Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You might be a writer if...

The end of year nears, and all publishers, fingers crossed, are watching what consumers will do. How will the last quarter of 2010 round itself out? Will sales be up? Down? Even us writers get a little involved. It is, after all, an indication as to how we will all start out 2011 - with a prayer at selling another book, or austerity measures that will drive even the most creative toward writing what sells. Awful state to be in for everybody, but there we have it. Nevertheless, while biting my nails and praying to the gods of book sales, I can't help but wonder, you might be a writer if...

You think the publishing industry needs an OPEC moment.

Whoever thought you'd see publishing and OPEC in the same sentence. One of the most successful industries coupled with one struggling enormously. Bear with me, though. I promise, it will all make sense. Imagine what gasoline prices would be like if there were no OPEC. The countries an producers of oil aren't exactly buddy buddy. They could seriously undercut each other until they would be selling oil at a price well below what it costs to produce, just to get that sale. Sound familiar, publishing execs? The margin of profit on book sales is dangerously close to what it costs just to produce them. Hop back to oil and what do you see? For all the turmoil that abounds amongst Middle Eastern states and oil producers, they are able to agree on one thing, the price of oil. Their allegiance in this one area keeps the consumers locked into a fixed price of gas has made the oil industry very very successful.

So why is it the publishing industry hasn't gotten on that bandwagon? Returns are killing the industry. That is what common opinion has determined. It affects all aspects of publishing, especially writers. How can publishers take a risk on something new unless they are absolutely certain a book will sell? It's an awful predicament to be in. A few low sellers, and an editor's career is in serious jeopardy.


Because publishers carry all of the risk when it comes to selling books. Returns were started during the 1920s Depression to get wary booksellers to stock shelves when they were fearful they would be unable to sell the stock they purchased and thus go out of business. Publishers offered sellers a novel return policy: if you don't sell it, we'll take it back. It was the opening of Pandora's box. An offer they were unable to ever renig. Today, booksellers carry no risk. All books, regardless of the state they are in, are returnable. Publishers carry the risk. In that sense, there is no difference between big box bookstores and indies. They are consignment shops.

If, however, publishers were to band together, like OPEC, on this one point and abolish the returns policy, making their goods as sold as, say, textile or toy producers products, they would create a little more breathing room for creativity for both their editors and their writers. Maybe. Even I have to admit books, although as important to me as oil, as not as necessary as oil to our everyday lives. Consumers need not buy books.

Still, I can't help thinking that maybe leveling the playing field, sharing the risk amongst booksellers and publishers, might aid the industry overall. If nothing else, it would be an experiment that would get a sluggish industry thinking in novel directions.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Another Semester Completed!

Yippeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have finished my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. This one was more challenging than the first two because it was the critical thesis semester. I really got into my topic - the illustrious objective correlative. So much so, I applied higher math to literature. Yes, this is what weeks of researching a topic will do to you, collide the left and right halves of your brain until you're combing math and words.'s all part of the graduate school experience.

After I honed an cut, crafted and styled my thesis, I spent the rest of the semester sculpting the beginnings of a new piece. It was all about layering this time around. Coming up with the basic foundation, i.e. character and problem. Layering scene on top of that. Then external plot. Emotional plot. It was like creating a painting very painstakingly from the canvas up, hyperaware of each layer and the role it plays in the final perception of color and composition. 

So, all in all, a successful semester. And only one left!

What this graduate experience has thus far taught me is that even if Socrates was a little glib when he said, "I know that I know nothing"...I know that I know nothing. There is so much to learn about any field--any craft--and writing is no exception. I will spend the rest of my life learning about it, glorying and despairing in the nuances of the written word and my ability to use it (hopefully glorying a little more than despairing!).

The critical work has imparted the same lesson it did during my PhD, structure, analysis, description and interpretation. It helps me to be able to organize the parts to story and know how they work together, what tools are available, which one I want to tinker with, and how other writers have done so in the past. I need that kind of direction in my writing.

Next semester it is all creative, all the time. I am curious to see, what I learn then?