Monday, February 21, 2011


My FaceBook account was hacked recently. A phishing message was posted to all my friends.
Ernesto alerted me within hours of the occurrence, and I changed my password and went to my wall and deleted every instance I could see of the posting.
I also posted a message cautioning people not to click the link.

But days later, I was still getting messages from friends, wondering about the post.
Evidently, it wasn't deleted from everyone's wall. So I just spent upwards of an hour clicking through my friends list, going to their walls one by one and deleting the post. I was surprised by how many places it wasn't deleted - I guess the FB algorithm is not to be trusted.

I didn't have to do all that clicking, but my twentieth century sense of etiquette demanded that I clean up the mess made in my name, even though I had nothing to do with it.
One friend told me I shouldn't apologize, but admitted she too feels responsible when anything with her name attached to it, goes out into the world.

So I wonder - do younger people feel this sense of having violated others' privacy and personal space with a come-on in their name, even if they didn't create the problem? Am I really from a Calvinist time, in which everything is going to turn out to be my fault eventually, so I might as well own up right away?

I thought I exorcized guilt years ago - I've put my energy into treating people fairly so I have nothing to apologize for. But when this happened, Wham! Immediate and total Guilt!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taking the Plunge!

For some time I've been weighing the pros & cons of self-publishing.
On the pro side:
Authorial autonomy
Potentially higher return per book sold
Immediate release

On the con side:
"Vanity publishing" - for some this remains a stigma.
No newspaper book reviews (at a panel I attended, the reviewers said they never review self-published books).

But let's look at the industry:
As publishing houses buy one another and limit their risk-taking with unknown authors, opportunities for a book contract are diminishing.
The agent - publishing house - bookstore model is fast becoming obsolete.
Unless sales are strong immediately, a book is only in a bookstore a matter of weeks before that shelf space is given to other titles.
In this climate, if the agent or publisher doesn't like some aspect of the book, what can a little-known author do but capitulate? I omit mention of editors suggesting changes, because editors have become an endangered species.
The percentage paid to the author is small.
And authors (unless named Nora Roberts, J.K. Rowling or Tom Clancy) have to do the heavy lifting of publicizing their work. (I'd always thought the whole point of having a publisher was for introvert writers to be freed from the extrovert task of selling their work - silly me!)

My work is offbeat - not in a recognized genre, nor quite "literary fiction".
I've spent years writing and revising my work with rewrites small and major, then sent queries to every agent and small press who seemed even remotely likely to have an interest in my work.
The result is a rejection letter file.
I've pitched to agents at book conferences. Nada.

I am weary of the rejection cycle, and my work is too! Karmafornia wants to be read!

So I've decided to e-publish through, supplemented by a Print-On-Demand edition, and do a book tour in late summer for publicity purposes.

If you've had experience with Smashwords, I'd love to hear about it. Their website presents them as a very straightforward author-friendly business, and they charge nothing to receive a properly-formatted manuscript (they provide a free detailed formatting guide), assign it an ISBN, and distribute it in e-book catalogs, available at a price the author determines, in virtually every e-book format. They retain a modest percentage of sales income (15 - 18.5 %), with the author receiving most (up to 85%). The author retains copyright and all ancillary rights. Smashwords provides a book marketing manual but the PR burden lies with the author - which it does anyway, regardless of how the book is emerging into the world.
And at the worst, authors have the option to "unpublish" from their site.

I know authors who have self-published. Once they've had decent sales, publishers have (surprise!) shown an interest, and picked them up as clients.
What can I lose, besides my frustration?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Defining "Commercial" vs. "Literary" Fiction

One trope suggests that commercial fiction is plot-driven and literary fiction character-driven. But I see their difference at a structural level:
In commercial fiction, story is all-important; the structure, from sentences to chapters, is designed to keep you turning pages quickly. J.K. Rowling does this so well that in the last Harry Potter book I failed to register a much-noted revelation about Dumbledore - I was reading so avidly that the details evaporated.

The words and phrasing of literary fiction call attention to themselves. Writers such as Thomas Pynchon and T. C. Boyle use words you're unlikely to know. Either you pause to look them up, or miss the point. This sort of thing can be a gimmick - a chapter seemingly constructed around the use of an obscure word - but I appreciate their efforts to expand my knowledge.

Writing in the vernacular, though frowned on by writing instructors, is a marker of literary fiction. I wonder if Jaimy Gordon's novel Lord of Misrule would have won the 2010 National Book Award without the phonetic spelling mirroring each narrator's vocal style. You almost have to read it aloud, which slows you down, which makes you savor a story and remember it longer.
Unusual use of punctuation is another way of establishing Voice - an example is Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I find his playful use of colons helps re-create the wildness of those early heady days of psychedelics.
I've been chided for my use of dashes - and finally noticed where I picked up the habit: I gave Ernesto a copy of one of my all-time favorite books, Little, Big, and for the accompanying card, I leafed through to find a quote. And there were the dashes, a whole population of them - I can't tell you how delighted I was, or how vindicated! Knowing John Crowley uses them, I feel less alone, less out-on-a-limb with my writing style.

Sentence length is another show-stopper. Ernest Hemingway's short declarative sentences and straightforward strings of phrases linked with ands, are far more accessible than Henry James' comma-laced concoctions. The latter is probably only read by English majors any more, which is a pity - I find that his sentences begin on the edge of a subject then circle around, phrase by phrase, gradually reaching a focal point - by the time he gets to the nut of his sentence, I know exactly where I am.
Very long sentences compel careful reading, for example Leonid Tsypkin's Summer in Baden Baden, a retelling of Dostoyevsky's The Gambler. A single sentence can run a page or more, but this is no stylistic gimmick - Tsypkin evokes in the reader a visceral empathy with the obsessed young man hopelessly in thrall to his gambling addiction, whose notions of luck and sensitivity to the humiliations of his daily struggle, are made more vivid by the particularity of each sentence.
The cadence of commercial page-turners eases your way forward, flowing smoothly, while the interruptions (what's that word mean? what did she say? etc.) of literary fiction slow you down, inviting you to savor the unfamiliar.
Your reading pleasure needn't be either-or - sometimes, the perfect book is a romance or mystery. At other times, the play of language is just the thing.