Monday, October 29, 2007

Yes, It's a Challenge to Publish for the First Time

If an aspiring writer looking to become a first-time published book-length writer didn't have enough mounted against them, they also have to worry about finding the perfect agent. Maybe not the perfect but at least a good enough agent that will get the writer's book published.

Saturday morning, the wife and I went to a seminar at her school about getting a literary agent. A woman who was once an agent, now a publishing industry consultant for writers gave the seminar. Overall, she did a very good job at providing some examples of good query letters and touching on the marketing aspects that a writer should think about when it comes to writing a marketable piece of non-fiction.

One good aspect she addressed in regards to the marketing aspect came down to having qualifications. As any writer knows or as the myth goes, everyone talks about having their own stories, their own ideas and and their own perspective on something. You should write what you know, after all. The problem is, though, is that everyone has their own stories, their own ideas and their own perspectives on something.

Those stories, those ideas and those perspectives need to be marketable. All those things have to stand out above the crowd, but not only that, they need to add something new to the cultural dialogue. Further, they should know what they're talking about, not just on a conversational level. If a book didn't have some degree of authority, then books would be just as reliable as the Internet and Wikipedia, and we all know just how serious we take those things (yeah, they can work pretty well, but most everyone I know makes that refrain, ". . .but it's Wikipedia, you can only take it so seriously.")

So how do you get around not having qualified authority about a topic but wanting to write about it? You don't have to go back to school to get a degree, you don't have spend years and years in an industry or anything like. Just recruit someone who has already done that as a co-author! They don't have to do any of the writing. Just give them a byline and consult with them, and you're that much closer to selling your idea to an editor.

Writing about the stock market or something financial, get a stock broker or a banker to help. How about family matters, self growth, drug use? Enlist the help of someone in the mental health field. Space, the final frontier? Get a physicist, a cosmologist. . .maybe even a geologist if you're writing about say. . .the geological history of Mars (now that I think about it, I could probably at least try to enlist the help of one person from my past).

So enlisting the help of someone with qualified authority on a topic to co-author a book with you is a good tip. A few people in the seminar took issue with the discussion about working to find an agent, though. I did, at first, too, thinking that I should ask the lecturer what kind of questions to ask agent to evaluate them and so forth. At that point, though, I convinced myself that the lecturer would address it at some point.

Unfortunately, the lecturer didn't address it. . .and one aspect about the writer-agent relationship highlights the anxiety an aspiring writer might feel about this issue. The first agent who gets the contract (whether written or verbal) to represent an author's manuscript generally gains the primary rights to the commission on that manuscript. So if that agent sucks at marketing it and can't sell it to the degree that the author goes to another agent, the new agent and the first agent have to negotiate who gets how much commission and how much more commission gets taken off the top.

Just because a contract has been made, even if the first agent sucks at their job and didn't accomplish anything, the author loses out on that much of their income when the book gets sold. The same goes for the new agent if they work their ass off and successfully sell the manuscript. That sucks!

What makes this whole thing worse is what does an inexperienced author know about negotiating with an agent? What does the novice writer know what's important about the relationship with an agent, about the ability of the agent, the connections of the agent, the agent's track record, etc. etc.? There's probably tons and tons of factors that I don't even know about, being a novice author, myself.

I can understand how other people in the seminar could feel frustrated by the whole thing, especially when the lecturer pretty much stressed the subjectivity of starting such a relationship and it's really about what you feel comfortable with. The reality of it didn't get me down so much, though.

A few years ago before moving to Chicago, the wife and I had aspirations of buying a condo when we moved here. We had contacted buyer's agents and even had one (or was there a few?) agents take us around to look at a range of condos, some amazing and some not so great.

Interviewing and communicating the agents went pretty well until I asked for references, as the Homebuying for Dummies book advised. One of the agents, who we referred to us by a career counselor whose daughter's friend moved to Chicago, even got really angry, indignant and gave me a huge e-mail lecture about how it took a lot of nerve to be referred to her then ask her for references. In my mind, I'm thinking, "Hey, there's a lot of money on the line. I want to make sure that I'm working with the right person."

After talking with a lot of people who had their own thoughts of buying a home, though, they pretty much said that they never asked for references. I learned, from that experience, that it's pretty rude to ask for references from a real estate buyer's agent. I still don't necessarily agree with that bit of etiquette, but it's the way of things, and I'm not about to get worked up and inconvenienced sticking to a dumb bit of principle like this.

But at least if the buyer agent doesn't work well, you can't pretty much end the relationship and find another one. I don't know about a seller's agent, but at least with a buyer's agent, it can be an inconvenience, but not a permanent matter. As an insurance agent, I know that it's pretty much the same there, no matter how much it sucks to be that agent losing a customer. . .even though at times, the customer can lose a little extra when they cancel a policy early.

I'm going off on a tangent, though. In the end, it pretty much sucks to be a newbie author in this situation, especially when a lecturer can only say that it's a subjective matter and it's up to you to figure out whether a relationship with a particular agent will work or not. It takes experience to learn these things, and obviously, a newbie doesn't have the experience.

Like with other things in life that depend on experience, it pretty much means that the aspiring writer has to suck it up and take a chance. And in the end, it probably shouldn't matter a huge amount. Sure, there's a few people who have broken out of the gates running and sell tons of their first books, but really. . .how often does that happen? If it is that good of a book and does sell that many copies, you've got to be one idiot to lose out on a lot because of the commission of a first agent that turned out bad. Really, do you plan on paying a fee, paying large amounts for unreasonable expenses or making a deal with someone who wants a huge commission?

I'm not expecting grandeur with my first ever published novel. If it happens, cool, but it's very much unlikely. Doesn't mean I'll hold back on making it good. Even if I miss out on some amount of money here and there, that first published novel or book really should, for someone who wants to be a professional writer, be more of a marketing piece.

It's kind of like taking a crap job where you get treated like shit to get experience and learn stuff. The first and maybe even the second and third books are about getting your name out there and getting the experience of working in the industry. If you continue losing out on the business relationships, then you really need to consult with other people in the industry and compare your own experiences with their's, especially if they're successful in the industry.

Really, like many other things in life, you just gotta be smart, take the hits of inexperience and learn from them. If you do and persist, you're bound to make it.

At least. . .that's what I keep telling myself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Time to Study Evil

My studying will take the form of reading Roy F. Baumeister's Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.

Even though it sounds kind of cool to say it, I'm not entirely looking forward to studying evil. Baumeister makes a point, in his preface, of saying that he has taken on the job of "converting" the reader, so they could understand evil, then having to, at the right moment, pull the reader out of the conversion to evil. He will make the reader understand evil then remind the reader the importance of morality.

I'm scared, but it's important to my intellectual curiosity, my need for intellectual coherence and also for the bachelors project. If it is in our biological programming to feel compassion and desire connections with other human beings, I need to understand how people can reach the point of evil. How can a person reach the point of Hitler? How can a person reach the point of Stalin? How can a person reach the point of Hussein? How can a person reach the point of bin Laden? How can a person reach the point of the Hutus of Darfur?

I don't know, but I guess I'll find out by going through some heinous darkness.

In other project news, I'm fairly overwhelmed by information and inspiration to really do much but research more. . .ugh.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One Good Reason for Solid, Paper Books

Man! I've been reading Thomas Carlyle's Past and Present online and have discovered a good reason to prefer a paper book over an ebook.

Written in the 19th century, it has some difficult language and stretches on for quite a bit. Sitting erect with good posture, reading this book can induce some tight muscles and sore shoulders. Being able to lie down on the couch or on the bed would certainly make for a more relaxing read as I try to comprehend what this guy talks about and what he's trying to satire.

And dang! Not having a good understanding of a culture and the sentiments of a time certainly make it difficult to understand a satire. Working for coherent understanding, especially when it's a compulsion, makes for some long, drawn out and difficult work.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taking the "Radiohead Revolution" to the Publishing Industry

So Radiohead has apparently started a revolution in the music industry by releasing their next album on the Internet for free. They're requesting that their audience make donations, essentially, as appropriately as they're worth. Sometime in the future they'll be releasing an expensive edition of the album on two CDs and on vinyl then later, they'll release a single CD, I believe. I haven't kept completely up to date on it.

Sounds like the Freeware or Shareware models for the music industry. To some degree, Radiohead has embodied one possibility that I had dreamed up for the music industry, using recordings as promotional tools then try making the money at concerts through ticket sales and merchandise.

Check out some conversation on the Radiohead side of things going on at Uninflected Images Juxtaposed and The Duct Tape Marketing Blog.

At least two other artists have taken their own business actions that could be considered based on the Radiohead move. Nine Inch Nails has quit their record label. Madonna has also left her record label (I believe) but has signed some kind of deal with a concert promoter.

The guy at The Duct Tape Marketing Blog has asked his audience if they had ever pulled off anything huge and revolutionary like this for their industry.

Me, I want to know if anyone can come up with some kind of viable model that could distribute printed content like how Radiohead is releasing their new album. . .and have it distributed in a way that wouldn't screw the content producer. I don't really want to get too deep into how people prefer to read their content (I'm majorly a proponent for reading books rather than reading on the Internet but after reading a book that had been previously published but is no longer copyrighted, I'd be interested in looking for other options, like reading on a Palm Pilot or something bigger for ease of reading that wouldn't heat up like a laptop), but if that really does enter into the equation of content distribution, don't hesitate to bring it up.

So who's up to the challenge on this one?

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'm Supposed to do the Patronizing, Rhapsody

Saturday night, the wife and I had dinner at one of the restaurants established by our wedding caterer, Blue Plate Catering. The restaurant is Rhapsody Chicago at 65 E Adams St., down in the loop.

The food was OK without many options for the moderate near-vegan like me who doesn't like making a fuss or forcing my views onto people. It didn't even compare to the food Blue Plate had at our wedding, but it was pretty good for probably the upper crust, aristocrats who probably eat there. In other words, it was catered more toward the common American omnivore with higher end tastes.

They had pretty much one option for every course that I could easily order with minimal modification (mostly "Hold the cheese, please"), which I didn't mind. I had an aragula salad, a vegetable taster and a three scoop sorbet taster. Once again, all very good food for what it was, but something more hearty with the vegetables, like some kind of lima bean side or some almonds, sunflower seeds or something would have topped off the dish perfectly. On top of that, the side of hearty fare would have fended off that soluble fiber bubbly stomach ickiness.

Basically, everything about this place was pretty bearable for the moderate non-fussy near vegan. Everything, that is, except for our patronizing waitress. She was a nice girl and everything, but if there's anything that annoys a moderate non-fussy near vegan, it's when a serving person tries to create the illusion that the near vegan has a choice beyond what is on the menu. . .especially when the person who made the original reservation disclosed that there's a near vegan in party.

Instead of listing off the ONLY things on the menu amenable to the near vegan then asking, "Is that OK," please provide some other options or let the patron know that the chef enjoys mixing things up a little. When I go out to eat, I don't want to have to put extra thought into what's getting put in front of me. If I wanted to put thought into it, I would have just stayed home and made a romantic dinner for the wife and me.

I repeat, waitress, don't be patronizing to the moderate and try to create the illusion of choice when there is none. You never, know, you might make a moderate vegan fussy and a hassle for other restaurants, servers and chefs. If there's more choices and they're not on the menu, tell your guests. Otherwise, apologize for there being such a small amount of options, write down the order and leave it at that. Show some manners.

How Do I Wake Up Early?

Sunday morning, the wife and I were supposed to go on a biking and kayaking trip, put together by some group, so we had to be there at a scheduled time. I, unfortunately, screwed up and couldn't fight my morning lethargy enough to get up early enough to make it to the meet up place in time.

I feel really dumb, too, because we were supposed to get out of the house later than I normally leave for work.

So anyone have any good tips on fighting morning lethargy when there's no good reason for having it? After all, I had gotten something like 7 or 8 hours of sleep. What's up with that?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Gears of Progress and Change

Thanks go out to Dawn Xiana Moon for giving me the tip to work at a cafe every once in lieu of working at home.

It certainly helped me to relax and not let the weight of responsibility distract and irritate me. Nothing like having compulsions to wash dishes, vacuum the floor, take out the trash, etc. etc. . . or feeling the weight of emotional energy leftover in my mind while in the space at home.

Anyway, I realized last night that I have to change gears on the project at the moment. I had been so focused on producing material that it had become a habit. Not attending to it made me feel guilty or as if I wasn't getting anything done.

That attitude makes for a problem in my current stage, though. Sure, I could transcribe what I've written for the novel and produce stuff on paper. I'm at a point where I want to feel conceptual progress, though, not "administrative" progress. This is probably one of those tasks that I would love to give to an intern or something.

I have, while reading material about Brook Farm over the last couple months or so, been trying to write up an outline of the paper on the community. With the abstract theory down about the utopian psychology that we all probably have for the communities in which we live (ie, the desire to feel integrated, the importance of meaning, the need for transcendence of our current existential state when it has grown old and the contributions of other people and our work and acts to our sense of meaning and feeling of integration), I figured I could make up the outline and adjust it as I advanced in my research. At some point, the research would end when the outline finished coherently.

The material, as I have encounter it, though, hasn't yielded to this plan. Maybe I should have felt more humble since it took two or more years to right the first draft of that last paper. . .and a lot of the real core ideas came together in the last couple months, after moving to Chicago.

I guess the extreme change help to jar my set way of thinking and the time freed up by not having a 9-5 job for awhile helped free up the emotional energy to dedicate to wrestling with the subject matter better. And oh yeah, a few revelations (including a freelance writing class that introduced me to the idea of the 'angle' to a piece of writing) during the last couple months back in Boston helped a bit, too.

Suffice to say, having such a rush of inspiration and success after years of frustration left me feeling cocky after finishing that last paper. Of course I could just steamroll into the next paper, start doing some research and write the paper at the same time. I now totally know what I'm doing. . .completely.

Yeah, right! Having my core characterization the psychological experience of utopianism helps a lot. . .a ton, actually. It helps me feel VERY confident about moving forward and trying to wrap my head around Brook Farm.

That doesn't mean I've got things down pat, though. The fun of any kind of project and the devil is in the details. Telling myself this doesn't immediately help deal with my habitual impatience for production, but it certainly humbles me a little bit and helps to remind myself that I need to enjoy the process. After all, when it comes down to feeling frustrated about the process, the culprit is really having to work a day job and not being able to dedicate myself to the project more than eight hours a day, kinda like back in college, when I was supposed to get this damned thing done in the first place.

And ironically, Brook Farm tried to address issues such as this one. They wanted to free up time, through the economy of scale in the communities labor, so that individuals would have more time to enculture themselves and develop their relationship with God (this was back when Unitarians were Christians descended from the Puritan tradition rather than a pluralist spiritual community).

(This entry now comes a little full circle now indirectly since it addresses a little bit of a conversation that Dawn and I had weeks ago about how uncultured Americans are because adults want to protect children from the difficulties of reading Shakespeare or similarly difficult texts and topics or simply from neglect and busyness.)

My problem before had been that I needed to get impressions of how people living in Brook Farm felt about their experience there. I need to know if they like it there or not, how much they get a sense of meaning there, do they feel integrated there, etc. etc. On another level, did Brook Farm help the members feel integrated, especially did it do so by following its original intent (by reconciling the needs of the group and providing the expression of the individual creative spirit)?

I've already mentioned in Some Intellectual History of My Project the need for me to understand the idea that people had back then about the "dignity of labor." While reading up on the primary sources for Brook Farm at home (the book is too fragile to take it with me in transit), I've been read up on the "dignity of labor," which includes comparisons of rational and traditional capitalism (rational looks to grow for the sake of growth and progress while traditional looks to make enough money for your needs and desires, get those needs and desires then stop working) and also the transition of the older household/family centered economy to the more individualcentric economy.

Suffice to say, I haven't come up with any groundbreaking ideas. I need to get those concrete feelings from the Brook Farm members and also get a better understanding of the intent of Brook Farm, the older household centered economy, the major delineations of the psychological and philosophical moorings of labor and the economy that permeated back from the 17th century to the 19th century (let's not even bring up the slavery and American aristocracy. . .Brook Farm was trying to work against those forces) and the transitional force that Brook Farm tried to take at the time it existed.

Having the intent of enculturing members of a community and bettering their relationship with God as probably the central tenet of organizing the labor and economy in a community certainly makes for an interesting investigation, which could address something or another in current the state of the American intellect. Don't know what exactly, but the fun is in working through the details, isn't it?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Random Tidbit Pertaining to Project

Woowee! I've done some total hyperfocusing over the last two or three hours on my project. Transcribed 5 pages of the novel, finished up reading a chapter in Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and revised the introduction to the last paper of the project.

Randomly enough, this paper is turning into something of a debate between some irritation I have with the current state of being forced to work and develop ourselves for the sake of the industries out there. The paper, at the very least, will try to figure out if Brook Farm successfully reconciles "traditional" and "modern" capitalism and the individual creative spirit and the community by making the community something of a voluntary family.

Enough about the specifics of the project, though. You'll have to read it after I'm done, and hopefully publish it.

I want to present another tidbit that I've randomly fell upon. This time, I discovered Breaking Hearts: The Two Sides of Unrequited Love by Roy Baumeister and Sara Wotman because I wanted to understand my own and other people's experiences with unrequited love. Maybe I could even help people come up with good strategies for addressing it.

In addition learning quite a bit about unrequited love, though, I found the following refinement of how meaning and their stories helps people existentially deal with life:

The four basic needs for meaning include finding purpose, creating a sense of efficacy, justifying one's actions in the context of accepted values, and maintaining a degree of self-worth (p. 35 of the Guildford Press (C) 1992 New York, NY edition).

I'm not totally sure how, but this will definitely help me to come up with some good analytical tools for when I go back to rewrite and revise the papers.

And guess what. While looking for a link on the Web for Baumeister and his book, I found another book that will help me a lot with the project, to write better and for understanding the world around me.

Information is power, but it's also VERY plentiful and random.

Go figure.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some Intellectual History of my Project

So. . .yeah. . .I think the proposition against me writing time travel stories until I'm a master storyteller essay will have to wait.

My research has really started coming together and becoming more coherent. Strangest thing, too, is that bits of the information have come from some obscure sources that don't have a direct connection to my project and even come from mostly random situations. The random situations, however, can touch upon themes that have stayed with me through life.

Having big, important insights come from obscure and random sources scares me. Not so much about the current project, since I'm already working on it and have dedicated myself to finishing it, but more about my future, post-project.

Obscure and random sources can come from anywhere, can take years to find and generally have a small chance of providing good resourceful use of time. Finding it can require reading 300 pages or so just to find one or two sentences. I'm averse to intentionally setting out to find them except at the beginning of a project, but they can be vital to a project.

For instance, following some tangential research to understand the satirical message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which really doesn't have the most clear or logical message, I decided to research into the importance of the individual conscience.

Alasdair MacIntyre's book, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century didn't provide much insight into individual conscience. It did, however, provide a good comparison between the Homeric hero and the Socratic/Aristotelean civilized man and some insights I can't remember at the moment (probably not important at the moment).

In addition, however, MacIntyre's highlighted, in a footnote, a book that I had heard about but never thought about checking out: Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Along with Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights: A History that I picked up to supplement MacIntyre's book, I got an okay historical overview of individualism philosophically, literature-wise, historically and politically.

Hunt's description of the later regression of human rights after Napoleon started screwing things up and the rest of Europe's view of human rights probably wouldn't have made much sense to me if I read it alone. Having read plenty of essays from Isaiah Berlin's posthumous collection of essays, The Proper Study of Mankind, though, I had a better understanding of the reactions against human rights and individualism.

Good stuff to know, which also helped me to settle my aggravation over not completely grokking the transmission of the message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Unfortunately, I still have an essay to write about Brook Farm. Reading some other materials I can't remember and a couple secondary sources about Brook Farm, in combination with all the previous stuff, I came up with a hypothesis about Brook Farm trying to strike the best work-life balance by reconciling the individual creative spirit with the needs of the group/community.

All well and great except the secondary sources addressed the history of Brook Farm rather than ideas of it. One of them provided more detail about the ideas but more as a "this idea from that scholar and that scholar's idea provided a source for this aspect of Brook Farm or George Ripley.

Gathering together a list of sources from the secondary sources and through searches, I found Autobiography of Brook Farm edited by Henry Sams. This book has loads of primary sources. It has provided me with a better understanding of the logic behind Nathaniel Hawthorne leaving the community, but from the first 20 or so sources I've read, there hasn't been much explicit discussion of theory behind Brook Farm except the idea that if you get a bunch of people together to work on a farm, they'll reach their individual peaks and live lives of justice. That doesn't satisfy me.

Like with the research for Brave New World and so on, I figured that I needed to get a better idea of the intellectual ideas behind labor back then. That's when I remembered that Ian Watt addressed the Puritans and their work ethic/belief in the dignity of labor as a source for economic individualism in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (OK. . .so I just finished this book a week or so ago). With George Ripley's, leader of Brook Farm, intellectual tradition and rebellion coming from a Puritan and Unitarian background (which, along with Congregationalism came off as rebellious offshoots of Puritanism in New England), I figured that the dignity of labor was something to look into.

And that's where I am now, finding that the 2 or 3 pages on the topic in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding unsatisfactory, I did some further research into it. I found Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I've only just started it, and from my understanding, it doesn't totally gel with the theory and proto-theory of Brook Farm. I think I'll be able to come up with some suppositions or find some source material that makes the connection.

The above logical and not-so-logical (I started with the research to address my dissatisfaction with a novel only to have it bleed into paper on a historical community that existed probably 90 years before it) has taken me about four months to do, a lot of it simply to fill in details to further my understanding. I also did plenty of Internet research to understand some political individualistic distinctions, economic history and the "sociology" of European civilization from Greek times to modern day. Four months, I don't know how much money, the time I needed to spend working a full time job to pay expenses and all the other practical concerns I had to address while doing this work.

Hell yeah, I'm scared of how good I'll be at doing this kind of thing after I graduate from college. One consolation, though, is that this is quite an intense topic, and I didn't have the central conceptual framework and angle for working on it until about a year and a half ago, six years after leaving college and pretty much 2/3 the way through first drafts of the academic side of the project and 1/3 of the way through the first draft of the novel. Still, I'm scare.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Post #500: I'm Lamer Than Ever

Man! I'm spending way too much typing and researching. Time to write in blog, nearly nil.

BTW, the sick was just from allergy detritus collecting in a lymph node. That's pretty lame, too.

Oh wait, I'm spending a good amount of time watching the new season of TV, too. Makes for good narrative research. To check out my opinions on the new season, especially Journeyman, check out my comments on Dead Things on Sticks. Kind of ironic, really, a vegan avidly reading and posting on a blog called Dead Things on Sticks.

Hopefully I'll have a little more time in a couple days to espouse on the dangers of writing time travel stories and how I don't want to write such a story until I get this writing thing down good.