Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When the words are big and fat and free . . . and good

Disclaimer:  I was never able to get into the Outlander gush.  There is a specific reason for this, and it's immaterial to this blog post.  I think I read about the first 50 pages and gave up.  I've never read any of the sequels, and don't have any desire to.

At any of the RWA national conferences I attended, one of the most exciting parts was the "goodie bag" handed out at registration.  These tote bags, usually with the conference logo blazoned on the front (along with some bookseller's ad copy) were crammed full with lots of freebies, especially books.  This was a good place for publishers to unload several hundred copies of remaindered paperbacks or new releases they were hyping.  The 1991 conference in New Orleans brought us all a big surprise, and I do mean big.  Ed Sullivan type really big.  A gorgeous, fat hard cover novel by an author none of us had ever heard of:  Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

There was no hype with it.  As far as I know, Gabaldon was not even a member of RWA at the time.  She did not speak at the conference, and her publisher provided no other advertising information.  We wondered what the heck was going on, that the publisher would hand out 1500 or so free copies of what looked to be a very expensive book.

A year or so later, many of us received free copies of the first sequel, Dragonfly in Amber.  Again, that was it, the book and nothing more.  By then my daughter had read Outlander and loved it, so I gave her both books.  She still has them to this day.

No one was asked to review the books, like them on Facebook, upvote them on Amazon, retweet their praises or downvote any trolls who didn't love them.  Obviously not, because there was no Facebook or Twitter.  "The web" was still four years in the future.

So how did the Outlander phenomenon develope without the aid of cyber hype? 

Very simply:  Gabaldon wrote a book, told a story, created characters that readers cared enough about to tell their trusted friends.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, sells a book like the book itself. 

As I wrote elsewhere and can't repeat often enough:

To parody the credit card commercial:
Review swap from fellow author? Free
5-star review on Goodreads? $5
Review and "Verified purchase" on Amazon? $10
Honest review from a genuine reader who tells her friends how wonderful your book is?
You can buy all the Goodreads reviews and Facebook likes and Amazon upvotes and retweets and pins you want; you can't "buy" readers.
They aren't for sale at any price.
Write a book they love, however, and they'll pay you.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lost Words, Found

The move into this house approximately eight years ago was a somewhat hasty job.  The decision to sell the house I'd lived in for almost 20 years was hasty, and hastier still was the actual sale.  The house was on the market less than a week when I received the first and, as it turned out, only offer.  I then had to scramble to find a place to move to, as well as pack up the accumulated . . . stuff.

That stuff included books.  A lot of them.  Thousands of them.


Yes, thousands.

There was no time to carefully inventory them and label the boxes.  When we ran out of boxes, books got packaged into plastic grocery bags.  Because the new house didn't have nearly as many shelves as the old one, some of those books languished in boxes and bags for months.  Slowly, steadily, I acquired bookcases and other furniture to house the books.  As they found permanent homes, I inventoried them, dutifully noting their location.  This is crucial because some of the shelves are themselves much deeper than the books, so there are often two or even three layers.  Even with the inventory, I often still have to go hunting for a particular volume.

Yes, thousands.  I'm not exaggerating.

But somehow or other, despite my attention to detail -- okay, my obsessive-compulsive disorder -- I managed to lose track of some books.  Not very many, but a few.

Interestingly, when we moved from Indiana to Arizona in 1985, virtually everything we brought with us arrived unscathed except for about 10 paperback books.  They'd been among the first things packed in the trailer and had gotten damp during a rainstorm before we left.  That storm had alerted us to a couple of small leaks in our home-made trailer, but we didn't think there had been any damage.  The loss of a few books -- which weren't destroyed, only had some cover damage -- was a small price to pay.

But on this 2006 move, I was a bit more dismayed when I began to discover I couldn't find certain books.  Books that I could have put my hand on in ten seconds before the move.  I knew none had been damaged in the move, and I couldn't imagine these being lost.  But I just couldn't find them.

None were particularly important or valuable or anything.  A few were autographed, like Carolyn Light's Minor Royalty, which she had sent me in connection with an RWA event.  Others were replacements for those Dollar Book Club selections my dad had collected, like Samuel Shellabarger's The King's Cavalier.  Why could I locate all my historical fashion and housewares books except the Dover reprint of the 1891 Jordan, Marsh catalog?  It, too, was missing. 

The one title whose loss bothered me the most was Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi.  It's readily available, so I could have replaced it without any trouble.  But it was one of the first texts I read during my first semester back in college in 1998, when I embarked on that little educational journey after an almost 25 year hiatus.  I had had to conquer my resistance to writing in a book so that I could highlight -- in pencil only! -- passages and points that seemed important, though in truth I was so immersed in Moody's autobiography that I often forgot to take notes.

During the many times I went looking for the book in all the places I expected it to be and came up empty handed, I suspected I might have lent it to my daughter.  However, when I visited her a couple of years ago, she said, no, she didn't have it though she remembered borrowing it from me to read for one of her own classes.

I shrugged and wrote the book off as lost.

But karmic connections are funny things.  One discussion on Goodreads led to another, one book led to another, and I found myself in my studio looking for a book that my inventory told me should be out here, Mary Stewart's Airs Above the Ground.  I didn't find it on the first search, but I gave up after only a few minutes because it was 130 degrees out here!  On the second search, I found it, and I was all set to just take it off the shelf and settle in to read it when I realized something.

It wasn't where it was supposed to be.  I knew the one, smaller bookcase in the studio had been inventoried.  And I knew some of the books on the larger bookcase had.  But as I took Airs Above the Ground off the shelf, I realized there were a bunch of books I had never catalogued.  Not on my handy dandy spreadsheet, and not on Goodreads.

I now know what happened.  Books on the small bookcase that had been inventoried were moved to the larger one to make room for others, but nothing already on the larger shelves had ever been listed.  Within a few seconds of grabbing the Stewart book, I discovered the Jordan, Marsh reprint.  As I moved a whole stack of paperbacks to reveal the row behind, I cheered, "Aha!"  The Last Unicorn was there, along with Barbara Chase-Riboud's Sally Hemings, another of my missing "treasures."  In the next row over, Coming of Age in Mississippi, with all my little pencilled notes.

So, okay, what does this have to do with anything?  The answer:  Nothing.  Except that I started this blog to chronicle my own return to writing, and reading has always been a vital part of writing for me.  I've not been able to do nearly as much writing as I would like, and this makes me unhappy and frustrated because I'm caught in the Catch-44  (twice as bad as Catch-22) of having to work a paying job that keeps me from the writing that might replace the income from the paying job, even though I have no illusions about the ephemeral nature of earnings from writing.

Today I found one of those books that's been missing for eight years.  Missing because I just didn't look in the right place.  And I got a reminder, in finding it, of how much greater the struggle to find voice has been for others.  Mine are still first-world whines.  I should shut up and write.