Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Posts tagged ‘books’

James Patterson on Amazon

James-Patterson-006This is an excerpt from James Patterson’s speech earlier this week at BEA (Book Expo America), the American Booksellers Association’s huge annual trade show.  In a perfect example of putting your money where your  mouth is, Patterson pledged one million dollars to independent bookstores nationwide.  Thank you, James!

Here’s what James Patterson had to say about book publishing.  The final paragraph covers the Amazon dispute.

“I’m trying to get people to focus on the perilous future of books in this country. And that future is happening right now, this year. There is an evolution/revolution going on and it affects everybody who reads, everybody who writes, everybody who publishes books. Small bookstores are being shuttered, book chains are closing, libraries are having serious trouble getting funding, especially school libraries. Every publisher and the people who work in these publishing houses is feeling a great deal of pain and stress. If we don’t fix those problems, the quality of American literature is going to suffer. Fewer or no more Infinite Jests,Blood Meridians, or Book Thiefs, less of a chance for young writers, like James Patterson back in 1976, to be published — or maybe that would have been a good thing?

Book publishersI’d like you to think about this, and I’d like the press to think about this: Publishers are not terribly profitable. If those profits are further diminished, publishers will produce less serious literature. It’s just a fact of life. And that’s one of the reasons why right now, the future of our literature is in danger. I will say that there are no clear-cut villains —  yet — but there are no heroes either, and I think it’s important that major players involved in publishing, as well as the press, and our government, step up and take responsibility for the future of our literature and the part it plays in our culture.

[Big applause.]

Right now bookstores, libraries, authors, publishers, and books themselves are caught in the crossfire of an economic war between publishers and online providers. To be a teeny, tiny bit more specific, Amazon seems to bookstore openbe out to control shopping in this country. This will ultimately have an effect on every grocery- and department-store chain, on every big-box store, and ultimately it will put thousands of Mom-and-Pop stores out of business. It just will, and I don’t see anybody writing about it, but that certainly sounds like the beginning of a monopoly to me. Amazon also, as you know, wants to control book selling, book buying, and even book publishing, and that is a national tragedy. If this is to be the new American way, then maybe it has to be changed, by law if necessary, immediately, if not sooner. I think that might have been a worthy subject for this BEA. I think it’s a subject that Indie Bound, the PEN American Center, the National Book Foundation, the New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalUSA Today, Huffington, and NPR should latch onto with vigor, with passion, with urgency. Thank you for this generous honor. It means a lot to me, it really does. I’m pretty emotional about it, more than I ever am at speaking engagements. It means a lot to my wife Sue who’s here, and to our son Jack, who has become a big reader primarily because of independent bookstores pushing books at them. Thank you very much.”

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Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A recent review for Dialogue for Writers:

Did you know dialogue matters even for poetry? I didn’t, and I am so glad I do now! This small book packs a punch. It easily and accessibly convinced me of just how and why good dialogue matters, why many pieces could use more of it, and when not to use it. The author also helps the reader learn to plainly identify what makes good dialogue good and what does and doesn’t work through the use of a plethora of useful examples. It is also full of different kinds of useful information for writers of all sorts. There are gems in it such as “Usually the best point of view character is the one with most to lose.” (page 83) If your writing could benefit from some good editing, try this book. If your writing could benefit from some new tricks, try this book. It won’t disappoint. I think of it as a course on dialogue in itself and there are exercises at the end of each chapter.

Find the book on

Small Publishers versus The Big Five

A recent article in Writers Digest ( discussed the pros and cons of working with a  small publisher.  As an editor, then a literary agent, and now a publisher, I have unique experience with this topic.

The Writers Digest article hit the high points, but I want to add more.  About one third of the books I sold to large publishing firms ended up languishing in limbo-land.  The authors complained about no support, poor MadCatcommunication, and no feedback on how to improve sales.  In many cases, the original editor left the firm and the book became an orphan—a fate worse than death.  Here’s an overview of the topic:

The Downside of a Small Publisher

 When we sign new authors at NorLightsPress, I always start by telling them what we cannot do when compared to one of the big publishing firms.

  • We don’t have a huge marketing reach. We do not employ a sales force, pay for front tables at Barnes and Noble, or purchase ads in magazines and newspapers.  We depend on our authors for most of the marketing. However, talk to any new author who published with a large firm and you’re likely to hear a sob story about no marketing support.  The large firms spend 90% of their marketing budget on 10% of their authors.
  • We can’t book you on national television.  Say goodbye to your dreams of Oprah.  Sob.
  • Our sales goals are modest compared to the Big Guys.
  • Bookstore sales are harder for a small firm to achieve, although most of us do work with booksellers.
  • Most small publishers can’t afford to pay advances. However, that means you start earning royalties much sooner.
  • Well, that’s about it!  Marketing is the biggest issue, as you can see.

Our experiences with large publishers helped us forge NorLightsPress with author satisfaction in mind.    

happy-catThe Upside of a Small Publisher   

 I’m speaking for NorLightsPress here, but most indie publishers offer these same advantages:

  • We accept un-agented submissions.
  • Your book won’t be self -published.  You have a publisher who believes in your work and is willing to invest time, energy, and money.
  • We charge no fees.
  • We will keep your book in print for years, not drop it into oblivion after 90 days. Our backlist keeps selling year after year, and we continue supporting our authors.
  • We offer better royalties than larger publishers because we believe authors deserve a fair share for their efforts.  Since our authors help more with marketing, they earn larger royalties.
  • Our royalty statements are detailed and state-of-the art. The large publishers send statements that give no real information.
  • We offer a substantial discount on books you purchase. You can buy books for resale and make money that way.
  • Yes, your book will be available in all eBook formats and online with the major booksellers. We especially work hard on the Amazon pages.
  • Your book will be available to bookstores if they choose to order from our distributors. Barnes and Noble will order books for selected stores.
  • Professional editing, a professionally designed book cover and a well formatted interior. You get plenty of input during this process, although we have the final say.
  • We can have your book on the market within 60 to 90 days, as opposed to a year or longer for large publishers.
  • We provide review copies and a professionally designed media kit. You find the reviewers for us, and we’ll send out the books at no charge to you.
  • We do not withhold part of your royalties to pay for returned books. This can be a huge issue with some publishers, who will keep several thousand dollars of your royalties.
  • We provide an online splash page for your book with a look-inside feature.
  • We’re available for phone calls and you’ll work with the same people for years. Your book won’t be orphaned because an editor moves on.
  • If you’re able to hire a publicist, which we encourage, we’ll work with that person to maximize book sales.
  • We do not have a restrictive option clause in our contract.

ladder-of-successMany unhappy writers have discovered that the Big Five in New York City are not the holy grail of publishing.  Having your book disappear into a black hole and then finding you aren’t allowed to sell your next book to a different publisher (read the option clause!) is a painful wake-up call. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to find a Big Five editor who will champion your book, then enjoy the roller coaster ride!  If you’re like the  other 99% of authors, publishing with a small press is a great option for those who are willing to work their way up the ladder of success.

See our submission guidelines at:

Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers: Create Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction

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A Word on Fishing from Bill Dance

Here’s a fishing story from Bill Dance, contributor to our new book Why We Fish by Robert Montgomery:        Bill Dance

Sometimes, the “big one” gets away, and that only intensifies the aspiration. Ask Bill Dance.  He would become one of the world’s most famous and successful bass anglers from the late 1960s through the 1970s and then one of fishing’s most popular television personalities. But before that, he was a young man, just married, that day on Pickwick Lake. He used a paddle to maneuver his johnboat down the side of a bluff, where hungry smallmouth bass chased shad.

“I had just missed a 2 ½- to 3-pounder,” he recalls. “It had rained a lot and I was looking at a waterfall on down the bluff.  “When I looked back down at the lake, my little old popper just disappeared. I thought it was a bluegill, at first.”

Instead, it was a bass Bill Dance will never forget.

“He jumped five times,” the Tennessee angler says. “I saw four of them. The other time, he ran under the boat and jumped behind me before I even knew what happened. I saw him four times in the water and four times out of the water.”

“My Uncle Ben used to smoke cigars. He looked like a walrus with one tusk because you could see about an inch and a half of the cigar sticking out of his mouth.

“And when I saw that orange popper sticking out of the fish’s mouth, I thought of Uncle Ben. I could see just a little of that popper. The rest was in the fish’s mouth, including two sets of treble hooks.”

With the fish so well hooked, Dance understandably thought he was about to land the biggest smallmouth bass of his young life, possibly even a world’s record. Based on mounts he’d had seen at a taxidermist’s, he was certain this bass weighed more than ten pounds.

bass   But the next time the bass ran under the boat, the line went slack, and Dance retrieved his fishless popper.

He was devastated.

“I wanted to catch him so bad,” he remembers. “I went back there for weeks and months. I went back early and late. I went back at night. I fished up and down that bluff, knowing smallmouth bass have home-range tendencies. I went for a year, I know.”

And he spoke often of the one that got away.

Finally, wife Diane said, “I know what that fish means to you. It will be imprinted on your mind for the rest of your life. I know how you feel and I’m so sorry.

“But will you please stop talking about that fish?”

Decades later, though, he still talks.  “People ask me about the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught, and I’ll say three 8s,” Dance says. “But then I’ll add, ‘Let me tell you about another one.’”

Pro or amateur, young or old, all of us who fish have hooked fish that got away. Fortunately for our mental health, we don’t remember all of them. But one or two stay with us always. Heads shaking, they leap majestically in our dreams and memories. They burn drag. They burrow into brush. They throw baits back at us, and splash us back into reality with a slap of their broad tails.

Often, as with Dance, we believe those lost fish are the largest we’ve ever hooked.  As memorable to Bill as the Pickwick smallmouth is the bass he lost at Clarks Hill in 1973. He believes that fish would have won the Bassmaster Classic for him. Instead, he finished second to Rayo Breckenridge.

Time, though, has tempered the pain of losing both those fish, and helped Dance learn an important lesson about the value of fishing.         WWF_FrontCvr     

“It’s not the pounds or numbers of fish you catch,” he says. “Yes, you can weigh those, but they don’t come close to the memories.”

And among those memories are visions of the big ones caught—and others that got away—both of which help explain why we fish.

Read more fishing tales in Why We Fish!  (And before you ask–all the anglers in our book practice catch and release.

Got any stories to share?

I love reading your comments!  

Bar Bands, Books, and Art

rock n rollMy brother Bill is a part-time musician who began playing bass guitar when we were in high school back in the late 60s.  Music has been his hobby for years, and right now he’s on a quest to join a new band. It seems finding the perfect band is akin to seeking the Holy Grail. His stories about huge egos and eccentric behavior fueled by alcohol could easily fill a book. Yes, musicians are crazy.   

 An email from him this morning struck a chord: “A lot of these band people are such idiots.  They are so particular. I even saw an ad where they wanted guys in their band to have certain tattoos! Unbelievably unrealistic about finding the perfect people. There’s a guy on the south side who’s been running an ad for a bass player for about five months. I applied but didn’t quite fit his specifications.  His project is one that’ll never get out of the basement. But, you can’t tell them that. They can’t see it.”

Aha! I thought. He could be talking about writers.  So many writers come up with ideas that will never appeal to the public. When we, the publisher, try to tactfully say this, the authors are shocked. Some of them respond with insults, which is why we stopped writing detailed rejection notes.  I know we’re stepping on their dreams, and I know that hurts. Like musicians and artists, writers are dreamers.

Hey, it’s good to dream, but if we want to actually SELL those dreams, we must be practical as well.  I run into exactly the same issues with my painting. An artist friend of mine creates rustic painted saws that sell like crazy at a local state park.  She was lucky to find a niche that works for her. I’m still trying to balance what I like to paint versus what art lovers want to hang on their walls.  And sometimes art just needs to match the  #$#% furniture.

Getting back to music: Bill says, “It doesn’t matter to bar owners whether the music is any good. If a band can bring 50 customers into a bar, they’ll always be able to get gigs.”  That’s true for artists and writers as well.  Bring lots of people with checkbooks into an art gallery and they’ll let you have your own show.  Develop a loyal following of readers, and publishers will come looking for you.

It’s all about business, you see.

The Joy of GoodReads

I’ve been slow to learn about GoodReads.  Two of our authors urged me to get involved several years ago, but I didn’t think I had time: Too busy publishing books.

Now I’m a believer.  We just did a give-away on GoodReads for Gin Getz’s wonderful book The Color of the Wild: An Intimate Look at Life in an Untamed Land.   Over four hundred people asked to receive a free copy (we were only giving away ten books).  We’re ready to mail those ten copies tomorrow morning, but in addition I received names and page links for the 393 people who lost this lottery.   Today I spent time looking at their profiles – and I want to be friends with ALL of them.

Scrolling through the titles of books these men and women have read simply boggles my mind. Some of them list thousands of books.  Good books, not junk.  This touches my heart.  And they write thoughtful reviews.


I guarantee we’ll be giving away more books on GoodReads, and I’ll be a regular visitor and reviewer.  Better late than never!

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