Writing Is My Business, But So Is Business

My father had a small business which I thought imprisoned him, and as a kid I swore I would never “do retail.”

Boy, was I wrong.  As an author, I wound up owning my own small business and it’s as vulnerable to competition and the vagaries of the market place as any physical store.  Sometimes it’s just as exhausting.

From the beginning of my book publishing career in 1990, I was deeply involved in pushing my work, contacting venues for readings, investing in posters and postcards, writing my own press releases when I thought my publisher hadn’t done a good job, and constantly faxing or mailing strangers around the country about my latest book.

Then came the Internet and everything shifted to email.  Add a web site that needs constant updating, Twitter and Facebook, keeping a presence on various listservs, blogging, blog tours, producing book trailers, updating ebooks in various ways, and the constant reaching out to strangers in the hope of enlarging my platform and increasing sales.  It never ends.

sad-writerAnd neither does the advice offered by consultants.  I’m deluged by offers to help me increase my sales and drive more people to my web site.  They come on a daily basis and when they tout success stories, I sometimes feels as if I’m trapped on a low-performing TV show while everyone else on the schedule is getting great Nielson ratings.

Going independent for a few books after I published with big and small houses momentarily made me feel more in control, but that control morphed into an albatross.  Right now, my 25th book is being brought out by a superb university press and I’m relieved to not be in charge, just consulted.

Way too often, the burden of business has made writing itself harder to do, and sometimes it’s even felt pointless because it initiates a whole new business push.  So this isn’t a blog that promises you magic solutions to your publishing problems.  This blog say: If you’re going to be an author, prepare to work your butt off at things that might not come naturally to you and might never feel comfortable, whether you’re indie published or traditionally published.

One author friend who’s been a perpetual NYT best seller confided to me that despite all the success she’s had, “I still feel like a pickle salesman, down on the Lower East Side in 1900.”

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Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery.

 

Digital Diet? Not For Me.

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Years ago, I followed health guru Andrew Weill’s advice and took a “news fast.”  I stopped reading newspapers and news web sites for six weeks.  I found myself calmer during that period, and spending more time both working and enjoying myself.  I read more books, I wrote more, I relaxed more.

Lately I’ve seen talk about “digital diets” or fasts: taking time to unhook completely from our constant connectedness.  I get that.  I actually returned my Android phone six months after I bought it and went back to a pre-smart phone.  I had found myself more obsessed with email than usual, checking it at doctors’ offices, on line at the post office, even when I was in my car stopped at red lights or train crossings.  I decided I need more free time away from work, and the phone was just too tempting.

But going cold turkey, for even a week?  I just can’t.  It doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. Like most authors, my professional life is digital.

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If my publisher or my editor contacts me, it’s via email.  If an editor wants me to write a story or essay for a new anthology, that’s how I heard.  Ditto with other authors or anyone who’s found my email address via my web site and wants to write me fan mail or invite me to speak at a conference, a university, a library or any of the many other venues where I do talks and readings from my work.

I’ve done entire book tours here and abroad without ever needing the phone.  In fact, the only time I’m on the phone for business is firming up details that have already been set up via email, and that’s infrequently.  And when I am connecting via phone, I’m often simultaneously checking details on line, or even emailing something to whoever’s called me.

Now that I’m also a visiting assistant professor at Michigan State University, a digital fast makes even less sense. I need to stay in touch with my students and also with other faculty members. That’s become specially important as I continue to work on the planning for a study abroad program I’m co-leading in London this summer.  Emails to various people and institutions in London have been legion.

The place where I can cut back, though, is Facebook.  I think I can live without cute cat videos for a week.  Who knows, maybe even six weeks…..

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What The Hell Happened to “Sherlock”?

There’s a great conversation in Soapdish, which stars Sally Fields and Whoopi Goldberg, where Goldberg, the chief writer for a soap opera, is arguing about bringing back a character who died.  Her complaint?  “The guy was decapitated….He doesn’t have a head!  How am I supposed to write for a guy who doesn’t have a head?”  The producer promises to figure it out, suggesting that maybe his head was frozen and re-attached in “a two-day operation.”

That’s bizarre and funny, but appropriately so, since Soapdish is a wild comedy.   How the writers of Sherlock brought him back from the dead in Season Three was ridiculous, but the show isn’t meant to be a farce.  Unfortunately.  So we can expect the return of Moriarity (no, he didn’t really blow his brains out) to be just as cavalierly worked out.

What’s happened to this show?  It started out as fiendishly clever in the first season, everything you’d expect from a new take on Watson and Holmes, even playing with the homoerotic nature of their bromance–at least as seen by outsiders like their landlady.

But the special effects that were so diverting in that season have taken over the show and become a distraction.  There’s much less actual story than there used to, and I’ve been wondering why that could be so.

Then I saw the writers on PBS jauntily, even defiantly saying that Sherlock was not going to be about him “solving a crime ever week.”  What’s the point, then?  Why try breathing new life into a character with many lives in books and in film and then totally subverting what he is and does?  Holmes is a brilliant detective.  With a level of insight that’s almost superhuman, he observes, deduces, and detects, either in the field or just sitting in his armchair.  But the writers are apparently bored by all that, and prefer playing with toys instead.  Their attitude shows contempt for the genre they’re in.

Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu fields an even bolder take on Holmes, not just making him a recovering addict but turning Watson into a woman and his “sober companion” when the show debuted.  There’s no flashy camera work or FX to the show, but plenty of substance, and crimes are solved, not ignored.  It’s the real deal.  A smart, engaging, contemporary update of Holmes, it never loses sight of who Sherlock is and why he’s held our imagination for over a century.