I just purchased fourteen boxes of twelve Iced Gingerbread Clif bars to a box.
Hey, it could have been worse. Yesterday I was watching Filipino comic Rex Navarrette talking about balut, which to me looks like the world’s biggest hard-boiled egg fail. He described it as the ‘Pinoy Clif bar.’ That’s one of many reasons I like Rex’s comedy, that and my affection for Filipino cultures, from relatives to friends and beyond.
But no, I didn’t buy 168 baluts.
Self-revelation: I can be the world’s cheapest bastard. I pick up pennies in parking lots. I’m still attempting to use up a lifetime supply of drinking straws (want any?). I have enough saran wrap for several kinky parties. I built most of my garage storage out of junk, including a doghouse made from rejected forklift pallet pieces. I hate going to Costco (which is not to say that I hate Costco, just the experience), and my standard check to the cashier is about $550. I built my wife a holder for odd-shaped art stuff which I call the Nebelwerfer, after the WWII German rocket launcher. It’s five coffee cans canted slightly upward in a cluster on a stand. If I ever handmade you a gift, I probably made it out of garbage.
Not that I mind spending money to take friends out to a nice dinner, or to leave a decent tip, or something else socially productive. Nothing is finer than the opportunity to do a hospitable kindness people will enjoy. I do not mind spending money. But oh, oh, oh, how I hate to waste it. Or anything.
So I always check the grocery store’s bargain baskets and shelves. You never know what in hell they’ll be trying to get rid of. Case of decent wine, $7 a bottle? I’m on it. Ten jars of alfredo sauce, half price? Guess what we’re going to be eating. And the other day, I was at my local Fred Meyer buying ant poison and groceries. Stopped by the bargain corner, and saw boxes and boxes of Clif bars. Pumpkin Something and Iced Gingerbread.
I don’t care for Clif bars. Not that I hate them, just that if I were buying a chiseled-calf hipster-beard overpriced bicycle-advocate vegan granola-based energy bar, I’d pick almost anything else first. They neither look nor taste that appealing to me. And that’s good, because not only am I supposed to eat some form of breakfast, it has to meet my strict criteria:
It must cleanse my mouth of the residual coffee aftertaste, which I hate, and is the sole pleasure benefit of me eating in the morning.
It must require zero effort, because first thing in the morning, I will not make any, and if I have to speak, my first words will be vile.
It must be bearable without being appetizing, providing no temptation to overdo it, because I need to be less fat.
It must be minimalist, because I’m forcing myself to do this for reasons of good health. I really don’t want any food in the morning.
Pumpkin anything can be a weird taste for me, but I figured I’d buy a box of the Iced Gingerbread: twelve 59¢ breakfasts, and reasonably healthy to boot, would fit all my specifications. Paid, took home, tried them, found them bearable, and went back to the store to clean them out. Some days it’s helpful being absolutely indifferent to the looks you get, and believe me, when you have fourteen boxes of Clif bars in your shopping cart, you get some strange looks.
Cashier: “Wow. You must really like Clif bars.”
Me: “Nah, not much.”
Cashier: “Then how come you’re buying this many?”
(Such inquiries would be unthinkable some places, such as Seattle with its privacy bubbles. This is Idaho. In Idaho, people are rarely standoffish toward friendly conversation, and there is no invisible ‘I am the consumer and you must deify me’ bubble. Thus, by Idaho standards, this was not at all intrusive. He was acting like an Idahoan, presuming approachability and friendliness, anticipating only goodwill. Standoffishness would have shocked him, especially from a heavyset bearded guy, thus presumably an Idahoan Character. I find this aspect of Idaho invigorating. Seattle tolerates but ignores characters, not daring to comment, and any wacko buying fourteen cases of Clif bars is a character. Idaho talks to them and treats them like people. I will miss this.)
Me: “Cheap breakfasts, and nothing I’ll be tempted to eat two of. Yogurts cost over a buck, and are more perishable. I just saved myself about $80 over the next few months.”
(That, he understood completely. Idaho has a low minimum wage, vestigial social services, and a lot of very poor people, and the cashier was probably one of them. And his count was perfect: 168 Iced Gingerbread Clif bars.)
Cashier: “Enjoy! Have a great afternoon.”
Me: “I’ll try. You do the same.”
I’m writing this in March. By the time I have to start thinking about breakfast again, the leaves will be starting to turn autumn color. By my logic, the sicker I get of them, the better: less temptation, and more eating them out of obligation to realize value.
I was a terrifying accountant, in a past life.
My line of work involves a lot of sticker shock. I’m sometimes the recipient, as in: I look into a situation, discover that it would require me to work for about $1.75 per hour, and realize that there are people desperate enough to accept that and people ready to exploit that desperation. Other times, I’m the shocker rather than the shockee.
I don’t make public my pricing methodology, but it’s based on the amount of time and effort required to do the job right. That, in turn, is affected most by the size of the job and the depth of attention necessary. Length is always the biggest factor: if someone wants a critical read with suggestions, and the ms is 400 pages long, well, that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot more involved than a 120-page short novel, and will require much more mental juggling to keep track of everything. (That critical read would also be included in an editing job, if that were wanted, as part and parcel. But one must do as one was engaged to do.)
Proofreading is least expensive, because my brain really is not on the storyline, but on catching errors. The author failed to deliver adequate character development? Not my purview. Author made a grammatical error? Fix it and move on. Story is insipid? Not what I was hired to address. Big ton of loose spaces? Fix them. I go over the entire thing at least twice, but that’s simply because I am better at this than other people.
Editing is more expensive, and more variable, because it depends upon what shape the writing is in. Good writing costs less because it may have sentences that can stand without my intervention. Bad writing costs more because I have to make it into good writing. Editing also depends upon length, of course, and on intricacy and complexity. No two are alike, and different mss require different treatments. A one-method-fits-all approach would not help to transform the ms into the best book it can be.
This can mean that I send a ms back to the author with strong suggestions and observations, and suggest some reworking before we get into editing. What I am really saying there is: “This has some flaws I consider lethal. If I fix them for you, in the first place, it will be very expensive. In the second, it will be me supplying the creativity, because a rewrite has no boundaries. I think it’s better if the creativity and flow of ideas are yours; it’s your book. Consult me any time as you go, but I hope you’ll rework this.” If the author can’t or won’t do that, and still wants me to edit it, that’s a problem because I’m not comfortable sending out a fatally flawed book. That means…
…rewriting. I undertake this with great reluctance, but if someone insists and accepts the greatly inflated cost, I may decide to take it. Rewriting happens when either the writing or the story have such severe flaws that plain editing won’t suffice. It’s also rare, because in my experience the worse the writing, the more certain is the author of that writing’s perfection and brilliance. Distilled to the result, the combination of sticker shock and the notion of complete change of even the basic style (which can have no other meaning but “this isn’t good at all”) usually end up sparing me rewriting jobs. And that’s fine, because they are arduous. I would so much rather offer feedback and guidance so that I can simply edit a much-improved ms.
Composition or ghostwriting is the next level up. This happens when I don’t have a ms to work with, just notes or guidelines. Creating that ms is my task. I have done a great deal of it as a contributing author, and I like it well enough, but it’s even more work to do well, and costs even more. It can entail travel, interviewing, purchasing of books, library trips, transcription, and every other manner of research available to me.
Thus, if you’re hoping to keep the price within reason, keep the length within reason. Big book = big project.
The book industry has changed, in case you weren’t paying attention, and the downfall of the New York model has gone hand in hand with the changes in the game’s admission rules. The bar has dropped from ‘has to make the publisher money’ to ‘author has to be willing to shell out a little money or become a DIY publisher him/herself.’ If you don’t hire any editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover art or printing, there’s no noteworthy cost. It’s guaranteed to be lousy on some level, because just about no one who writes well does all the rest of that well, but congrats: you’re published.
In short, the ticket price has dropped to a sliding scale, but there is no parking or mass transit, and traffic is horrible.
If you self-publish, of course, you’re also the marketing department. (Even under other forms of publishing, you are still the marketing department, though it’s more comforting to pretend that you are not.) That means trying to get some book reviews up on Amazon, which probably has 90% of the market share, or on blogs or other bookselling sites. Most people will read at least a few book reviews before buying a book. A book with no reviews appears to be a book that has generated zero interest, and inspires like in the shopper.
Where this leads: if you’re written any Amazon reviews of any note at all, there are a lot more people seeking reviews than there once were. Naughty secret: for whatever it was worth, under the old Amazon review system where someone named Harriet Klausner ranked as #1 for years by writing about three book reports a day, my highest ranking (out of about 150,000 reviewers) was #73. In 2000, that got me about 1-2 review requests per month.
Today, under the new ranking system (in which my body of work is unremarkable) and having written about ten reviews in the last ten years, I get 1-2 review requests per week. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the exponential increase in self-marketers. Self-publishers, even those who hire professional assistance and produce quality work, are of necessity self-marketers. The self-publisher who is not also a self-marketer is either disinterested in making money, or disinterested in facing reality.
Some of those seeking reviews are doing it right, and some are doing it wrong. Here is how to do it right.
- The approach must be personal and by name. ‘Dear Reviewer’ is of minimal worth; that tells me it’s spam, and should be deleted.
- The approach must indicate why I was selected. A generalist approach (“as you have reviewed many books on Amazon…”) is a failure, because that tells me it’s spam.
- The why must be credible and sensible. At the least, it should refer to a genre of material I have read, and better that it include specific titles. I’m not saying that someone needs to butter me up, just that it needs not to look like spam.
- The offer must include a print copy of the book. Of course, this is not true for many reviewers, and is not possible for many books. To me, an author serious enough about wanting a review is serious enough to mail me a copy. Therefore, this one’s optional, as I have specific conditions that don’t apply to everyone else.
- The offer must not involve a pre-publication version, a.k.a. a galley. Galleys may be rarer today, but I remember a number of approaches where someone wanted me to review a .pdf of the galley. I don’t think too many reviewers are interested in pre-publication galleys–they want to review the book after it’s gone gold.
- The offer must include contact information beyond an e-mail address. This is business. We are real people. If you are an author, you’re a public figure on some level. Providing your contact information highlights your authenticity and encourages me to take you seriously. If you write under a pen name, you should provide your real name, or if not, explain candidly to me why you can’t (your ex-husband is a complete psycho, you are living under an assumed name in Ecuador, etc.).
- The offer must not put me on a mailing list of people to spam later. I will generally remember who has written to me before, so if you send out a second round hoping for better results, you won’t get those results from me. I realize that this sounds implausible; who would do such a stupid thing? Please believe me when I say that some people are so desperate for publicity, they will do exactly this. When I see it again, I get very grouchy. I had to report one author to her ISP.
- The offer must be phrased in your best writing. Because if you can’t write well when you step into my spotlight (and presumably are presenting yourself at your very best), that tells me that your book may be badly written. If I suspect that it is, I won’t proceed further.
Because my time is finite, and I don’t want to accept a commitment to read a book that will be torture to my brain. Especially when good practice demands that I drop whatever else I am reading and fulfill my commitment to read it.
Because I will then be expected to review it (and professional ethics demand that I do so in a timely manner), and I have zero fundamental desire to impale a book in public. The idea of harming an aspiring author’s prospects is completely counter to my line of work, my thought process and level of enthusiasm–it feels like a police officer ordered to slap around a nice elderly lady. Most would refuse.
Three, because I get nothing from this. I don’t have tremendous motivation to write book reviews, as anyone who looks at my body of work at Amazon (seven serious book reviews in the last four years) can tell. When I write a book review, I am donating my time almost for free, and to make it worse, Amazon is going to whore my review out to anyone it wishes (a major reason not to donate them free content).
Even if you do everything right, I may not end up accepting a review copy, and the reasons may have nothing to do with anything you said or did. I could just be too busy to do it right and on time. But if you do everything right, someone else will.