own then they have to fly. Incredible as it may sound, Harper Lee simply couldn't come up with another story.

Maybe the price of mega success is just that.
The Pitcher...sometimes a dream is all you have

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Funny State of Literature

The vapidity of winter probably is a good metaphor for what has happened to literature in the year 2015. It is cold out. Zero. The wind whips against the windows and nothing really moves. As I read Richard Fords Let Me Be Frank With You it is clear what has happened to serious writing in this early part of the twenty first century. It has gone the way the of the LP and the CD. It is simply not relevant to a large segment of the population.

Harper Lee is bringing out a rejected manuscript. Why would an old woman do that who has a secure place in literary history? But of course content is king and so the more the better. Amazing this modality should nibble at the stalwart of classic lit but there you have it. We don't know if she wanted it out there or someone else but it doesn't really matter. What matters is there has been a watershed and there is no going back.

We are writers brought up on filmic imagery. Our scenes are much more relevant to a Parenthood than a reader of E. M. Foresters A Passage to India. It happened to the music industry. The same juggernaut that has pumped out elevator vocalists from American Idol now pumps it out from Dystopian set pieces like Divergent or randy Army manuals like Fifty Shades of Gray.  It isn't so much that any of this is so bad its just that it is not so good.

Then you read Richard Ford and you remember again that literature was never about that. It was about cracking the existential moment. The wonder of being alive in the year 2015. And it is still there but people would have you believe it is not. There is much more money to be made in pulp than art. But like the winter that howls even now. There is that suspicion we are mortal.  And the great consolation is this.

Literature will live on despite our best intentions.

The Pitcher...Library Guild Selection


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Harper Lee's First Novel that is now her Second

Harper Lee is coming out with a second novel but in fact it is her first that the publishers rejected. I had read about how Mockingbird  was written with heavy input from her publisher. This is during the time when editors actually worked closely with writers to produce novels. But Harper Lee had actually written a first novel  and the editor rejected it and suggested she write the book from Scouts viewpoint.

If you read To Kill A Mockingbird the first part is really a series of interrelated stories while the second part is a fully integrated  novel. That first part I will bet came from this original manuscript the publisher rejected. Writers do that. They cannibalize the good out of one manuscript for something else. This then is the book that is coming out in July.

A lot has been written about why she is publishing this. The better question is why didn't Harper Lee ever write another novel. That is a more interesting question. The old wisdom said if you knock one out of the park then why ever do it again? That sounds good but it doesn't pertain to writers. Writers are people who write regardless of their success. Unless they cant.

The story I read about the writing of To Kill A Mockingbird had her describing a very difficult process of forging this novel. There was a lot of back and forth with her editor. Maybe she didn't know what to do after Mockingbird. It happens. Then the next question of WHY. Why now? Why bring out an old manuscript originally rejected by the publisher? It is not money. I think I read she makes 1.6 million off of royalties every six months.

Maybe she got tired of being the one trick writer. Or maybe, she believed the book had merit. And that it should have been published. Maybe the age of sequels or prequels in this case made her think it was alright to publish her first effort. We will never know why she published it, but in about five months we will find out if that editor was right to reject that book.
The Pitcher

Friday, February 6, 2015

Pricing Ebooks in Todays Market

The problem is nobody knows how to price an ebook. The publishers don't and neither do the authors because there is no floor and the market is in flux. Nobody knows where the threshold lies for a book without a physical presence. How do you price something that costs nothing to produce? And whats worse how do you price something that a lot of people are giving away for free?

That is the hell of todays publishing market. There is no way to set a market. In the print book arena there was always production costs so you had to cover that and make a little. This kept everyone from going too low too fast. But in the ebook market the race to the bottom is very quick. In fact some people start out at the bottom and go up from there. The inverse of a print book. The problem is you are trying to find where people will buy and the maximum price point.

It is this intersection that the rubics cube of ebooks can be solved. You cant set your price too high or you will kill the market. You cant set it too low or people will think your book is not worth anything and pass over it. You need to find the middle and this comes from experimenting. What will work with one book and one author will not necessarily work with another.

So really like the internet it is the Wild West. There will be a point where it settles down but don't look for that anytime soon. We are really just getting started.
The Pitcher

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Harper Lee's Second To Kill A Mockingbird

Way back when I was trying to get a blurb from Harper Lee for my second novel, Tobacco Sticks. There was a man named Roy who answered the phone. I have put the book on Ms. Lee's beside table but I cant guarantee she will read it, he said. This went on for months. I would call and Roy would say. Well Ms. Lee is working her way through the stack. She never got to Tobacco Sticks. But of course I know now what she was doing. Writing another novel.

Go Set A Watchman. That is the title of Harper Lees second novel due out in July that predates her first To Kill A Mockingbird. Apparently this one didn't work out and the publisher prodded her into writing Mockingbird. The novel has now surfaced and coming our way in July. Who could  not be excited when the world had decided Harper Lee would be the ultimate one hit wonder along with JD Salinger and Margaret Mitchell. One smash masterpiece and game over.

But of course the world is complicated. Michael Jordan doesn't retire when he should. We live in a world of sequels and for whatever reason Miss. Lee has decided to put this very old manuscript. We have all loved Mockingbird and yes this book will not measure up. How could it? And then of course there is the old just be happy to have another Harper Lee book. I am good with that but then there are those Hemingway manuscripts.

Several books have followed his death and none of them have even been close to the books he put out when he was alive. Writers know which books are good and which ones don't work. Light in Africa and Islands in the Stream are poor substitutes for A Farewell To Arms and  For Whom The Bell Tolls. But again the manuscripts are there so why not bring them out.

So I will read it. Along with the millions. My only question is... did Harper Lee ever get to the bottom of her stack and read Tobacco Sticks?  Come to think of it, I wonder if Roy was lying to me.
Tobacco Sticks
The Pitcher

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Spam or Commercials? Selling Books Through Social Media

I just finished a library tour of twenty libraries and one of the most popular topics I covered was selling books through social media. The way I usually start this presentation is this: How many people here sit through five beer commercials during a football game and think nothing of it? Most people raise their hands. Or how about pickup commercials? Or Viagra commercials? We literally get hit with the same commercials back to back. And we think nothing of it.

But on the internet a curious word was created...spam. What does that even mean? Ok. Now why would companies put on so many commercials of the same product back to back? Because they know that humans pick up on things through REPETITION. Sales 101. You have to keep repeating the same message and then people start to pick up. Or IMPRESSIONS. You need to have X amount of impressions before someone buys.

Our new television is the internet. Sorry but it is. And we are marketed to in the same way. Repetition. Commercials. But people cry out they are being spammed. Really. No you are being advertised to in the same way you are getting smacked over the head during your football games. The price of the internet with all that free content is the advertising. It always has been. So to all you book marketers I say this: Spam is something you eat.

Get to work.
The Pitcher

Books by William Hazelgrove