Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hard Cover or Trade Paperback—An Author’s Choice

By Keith Fisher

So, you finished your book and a publisher made an offer to print it in trade paperback, but you want hardcover. You think a hard cover will give your book more authenticity somehow. You’re not alone, many writers have felt the same, and many authors have their name on hard cover books that readers don’t read.

Before you make an issue of wanting hard cover, you may want to reconsider.

Walk with me into the library of a very old stately mansion. This musty house is as old as it is intriguing. Since electricity was never installed in most of the rooms, candle wax drips from the chandeliers as the reflection of flames dance on the walls and ceilings around you.

In the library however, the homeowners have spared no expense in providing us with all the modern conveniences to illuminate the collection of leather-bound first editions. Some of the most important books ever published sit on shelves at our fingertips. We pause to examine some of the familiar titles and marvel at the dollar value that must be placed on some of these old books.

We pick up one of those books and run our fingers over the gilded edges and admire the binding. We open it and examine the pages. Raising our eyes, we spot another, more beautiful book---bound in leather and very similar to the other ones, only newer and with a title we’ve never heard before. The pages crack as we turn them. We look at the title page and discover it was published at the same time as the first book, but it appears to have never been read before.

We don’t have time to wonder, because another book has caught our eye. It’s almost pocketbook size and smaller than most of the others. The green cloth hard cover has gold letters and a picture of a dog in a harness on the spine. This book intrigues us because it is different. We examine it closer—it is The Call of the Wild by Jack London. This book is worn and well read. We open the first page and there is a piece of vellum protecting an illustrated cover page with a dog in the center. This book was published in 1903 and is a story that almost every young man has read since then.

This week, I inherited a first edition reprint copy of The Call of the Wild. There is a certificate attached to the book that tells me it is exactly the same as the original. As I run my fingers over the cover, I’m reminded of a story about a young man and his dog in the wilds of the Klondike Gold Rush. More than that, however, I am amazed at the size and the binding. It was small enough to fit in a hip pocket and since there wasn’t a dust jacket, the color pictures on the cover must have attracted readers to look into the pages and read the book.

The hard cover original was bound in cloth, which was cheaper than leather, meaning it could be purchased by far more people. Over the years, it found its way into the hearts of millions.

Now, consider this: do you want your book bound in a more expensive hard cover, that may or may not be purchased or read except by literature professors? Or do you want your book to touch the hearts and lives of as many readers as possible? Yes, there is prestige in the hard cover. There is something about it that says, "I am literary."

The bottom line, trade paperbacks (not pocket paperbacks) are the same size as most hard covers, which are more expensive and may not get purchased.

I searched online for first editions of The Call of the Wild and found one signed by Jack London’s daughter. It lists for $425.00. I also found a 1906 copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, signed by the author. It listed for $19,072.33. Compare those to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Beautiful and the Damned listed at $175.00, Beyond the price, however, is how many more people have read London’s or Twain’s books vs. Fitzgerald’s.

Rather than sitting on a shelf with a rare book collection, I want my books to be read. Good luck with your writing, see you next week.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Chamber

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever noticed we tend to repeat ourselves as we get older? I was reading through past blogs and decided I must be getting old. I found repeated advice, even whole concepts, being introduced as if they were new and undoubtedly patting myself on the back for coming up with it.

This will be my eighty-fifth blog posted here. Since I came later, others have posted more, but I’m proud of what I’ve written. More than that, I’m grateful for the chance to post here and to all of you for reading. In her blog this week, Nichole wrote about the camaraderie of the AI writers group. Her blog caused me to think about how much help I get from the great writers who write here. Since I keep an edit file of all my blogs, I compared some of them with what was posted. I could see how much help I have received. I want to say thank you.

Like Nichole, and many of you, I’ve been caught up in the promise of spring. With another set of conferences and workshops, the excitement is thrilling. The anticipation of meeting with my fellow writers makes me think about starting a critique group. Not just any group but The Chamber. Did somebody hear an ominous echo when I said that? Let’s try it again: The Chamberrrrr. Hmmm, interesting.

Anyway, my vision includes a circular room lined with bookcases that are filled with books of every genre. There are two lockable doors built into the bookcases, and in the center of the room, a circle of five or six, overstuffed leather chairs surrounding a circular glass table. Each person in the group is given XX amount of minutes to read part of their manuscript or talk about a story question or problem they are having. After which, the rest of the group can make helpful suggestions.

The group would meet weekly for XX amount of time, then have the traditional milk and cookies (or vegetable tray for the healthy minded). We would become much wiser, better writers than when we entered the chamber. There’s that echo again.

I was in Deseret Book in South Orem, Utah the other day and sat in one of their overstuffed, leather armchairs. I felt as if I’d died and gone to heaven. I could’ve stayed there all day reading, writing and enjoying life. When it was time to leave, I had to be pulled out of the chair. That is the kind of chair of which I speak.

If I had such a chamberrrr (there’s that echo again). I would never leave. I’d write till all my projects were complete and my group would help me get them right. I would be "the man of the published pages". Hmm, no echo. Either way it would be fun getting together with other crazy . . . eccentric people who also hear character voices in their heads.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

By Keith Fisher

When I was a kid, we often rode our bicycles to Woolworth's department store. It was about two miles away and the closest place where we could get penny candy. In those days (the late nineteen-sixties), we could get several pieces of candy for one penny. The candy was similar to the stuff we distribute for Halloween, but there were other, more delicious choices.

Pixie Sticks to Bit-O-Honey and Jawbreakers. Licorice Whips, and Sugar Daddy. All for a penny, some of it was five for a penny. The candy bars we pay seventy-five cents for today cost a nickel then, and soda pop was ten cents.

Yes, it was a wonderful time to be a kid. We could go to the store with the dollar we earned from picking cherries and come home with a bag full of candy and change to boot.

I was reminded of that magical time the other day, while I lounged in an armchair in the public library. I looked up from my research and noticed the stacks of books in their racks, lined up like soldiers and extending into the next room. When you add the fact that there is three floors of those books . . .

It’s not that I never noticed it before but I was re-awakened to the thrill of it all. There are thousands of books that I can read. I was struck with the simile of the candy store. Like when I was a kid perusing the shelves and bins trying to decide which morsel of candy to buy, I looked at all those books and realized I could never, ever read all of them in my lifetime, and the collection keeps increasing daily. Just like a bag of candy, I can check out stacks of literature and take it home in my backpack.

I was also reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode. It was the one where Burgess Meredith escapes the holocaust and finds the library intact. He starts organizing the books into piles of books. Each pile representing days of the week. He planned to read his way through eternity—he sat down to begin, and accidentally broke his reading glasses.

He was in agony. He had all of those books, the time to read them, and no way to accomplish his goal. Do you ever feel like this? Books to read, stories to write, and so many things competing for your attention? Likewise with all the fiction in the world, we can only read one book at a time. We must choose which book warrants our attention.

Like the candy, with so many books to choose from, how do I pick? I can narrow it down by genre, LDS or not, even number of words, but in the end I am left with the same criteria that slush pile readers use to determine which manuscript is worthy of a second look. If the first few pages are poorly written, I must move on.

Something to think about when you choose which combination of words to use in the first chapter of your new book. Good luck with your writing, see you next week.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Best Intentions

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever noticed that each of us spends our life telling others and ourselves we are going to do better next time? Doesn’t matter what it is, we are constantly vowing to complete a task, or do a good deed.

We promise we will visit our aged relatives, we promise to spend more time with our children. We swear that this will be the year when we finish our novel.

In 1993 my wife and I invested in a used video camera. It was a bulky affair, gigantic by the technology standards of today, but I digress. About that time my grandmother discovered we had it and told me to visit her so she could talk to her posterity on tape and tell all the family stories and legends. I promised I would.

As the years passed, I visited my grandma often but I never seemed to remember to take the video camera and tape her interview. A few years later, we bought another, smaller video camera, but I never took it to Grandma’s.

Grandma never forgot her request and I continued to promise, but never seemed to remember to do it. In 1999 Grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her mind quickly faded. I remembered my promise but it was too late. I had failed in my duty. What could have been a wonderful blessing for my extended family was lost.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Grandma gave her grandchildren copies of hand written-stories and family group sheets she had been compiling for years. Almost as many years as she had been asking me to come and interview her.

When I received her gift, I browsed through the papers and found familiar information. Some of the info was new, however, and I filed it away for the future. My grandmother died in 2005 and I was asked to speak at her funeral. I went through those records looking for something I could use that would give her a voice at her own funeral, something that would express her love for all of us. I found some of those things in the stories she had written down.

After her funeral, I once again remembered her request. Tears flowed when I realized how much greater her gift would have been if everyone could see her speaking to them across time and from beyond.

Now I sit here trying to revise and edit five books in order to get them submitted to the publisher. I’m reminded of my procrastination and wonder why I allow so many things to distract me from my goal. Many of those distractions are vital in my life. Things like family, church, and the day job, but some of them are not.

I can’t imagine what will happen to my manuscripts if they are not published before I die. Perhaps there is a lesson we can learn from my grandma to not wait—to take matters in our own hands, to make sure our stories get published.

Good luck in your writing, see you next week.