Step Away From The (Misguided) Advice and Do NOT Write Four Books A Year


No matter what experts tell you, no matter what trends, conventional wisdom, social media chatter, or your friends in the Facebook writers group insist upon, do NOT write four books a year. I mean it. Don’t.

Unless they’re four gorgeously written, painstakingly molded, amazingly rendered, and undeniably memorable books. If you can pull off four of those a year, more power to ya. But most can’t. I’d go so far as to say no one can, the qualifier being good books.

Beyond the fact that the marketplace is glutted with an overwhelming number of books already (many of dubious quality), writing good books simply takes time, lots of it. There’s no getting around that time. It involves learned skills, unhurried  imagination, fastidious drafting, diligent editing, even the time to step away, then step back, to go over it all again. And, unless you’re a hack (and we know there are plenty of those out there), isn’t the whole point of this exercise to write good books? 

Our most highly esteemed, widely applauded, prodigiously awarded, read, and revered authors know this to be true. Donna Tartt, last year’ s Pulitzer Prize winner for The Goldfinch, took eleven years to deliver that masterpiece. This year’s winner, Anthony Doerr, had only written four books in his entire career before he penned All The Light We Cannot See, wisely taking years to craft his stunning tale. The cultishly-beloved Harper Lee had only To Kill A Mockingbird in her catalogue before this year’s controversial release of Go Set A Watchman (which some are convinced was not of her doing). Even others amongst our best, who do put out work on a more regular basis, do so with focus appropriately attuned to the quality of the book, not the depth of their catalogue or the flash-speed with which they crank out product. 


But, you say, I’m not interested in writing Pulitzer Prize winners, I don’t need to be on The New York Times bestseller list; I just wanna see my name up at Amazon and sell a few books to family and friends, and, hey, if I go viral, all the better! They say write to the market, so I gotta write to the market. I mean, look at E.L. James…she’s hardly Chaucer and look what’s happened to her!! 

Point taken. Which actually brings us to the point: what is your point?

What’s your point as a creative, an artist; an author? A purveyor of the written word? Why are you here, what is your purpose, your goal as a writer? What do you hope to achieve? Is it fame and fortune at any cost, quality be damned? Or is it about finely crafted work? It’s important to know, to decide, because those principles will guide and mandate every decision you make from there on out.  

I bring all this up because I experienced a snap the other day, one triggered by an article from Self-Published Author by Bowker called,Discovery: Another Buzzword We’re Wrestling to Understand.” In it, the writer lists many of the familiar instructions toward procuring success as an indie writer — social media, book reviews, networking, etc. — but her very first suggestion to self-published authors looking to get “discovered” was this:

 Publish. A Lot: For those of you who have spent 10 years writing your last book I have news for you. You have ten days to write your next one. Okay, I’m sort of kidding with the ten days but, candidly, the most successful authors are pushing out tons of content: meaning books, not blog posts. In most categories, readers are hungry for new reads, new books, and willing to discover new authors. You’ll have a better time getting found if you continually push new books out there. How many should you do? At a recent writers conference some authors said they publish four books a year. Yes, that’s right, four.  [Emphasis mine]


So her first piece of advice to self-publishing authors wasn’t to put more focus on fine-tuning one’s craft, it wasn’t about taking time to mull and ponder what stories, what narratives, most inspire you to put “pen to paper”; it wasn’t even a suggestion to be relentless about working with professional content/copy editors and cover designers to create the best possible version of your work. No, it was the insanely insane advice to pump out at least four books a year. 

And people wonder why there are stigmas attached to self-publishing.

First of all, in looking at her point of reference, it depends on what you define as a “successful author.” I have a distinct feeling this may be where the disparities lie. Perhaps my own definition is a different one. 

When I self-published my first book, After The Sucker Punch, in April of 2014, I had, by then, put years into it, doing all those many things I itemized above. Because I not only wanted to publish a novel, I wanted that novel to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit, one that would not only tell a compelling story but would meet standards of publishing that authors of the highest regard are held to. I wanted it to be a book that would favorably compare with anything put out by a traditional publisher. My choice to self-publish was a result of not having engaged a publisher by the time my book was done and I was ready to market it. It was not based on the notion of joining the “second tier club” where one is unbound from the stricter, more demanding standards of traditional publishing. 

“Second tier club”? Yes. As insulting as that sounds, particularly in relation to self-publishing, there is no question that there are two tiers operating in the culture of the book industry. Take a moment to think about it, if you find that off-putting and you will see the evidence:

Based on what advice is given to self-published writers, some of which I shared above; based on the”free/bargain” pricing paradigms of most book sellers hawking those writers; based on the corner (quality)-cutting measures required to pump out endless product to meet the purportedly endless demand of those sites and their bargain-hunting readers, “second tier club” is no misnomer.

Where the best of traditional publishers set their sites not only on commercial viability but award-quality work, nurturing authors with enduring skills and profound stories to tell, in a climate that is selective (perhaps too selective) and based on the notion that that level of quality and commercial appeal is a rare and valued commodity, self-published authors are advised to, “Crank out loads of books; if you have to write little teeny short ones to get your catalogue pumped up, do that! Don’t worry about covers; your readers don’t give a hoot about artwork. It’s all about genre, easy reads, and low, low prices! And speaking of low prices, don’t even think about selling your books for more than a dollar or two, because readers who do bother with self-published books are too accustomed to bargain-basement prices to spend any more than that. This is the 99¢ Bargain Circus Book Store, where we push quantity over quality every day of the week!! CRANK OUT THAT PRODUCT!!”

I’ll bet good money Donna Tartt, Anthony Doerr, and other quality writers aren’t getting that same message from their publishers. First tier, baby.  

Look, if your point and purpose as a writer is largely related to the numbers—of books sold, of Amazon ranking, of reviews garnered, of Twitter followers and Facebook “likes”—then, certainly; follow the advice of the article quoted about. I know many self-published writers who are, and though I have no idea how well that’s working for them, it’s certainly the prevailing trend. 

But if your point and purpose as a writer is to take someone’s breath away, capture a riveting story, translate an idea—whether fantasy, love story, science fiction, human interaction, tragedy, thriller, family saga, memoir, non-fiction—in way that raises hairs or gets someone shouting “YES!”; if you’re compelled to tell that story so beautifully, so irreverently, with such power and prose as to make a reader stop to read a line over just to have the opportunity to roll those words around one more time, then don’t listen to that advice.

Instead, do the opposite: take your time, work your craft; look for the best possible ways to tell your story and allow yourself time to change your mind, sometimes often, until you know it’s right. Allow your editors time to help you mold your narrative into peak condition. Give your formatters and copy editors time to comb through your manuscript, again and again, to make sure everything is perfect. Work carefully with your cover artist to create the most gorgeous, most professional book cover you can. TAKE YOUR TIME.  


Then take lots more to research marketing options; ask questions, weigh contradicting information, and come up with the best possible strategy for your book. Do what you choose with professionalism and without the misguided and frantic push to the “top of the list,” a pervasive attitude so rife with desperation and panic. You’re not in a race, with anyone. You are a professional author working your book your way. Be an artist, don’t be a carnival barker. Be a wordsmith, not a bean-counter. Be patient, not hysterical. Transact commerce wisely, but don’t lose your creative soul in the process. 

I know I’m bucking the trend here, and certainly there are quality issues and dubious motivations floating around both tiers. It’s also certain that, if you follow my lead, you will not be able to write four books a year, at least not four full-length books. You will write, perhaps, one. But if you do it right, taking time and taking care, you will have written one excellent book. One you’ll be proud of years from now. One your friends and family will keep on their book shelves. One readers across the globe will talk about on social media. One that tells the world, I am a writer and this book is my legacy. Then you’ll go write another of those…and so on.

The rest of it—sales, rankings, reviews, viralness, likes, tweets, awards, kudos, peer admiration… all that? If you do it right, if/when any of those things come, they will be warranted and well-deserved. You can celebrate them authentically, because you did not sell your creative soul to get them. You actually made the far, far better deal.

UPDATE: An addendum to this piece can be found at OK, So How About This Instead: Write As Many Books As YOU Choose…

Book photo by Gaelle Marcel
Fountain pen & book by Aaron Burden
Book stacks by Simson Petrol
Man writing by Evan Clark

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Loving A Little Love From Kirkus, indieBRAG, et al.

photoart by Brenda Perlin
OK, remember my
last post, about the “necessary evils of self-promotion”? Well, here we go, right here… sit back and enjoy a little “sonata for horn ensemble”…

When I was prepping for the launch of my latest book, Hysterical Love, I approached it with more forethought than was applied to my first book, After The Sucker Punch. Despite that book doing remarkably well (and still doing remarkably well) via my own little independent author efforts, this go-around I opted to work with a wonderful publicist, Julie Schoerke at JKSCommunications. She and her team were very helpful in sorting out and working on the most effective options available to me, given my indie status.

Because it does get confusing. For every blog, site, “expert” that tells you to do this or that, another slew will say something akin to the opposite. Additionally, (and I’ve written much on this) the unfathomable glut of indie books, along with the subsequent media nose-sniffing and stereotyping, have conspired to make it difficult for any indie author to leap through the burning hoops requisite for success. But still; we are writers writing books and once you’ve written a book you love, you’re obligated to get it out there and market it into vibrant life, come hell or high water. 

But back to the publicist: amongst the many words of wisdom she imparted during our time together, and after I asked her specifically about industrial-strength review sites like Kirkus and Foreward, she expressed an opinion I was not expecting: go for it, she said. She felt those two, of all the like-options, were valid, bona fide; often very tough, but worth the pursuit in that they have great reach and tremendous influence on what books people pay attention to. So I pursued Kirkus, fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get eviscerated. 

But I did wonder about that purported toughness, because I couldn’t help but notice there are few (if any) negative reviews posted, for example, at Kirkus. Then I discovered that every reviewed author has the option to not publish the review they receive if it’s a negative one… which explains the disproportionately jolly outcome of what’s up there! But what a charitable option, I thought. Who wants a gutting review from one of the biggest book/media resources in the world bouncing all over the internet for the rest of time if there’s an option to opt out? I felt at least assured of having some control over whatever Kirkus outcome came out.

And what came out was a lovely, largely positive review that I’d be happy to share with even my mother! I was delighted, because whatever one thinks of such “shallow pursuits” as reviews (something an acerbic blogger snarked to me once), having positive perspective of your book bandied about is much better than the opposite. Here’s the takeaway quote:

“Wilke is a skilled writer, able to plausibly inhabit Dan’s young male perspective… A well-written, engaging, sometimes-frustrating tale of reaching adulthood a little late.”   

I don’t know about the “frustrating” part (they also took exception with my protagonist’s behavior with a bit more verve than I might’ve, but others have also found him such, so likely I’m biased!). And though I didn’t garner one of their “stars” or “prizes,” I was grateful to get what I got. Yippidy do dah day! May floods of Kirkusian readers come rollin’ my way!  

The other “love” Hysterical Love garnered this week was the very lovely B.R.A.G. Medallion from This acknowledgment is awarded by book clubs and readers affiliated with the site, and it really is quite an honor (my debut novel, After The Sucker Punch, is also a Medallion honoree). The site’s president. Geri Clouston, as well as its most public and passionate voice, Stephanie Moore Hopkins, are incredibly supportive and generous with their “honorees,” and the nod from them and their organization is always a welcomed gift… thank you!

To cap off this utterly self-serving but authentically felt trumpet solo, I’ll end with the other two accolades recently received: a wonderful review from Literary Fiction Book Reviews:

Hysterical Love is a deftly told tale about not only the search for love in the 21st century, but about seeking a greater understanding of the intricacies of the human heart, about love in all its various forms and disguises: puppy love, lost love, emerging love, enduring love, and of course, hysterical love.” (Read more…) 

And another from the sweetly enthusiastic Tracy Slowiak at Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews:

“Oh my, oh my! I just finished reading Hysterical Love, the newest novel by Lorraine Devon Wilke, and I must say, I simply adored it! …I loved this book! Loved, loved, loved it. Wilke’s writing style is witty, pointed and funny, even hilarious at times.” (Read more…)

So yes, a good run.

But here’s the thing: none of this matters if you, the readers, aren’t inspired to get out (or get to your computers) to buy and read said book(s)! What ultimately matters most to me is that reviews and awards spark a, “that sounds good… I have to get a copy” kind of response. Because (and I’m not just saying this!), getting my books into your hands to read and enjoy is the whole gig. THE WHOLE GIG. I’m just here doing my part to make sure you know how wise you’d be to pursue that goal. 🙂

And now I’m done. Thank you for listening and go have a great day. (Damn, my lips hurt!)

Photoart by Brenda Perlin

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Horn-Blowing and Other Necessary Evils of The DIY World

horn blowing

“But enough about me, let’s talk about you… what do YOU think of me?”
Beaches, 1988

I was originally going to title this post: “I Don’t Want To Talk About My Books Anymore!” but figured it might come off as a little whiny. And really, it’s not that I don’t like talking about my books—I LOVE talking about my books—it’s that I get twitchy when I’m the only one doing the talking, flashes of those obnoxious parents endlessly jabbering about their “really cute kids” while everyone smiles tightly and averts their eyes (cannot be one of those!). I’d prefer to talk about my books because other people asked about them; someone else wanted to discuss plot and character, or how to order a dozen or two copies. I’d rather respond to a whole other person tooting that horn than pull out the trumpet myself.

It’s hard out there for a book-pimp.

See, all this self-promotion started when the entire world went DIY some years back, with everyone doing anything and everything for themselves. The trend was seen largely as a positive thing: a democratizing, equalizing, barrier-breaking thing for all those independent people out there with a dream. Writers could put up their own articles, artists and photographers could set up their own blogs to sell their art; businesses and private practitioners could hang shingles in the form of interactive websites, and authors, they self-published. It’s gotten so democratically DIY, I half expect women to start delivering their own babies with headphones and an online tutorial!

And it has been a boon in many ways. The DIY market has allowed countless creators of every industry and medium to move forward without the limitations of picky gatekeepers, elitist corporations, prohibitive budgets, and miserly invitation lists. But where it’s proven challenging is in the wrangling (i.e., affording) of ancillary team-members who typically help creators move, sell, and promote their products. The horn-tooters, trumpet blowers, PR flacks, publicity people. And while there is not one “self-anything” who doesn’t need those people doing those jobs, a big fat contingent can’t afford them.

A full-time publicist for any business typically costs thousands of dollars a month, sometimes many thousands. A big-ticket item. But smaller marketing and promotional campaigns can also run into many hundreds of dollars and must be cyclically and consistently rerun to be effective. Even artists lucky enough to be affiliated with “umbrella” companies that provide some marketing and promotional support will find they’re obligated to implement those efforts on their own time and their own dollar. In other words, no matter where you fall on the “self” spectrum, you’re pulling that horn out of the closet.

And doing my own trumpet-blowing has always made me a little queasy.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family of eleven children where one had to leap up and down and wave their arms to get any kind of non-generic, “oh, I see you” attention, but I find the “leaping” necessary to self-promotion (particularly in the glutted indie book market) to be oddly demeaning. Instead of your work drawing people to you while you stand there being quietly brilliant, you’re obligated to chase after them like a panting schoolgirl trying to snag the interest of the most popular guy (switch genders as applicable). Beyond that, it sometimes feels too self-focused, too attention-grabbing, too… I dunno… creatively narcissistic. I’d prefer that the work itself, or someone with excellent trumpet skills, speak for me.

But there’s no choice. As indie artists, we not only have to do the job, we have to be indefatigable about finding new and clever ways to get it done. There are thousands of businesses and websites out there tooting their horns in hopes we’ll hire them to help toot ours (sort of a DIY Circle of Life), but the costs can run anywhere from cheap (various “tweet your book” sites, featured pages, book-of-the days sorts of things) to downright expensive (Book Bub, Foreward and Kirkus reviews, online ads), and some, but very few, are free. Often you pay loads of money to set up sales in which you give your books away for free or very cheaply (always an odd oxymoron), and given the “effective marketing = persistent marketing” equation, even the most economical campaigns will add up.

So where do indie creators with limited budgets go? To social media, of course! It’s not only what’s left to them once they’ve tapped-out their budgets, it’s the information highway everyone uses, regardless of product. Which means social media is regularly BOMBARDED with streaming posts from all sorts of people touting the “latest with my fill in the blank (book, band, record, art, store, tour, company, etc.),” and, in some cases, that’s all they ever post. About their book. Their record. Their tour. Their whatever.

We get no other insight from them, no other angle on their personality or point of view; they don’t connect to or comment on other people’s posts, and far too often, their only contribution to the greater conversation is about that _________ they’ve created. Which makes their social interaction akin to turning a coffee shop into a billboard.

So my remedy, since we’ve got to do this horn-blowing thing whether we want to or not, is this: Get involved with other people, share about more than your own creation; “like” posts other people put up, jump in on a thread or two. Be human. Be interested. Be involved. So when you do talk about your whatever, we’re interested because we’re interested in you… and you’ve shown some interest in us. It’s an all-around happy social media thing, as it should be.

And until a scenario involving an enthusiastic horn blower comes my way, know I’ll be doing it for myself on social media too. Graciously, I hope. Forgive me if I ever seem redundant or one-note; if I ask too many times for you to reiterate your wonderful email response in a review at Amazon, or push too hard to get you out to a reading. I’m obligated to honor my work by wearing this hat, blowing this horn, but know I’m trying to be nuanced and selective about the notes. This thing is tricky, but I’ve heard practice makes perfect!

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UK Author & Blogger E.L. Lindley Reviews AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH

ATSP_new billboard by Brenda Perlin

There is great honor, as an author, in seeing your work strike exactly the right chords, inspire exactly the desired response; even provoke exactly the intended conversations. We each understand that the experience of art and literature is a subjective exercise, but still… when it’s reflected back just as you imagined it in your head… well, that’s golden, isn’t it? 

UK author and blogger, E.L. Lindley, provided one of those shiny, golden moments for me today. She just posted her review of After The Sucker Punch, and I was as touched by her beautiful and articulate analysis of the book as I was her consideration in posting it beyond her blog and all over the social media world. THAT is truly above and beyond, and in a world where indie authors sometimes hear the resounding echo of their solo journey, that kind of support is truly and deeply felt. Thank you, E.L., I’m delighted you enjoyed the book! 

E.L. Lindley
E.L. Lindley

After The Sucker Punch is an aptly named novel because it packs a mighty punch and raises so many questions, I was left literally reeling by the end of it. Lorraine Devon Wilke commands our attention with a splendidly dramatic opening and never lets us off the hook until the very last page.

The novel is essentially the story of Tessa Curzio, who whilst attending her father’s funeral discovers that he kept diaries for fifty years and has used them to record less than complimentary observations about his family and friends. The trauma of the death of a parent combined with the diary findings serve to cast Tessa into a spiral of self-doubt and destruction. The diaries are described as a Pandora’s Box and indeed, once they’ve been opened, the lives of Tessa and her family will never be the same again. In addition to this, the effects of the Pandora’s Box seem to extend to the reader, leaving behind some very thorny philosophical questions.

LDW shrewdly uses the third person narrative to tell her story, which invites the reader to see the bigger picture. We don’t necessarily always agree with Tessa’s version of events, especially where her siblings are concerned. Tessa has a difficult relationship with her older sister Michaela but LDW offers us a glimpse of a woman trying to juggle her life as a wife, mother and teacher, whilst stepping up to her new role as the family designated carer for her newly widowed mother. Whilst Tessa may have little sympathy for Michaela, LDW ensures that the reader does.

Tessa’s relationship with her siblings is for me the heart and soul of the novel and anybody who has siblings will recognise the petty tensions and jealousies but deep visceral love that defines the bonds they share. Tessa to a large extent has removed herself from her family in order to survive and consequently much of the to-ing and fro-ing between them is via a hilarious series of telephone conversations.

LDW offers us the Curzio family and with it the question of whether parents are responsible for their adult children’s misery. Tessa grew up with an unstable mother who is prone to extreme mood swings and a distant, aloof father, who struggled with intimacy. Despite their chaotic childhood, Tessa and all five of her siblings have grown into accomplished, successful people. Ronnie, her younger brother has lost his way but still has the potential for a good life. However, they are mired in their childhood, looking for reasons as to why their parents are like they are. Tessa’s mother bemoans the fact that she feels like a “dartboard” as her children look to blame her for their difficult childhoods.

Tessa’s family dynamics reflect a period of time that will resonate with lots of us who grew up in the 60s the 70s. Children’s needs were not particularly taken into account and as Tessa points out there was “no concept of child abuse.” Her mother freely hits her children in anger and perhaps worse, they are subjected to the fear and anxiety of her constant mood swings. In some ways the fact that her mother has the capacity for great kindness, as when she reassures Tessa she isn’t sinful, makes her relationship with her children even more complex. In her role as a writer, Tessa covers a feature about fathers and daughters and finds herself comparing her own experiences with other more tangible forms of abuse. She comes to the conclusion that pain is subjective and so can’t be comparative – “it’s as deep as you feel it.”

There’s no denying that her father’s written words have a devastating effect on Tessa and cause her much soul searching. As she rails against his words, there is clearly the kernel of fear within her that they might be true. As she is forced to confront her fears, her life implodes around her. The only constant is her friendship with Kate and Ruby even though LDW allows just enough realism to creep into their relationships. Tessa can’t help but feel reassured by Ruby’s marital problems whilst suffused with jealousy at Kate’s seemingly perfect life.

At the crux of the novel is the idea of whether we should be judged by what we write. Leo Curzio’s diary habit is made more toxic by the fact that he wanted his family to read them. The diaries serve as a metaphorical hand grenade tossed into the bosom of his family with the potential to rip lives apart. Tessa’s aunt, who acts as the conscience of the novel, asserts that maybe we should be judged on our actions rather than by what we may write. To all intents and purposes Leo Curzio was a good man, who did his best to give his children the best start in life but, for some bizarre reason felt the need to vent his bitterness and resentment on paper. Which is the more valid Leo is the puzzle that Tessa is left to figure out.

In the end there are no startling revelations or absolute answers, just a sense of peace and the idea of trying to accept people as they are, warts and all. LDW has captured the spirit of family perfectly in that there is no perfect family. Her novel is funny, warm, tense, angry and ultimately shows us that life is to be lived and there’s no point in dwelling on the past.

To visit and stay updated with E.L.’s blog, click HERE. To visit her author page on Amazon, click HERE

ATSP photo art by Brenda Perlin.

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Beyond Genre and Gender Is Good Writing. By Good Authors. Meet Mark Barry

Mark Barry
Mark Barry

Writing is a an enigmatic art form, an alchemy of skill and talent that renders simple words into compelling prose, plot lines that take your breath away; jump-off-the-page dialogue, and characters we’d follow around any corner or shy from in the dark. Books are, quite simply, magic, and despite our cultural predilection to analyze the bejeezus out of anything and everything related to them — self vs. traditional, print vs. ebook; free vs. sensible prices; men vs. women; Amazon vs. everybody — when it really comes down to what we all want, it’s simple: GOOD BOOKS. And good books are, unarguably, written by GOOD WRITERS.

Of course, what makes a book “good” is clearly subjective (just set E.L. James fans on readers of Donna Tartt), but from this reader’s perspective, I don’t give a hoot about the race, creed, color, gender, genre, price point, publishing platform, or social media status of an author; all I want is the alchemy, the magic… the good book. Which is why I want to introduce you to a favorite new author of mine, a fellow who’s writing exactly those books: Mark Barry.

Certainly he’s not new, but I’ve just come upon his work in the last year. Writing fiction that stands out with its wit and originality, Barry, who’s based in Nottingham and Southwell in the UK, has built an impressive library of novels and short stories published through his company, Green Wizard Publishing, stories steeped in his cultural vernacular and sensibilities, biting and wickedly funny. Introduced by a fellow author who felt my own literary sensibilities aligned, I picked up my first of his books, Carla, to be pulled into an alternately tender and shocking story of love between a mentally-ill man and an innocent barmaid, swinging wildly from out-loud laughter to the gut-punch of pain, violence, and heartbreak. Rare to find such humor in so dark a tale… I was hooked.

Next came The Night Porter. A mad piece of fiction that employs Barry’s signature wit and irreverence, his attention to detail is so fine-tuned you’ll feel as though you know that part of England by the time you’re done. The narrative (begging to be made into a Wes Anderson film) covers the angst and antics of a rowdy group of writers gathered for an Academy Award-type event for indie books. With footnotes so rich as to be essential, Barry’s titular night porter finds his regimented life shaken to the core by the eclectic and confounding band of characters who demand his time, allegiance, and attention.

The most recent of Barry’s books I’ve read is Once Upon a Time in the City of Criminals, a bracing urban story that shares some of the aching tenderness of Carla, but goes deeper into the dark, following the trajectory of a tough, smalltime hoodlum who is hired to protect a young escort. With its sharp, brittle edges, its unvarnished glimpse into a violent subculture, it may be a rough read for some, but it’s replete with Barry’s crackling wit and signature mix of humor and pathos, and is, at its heart, a love story.

So now, with three books under my belt, and some correspondence articulating my kudos for his work, it seemed time for some one-on-one with the man himself, an invitation he so graciously accepted:


So, Mark, what’s the most original, unique, hardcore thing about you as a writer?

Forty years ago, in the era I most venerate, I would have been quite common as a writer, with my admiration for crime books, pulp, gangster fiction, and such. But now, in the indie, PHP (Post Harry Potter) era, I am definitely unique and one-off, certainly in indie, which can be extremely conservative, concentrating on the commercial and the traditional.

I try new things. Three of my books do not use dialogue tags or speech marksUltra Violence, my football novel, is written in second person omniscient. The Night Porter makes use of footnotes. In Carla, the protagonist is a probationer from a mental asylum. No one else is doing this, to my knowledge, and sometimes it pisses people off. I’ve lost readers and, as a tactic, it doesn’t make for massive sales…but it does make for an interesting read!

Nothing disappoints me more than a book that’s identical to the last book I read and the one before that, which is an all-too-common experience for readers. Yes, there are people who like the familiar, but for me that’s beginning to wear thin. No two books of mine are the same.

What compelled you to write Carla, specifically? A real person? A real experience?

After walking into a pub one night, spotting this simply stunning young girl, and realising immediately that I was utterly (and quite rightly) invisible to her, it struck me that I had become old; that part of my life was all over. I remember feeling incredibly saddened by that, and the idea to write a novel about it followed shortly behind: I wanted to write about a mixed-age love affair. I thought about potential plots, came up with one, rejected another. For me, it wasn’t enough to have an everyday chap (like my very good self) as the older male – it simply wasn’t interesting enough and it had been done before.

I did have the experience of having been a psychologist back in the day, and, twenty years ago, I taught criminal psychology. That whole subject fascinates me, and so I had the idea of making the older male a mental patient – potentially (but not necessarily) dangerous – which, bearing in mind that Carla is written from his point of view, is interesting. Then it struck me: what if the girl (Carla) was, in fact, attracted to him and he wasn’t invisible at all?

It all came together from there, a story inspired by a very beautiful, but completely unattainable barmaid (and I never did find out her name, btw!).

The footnotes in The Night Porter, as mentioned above, are almost a character onto themselves. What inspired the decision to use that device, particularly in a novel?

One of my favourite authors is your countryman, David Foster Wallace, who unfortunately – and tragically – passed away late last decade. He was a prodigious user of footnotes which, for a fiction writer, is certainly an innovation. It’s usually in the domain of academia and non-fiction; you don’t often see them in fiction. DFW used footnotes for digressions, explanations, histories, lists, stories-within-stories, and internal monologues, thus keeping the body of the narrative clean, sharp and linear.

I was desperate to try this technique out and so, when the idea for The Night Porter came to me, it seemed the ideal opportunity. I also use footnotes in a wry way. Many indie authors will find their novels listed in one of the footnotes, particularly those who appeared on my interview blog, The Wizard’s Cauldron, and there are three pages of footnotes listing imaginary books from imaginary authors. I loved writing those.

TNP is a satire of publishing and indie at heart, and these footnotes are an ironic joke. Not entirely popular – and they are not available on the e-version (but the paperback is such a beautiful book, why bother with the e-version!). I would do it again and I have not ruled out a return to footnotes in subsequent books.

Violence and crime play a starring role in your work, certainly in your most recent novel, Once Upon a Time in the City of Criminals, yet you somehow always find the heart and humor within the darkness. Talk a bit about that signature mix.

In Criminals, I was keen to crack jokes and sprinkle the book with black humour. My friend, Georgia Rose, herself a mean writer, says that with Criminals, one minute she found herself laughing, the next, crying.

That’s pretty much what I aim for! I started out as a comedy writer (particularly with sketches about relationships) and my first audiences were predominantly female. And yes, while I enjoy a good punch-up in my fiction, I enjoy cracking jokes and, in particular, exploring the complex interactions between men and women, a lot lot more.

Frankly, I’ve been stunned by the ferocity of the violence in certain books — needed a shower after some, to be honest. I believe you have to throw something light into the mix to make it palatable.

If you could change one thing about the independent publishing world, what would it be?

One thing? Ummm. Nope – can’t do it! So let’s get radical: I’d limit the amount of books people can publish on Amazon in one calendar year. I’d completely ban novellas of less than 30,000 words, introduce some form of selection, and I would start a crowdfund to pay for five freelance sales reps to approach bookshops to persuade them to carry Independent paperbacks.

Bookshops: That’s the old/new frontier. The day I get my books in bookshops will be the day I’ve succeeded — it is simply too difficult now for me to continue using the Blog 101-recommended methods of Twitter, Facebook, and Book Bloggers, etc. The market is drenched with books, the review system is extremely dodgy, and everyone, talented or not, is fulfilling their I-Can-Write-Better-Than-That ideations. And fair play to them, but, in a lot of cases, they discover they cannot, yet still publish anyway.

In any case, evidence suggests readers are returning to the shops and that’s where writers need to be.

Lastly, you’re involved in a great literary organization, Brilliant Books; tell us a bit about that.

BB is something my friend, Phil Pidluznyj, and I started a year and a half ago. Funded by the British Big Lottery Fund, we take role models into schools – success stories from industry and commerce, sports and the arts – and get them to address and enthuse reluctant readers (of which there are many). Then, over eight weeks, we encourage the kids to write short stories and we publish the outcomes in an anthology that they keep forever. It’s been a roaring success so far – we even had the British Shadow Chancellor acting as a host. If you’d like to read a bit more about it, I’ve written a post about the group at Ali Levett’s A Woman’s Wisdom book blog.

So, there you have it: a snapshot of the prolific Mr. Barry: a good (excellent) author writing good (excellent) books. Visit his page, enjoy his work, and, frankly, don’t just take my word for it:

In the just-released LA Punk Rocker, an anthology produced by indie firecracker, Brenda Perlin, Barry contributed a short story on Billy Idol. With the book out only one day, the man himself Tweeted a “review” of Barry’s story:


Testimonials don’t get much better than that!

Photos by permission of Mark Barry.
Tweet image by permission of Brenda Perlin.

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Let’s Rethink ‘The Year of Women,’ Shall We?

women over books

Occasionally I sit outside certain issues, looking at how and why ideas emerged, if all parties involved explored the ramifications, and, if so, just how well thought out the process was.

A good example is the cause célèbre swirling around literary circles these days, the recent throw-down by author Kamila Shamsie in her piece titled, The year of women. Its thesis? An actual year in which only women will get published. Shamsie, after detailing statistical evidence of the clear and egregious gender bias in every category of the publishing world, articulates the challenge this way:

Now that the gender problem has been recognised, analysed, translated into charts and statistics, it is time for everyone in our literary culture to sign up to a campaign to redress the inequality for which all sectors of the culture bear responsibility. Last year readers, critics and at least one literary journal, the Critical Flame, signed up to a Year of Reading Women (YPW). Let’s take it a step further–let’s have a Year of Publishing Women. And 2018, the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in the UK, seems both near enough and distant enough to be feasible.

So, 2018 will be the year in which, ostensibly, no male writers will be published. It’s believed (hoped) this will go a long way toward righting sexist wrongs. It’s also hoped that feminist-oriented males will go along with the program, with literary contest organizers, judges, and publishers, large and small, jumping on the bandwagon. Does anyone think this will actually happen? Well, so far, small press And Other Stories is on board, but we’ll see. 2018 is three years away and a lot can happen in that time. But still…

I found myself getting twitchy and all “devil’s advocatey” about the whole thing. Certainly I get the reason for such affirmative action — women are deeply under-represented in all areas of the arts, literature no exception — but what does it say that those taking on gender politics believe the way for women to rise is to literally remove men from the equation? Do we, as strong, female artists, really believe it’s necessary to excise men in order for fairness to reign? It seems many do. But I have a slight problem with that. Actually, several problems of varying degrees of slightness. Some maybe not so slight at all.

First of all, if you read Shamsie’s entire piece, you’ll see she makes note of the various gender-based proclivities women themselves fall victim to, ones that help perpetuate some of the very problems she’s railing against:

Of the 252 people who picked their books of the year, only 37% were women. In the past when the issue of women’s representation in literary pages has been brought up, it’s very often women editors who, while voicing their frustration, mention how much more likely men are than women to agree to review or judge or make lists of favourites. Suzi Feay, writing in 2011, stated: “You’d think it would be a pretty easy ask: a nomination for a (not the) book of the year. Yet in the first fortnight, not one female author approached said yes, while virtually all the men did. They had no trouble believing their views were worth having.

Or this:

I asked Ginny Hooker from the Guardian Review whether the comparative reticence of women writers was the reason the Books of the Year contributors were mostly men. She said: ” We always try to get a balance, and although I don’t have accurate records, my sense was always that more women said no to contributing than men did. But I suspect that if you looked at the number of people I’ve approached, it would probably be more than 50% men — something to do with who is in the public eye.” It’s a triple bind. More men than women get asked to judge, nominate, recommend–and of those who are asked, more men than women agree to do so, and those men are more likely to recommend yet more men.

So there’s that.

Women WritersThere’s also the fact that many “gatekeepers” in this industry — agents, publishers, publicists, marketers, etc. — are women, and they have much to do with which writers get agents, publishers, publicity; win contests, or, even, just get in the damn door. Personally, and from a strictly anecdotal perspective, I know countless female writers, many of whom are excellent writers, who cannot, for the life of them, get past the query letter stage with agents… and most of the agents rejecting them are women. As for publishers at the helm deciding which writers to push, which to give publicity, and which to send to various high-profile contests, may I ask: how many female publishers pushed their female writers with the same verve, and in the same numbers, as their male counterparts?

So there’s that.
Then there’s the fact that — again, anecdotally — a great many excellent male writers are just as frustrated and stymied in their efforts to advance their careers as female writers. I know several myself. They’re out there in the undulating white water of independent publishing, thrashing their arms in attempts to even be seen, much less reviewed and rewarded. Are we to make the literary marketplace just a little bit harder for them as a way to assuage gender imbalance, particularly when that imbalance is no fault of their own? Does that seem fair?

So there’s that.

Look, I’m a feminist, a strong voice for equality, parity, equal opportunity, and certainly equal pay. I’ve not been immune to sexism myself, nor am I unaware that it is deeply entrenched across many levels and layers of our global culture, often in ways that are far more egregious than literary exclusion. But each and every way in which women are marginalized, diminished, minimized, hurt, and dismissed is worth our loud, dissenting demand for change.

But I am also a humanist: the wife of a man, mother of a son, sister to five brothers, and friend to a great many wonderful men, many of whom are artists struggling to build careers and find footing in industries that are challenging for anyone, male or female. So, to suggest that a hardworking, talented male writer, by virtue of his gender alone, would not be able to get his book published in 2018, because that year has been deemed “a year of publishing women,” seems punitive. It seems unfair. It seems… sexist. Which inspires the question: is the only solution to gender bias reverse gender bias?

Women writers do need greater representation in the book world. We deserve greater representation. Women writing beautifully articulated, deeply moving and important books should be in the running for any literary prize, even those largely rewarded to men. They should be as reviewed, as featured; as respected and honored as men. But it’s not male writers preventing that from happening; it’s the gatekeepers, the key holders, the brandmakers, publicity wranglers, and star makers… male and female. It’s the people in power. And yes, some of those are male writers, the uber-famous, phenomenally successful male writers who wield great power in this industry. So we’ll put that rarefied group in with the rest of the power brokers. They are the ones with the power and obligation to right the wrongs of gender imbalance in publishing, not the average male writer.

So how about this? Instead of “a year of publishing women,” let’s have “a year of publishing parity.” TYOPP. Let’s throw down a challenge to demand parity in every aspect of publishing. Every aspect:

  • Agents will be obligated to sign as many female writers as male writers.
  • Publishers will be obligated to give deals to as many female writers as male writers.
  • Publishers (or anyone) submitting books to contests will, by virtue of the rules of TYOPP, submit as many by women as men.
  • Book reviewers will be required to review as many books by women as men.
  • Book sections of any media will be obligated to feature as many women writers as men.

And so on. Ah… wouldn’t it be lovely if that could actually happen?

Sophie Lewis of And Other Stories publishing, who, as mentioned above, is on board with the “year of women” plan, believes Kamila Shamsie’s challenge is an inspiring “provocation” …

We will have to start now, hunting for the women we want to publish, commissioning translations, and scheduling in the editing sessions. We will end up, we hope, publishing a few excellent women writers we might not otherwise have discovered. This will be a step in the right direction, and a source of pride for us.

But I must ask: why does any publisher need “a year of publishing women” to do that? Why aren’t they doing that already, every single day of the week, during any year, not just one called “a year of publishing women”? They should be. There are a lot of “excellent women writers” they haven’t discovered simply because they’re not looking hard enough, being inventive enough, or stepping outside industry norms enough.

Let’s rethink this, fellow women. We do deserve equal space at the table, but we don’t need male writers to be banished for us to succeed. What we need is for all those in positions of power to raise their consciousness, adjust their thinking, broaden their focus, and take more chances. Seek out more of those “excellent women writers.” Publish them, promote them, give them awards… just as they would the deserving men.

But let’s not wait until 2018. Let’s start “The Year of Publishing Parity” right now. Because every year should be a year for excellent writers, gender be damned.

Women & Book @ Vintage Women on Pinterest
Vintage Female Writer image by LDW
Original article posted at The Huffington Post

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Musicians Have Taylor Swift To Champion Fairness; Who Do Writers Have?

Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior @ FB Timeline
Taylor Swift, Fairness Warrior; image @ FB Timeline

Even if you don’t pay attention to whatever elements of Taylor Swift’s life make the media on a given day, one would be hard-pressed to have missed the weekend’s brouhaha with Swift vs. Apple Music. Say what you will about the girl—her fluffy songs, her digitally-enhanced vocals, or her madcap rise to fame—she knows how to use a bully pulpit.

In a nutshell: after Apple Music announced their new streaming service on June 8th to much excitement and fanfare, it quickly became clear that the three-month trial period offered as enticement to joining artists came with some decidedly unappreciated fine print. It seems any music sold during those three months would NOT earn royalties for the artists, writers, and producers who signed up and whose music was being sold. Which meant those free three months, marketed as a “join-up gift,” were really a gift to Apple, allowing them to rake in whatever revenues were earned from those “trial” artists bereft of any payout to the artists themselves. Cold. Calculating. Greedy. And Ms. Swift would have none of it.

She not only withdrew her own latest (and wildly successful) album, 1989, from the steaming service, she took to her Tumblr page on June 21st with an open-letter to Apple. I’m going to put the whole thing here because I think her points (the most salient of which I’ve highlighted) are so important:

I write this to explain why I’ll be holding back my album, 1989, from the new streaming service, Apple Music. I feel this deserves an explanation because Apple has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans. I respect the company and the truly ingenious minds that have created a legacy based on innovation and pushing the right boundaries.

I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.

This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.

These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call.

I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress. We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.

Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right.

But I say to Apple with all due respect, it’s not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this. We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.



All I could say was, “Brava, Ms. Swift!” Especially after it was announced, just hours after Swift’s note, that Apple Music not only heard her, they were, indeed, changing their policy. From The Huffington Post:

On Sunday evening, Apple responded to Taylor Swift’s rallying cry to fairly compensate artists. “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists,” Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue tweeted. Cue announced the tech giant will in fact pay artists for streaming services during the free trial period of Apple Music.

The power of protest. The power of standing up to behemoths of the industry to make clear that policies rooted in unfairness and lack of respect for the talent, hard work, and expended resources of artists, will not, and should not, stand. Kudos to Apple for getting the point and making the needed changes. Win/win all around. 

But what about writers? What about the novelists, non-fiction writers; essayists and article writers; in fact, any writer who’s creating work being posted, sold, or used by anyone else (i.e., book sale sites, news sites, resource sites, company websites, etc.)? This group of artists does not, at least not that I’m aware of, have a champion akin to Taylor Swift putting their own work on the line to protest for fairer industry practices. Instead, I see piece after piece cajoling writers to give their work away for free as “enmaeavatar_biggerticement” to new readers. I see content wranglers justifying non-payment in lieu of “online real estate,” calling it the “Huff Post formula” (forgetting that Huff Post actually has a level of exposure few other places do, and really, who need more “online real estate”??). I see sites like Amazon parsing subscription formulas to pay royalties based on how many pages of a book are actually read, as opposed to the purchase of the book itself (tell me, when were we ever allowed to pay for just the amount of a meal we ate at a restaurant??). All of these tactics, and others, are designed to benefit the purveyors of that content and the readers of that content, with little consideration for the creators of that content. Which is wrong. And pretty much the exact argument Swift was making to Apple. 

In fact, she made a similar point last year regarding Spotify, another music streaming service, reiterating her view of the “value of art” in an interview at Yahoo Music:

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.

I felt like I was saying to my fans, ‘If you create music someday, if you create a painting someday, someone can just walk into a museum, take it off the wall, rip off a corner off it, and it’s theirs now and they don’t have to pay for it.’  I didn’t like the perception that it was putting forth. And so I decided to change the way I was doing things.

Yes! Exactly! What’s with the perception that art has little or no value? That artists are somehow obligated to give their work away simply because it’s on the Internet and there’s that strange, persistent, unsupported “cultural think” that if it’s on the Internet it should be free? NO, IT SHOULDN’T! The Internet is like a store. A store where people put up the stuff they’re selling. It’s not a free box on the side of the road; it’s a place for commerce. As Taylor says, we don’t ask for free iPhones, so why free art? 

read your novel

But, sadly, we in the book/writing business don’t have a champion like Swift. The 2014 kerfuffle between Amazon and Hatchette was just a snit-fest between the Big 5 and big Amazon; it had nothing to do with fair compensation for indie writers. And, let’s face it, the proliferation of sites screaming “FREE & BARGAIN BOOKS!!” has exploded, creating a demographic of readers that simply expect books to either be free or so effing cheap the profit margin wouldn’t afford the author a latte while writing the next book they’ll be browbeaten to “donate” to the undiscerning public.

I can hear Taylor screaming in her jasmine-scented soundproofed vocal booth.

That's not how it works

Clearly, I’m no Taylor Swift. There are no legions of fans hanging on my every word; no one cares with whom I’m holding hands. I’m not tall, skinny, and loaded with a Brinks vault of awards. I have no power over any industry (though there was a time my catering captain skills were in demand!), and the only thing of mine Apple respects is a decent purchase history of phones and computers. But still… I’ve been around a long time, I’ve got artistic bona fides, and some have said (though I can’t remember who), I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. So if I had a bully pulpit, this is what I’d say:

Perpetuating the perception that independent books have little value and should be free or sold for ridiculously low prices is deleterious to the true merit, status, and negotiating power of independent authors. This is not about greed or the overvaluation of unknown writers; this is about the artistry and hard work that goes into creating good books. Excellent books. Books that, if agents and publishers were wrangling them in the traditional publishing world, would be bestsellers. Instead, those authors are struggling to find footing in a slippery marketplace that can’t seem to discern between mediocre and masterful, and values/devalues it as “all the same.” 

Which is folly. If an amateur wants to crank out an unpolished tome to put on Amazon for family/friend consumption, giving that book away for free or one or two bucks, so be it. But if a skilled, professional, highly qualified author puts years in, hires experts to produce, and publishes a masterful book (and I know many of those excellent authors and their excellent books), those books deserve to be sold at prices comparable to any other excellent book being traditionally published. Anything else creates a two-tiered system that designates one group as worthy, the other as not. Which is inherently unfair and vastly misguided, as what publishing category a book belongs to does not necessarily indicate its excellence.

This is about us indie writers and our industry taking a stand to determine that the perceived value of our art is commensurate with any other valued art, and, subsequently, demanding commensurate and fair payment for that art. Let “free” be a choice, not a mandate.

Okay, I’m done. I’m gonna go now and “Shake It Off”! 

Related articles you might find interesting:
I’m Not Interested In FREE Books 
Free Books: Marketing Genius or Devaluation of Writers?
Free Book Promotions: How Good ARE They For Writers?

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Lorraine Devon Wilke Reviewed! by Mark Barry of Green Wizard Publishing

The author_2sm

It’s not every day you have a deliciously brilliant author/indie publisher from the UK spend a little word count on your behalf, so when it happens, how remiss would you be if you didn’t share those precious words with your always interested audience?

Please take a moment to enjoy the very funny, astute, and really touching write-up Mr. Mark Barry wrote up about the state of fiction in general, and my fiction specifically.

And when you click over to read the full post, I urge you to take some time to click on Barry’s books posted on his site. The three I’ve read—Carla, The Night Porter, and Once Upon A Time In the City of Criminals—were each incredibly original stories, with fierce wit, enough edge to slice a finger, and utterly intriguing characters and plot lines. Which makes his kudos for my work all the more meaningful.

Thank you, sir; you are a reminder of what a wonderful circle of wagons the indie community can be!

• • • • • • • •

Lorraine Devon Wilke Reviewed!

by Mark Barry

Contemporary Fiction is the unwanted, bastard stepchild of Independent fiction.

Harsh? No. True. Don’t believe me? Come and join me at the shelter where, just outside the soup kitchen, you can find ten, fifteen, twenty Contemporary Fiction writers huddled around the brazier, polystyrene mug of powdered Minestrone warming fingerless mitts and coating trembling, arid lips.

Contemps just can’t catch a break.We starve for our art.

I’ll go further.

To sell in Indie, you need to be writing genre fiction.

Famous Nottingham author Nicola Valentine held court on this in a debate at the Nottingham Writer’s Studio a short while ago and many, many blogs and analysts on the scene allude to the eminence, the supremacy of genre. Here’s the top four (outside non-fiction and self help).

Vampire – preferably the stuff that sparkles.
Erotica – atm, LGBT erotica in particular.
Young Adult – pick something unreal and it’s likely to be written about: Wizards, Zombies and Gargoyles have been popular recently and of course,
Romance/chicklit – say no more.

(The really clever authors who are sitting on biblical piles of paper moolah the size of the Tower of Babel are those who write dirty vampire romances for teenagers. They’re rolling cigars made of crisp twenties and laughing all the way to the bank).

That’s genre.

Unreal. Invented. Other. Escapist.

In fact, genre fiction= escapist. The more fantastic, the more unreal and out there, the more it is likely to sell.

Contemporary fiction writers can usually be found hunting for food in skips outside conferences full of genre authors, which is a shame as generally contemporary fiction authors, as writers, knock genre writers into a cocked hat. These boys and girls can write.

And Lorraine Devon Wilke, who lives just up the road from Brenda Perlin, the “Faction” writer I featured last week, is a damned fine contemporary writer indeed.

She’s written two books. The first, After The Sucker Punch, I reviewed here: Review of After The Sucker Punch

I loved it. It was in the top three books I read last year and in the top thirty of my lifetime. It is that good…


Smashwords2Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Huffington Post. Her article archive can be found at Contently, her photos at Fine Art America, and details and links to her other work @

Her novels, AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCH and HYSTERICAL LOVE, are available in ebook and paperback at Amazon and Smashwords. Her short story, “She Tumbled Down,” (ebook) is available at Amazon. To view the After The Sucker Punch trailer, click HERE.

Be sure to stay current with her adventures in publishing here at her book blog at

GATSBY BOOKS: Supporting Indie Bookstores That (Truly) Support Indie Authors

Gatsby Books_blog

Oh, sometimes I feel like a curmudgeon, carrying on about cranky bloggers with semantical issues, cultural trends devaluing the value of art, or bookstores that take out their Amazon-pique on innocent, hardworking authors, but today I want to celebrate something worth celebrating: GATSBY BOOKS, a bookstore that clears the air of smoke and semantics to be exactly what it claims to be: an independent bookstore that not only serves its community, but serves the authors who come in to share their work.

Does that distinction seem strange? Were you thinking: doesn’t every indie bookstore support indie authors? Isn’t that an integral part of their mission statement? Isn’t that why so many people shout “save your independent bookstore!!”, friends urge friends to shop local and little, and mega-millonaire authors like James Patterson pledge hard, cold cash to help save this beleaguered business model from extinction?

You’d think so. Up till several months ago that’s exactly what I thought, but that was before my naive little indie-author self became aware of what appears to be standard operating procedure in much of the indie book world: if an author shows up with print copies made by CreateSpace (an Amazon-affiliated company), they are not invited to share their books at said store… even if the book is excellent… even if the author supplies the books… even if the store never has to even think about that company whose name shall not be uttered… even if all their dealings and interactions will only be with the self-publishing, self-peddling, just-trying-to-get-my-work-out-and-reach-an-audience independent author. Nope. Turns out, if there is any connection whatsoever to the hated behemoth, that author’s book is to be shunned in a political effort to be punitive to Amazon.

(Oh, to be important enough that excluding my books really did send a “f**k you” to the big A! 🙂 )

That these stores stock their shelves with thousands of books by traditionally published authors who also sell on Amazon appears to be a moot point. That indie authors are the exact kind of proactive, independent artists these stores should eagerly support is dismissed. That the mean-spirited and myopic attitude of exclusion will ultimately be more damaging to the store than the indie author certainly merits analysis. But right now, none of that matters. We’re not invited. 

I wrote about this sorry phenomenon in an earlier piece titled, Caught Between a Bookstore and That Amazon Place, and since then I’ve had two more “independent” bookstores refuse my work simply because the print copies were made by CreateSpace. They actually stated that as the reason. They didn’t even look at my book. 

Gatsby Books owner, Sean Moore. Photo by Ashleigh Oldland.
Gatsby Books owner, Sean Moore. Photo by Ashleigh Oldland.

Then there’s Gatsby Books. A bookstore of a different color. I was introduced to owner, Sean Moore, by my book publicists, JKS Communications, and after Sean invited me to come in and do a reading/signing event with my new novel, HYSTERICAL LOVE, I drove down to Long Beach, CA, to meet him and get a feel for the store. As you’d expect, it’s a wildly eclectic place with loads of books, flyers and notices on every wall, a cozy area for readings and other events, and, yes, somewhere there’s a cat (featured in the company logo). Sean is a warm, accessible guy, and as we went over the details of the reading, I mentioned to him how refreshing it was to come upon an indie bookstore that didn’t stigmatize self-published authors whose books were printed by CreateSpace. His reply went something like this:

“Look, I don’t like Amazon either, no independent bookstore does, but this isn’t about them; this is about bringing good books into the store for my customers.”

Bravo to you, Sean! Even when I mentioned—’cause I know how challenging it can be to get people out on a Thursday night for an unknown indie author reading a few excerpts from her self-published novel—I couldn’t guarantee how many people would show up, this very cool guy replied:

“If I can sell even five books and introduce new people to the store, I’m good.”

Indeed. Then he said he’d have some wine to go along with my famous book cookies. Seriously, what a guy!

HL cookies

So while other indie bookstore owners are slamming their doors to authors who just might be the next bestseller, who just might bring in passionate new customers, who just might help that store raise its profile by their own marketing efforts, Sean Moore is being both a mensch and a smart businessman. The industry is evolving and will keep evolving—likely in continuing huge and clumsy increments—until the balance between technology, digital delivery, new price models, and changing culture settle into something more predictable (assuming that can actually happen!). The entrepreneurs and creative thinkers who will ultimately survive that plate-shifting will be those who—instead of looking backward, mis-targeting their enemies, and thinking small—are willing to look at the bigger picture, embrace emerging artists in whatever form they come, and understand the inevitability of a changing marketplace. Sean Moore is one of those and I not only applaud his forward-thinking, I’m very much looking forward to sharing my new book with customers who come to his store on Thursday night!

So come on down/up on May 28th to join me… us (we’re featuring a special guest reader, actor and writer extraordinaire, Eddie King). It’ll be a fun night of literary entertainment AND we’ll get to show some support to a bookstore that gets it right.

Let’s see if we can sell at least five books!  🙂

• • • • • •

GATSBY BOOKS Presents a Book Reading/Signing Event for HYSTERICAL LOVE by Lorraine Devon Wilke
Thursday, May 28, 2015, 7:00 pm
5535 E. Spring Street, Long Beach, CA 90808
(562) 208-5862

Books will be available for purchase and signing by the author.

• • • • • •

For more details (or to RSVP) you can leave a comment or click HERE for the Facebook Event page.

And for an interesting interview with Gatsby Books owner, Sean Moore, click HERE.

NOTE: Certainly other independent bookstores are as welcoming as Gatsby Books. I’ve got copies of my previous novel, After The Sucker Punch, on shelves at Skylight Books; other bookstores accept quality self-published work with a fee. If you know of other independent bookstores who will stock the work of indie authors, even those who use Create Space to print their books, please let me know in comments. Let’s get the word out about these bigger thinkers! 

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Writer or Author? What To Call Whom and Other Industry Silliness

writer author copy

A writing colleague of mine sent me an interesting article recently; wanted my opinion on a piece written by a book blogger with a rather fierce agenda about who gets to call themselves an “author” these days. The piqued pontificator asserted that there are fundamental distinctions to be made between “author” and “writer,” nuances he deemed essential to preventing confusion in the literal and virtual book-buying marketplace.

And here I thought readers just wanted to know which were the good books!

This inexplicably grumpy guy (who shall remain nameless and linkless in a nod to collegial decorum), purports to have his finger on the pulse of the book industry’s beating heart, and takes personal umbrage at our loosey-goosey tendency to let just anyone use the term “author.” Since it’s a matter of great importance to him, and, unfortunately, many others in this rapidly evolving marketplace, I decided to give his thesis a whirl:

According to our parsing pundit, the title of “author” applies only within this very limited parameter: a writer who makes a living with the books they write. Their full-time living. No side-jobs. No article writing, copyediting, babysitting; mowing of the neighbor’s lawn, or even the occasional catering gig. If there is any under-the-table commerce unrelated to the business of the book, well then, they are not an author. They are just a writer.

Why that assignation—writer— is considered lesser, I do not know; but, apparently, it is.

Obviously this semantical corralling would include most self-published authors—I mean, writers—because, except for the select few who’ve managed to self-publish their way to enviable fame and fortune, the rest are busy selling real estate, proofing web copy, or teaching grade schoolers while pursuing their passion on the side…and until they hit their literary jackpot. Our bitching blogger believes distinctions are to be made for these folks.

But even if you agree with him, I have to ask: why should the distinction matter…to anyone? And yet it does. To that particular blogger and others I’ve encountered along the way. So much so that self-publishers who dare refer themselves as “authors” are likened, in some ways, to paralegals posing as attorneys, interns marching hospitals in doctor whites, or security guards puffed up like the NYPD Blue. In other words: pretenders, imposters, frauds.

Really? The distinctions between writer and author are SO carved in stone as to allow the Word Police to pejoratively deny one group use of the more vaunted descriptive of author?  Well, how ’bout we leave it to the dictionary? 

Author: noun; 1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work; 2. the literary production or productions of a writer; 3. the maker of anything; creator; originator. Verb: to write; be the author of:

That seems clear. Shall we continue?

Writer: Noun: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. [emphasis added]

Yep, as interchangeable as driver and motorist, teacher and educator; trapeze artist and aerialist. More importantly, did you note the first, most important definition of “writer”? According to the dictionary, it’s the writer who’s identified as the professional, not the author!

Holy bloviating blogger, that drops the whole theory on its head!

But while I poke fun at the condescension of said cynic and his ilk, the sad fact remains that they are emblematic of many who marginalize independent, self-published authors as dilettantes and amateurs, relegating them (sometimes literally) to card tables in the back room rather than up on the dais with the “real authors.” Fair? No. But the nose-snubbing endures.

It likely began with the vanity press, that notorious business model that gave amateur writers the opportunity to publish their work for a fee. The narcissism of the option was presumed: anyone who would pay to have their own book made, a book they obviously couldn’t get published through professional means, must surely be a vainglorious sort.

Forget that they might have just wanted a few copies to leave the family.

Self-pub meme

But moving past vanity presses came the even more paradigm-shifting digital revolution, which first hit the music industry like a hurricane, forcing analogue studios into Pro Tools machines, and traditional record companies upside-down-you-turn-me. No one was sure how to adjust (it’s still a conundrum…see Taylor Swift and Spotify; see Apple and Spotify, see Spotify and Pandora…), but adjustments were and continue to be made. And artists who’d previously been kept outside the gates were suddenly making and selling their own, affordably recorded, music, while payment formulas, arcane to begin with, went up in smoke. No one knows how anyone’s making a living these days, but there’s lots of great music and many excellent (heretofore ignored) singers, songwriters, bands, and musicians who are finally able to get their work out there. That, alone, is worth a great deal to a great many.

Are they, then—those scratching out a living however they can while playing gigs, hawking CDs, and keeping hope alive on the Internet—allowed to call themselves musicians, recording artists, bands, and so on? Of course! Because they actually are all those things. How they get their art produced and delivered, or how much money they’re able to accrue in the process, has zero bearing on their talent, skill, or the value and artistry of their work.

Or what they’re called.

Is it all good work? No. But it never was all good work, even when record companies were stationed like trolls at the gate. But much of it is astonishing music that would have never seen the light of day under the old regime. And now it’s the audience, the marketplace, that not only has access to many more artists by virtue of this democratization, but will be the arbiter of just how the supply and demand piece plays out.

That same paradigm shift is happening in book publishing.

Since sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, IngramSparks and others have created platforms for independent authors to upload, publish, and sell their work, similar fears, criticisms, and condescensions have percolated. But just as those who naysay indie musicians tend to be backward travelers, so, too, are the curmudgeons who’d generalize, dismiss, and denigrate independent authors across the boards.

Because the talent, skill, and artistry of authors is not based on whether or not they fit the narrow demands of publishers scrambling to stay relevant (or solvent); nor is it based on whether the sum total of dollars they’re able to earn is enough to cover their bills. No; the talent, skill and artistry of authors is based on…drum roll…the talent, skill, and artistry of each individual author. Period.

Is every book by a self-published author a good one? No, of course not. That’s been established. But many are as profound, as resonating, as any good book sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. And, conversely, all one has to do is ferret through a book bin at CVS, peruse the racks at an airport, or consider some of the most viral of bestsellers put out by traditional publishers to find examples of the kind of drek that makes our blogger’s teeth grind.

It’s past time for the media, the publishing industry, book stores, and cultural taste-makers to move beyond elitist, myopic attitudes about the clearly indefatigable self-publishing world. As that demographic evolves, the authors within it will raise their own bar to demand the highest standards from its members: constructive peer pressure designed to make sure the steps are taken, the funds invested, and the necessary work done to deliver the most excellent books possible. And what will happen then is that more and more of those authors will break through the barriers to slowly but surely make more money, get more attention, and find their way onto bestseller lists, award tables, Kindles, and bed stands of discerning readers.

Because they are authors, just as the dictionary confirms: “writers creating original, literary works.” Which is exactly what self-published and independent authors have been doing all along.

Image courtesy of Wellcome Images @ Wikimedia Commons

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