Finding the Time to Write To Thee is This World Given

Virginia Wolf once said that one needs money and a room of one’s own to be able to write. But what one really needs is time. Money and a home are just the currency needed to purchase it.

Ever since graduating college, I had been trying to find a way to both support myself and have enough spare time to write.

In the 1990s, I lived in Manhattan, attended NYU’s Publishing Program, and worked in the editorial departments of various houses, hoping that by working in publishing I’d have a better chance of my manuscript being read.

But as you probably already know, it’s challenging to be able to write while working full time, especially if you don’t write in a heavily formulaic genre and you have to share 800 square feet with five people (publishing doesn’t pay so well). So, while all that time I had an “in,” I didn’t have a finished manuscript.

After a while the realization set in that the whole point of my working in the industry was moot and I ended up in law school (all but two of my roommates from that time also went to law school, of the two others, one stuck it out in the industry and one I have know idea).

I chose law because I had the grades, did well on the sample LSAT test, and wasn’t good enough at math to go to med school. My plan was to work for a few years, scrimp, and be able to buy an inexpensive house outright, which would free me from having to work so much that it would interfere with my writing.

What I didn’t know was (1) that I’d leave law school with student loans that rivaled most people’s mortgages; (2) that I’d have to work at least eighty hours a week at a firm; and (3) that the housing market would experience the worst inflation in history. So, as you can imagine I didn’t get much writing done.

During this period, the thought that I was running out of time and not doing what I was supposed to be doing became more and more urgent, until around 2006 or 2007, when it turned into an all encompassing preoccupation that didn’t let up until I actually began writing To Thee is This World Given . I would sit at my desk every night researching cases and typing memos, thinking, “I am not supposed to be doing this,” over and over and over.

Then something happened. It would end up providing me with enough money to live off of for about a year and half without having to work.

In March 2014 I was offered a settlement from my firm, and so I had a decision to make:  refuse the money and continue working for an employer I’d grown to hate; take the money, be responsible, and find another job right away; or take the money, be irresponsible, and begin writing, knowing that the longer I remained unemployed the harder it would be for me to find another job.

I chose to write.

And I wrote every day, four to six hours a day, for nine months. As soon as I started writing, I felt for the first time in my life that finally I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. For the first time, I felt absolutely content.

It’s been two years since I began To Thee is World Given  and one year since it was released, and now I’m back to where I was before  trying to figure out how to have both enough money to live and enough time to write. But I’m no longer frightened by an insecure future, and I look at the problem now as finding enough time to work, not finding enough time to write.

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft of To Thee is This World Given, here.

 

You can read about the themes in To Thee is World Given, here

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

-k-

 

 

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The Science of Writing Slowly

When I wrote To Thee is This World Given, both my first and second drafts were written longhand on yellow legal pads, and even as I typed the third draft, every iteration of each reworked sentence and paragraph was handwritten on a combination of legal pads and post-it notes. The revisions to the fourth through the tenth, and final, draft were also longhand changes scribbled between the lines of the printed manuscripts.

I always assumed that my preference for longhand was just an old-school crutch, because my writing always seems to have a clarity that my typing does not.

But it turns out that writing slowly actually does improve the quality of one’s writing. The results of a study in the British Journal of Psychology, released in January, showed that participants who were forced to slow down their writing by typing with only one hand wrote with greater sophistication than those who were allowed to type quickly with both hands.

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process….It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.

[S]lowing down participants’ typing by asking them to use only one hand, allowed more time for internal word search, resulting in a larger variety of words. Fast typists may have simply written the first word that came to mind.

Another study released in 2011 found that writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing impairs it. 

The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses….When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks.

For myself, I’m able to see inconsistencies and weaknesses in my writing more vividly when I write by hand, and they bother me more intensely, to the point I that can’t ignore them, then when I type.

One thing I’ve noticed in works by the indie authors that I have read, both fiction and non-fiction, is a hastiness. Even when the writing and editing are sound there is a hasty, rushed quality to it as if the author is not fully aware of what he or she has written.

It may be that the real difference between great authors and ordinary writers is not just innate talent, but the speed and haste with which they write.

Consider this quote from Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Faulkner:

Faulkner: Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish.

Interviewer: What work is that?

Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. I wrote it five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did.

William FaulknerThe Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Renard:

Style means the right word. The rest matters little.

Jules Renard

Or even this famous one from Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Mark Twain

If you would like to improve your writing just slow down.

You might also like my posts: A Few Thoughts on Writing, The First Draft of Anything is Shit, and The Hardest Thing to Do is Simply Write the Truth.

-k-

 

 

 

The Promenade of the Ghostly Subtitles

A poem from the inventive pen of Kenneth Koch (1925-2002), who helped us think about language and its stuffy forms in new and liberating ways.

The Promenade of the Ghostly Subtitles

It was the time of the promenade of the ghostly subtitles
No one could prevent their walking forth
Everywhere you looked you would see A Girl’s Story or
Vignettes of the Andalusian Forest or something of that sort,
While the real titles, slumbering in ignorance of this,
The great, heavy, burdensome, entitled titles,
The big, even gigantic refreshing and obvious titles,
The gorgeous titles, the fine titles, the magnificent ones,
Home for the Holidays, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, David Copperfield, The Red and the Black, Father Goriot, Barchester Towers, Emma, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Death on the Installment Plan, Wozzeck,
Lay dead to the world in castles, chateaus and villas
All round the earth, while the subtitles sauntered forth
As if they were titles, showing the world their value
Which once the titles awoke they would never have.

The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch

**We are definitely violating copyright by posting this in full but hopefully Knopf will forgive us and welcome the free advertising. Knopf is one of the last great imprints publishing true literature, despite having been purchased and consolidated by Random House in the late 1990s. They publish poems daily on their tumblr account — we highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys poetry.

Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

We are approaching the one year anniversary of the release of Khel’s book, To Thee is This World Given, and we thought this was a good time to share a few of things we’ve learned over the last year and a half that don’t quite merit posts of their own.

1) Lightning Source/Ingram Spark has no objections to your selecting a 30% discount rate and making your books non-returnable. 

When we settled on the prices for our print formats, we were under the impression that Lightning Source/Ingram Spark required a 55% discount rate. In order to make any profit from our print editions with a 55% discount rate, we had to set the prices much higher than we wanted to. When we learned that we could have set the discount rate at 30%, it was already too late — the prices had been locked into their ISBNs and printed on their covers. The only way we can change their prices is with a second edition, which we hope to be able to release in the not too distant future. So, before you choose the price of your books make absolutely sure you know what discount rates are available from your printer/distributor, and chose the lowest.

2) Make sure your cover designer gives you the JPEGS (without crop marks) of the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps (if a hardback) to submit to Amazon for the look inside feature for your print editions. 

You’ll need separate files for both your paperback and your hardback. If you can, get your interior designer to give you the complete PDF file with both the front and back covers included (that’s Amazon’s preferred way to receive the file). If you can’t, you can combine the JPEGS and the PDF text yourself with a PDF merger program. And if you don’t have the JPEGS, you can always scan your cover and merge it with your PDF file as a last resort (but keep in mind that the thicker your book, the worse it will look if you do this).

Also make sure your interior designer gives you a PDF of the front matter, first chapter, and back matter so that you have a professional sample chapter on hand. If you can have the front and back covers included as well, that is even better. So, before you choose a cover designer and an interior designer, make sure they will provide these files for you as part of your package. And if they won’t, find ones that will.

3) You will need your cover designer to create separate covers for your paperback and hardback, even if they have the same trim size.

Fiction hardbacks usually have book jackets, not printed case laminate covers. The information that appears on the back of a paperback, appears on the inside flaps of the hardback’s book jacket. The back of the jacket is usually text-free (even the bar code goes inside the back flap). If you order all of your covers at the same time, the additional formats should be less expensive than the first (at least they were for us), but hammer this all out before you place your order.

4) Unless your paperback and hardback formats are the exact same trim size, you will need your interior designer to create distinct interiors for each.

There is no fudging with the interior designs and you won’t save money on them by trying to push the two trim sizes as close to each other as possible in order to get away with using only one interior for both. Trim size should be a function of the number of pages and the thickness of the book — the fewer the pages, the smaller the trim size. Because hardbacks are inherently thicker than paperbacks, they usually have larger trims, you may not even be able to get a hardback as small as your paperback. So, budget for two interiors and pick the trim size best suited for each format.

The interiors for the second format should be less expensive than the first when you order them together (they were for us), but again, hammer this all out before you place your order.

5) Wait until your interiors are finished before you have your cover designer create the final cover files.

You have to know the exact spine dimensions before your covers can be created and sent to your printer. You can only know this when you have the final page count that includes all of the pages — the front matter and back matter, as well as text. If you don’t wait until you know for certain you may have to pay your cover designer for corrections. So, plan ahead to give yourself time for the interiors to be completed first.

6) It’s a hassle trying to get an eBook  formatter to comply with your design preferences and non-scaleable style-sheets for your print interiors.  

Interior design is not the same thing as eBook formatting. Because eBooks are scaleable, eBook formatting is more utilitarian and generic than the interiors of print books, and the relationship between the reader and the text is less personal. One example: hyphenation in an eBook is a function of whatever size font the reader chooses. In a print book, the hyphenation is fixed. Having one line end with “ev-” and the next start with “rybody” is awkward, even though not technically incorrect. Make sure you create a style sheet for your editors, formatters, and designers and make sure that they are willing to comply with it before you hire them. If they aren’t, you might be better off using someone else. So, just go with a true interior designer for your print editions, if you can afford it.

7) You do not need to purchase bar codes from Bowker.

Bar codes are provided free of charge by your printer/distributor when they set up your print covers. Bowker will charge you $25 per bar code– save your money! (You will need to purchase your ISBNs from them though; a bar code cannot be generated without one). Don’t forget that every print edition — hardback, paperback, 2nd edition, etc. — needs its own unique ISBN, and that eBooks do not have bar codes.

8) Your book is not automatically added to Bowker’s Books-In-Print database.

After you purchase and assign your ISBNs with Bowker, you will still need to add them to Books-In-Print yourself. Being listed in Books-In-Print isn’t necessary, but it does improve your visibility, open new avenues for sales, and enhance your legitimacy.

9) When offering free books in exchange for reviews, use Goodreads, not Story Cartel.

Story Cartel is a for fee service ($25) where you provide free copies of your eBook for a limited time to Story Cartel members in exchange for their honest reviews, except that Story Cartel does not require its members to follow through. We had ten downloads and received one review (we found out later our results were on par with what Story Cartel itself anticipates: ten downloads typically generate zero to one reviews). Goodreads, on the other hand, is free and out of twelve downloads, we received six reviews.

10) To get feedback from those who take review copies but do not post reviews, you can send a free Survey Monkey survey to them.

We emailed a survey to the fifteen people who did not post reviews of To Thee is This World Given to learn if they had read the book and to hear their thoughts about it if they had. Nine responded: Seven of the nine had read it. Three rated both the writing and plot as excellent. Three rated both the writing and the plot as good, and one rated the book as terrible (oh well, you win some, you lose some).

11) When providing free eBooks for reviews, use Amazon to gift them to the reviewer instead of emailing them a copy or providing them with a link to the text.

When you gift copies, each copy counts as a purchase, which helps your sales ranking, which offsets those copies that are taken but never reviewed. For more details, see our longer post on how to make Amazon work for you.

12) Goodreads giveaways are a better investment than Goodreads ads. 

Giveaways generate verifiable exposure. We had three giveaways between September and December of last year: over 900 entered the first giveaway, over 700 the second, over 600 the third, and over 100 entrants friended Khel. The cost of each giveaway is only the price of the book plus shipping, a total of $45 for the three month period. 

Unlike an ad, with a giveaway you know for certain how many people, who were at least somewhat interested, saw your book. Also, when someone enters a giveaway, your book is added to their “to read” list, which provides ongoing free advertising until they choose to remove it. The giveaways also provide a way to establish relationships with Goodreads members who have shown an interest in your book.

Goodreads ads, on the other hand, require a non-refundable upfront deposit. For each click the ad receives, part of the deposit is subtracted from the total until the entire amount is exhausted. Unless an ad is clicked, there is no way to determine if it has actually been seen. The ads are small and grey, and over the three months that we ran our ad it received no clicks, even though the number of times it had appeared on a Goodreads members’ home pages was over 9,000, and despite the fact that we were continually tweaking its text. If your ad is not clicked, your deposit just sits there, unable to be refunded and applied to anything else.

13) Goodreads is a forum first and foremost, and it behaves like one.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to use it as a central part of your marketing plan. Forums are insular and difficult for new users to break into and users often need to have a certain personality defined by the existing members in order to fit in. We use Khel’s Goodreads page primarily as a point of contact.

14) A cover has to be shockingly bright to stand out online.

The particular color and the image are probably not as important as having a super bright thumbnail that pops out at the viewer, because:

Thumbnails are puny,

The internet is crowded,

And you have about a half of a second before someone moves on.

So, you need something that they can’t not look at.

Better bright pink, than not even noticed.

Update, Jan 2018: You can see our redesigned covers for To Thee is This World Given and its companions in the Quinquennium series here.

15) Front matter, including any opening quotes, are overlooked in eBooks because the books automatically open to the first page of the first chapter.

Khel’s book To Thee is This World Given opens with quotes that precede chapter one:

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness” (Charles Dickens)

and

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” (Siddhartha).

We noticed that those who read the story in print had a different reaction to it, a reaction more in line with what Khel was hoping to achieve, than did those who read it as an eBook.

To be honest, we’re pretty stumped by this. It could just be selection bias, but we did notice that the opening quotes in the eBook version cannot be seen unless the reader deliberately chooses to view the front matter. We can’t be sure this accounts for the difference in responses between our print and our eBook readers, but it might, since even the font in which a book is printed impacts a reader’s reaction to it.

At first, we thought the fact that the quotes in the eBook were being jumped over was due to a mistake by our eBook formatter, 52 Novels, but it turns out that all modern eBooks jump over the front matter (Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead opens with a poem — but you’d never know it in the eBook unless you looked for it. In Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, this flaw was overcome in the eBook by putting the opening quote on a stand alone “part one” page).

We aren’t sure how to overcome this problem in eBooks that do not have multiple “parts.” Putting the quotes on the top of the first page under “chapter one” would prevent them from being missed, but then the reader might think they only relate to chapter one. If we discover a better solution, we’ll let you know (likewise, if you know how to fix it, we’d love to hear from you).

16) Make sure to plan your contest entries, crowdfunding projects (such as Kickstarter), and the like, so that notifications and results do not overlap.

A person can only take so much bad news at one time, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and stagger the receipt of any potential bad news, just in case.

17) Stick to your original goals. 

Keep to your original marketing plan, activities, and goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked and start hopping from thing-to-thing willy nilly, but all you wind up doing is diluting your efforts and distracting yourself. If new goals and marketing ideas occur to you as you go, write them down and work them into your next marketing cycle’s plan.

18) And last but not least, listen to your heart.

There is a ton of advice telling you to do this and not that, but in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your book. If you are uncomfortable doing something, you aren’t going to do it successfully anyway, so it’s best to do something else.