Writer’s Life … To buy a plum bun

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It happened on a city block. It happened in rural farm towns. It went like this:

Mom is home washing, cleaning and cooking. She waits for the sounds of a man shouting his wares outside her kitchen window. She listens for the knock at the door, for the next delivery, the next salesman.

If you can’t get out to the world market … the market will come to you.

A man lumbers down the avenues, a giant suitcase on casters, in tow. It is filled with dresses for the misses and the little girl of the house. They can be purchased “on time,” and there is always a variety of styles and sizes available. Don’t see what you want today? He takes out a little note pad and a number two pencil and puts you in his book. “Next week, I’ll have that one in blue.”

They were the merchants who sold their wares, the milkman who delivered milk, cream, butter and eggs. No equal opportunity for women, it was a postman who carried a heavy bag over his shoulders, and another man who wrote down your weekly insurance payments. One policy for each member of the house. He worked for Metropolitan Life or Prudential. If anyone was lucky enough to own a car, he might be the one to take your weekly payments for the car insurance.

Simple wasn’t it?

Books?

Do you wonder if there was a man who carted books in a horse-drawn carriage? Did he have a designated day to roll down your block with the wonders of Twain or Dickens? Did he carry those dime store novels you were told would rot your brain? No silly, those were in the Five and Ten Cents Store.

Most books were sold in tiny bookstores, or the corner of the drug store, the far wall of the Woolworth. They were borrowed from libraries, and Scholastic reader came directly to your classroom.

Life was so simple then. Writers could knock on a publishers door, introduce themselves and plunk down their 250K word manuscript on the editor’s desk. Then we all grew up and the rule book for the National Football League and Random House changed.

To market, to market to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.

The way things are sold has also changed. The insurance man doesn’t come to your kitchen and talk to the man of the house about his “coverage” while the little lady is making a plum pudding.

The way we shop has changed. You get on a personal computer, click a mouse and upgrade, order, cancel, pay for or add on to insurance, utilities, cable bundles, buy music, play games, order games, read books, order books, or even buy dresses for the misses or the little girl of the house.

It’s called instant gratification and something about that concept makes some people worry, judge or define when enough is, enough.

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

If you can’t get out to the world market … the market will come to you.

Writing and selling, printing and delivering books has changed. Right now we are on the apex of the most important change since chapbooks were replaced by hard covers. More important than when the small presses in rural cities, were replaced by the Big 6, more important than when the little bookstore on the avenue was sucked up by the Brick and Mortar giants.

Oops, the tale is no longer David and Goliath … the tale is a battle to the death of several Goliaths. They are choosing their weapons, defining how you should buy the books you want to read. For those who wish to write books, they are defining how you should publish those books.

I recently read a post by Anna DeStafano: Publishing Isn’t for Sissies: On the Radar. Take the time to read the entire post. You will thank yourself. I site one paragraph.

But this is MY business to manage, not my traditional publisher partners’. I’m convinced (and I’m not the only one) that multiple streams of income are the way through this period of upheaval and change.I’m exercising my more technical skills, “officially” editing now with a digital-first publisher I believe in, one with great distribution, foreign sales, and subsidiary plans and author-focused contract terms. I’m also submitting digital projects that seem to fit that more flexible market better than more traditional avenues (I’m an outside-the-box kinda girl whose creativity frequently doesn’t “fit” an inflexible mold, no matter how hard I might try). While I keep my options open to even more opportunities.

What about those books you want to write?

Voices are echoing in tunnels, shouting from street corners, pushing their carts in your direction. Write, print, publish, market, sell and sweat with ME.

I am on the right side of this debate and I know what’s best. If you go with “them” you can’t be seen by my readers. If you don’t go with “me” you probably aren’t literate enough to lunch with “us.”

Makes me feel ancient, like that old guy in the supermarket who tells you how much he used to pay for milk, cream, butter and eggs.

Oh hell, I’m tired. I think I’ll go outside and wait for the ice cream truck, the Good Human man or the little Italian guy who shaves ice, pours bright liquids over it and calls it an “icie.”

Damn, are they gone too?

Does it all make you think you should roll up your wares and wait for a better day?

fOIS In The City

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Writer’s Life … To buy a plum bun

  1. My agent, Rachelle Gardner, published an excellent series of posts this week that address the changes in the publishing world. She offers some great thoughts. Her point is that if we’re going to be successful in the publishing world today, we need to go with the flow and embrace the changes taking place around us. I’m doing my best, but some days this dinosaur finds keeping up easier than others. :-)

    • Keli, I do love reading Rachelle’s posts. She is one of the more realistic and sensible of the industry experts out there. It is not going to be an easy ride for the newbie writer, worse for a while longer, for the aspiring writer. What I do believe is that the changes that are happening now, will impact all of us in ways we have yet to imagine. Thanks for the visit :)

  2. I feel overwhelmed, though I know it isn’t real ~ like everything else you mentioned (and lovely romp through memory lane, by the way), we adjust until the ‘new and intimidating’ becomes the ‘oh-so-yesterday’. The most frightening aspect for me is the threat to intellectual property. It’s never been easier to lose ownership of your work (or to track the thievery). We often work on the honor system in terms of referencing and citing and giving credit. The vast majority of participants in the digital system are honorable (as you and Keli illustrate), but there is an emerging faction that is willing to lift and borrow because they’re so desperate not to be lost in these changes. Oh my, I’ve got myself all worked up. I need an icee.

    • Yes Liz, this is all very overhwelming for all of us. Soon the dust from the tornado will settle in NY and someout out there will hear the message and make this new age safer and better than the ice age from which we have only just emerged. And I do so love taking my readers for a romp down memory lane :)

  3. Brinda Berry

    The Schwans man used to come to my house for years and then he stopped coming by to check my order. I obviously didn’t buy enough pizza and ice cream to merit the gas to my house. :( I can’t blame him.

    I’m all for technology and love the instant gratification. I bet you could have guessed that. I think that’s why I am on that wagon for change in publishing.

    • Brinda, those who are not on the wagon for change will be left behind at a remote depot in the middle of a very lonely dessert. I am excited for writers, for myself, and mostly for readers. They will be the real winners :)

  4. Change is scary. That doesn’t make it bad. When the railroad put the Pony Express out of business, people shook thier heads. When Henry Ford put railroads in their place, along with the horses, people wondered where it would all end.

    Yet look around you — did the world end? Did it get better? Hmmm. Okay, skip the second question.

    Everyone should make the best decision today, that they can. And remember that tomorrow, your decision may be different. That there’s nothing wrong with that!

    All of this will shake out better for the reader, and ultimately, the writer. How can that be bad?

    • I think we both have the long perspective, Laura. As the man said: “times, they are a’changin’” Publishing will survive in a new way, a different way. And those ways will be good for readers, and better for writers. No, ultimately that can only be good :)

  5. christicorbett

    Florence,

    I really enjoy your posts about the changes coming, and those that have already arrived, in the publishing industry. It is an exciting, and scary, time to be an aspiring author.

    I especially liked the line you wrote, “I am on the right side of this debate and I know what’s best. If you go with “them” you can’t be seen by my readers. If you don’t go with “me” you probably aren’t literate enough to lunch with “us.”

    I see many times each day in the blogging world real life examples of authors acting like your above line, even going so far as to scold others who have differing opinions. I think this is why I like your blog posts so much, because you give both sides of the coin, and let the reader decide :)

    Christi Corbett

    • That is the point, Christi. I am tired of someone telling me what is the right way for me to go. What if I want to travel to two countries and not just one? Should my travel agent tell me it’s not a good idea to be exposed to too much culture?

      Blah, each of us needs to define our own travel plans :)

  6. Mike Saxton

    Multiple streams of income is what pretty much every financially successful person preaches. With good reason. Depending on a regular job is really putting all your eggs in one basket, since those jobs disappear with startling regularity.

    • You can say that about a dozen more times, Mike. It means that if the publishers and agents have their eggs in different baskets, writers should do the same. This is my business and I’ll run it the way I see fit :)

      • Mike Saxton

        Agreed! That’s why I went Indie! I didn’t spend 16 years on this story just to have someone else come in and tell me to change it all!

  7. So many options for us writers, but which road to go down? I am so bombarded with information and what to do and how to do it, that my mind reels every day and I’m on constant overload! I’m walking down several roads with one book e-published, another one in line for an editor to be e-pubbed, and I’m sending out query letters for my third one, and have just finished writing my fourth. The road is so precarious and I still don’t know how best to promote. It almost seems like a lot has to do with luck, which doesn’t make me feel any better about the whole process.
    Patti

    • Mike Saxton

      It can be overwhelming. I do think that, if we remain patient (which I suck at) and dedicated, our chances of success greatly increase. Most authors quit far before they ever become successful and it’s not because they couldn’t do it. They chose not to. Many of the big names struggled for a long time before becoming known, and probably wanted to quit.

      • Patience has never been my strong suit either, Mike. Circumstances are turning in our favor and those who quit cheat themselves from the ultimate joy of success … however you define the word :) The best names struggled for a long time, and if I could ever aspire to be in their category, I have no right to give up on myself.

    • Patti, we always need luck, but you started with talent and that was the hard part. Given the time and exposure … who knows that you will be as lucky as the next writer :)

  8. The world changes faster than we do.

  9. Oh YES to that last question. (great post by the way) In some ways I feel lucky to be so far from having a book I feel worthy of trying to get published. Seems like a war out there, it really does.

    Got your email re: books and will work on that soon!

    • Nina, I think that at this juncture in the industry, it is to anyone’s advantage to wait out the raging storm. We never know what tomorrow will bring, but it will for sure be better than what is going on now :) I look forward to your book selections.

  10. Thanks for including my blog link in your insightful post.

    Change is the name of the game, as is embracing with confidence not only where you’ve been so far in your career, but also the demands of wherever you want to go next, is the key…

    Write on!

    ~~Anna DeStefano

    • Thanks so much, Anna. I did write you on facebook to let you know it would be posted. Then I thought you’d see it on the GIAM page. I loved you post and I think this is a very exciting time to be in this “business.”

  11. Florence, I’ve been reading about this “change” since late 2010. At first, I was incredibly intrigued. It seemed to unbelievable that we could market our own wares. And yet, that’s the opportunity we’ve been given.

    I think this is the perfect time to be a writer. Opportunities abound on both sides of the fence, whether a writer choses traditional publishing or indie publishing … or both. How marvelous these options are!

    One other thing before I go. Last year, the ice cream man came past our house. I was so startled by his appearance. But he was two months too late, because all of the kids were back in school already. I hope I see him this year in July, when the kids are at home, hot, and craving some ice cream. :)

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Shelia, I think that you and Bandit Creek are positioned to be on the cutting edge of what is happening. Stay the course, because you will make it :) I haven’t seen an ice cream man in a dog’s age. How delightful to know they have survived all the other changes. Good to hear from you !

  12. Your recommendation to try for multiple income streams seems very wise. Ten years ago, Barnes and Noble was the Big and Nasty predator. Now we’re all supposed to feel sorry for poor little Barnes and Noble. In five years we may be feeling sorry for poor little Amazon as Kobo takes over the world market. My thoughts are like yours: keep an eye on the currents, keep your options open, and avoid false “us vs. them” warfare, and you’ll sail through just fine.

    • You nailed that one, Anne. I remember two years ago when you started posting on this subject. The world was certianly a different place, wasn’t it? It will change and then change again. The best bet for any of us is to keep out eye on the horizon … red sky at night :)

  13. Very thought provoking post, Florence. Change can be frightening as it’s parts, challenge, opportunity, and disaster. But as often as we stay aware, we as writers are likely to meet those challenges with clear thought.

    • Yes Casey, so true. I think of you and others I follow as inspirations for me to stay the course and make the right decisions for myself. Meeting the challenges of the publishing world as it stands now, is no easy task. Thanks so much :)

  14. DM

    Florence, again you’ve excelled in this post. But did you know in the late 1800′s a man named David H McConnell was a traveling door-to-door bookseller? To get women to buy his books, he started to invent perfumes in his basement and give them away when someone bought a book. It wasn’t long before he realized that women weren’t so interested in his books; they wanted the fragrances – and that’s how the company Avon was started. True story.
    I remember people selling all sorts of products door-to-door when I was growing up. That’s as tough a life as trying to get published.

    • Sorry my dearest D, this one got lost in the spam filter. I had no idea there actually was a traveling bookseller. Considering how many things came to the kitchen window and front door, I should not be surprised. Thanks so much for the info :)

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