I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.
And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.
So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.
I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.
Every week I give away a free copy of The Sex Club on my website. I gave away 75 copies of The Sex Club at Bouchercon, and I’ve sent hundreds of copies to bookstores, book clubs, and readers who asked for it.
Meanwhile, I have a collection of new/nearly new paperbacks that have nowhere to go. Our local Book Exchange went out of business, so I’ve decided to give them away. To win one of these titles, simply e-mail me and ask for it. (Click the contact link on the right of this page.) I’ll randomly pick winners at the end of the week. Don’t forget to enter The Sex Club giveaway. (And you might consider ordering a few copies as the perfect stocking stuffer for your siblings and co-workers.)
My next step is to podcast The Sex Club and give it away in audio form. If I only had the time! I’m also thinking of offering a free download of one of my unpublished stories. My only hesitation is that I’m a better writer now than I was then. So does it make sense to offer an earlier story as a first exposure to my writing? Has anyone tried this strategy? I want to know what you think.
I’m celebrating Thanksgiving today (sans turkey) because I have so much to be grateful for that it can’t wait.
- We have a new president! A thoughtful Democrat who will value the things I value and raise our standing in the world.
- I have a new book contract! My recently finished story, Secrets to Die For, will be published for people to buy and read. Oh happy day!
- I have three great sons, who all contacted me yesterday (calling, texting, visiting) to let me know they had voted (and for Barack Obama).
- My husband has a job, and I have some freelance work coming. We will stay solvent!
- My wonderful husband has worked hard to resolve my exercise issues, and, as a result, my chronic knee pain is diminished!
So today (and going forward), I am grateful for these things and more. I posted this list next to my computer where I’ll see it first—and last—thing every day.
Last January, I set two main goals for the year: 1) establish a freelance fiction editing business and 2) write and sell a second Detective Jackson novel. With the help of a layoff from my job, I sort of accomplished the first. And yesterday, I signed with Echelon Press to publish Secrets to Die For next September, so I can happily check off the second goal.
And I did it with two months to spare, so now I can write like crazy on the third Jackson story during November, also known as National Novel Writing Month. I don’t expect to finish the novel in 30 days, but if I have 30,000 words down by December, I’ll be very happy. (And yes, technically it’s a new goal.)
I’ve also come to accept the idea that the publishing industry is moving—slowly—away from paper products. In fact, I bought a Kindle the other day (I still have a credit card!), something I never thought I would do. (It hasn’t arrived, so I can’t report on it yet, but I will eventually.) So now I’m thinking seriously about nonpaper media, with ideas such as 1) creating an audio version (podiobook) of The Sex Club, 2) creating a downloadable e-book of a story I wrote years ago and never tried to sell, and 3) podcasting the first chapter of several of my stories. All viable projects—all time consuming. But I have two months to spare this year, so why not branch out?
If I were a widget maker who went to work in a factory at the same time every day, I would leave work at the same time and the collect the same paycheck. There would be no uncertainty.
Instead I’m a novelist and freelance editor. No two days are alike, and uncertainty is a way of life. Will this novel I’m writing sell to a publisher? After spending 25 hours on this manuscript, will the writer actually send me a check? Will I have enough freelance work this month to pay my mortgage?
A little background: I’m a Type A personality and a bit of a control freak. I never leave on a road trip without a map and a hotel reservation. I am not cut out for uncertainty.
And yet, the life of a widget maker would drive me insane. Conversely, I love this life as a novelist and freelancer. So I must learn to live with uncertainty. Some days are easier than others. Yesterday got the best of me. Financially, this is the worst year my husband and I have ever had, and things will get worse before they get better. But in some ways, we are happier than ever.
Financial insecurity is not the worst of it though. The question of whether my recently completed novel will sell sometimes hinders my ability to move forward as a novelist. I have a new story outlined and two chapters written, yet a little part of my brain says, “Why bother?”
I always manage to push past this point. (Although, it once took a few years.) And I will again. I write because I am a storyteller. And the life of a storyteller is always filled with uncertainty.
The last time I had lunch with Elaine Flinn, the funny, vivacious author of the Molly Doyle mysteries, she summed up this business of being a writer rather graphically and succinctly. Leading up to that moment, I was talking about Lynne Cheney (wife of the vice president) who had gone on Jon Stewart’s show to sell her memoir. My husband thought her guest appearance was shocking, considering that Jon had called Dick Cheney the Prince of Darkness, among other horribly unflattering things. I was less surprised by Lynne Cheney’s appearance, after all, she was a writer with a book to sell. But Elaine summed it up best, “We’re all whores.”
We burst into laughter and drew stares from the diners around us. Neither of us cared much.
Of course what Elaine meant was that we want so desperately for people to read our work—and love us in return—that we will go just about anywhere, say just about anything, participate in just about any gimmick (contests, human auctions, dressing in character, standing outside a bookstore with a three-foot poster), and put up with all manner of inconvenience and insult. Writers often sell their books one at time in a very personal exchange. Seldom does anyone actually get naked during the transaction, but it does feel a little whorish at times.
I’m not complaining or disparaging anyone. We do it for the love of the craft and the love of the readers. Few of us are in it for the money. Which is a good thing, because street walkers never get rich. But to take this analogy one step further, Elaine Flinn was a high-class call girl. And I will miss whoring around with her.
It’s time for another non-writing/reading rave. These have been simmering for a while.
Why are automated voice mail greetings so long?
How many options do we need and does anyone ever use them? Wouldn’t voice mail be much friendlier if it simply said, “No one is answering, so leave a message”? Furthermore, it seems that few people actually listen to their voice messages. Time and again, people who call me back say, “So what’s up?” or “I saw that you called.” I politely ask, “Did you listen to my message?” Because I don’t want to bore them with a repeat of what they’ve already heard. They invariably say, “No. I just saw that I’d missed your call and called you back.” My feeling is that if I suffer through five minutes of voice mail options, waiting patiently for the tone that says I can finally talk, I expect you to listen to the thoughtful message that I’ve left. Because if I’m on my way to the emergency room, I may not be able to answer when you call back.
Why is all packaging so hard to get into?
This would be the reason that I’m on my way to the hospital—because I just sliced open my hand with a utility blade trying to open a package a batteries. Don’t manufacturers know that people who need batteries need them right f**king now because the damn smoke alarm won’t shut the hell up?
Sleep-aid packaging is the worst. Each pill is set in a little plastic cup with a paper covering glued down over the whole thing. It’s after midnight and I’m exhausted yet can’t sleep, so I’m in the kitchen trying to access a single little sleeping pill. I do not have sharp fingernails, and like everyone else my age I can’t focus well on things that are 18 inches from my face. After five minutes of clawing and tearing, I realize the task is beyond my skills. I reach for the utility knife, then remember the incident with the batteries. So I think “to hell with it” and grab the Nyquil. (Fortunately, I have mastered childproof caps.)