Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

When Writers Write About Writing

When Writers Write About Writing
When Writers Write About Writing

OK, this post is about writing. More specifically it is about the books writers put out concerning the craft. It seems that sooner or later every writer puts out a little book about writing. This dates at least as far back as 1935 when the excellent writer, E.B. White teamed up with his old college English professor, William Strunk, to produce the elements of style. This book has become a standard on the mechanics on how to write. Every writer should have a copy to refer to from time to time and while your at it you might as well pick up a copy of the witty “Spunk and Bite”, a contemporary and irreverent offshoot written by the clever Arthur Plotnick.

Since The Elements of Style came out ( and probably before 1935 as well) writers have been putting out their own guides to creativity and writing skills. For some it seems like a mandatory mid-career move and some of the results have been quite enjoyable to read. I have very much enjoyed The Zen of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. And don’t forget the very popular “Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. Whoever thought that a book about punctuation would be so fun to read. (Fortunately, I have millions of people who bought the book to back me up on this claim)

Then there is the bizarre “On Writing” by Stephen King, who after creating over half his manuscript gets run over by a van, while walking near his summer home in western Maine. So, here we have a book about writing that takes a strange and gruesome twist during the creation process and all the unfortunate details of Mr. King’s near death experience become part of the literary endeavor. Maybe fact is stranger than fiction after all.

Cover for creative writing book
Cover for creative writing book

Recently, while strolling through Borders, I came across a book in the discount bin about “Inspired Creative Writing”, ( a cover shot is provided without permission, I hope the author doesn’t mind)by Alexander Gordon Smith, who is for me an unknown English writer. Nonetheless, he must be popular in the British Isles, for he has several novels and many short-stories to his credit. He is also the author of a first-rate book about writing. If you come across a copy, check it out, for it is very well organized and thought out. In this 230 page treatise about writing, Alexander covers the gamut from writing fiction to poetry and he even discusses screen writing, a serious endeavor that any writer with at least half a brain should avoid like the plague. All in all, it is my favorite writing book and you should check it out if you have a chance. It even has nifty little pictures at the beginning of each chapter to add insight and humor to the subject.