Friday, May 24, 2013

Writers helping writers

In my last post, I talked about giving your work away. To reach that end, I discussed my experiences in the early days of the internet when people didn't have the social networking sites to air their opinions, express their emotions, or keep in touch with friends, relatives and peers.

I'm remembering one particular incident that occurred in an AOL chat room for writers. A young girl, a high school student, asked the group for help. She'd been assigned a writing project for her English class. Her requirement? To write a poem expressing her feelings.

She'd already finished a draft and asked the group if they would help her figure out how to iron out some of the rough edges.

At that time, about two dozen people were typing messages back and forth and to my surprise, the conversations began to get nasty. Overall, the consensus was (in summary): Get lost, kid. Go to the homework chat room.

I was mortified! Here, in a room full of aspiring writers who wanted feedback on their work, participants were refusing to help a budding writer merely because she was working on a school assignment.

While I didn't engage in the one-sided debate, I did offer to help. Having taught high school English for a couple of years, I figured that would be an added plus. (Is that redundant? Added plus?)

 The young lady and I exchanged to "meet" in a private room. Here she sent a copy of her work. It was really very good but it struggled at the end. I made a couple of comments about her choice of words and let her suggest more powerful ones.

The poem was about walking through a cemetery where a friend was buried. For the ending, I encouraged her to put herself in the scene, to visualize the marker on the grave, to mentally talk to her friend, and then reconstruct the last two lines according to how she felt.

She was gone for a while. I thought she'd given up but soon, she sent a final proof that was so improved it moved me to comment that I'd be giving her an A if she were in my class.

The next evening, I received an email from her, full of thanks, the message merely said she'd received an A and was now determined to continue writing.

The memory makes me smile, makes me wonder if that young person might now be on the best-seller list.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Free ebooks revisited

Years ago, (many years ago) when AOL was a fledgling internet service, I subscribed to one or two (actually more) writing and writer's chat rooms, discussion groups and forums more to explore and learn than to socialize. Back then, AOL had numerous places to hang out and exchange ideas.

One evening, I was lurking and looking, entertaining myself as I watched the dialog among several people about whether or not writers should expect to get paid for their work. The camps were not equally divided but a goodly number of the people in the chat room believed writing was an art that should be freely shared and that writers should never write for profit. They should write because they loved to write, period, end of discussion. On the opposing side of the argument, defenders of the big bucks (my tag, not theirs) indignantly argued that if writers should not expect to get paid for their blood, sweat, tears and cost of typewriter ribbons (Yes, Virginia, this was before word processing replaced those clunky machines entirely.), then nobody should expect to get paid for theirs, not doctors, not teachers, not policemen, not movie producers, not, not, not.

Neither group convinced the other to switch sides.

I, being a writer who used my talent to do silly things like pay the rent, put gas in my car, and eat at least once a day, sided with the pro-pay group.

Several years later, I landed a gig with an independent publisher whose philosophy was “Never give away information.” I felt vindicated, sort of. I add the “sort of” because I knew he was in the business of publishing information for which he expected to be compensated through sales. Still, this made sense because when he got paid, his writers got paid and both could pay the rent, put gas in their cars and eat at least once a day.

(This same publisher also believed that if a book gave you one single idea, one tiny shred of enjoyment, no matter how bad the book, it was worth every penny you spend on it, something I did not favor.)

Fast forward to this era when AOL is just another player in the big cyber game where the debate continues, now with the added ingredient called the eBook, the little rascal that invites anyone and everyone to write and publish and sell – and give away – their talent.

Now the question becomes serious because the competition is even more fierce. One book by one author, good, bad, sensational or stinko, isn’t going to get anywhere on the sales charts of the big internet outlets because it is like that proverbial needle in that farmer’s haystack. There’s no big publisher to spend big bucks promoting it; and the independent, self-published author probably doesn’t have the kind of dough it takes to get the job done. The solution? Find every social media site, every forum, every board, and give away that book. Ask, beg even, readers to review it in their blogs, on those same social networking sites, those same forums and boards. (And pray the reviews are as good as you think your book is.) Build yourself a fan base in the hopes that those same readers will pay for your second effort, or your third, or your fourth. But trust me on this, if your book isn’t worth the read, even if there’s one single idea, one tiny shred of enjoyment on the part of the reader, your strategy won’t work.

Even so, I don’t believe writers should give their work away, unless it’s in the form of promotional efforts -- like blogs (where they still can hope to earn a few sheckels from advertising, through click-throughs and affiliate programs) and interviews and signings and such. This is where they can share our love for writing for free.

Of course, this is my opinion. I’m sure I’ll get some disagreement.

And now, it's off to the word processor to write something to pay. The rent's due in a few days.

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