Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Posts tagged ‘writers’

A Passion for Publishing

This week I’ve been inspired by an article in the March issue of Independent, a monthly magazine from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).   The article by board member Davida Breier is about being a E-book-reader-Books-and-table-30660962for-passion publisher.

If you’re an author who self-published a single book, you’re almost certainly a for-passion publisher.  If you begin publishing work by other authors and pay royalties, that passion suddenly morphs into a business – and that’s when things get tricky.  Indie publishers like us (NorLightsPress) are constantly balancing the bottom line against our desire to print the finest books and make the world a better place.  Here’s what several small, for-passion publishers have to say:

Diane Leigh, one of the founders of No Voice Unheard, talks about how their company was founded:  “We’ve always believed in the power of books to create cultural shifts or change. . . We are former shelter workers and wanted to give a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at what happens and why. . . We initially sought a traditional commercial publisher, and received some favorable responses to the book. . .but they said some of the material in the book was too ‘difficult’ to be marketable.  We did not want to tell only ‘happy ending’ stories from the shelter because that’s not the full truth. So we formed a nonprofit organization to publish the book ourselves.  One at a Time is now in its fifth printing, with about 20,000 copies sold, and it continues to sell.”

That is passion. And in this case, it turned into profit as well.  Often, that’s what happens when we do what we love and let the money follow.

MaryAnn Koh, founder of Bright Ring Publishing told Davida, “And so my books are a passion; publishing them is a passion; meeting my readers is a passion, and seeing the impact of my books is a passion. Profit is appreciated, but it is not my goal or passion as a publisher. . . Luckily the profits have followed, but I’d still publish even if they didn’t.”

Kelly Dessaing, publisher at Phony Lid Books says, “. . . while the mainstream publishers will continue to churn out books for general consumption, there will always be publishers catering to those readers who are looking for something more authentic.  We may be in the minority, but I think the audience is growing and will continue to grow. “

At NorLightsPress, we started with a single book in 2008 and now have about 60 books in print.  We’re proud of every single author and happy that the quality of our books continues to improve every year.  We aren’t rich or famous (so far) and we don’t hang out in New York City with the literati, but we LOVE publishing books.  I guess we’d do it for free.

As for success, sometimes we need to use a different yardstick than other industries.  As Davida points out, “changing lives, enriching thought, and self-expression never appear on balance sheets, but perhaps they should.”

Postscript:  If you’re a self-published author or working with a small publisher, I urge you to join IBPA and receive their excellent magazine every month. You’ll find their web page at:

The Rosie Project and Writing in First Person

The Rosie ProjectI am SO delighted when I find an amazing book to read — and that’s exactly what happened last weekend.  I don’t often fall in love with books, but I tumbled hard for The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion of Australia. This novel was Amazon’s book of the month for October, 2013, but somehow I missed it.

Professor Don Tillman, the main character, is a genetics professor with Asperger’s syndrome who micromanages his life and has never had a serious romantic relationship (for obvious reasons).  He launches a Wife Project that includes a hilarious questionnaire meant to weed out imperfect women.  Then he meets Rosie — his complete opposite — and begins a journey of the heart that causes readers to think about love, being different, and how it’s never too late to change.  I felt oddly compelled to read sections of the book aloud to my husband, who finally asked me to stop interrupting him.

My immediate thought upon finishing this book was: Where’s the movie?  A visit to the author’s web page reveals the screen play has been optioned by SONY pictures.  And more good news: Graeme is working on a sequel to the novel. (

One joy of The Rosie Project is the first person narration — something I usually don’t care for because so many books with that viewpoint fall apart. Although it seems deceptively easy, first person is a huge challenge. Everything in the story must be filtered through a single character who does not have access to the thoughts and feelings of anyone else.  Because readers are stuck inside one person’s head for a long journey, that character’s voice must be fascinating, unique, and definitely not a clone of the author.

In The Rosie Project, Don Tillman is a perfectly formed character.  I don’t want him to be fiction — I want to meet him and have lunch.  I want him to move in next door.  Don’s unusual brain makes him both exceptional and socially deficient:  presenting a dead flounder to one of his students; wearing the same clothes every day for efficiency; obsessive thinking; learning to dance with a skeleton. . . the quirky behavior seems natural when we understand how he thinks.  And mightn’t that be true for all the strange people in our lives?

Conversely, in another first person book, I stopped reading midway through when the main character began making stupid decisions that did not fit her level of intelligence. The character’s actions were obvious ploys by the author to enliven a plot that had already gone flat.  No such problem in The Rosie Project, where even the strangest events unfold organically from Don Tillman’s personality.   I was delighted to follow professor Don Tillman’s odd mind for 300 pages, and I hope Graeme Simsion will come along soon with a follow up book.

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.

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