The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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Transitions

One of the greatest challenges I seem to face as a writer is managing transitions. As I work and have a toddler, my ‘spare’ time is intensely, painfully precious, and the pressure to use it fruitfully is keen. However, my frustration is that my creativity doesn’t seem to want to work like that. It is a lazy beast, and doesn’t respond well to whipping. In fact, it flips its top lip and sneers at the concept. It needs time to lumber thoughtfully into it’s stride, and I just don’t have that luxury. We need to go from 0 to 60 in under an hour.

My beast may look a little like this, but he is elusive… Image by Sargon the Dark at DeviantArt

I feel like when those opportunities to write do come along, I should be sitting down and pounding out as many hundred words as I can, but somehow mundane things keep getting in the way.
Following a terrific suggestion from readers of this blog, I carry a little notebook with me at all times, and that has been wonderful for poetry and jotting down ideas as they occur. That little notebook is like the slice of ‘me’ that remains just ‘me’, without any other hats heavy with responsibility. However, ideas are building up in there without the time to bring them to their full dreadful glory.
Any other suggestions as to how to manage these transitions better? To go from ‘worker’ to ‘Mum’ to ‘Writer’ in the blink of en eye?

Some possibly useful links I’ve found:
You may not be able to force creativity, but you can certainly invite it.

You cannot force creativity. You must force creativity.

The Power of Forced Creativity

Author interview: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

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The latest in this series of Author Profiles is Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, who is also one of the wonderful women who have contributed their thoughts and feelings about motherhood to the newly released ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’, with a letter written to her 21 year old son. As you’ll read below, she is a fascinating person….

I love the way that you must blow away people’s stereotype of a Muslim woman. What is your take on this? Is the stereotype annoying, baseless, or just a lazy and convenient way of putting people into boxes?

 Yes to all of the above, especially the lazy part. It is easy for people to stereotype because it frees them from having to engage, and learn, and overcome their own insecurities and fears. Overcoming stereotypes requires effort… or someone like me who is more than willing to kick down the door of stereotypes for you.
But seriously, as much as I would like to say that I purposefully work to deconstruct stereotypes, the fact is I don’t. I’m just me. It just so happens that the me that I am won’t fit into a box.
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You have a very varied and exotic list of interests, including zombies, video games, sewing and maintaining an organic garden. Two questions: how did you develop such a diverse range of passions, and how do you find time to indulge them?
 
I’ll answer the question about time first.I work full time and I have a family. I don’t have a lot of time but I do believe in putting that time to the best use that I can. I make conscious choices about what I’m willing to give my time to. I try to spend every free moment doing the things I love. So, I’m not doing all of those things all of the time, but I get around to all of them in time.
As for how I developed such a range that is more difficult to answer. I started sewing years ago because I couldn’t afford to by the kinds of clothes that I wanted to wear. So I learned to make them cheaply. I spend a lot of time with my children and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I developed an interest in video games late in life from watching my kids play them. They’re now ages 22, 20, and 12 and they still play video games. I play right along with them and we have a blast. Zombies are the only horror trope that gives me pause. A little. Most other horror bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so when I moved into my home seven years ago, I decided to give it a go. I’m not always successful, but I always try.
I don’t want to be the type of person who in later years says “I wish I would have…” so if something interests me, and it isn’t harmful, I see no reason not to indulge, right now. Life is but the blink of an eye.
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I understand that you work as an oncology nurse, and have spoken at seminars about this subject. Does working with cancer patients change your outlook on life? I’m particularly wondering if it makes you reassess your priorities for life, rather than just drifting along as many of us do?
 
I think that in many ways I have become a bit desensitized. I often see death in a very compartmentalized way. It’s one stop on the continuum of life. It is the thing that happens to other people. The times when I reassess my life is when I meet that one patient who having faced their own mortality has accepted their fate. Notice I that didn’t say that they had given up hope or faith. That’s different. Accepting the inevitable, facing that frightening fate is a miracle and not an easy place to journey to. When a patient reaches that place, they have given up their anger and disbelief and have resolved to live their last days with peace and grace. Seeing a person make that journey is soul warming and a lesson for me that my petty concerns really aren’t worth the effort it takes to give them thought.
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When did you start writing? Did you have to take a break while your children were small?
 
I’ve always written. But there was a time in my early to mid 20s that I forgot about writing. At the time I was trying on new selves. I was learning who I was and deciding who I wanted to be. That took about seven or eight years. Then in my late 20s (about 1998), when my children were still small I started to write An Unproductive Woman. It took me about two years. AUW sat in a box in the closet or garage for the next several years while I went to nursing school and started working. I decided to publish AUW in 2008 and I’ve been writing in some capacity since then.
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Your novel ‘An Unproductive Woman’, has very different subject matter to the field in which I first found you, where you were involved with the Yuva science fiction anthology. Do you write across many genres? Do you find that a challenge as an indie author?
 
ImageI wrote An Unproductive Woman a lifetime ago. I was a different woman then. Since then, my tastes and self-confidence have grown exponentially. In short, I write the types of stories I would like to read. At the moment that falls in the range of SFF, dystopian/utopian fiction. It may change later, and if and when that happens, my writing will reflect likely that.
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Tell me about the Yuva anthology. How did it start? How are things progressing?
 
The Yuva anthology started with a comment I made on Matthew Williams’ site (http://storiesbywilliams.com/) wherein I mentioned how I’d always dreamed my son would become an astronaut and go to space. Matt responded by saying how inspired he was. I challenged him, if memory serves, to organize a group and do an anthology about space and space travel. He met that challenge and that is where you found us. Since then there have been several contributions to the anthology but we still need more people to come forward and contribute, so we’re in a holding pattern.
If you know anyone who might be interested…
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Forgive me for being nosy, but I’m fascinated to know if you ever find philosophical contradictions between your faith and science fiction?
 
Yes, and no. On the most basic level, my faith validates science and science validates my faith. There is no contradiction for me between science and my faith. Science fiction can be stickier. For me, the contradictions present themselves when science fiction works to debunk God, or reinvent God, or ignore his presence. It is usually the latter and I question this often. Science fiction tends to be more comfortable with fictional faith. I’m not certain why that is.
My current project meets matters of religion and faith head on, which I think can be difficult to do without scaring people away or making them feel as if they’re being preached at. I think I was able to do that with An Unproductive Woman though. Most of my readers have been non-Muslim, and most of them loved the story regardless, if my 4+ stars is any indication.
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Thank you for this opportunity Kasia!
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You can find Khaalidah on Facebook, and at her Blog.

Author interview: Angélique Jamail

281290_207928565923285_3810021_nOne of the women I’ve been privileged to meet over the past few months while compiling our collection of real reflections and experiences about being a mother – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ – is Angélique Jamail.

She is a sublimely talented poet, and I’m really looking forward to reading her debut novel when it is released.  Apart from being a writer and mother, she is also a teacher, bellydancer, and wearer of fabulous hats. I was lucky enough to interview her recently. Read on, lovely people, read on…

What are you passionate about today?

My family, my writing, the environment, equal rights for all genders and orientations.  I’m passionate about these things all the time.  There’s an expression I try to live by:

“Live your life so that your children can tell their children you stood for something wonderful.”

I’m far from perfect, but I try to make whatever corner of the world I touch a better place than it was when I found it.  Sometimes I manage to be successful.

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You’re a teacher, I understand. I read a quote from Barbara Trapido once, which read (if my memory serves me even vaguely correctly) “I wrote my first novel at my kitchen table in my fortieth year. A degree in English literature left me feeling that I was singularly unqualified for the task.” Do you feel that knowing too much about literature can be paralyzing to a writer?

I sometimes like to tell my students that I want to ruin them for reading for pleasure.  They look at me quizzically till I explain that I want them to understand and enjoy literature and writing so intimately that they will never be able to read something without noticing the artistry (or sometimes lack thereof) that went into writing it.  After studying literature and writing for so many years myself, this is exactly my wonderful burden, and I wouldn’t trade it.  A small part of why I teach, I think, is to share this love of the written word with other people.

But I think I understand where Trapido was coming from in that statement – the feeling of personal inadequacy while groveling in awe at the mountains of excellent literature that has come before.  I certainly do feel that, often, but somehow it doesn’t prevent me from writing.  It spurs me on and motivates me.  Part of me wants to have written literature worthy of being included in someone’s beloved canon, somewhere.  That ambition helps me get a draft down on paper.  Showing it to my workshop group, though, that’s another story!  When I have to share it with people, that’s when the feelings of inadequacy rear up.  But I also know that there is no growth without honest and constructive critique, so off those little manuscripts go.

Does poetry come to you spontaneously, or do you need to work at it?

I love the idea of found poetry, and occasionally I will write something very spontaneously and not have to revise it too many times, but more often than not, it’s a slow process from first draft to publishable poem.  I like that, though:  I want my poems – or stories, or essays – to incubate for a while.  There might be months between first and final drafts, occasionally years.  I have multiple manuscripts going at once; it’s the only way I can get anything done.

 Do you find writing longer fiction a marathon compared to the contained beauty of poetry?

I really find beauty in every form.  For me, the best part is the process.  I recently completed my first novel, which took me several years because I was having babies and teaching full-time while I was doing it, and also because I hadn’t ever written a novel before and was learning the process as I went along.  I remember there were whole semesters where I wrote only one or two chapters.

I love short forms because it’s the closest I get, as a writer, to something like instant gratification in my work.  I can potentially write a poem and revise it and have it critiqued and revise again and do a final edit in the space of a few weeks.  Writing fiction requires a different head-space, I think:  I have to imagine stories differently from how I imagine poems, even narrative ones.  And the novel was so different even from other fiction forms.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many different threads on a single project in my head at once.  The day after I finished the first draft, I remember, I felt very lonely because for the last year of my writing it, the characters and their interactions had been in the background of everything I did, as my subconscious tried to finish the book while I went about the other obligations of my life, waiting every day or every week to have time to sit down and write.


Poetry has been described as ‘crystallised moments’. Would you agree?

That’s a good question.  In one sense, yes, a poem (unless it’s a long form poem) can be a sharply, vividly defined moment in thought.  But I wouldn’t have immediately thought to characterize it with this phrase, I think.  I was once involved with someone who refused ever to revise any poem, insisting that the definition of poetry was a snapshot of the poet’s experience in a particular moment, and that to revise a poem was destroying that snapshot.  To each his own, I suppose, but for me, the process of making that poem – the length of my editing process – is quite different.

 


Tell me about ‘Fashion Fridays’!ladies-hats-3

A dear friend of mine, Margo, and I absolutely love wearing hats.  We had this grand plan a few years ago to bring hats back into style and started wearing them out places, but then she moved halfway across the country, and we couldn’t really do that very often anymore.  I thought that posting pictures of fabulous hats would reach a wider audience than just wearing them out and about, and I wanted some sort of weekly thing I could do on my blog that had to do with fashion – which would be my hobby if I had any free time!  So then Fashion Fridays was born.  It quickly evolved into a forum for me or other people to share fun accessories – I enjoyed having guest bloggers come in and participate! – but also to discuss real issues about body image and beauty and even wellness.  The frequency has dropped down now because I have so many other pots on the writing stove, as it were, but I’m still posting Fashion Fridays occasionally and am definitely open to queries from other writers.

I understand you’ve also dabbled in bellydancing. Do you see any parallels between dancing and writing? From the outside, one seems to be very public and extrovert, and the other very private (at least in conception) and introvert.

I have terrible stage fright and have to force myself to get out in front of people in order not to be terrified of what others will think of me.  This may be one reason why I teach, in fact, as teaching has helped me conquer that fear at least somewhat.  Bellydance was a natural choice for me:  I’m Lebanese-American and grew up around the dance, and I started doing it as a young adult because it was really fun and healthy exercise.  I also discovered that it’s a wonderful way to improve one’s self-concept, both in terms of body image and in terms of self-confidence.  As one of my teachers once explained, if you can control your body, you can control your personal space, and if you can control your personal space, you can control your life.  Ultimately I had to quit performing and teaching dance because I didn’t have enough time to devote to it.  I found I was spending all my creative energy on choreography rather than writing, and while dance is wonderful and exciting, it wasn’t really feeding me intellectually the way writing does.  When forced to choose between the two, writing won out, but I do miss dancing.  I miss it very much.

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How on earth do you find time to write, work and raise children? Has having children influenced your writing?

Well, I’m incredibly fortunate in having a very supportive partner.  My husband actively helps to make sure I have the time and space to write when I need it – including sending me off on Saturday mornings for writing dates with my close friend Sarah Warburton, who’s also a novelist, while he handles the kids and the house and whatever elaborate breakfast requests our little ones have dreamed up — and he’s also probably my biggest, most encouraging fan, as well as a sharp beta reader.  I’m positive I couldn’t do all of these things with any sense of competency without his being a full participant in every aspect of our home and family life.  I know some writers don’t get that, no matter how much they deserve it, and I know how lucky I am.

I think the biggest influence being a working-outside-the-home mother has had on me lately is to (nearly) eliminate writer’s block.  When you have five projects going on and next to no time to work on any of them, you tend to get really focused when that writing time does come along!  I also learned, once my first child was born, to let some things go.  For example, when my children were babies, I let go of the idea that I would get teaching work done at home and consequently also let go of the idea that I wouldn’t work through lunch at school.  Trade-offs, you know?

Having children really focused my writing, too, because it wasn’t any longer some neat thing I could say I did for fun while teaching paid the bills.  Suddenly I began thinking about quality of life and what kind of stable future I wanted for my family and what kind of role model I wanted to be for my kids, and then writing was not just my passion but also a focused career path.  It just so happens I also love teaching and have a position at a really excellent school.  The trade-off there is that I’m fortunate in the place where I work my “day job,” but I don’t get to write full-time.

The truth is, there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do all at once.  When I left dancing, one of my teachers told me not to worry, that dance would always be there waiting for me when I was able to come back, and that I could in fact have everything – but not all at once.  Finding the work-life balance is one of the major spiritual conundrums of our day.  I won’t pretend that I have anything under control on a consistent basis.  But I keep trying, and I keep taking things one chunk at a time.

There are days when all of this can be stressful, certainly, but right now, we’re making it work.  Right now, that’s okay.

You can read more from Angélique at her blog at Sappho’s Torque, or connect with her on Facebook.

Writer profile: Judith Field

‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is a collection of poetry, artwork, short stories, essays and interviews by women from all around the world. In putting together the Anthology, it’s been a real privilege getting to know some of these fabulous women, and today I’d like to introduce you to Judith Field, one of our contributing authors.

Judith Field was born in Liverpool and lives in London. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. After not writing anything more creative than a shopping list for about 30 years, she made a new year resolution in 2009 to start writing and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realised how unrealistic that was but, in fact, it worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for a several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper.

She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson (who inspired her first published story when he broke her laptop keyboard. Unlike in the story, a magical creature didn’t come out of the laptop and fix her life). Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications, mainly in the USA. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. Some examples can be found here:

http://www.loreleisignal.com/Reboot.html

http://loreleisignal.com/Music.html

http://www.sorceroussignals.com/ShoeFits.html

http://www.untiedshoelacesofthemind.com/Issue7/theman.php

http://www.iridumsound.co.uk/magazines/issue.php?issue_id=16 (page 53)

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2013/04/sport-of-kings-by-judith-field.html

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2012/11/diva-by-judith-field.html

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2013/02/for-old-times-sake-by-judith-field.html

http://www.fabulaargentea.com/and-then-there-were-three/

http://lunastationquarterly.com/issue-014/prototype

She is also a pharmacist, freelance journalist, editor, medical writer, and indexer. She blogs at http://www.millil.blogspot.com.

riotwombles

Personally, I think you have to visit her blog, just to find out more about the phrase:

“My experience of sex shops is also lacking. I have only been in a sex shop once, in 1976, and I was dressed as a Womble.” 🙂

You’re an Author? Me Too! – News from the New York Times

I’d like to share this interesting and to be honest, slightly worrying, article for Indie authors from the New York Times.

You’re an Author? Me Too! – Essay – Book Review – New York Times.

They point out that the number of Americans who read for pleasure is decreasing all the time – for example, 53% of adult Americans did not read a book for pleasure in the past year. I’m not sure how that figure is reflected across the rest of the world but of course America is a large market.

Shocking as this is, I have been able to find some data for Australia which gives me some hope. A recent AC Neilsen survey in Australia suggests that 78% of the adult population reads for pleasure every day or most days of the week, and of that 72% of the reading is of books (rather than newspapers and magazines).

Whatever the figure is, there is no denying that the number of published authors (including Indie authors) is rising all the time. Great! You might say. Lots more choice, and lots of variety. No doubt this is true, but surely the sheer volume of work being produced must make finding the good stuff harder? Are we floundering in too many stories?

Maybe not – maybe we can rely on reviews and ratings to help us sort through the morass of writing out there. I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this issue. As someone about to float something into the sea of new writing out there, it frankly seems just a bit daunting.

The article also has a interesting take on who is reading all the stuff out there, and it sounds like the community of readers is populated to an increasing extent by those who write. Is this a reflection of people involving themselves to a much greater extent in the literary life? I am certainly aware that in the blogisphere and on Twitter, there is a lot of good discussion going on between authors, which no doubt makes us better writers, but also perhaps to create more of a word-based community.

Please let me know your thoughts. Are people reading less? Are there too many new books out there? And is it hard to find good stories?