I Don't Want to be a Pirate - Writer, Maybe by Robert S. Swiatek - HTML preview
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1. Don’t you understand English?
2. Make some lemonade
3. Read my lips and other body parts
4. Everything causes cancer
5. Computers…you can’t live with them
6. How can I be overdrawn?
7. Sign before they read
8. Don’t get caught in the WEB
9. Mousse marketing madness
10. This little piggy went to market
11. Smoke peace pipe
12. Eye patches and peg legs
13. Help – I need a paddle
14. If at first you don’t succeed
15. Plant the potatoes now
16. When do you two get involved in this? 17. But that would leave you with one
18. Laughter is the best medicine
19. My English ain’t the best
20. Voodoo acupuncture
21. I wrote a song but . . .
22. She criticized my brownstone
23. “Are you experienced?”
24. Smile…people will wonder what you’re up to Dedication
This book is dedicated to Norie Freedman, Patty Lynch and Abbie Swierat, who left the earth way too soon and to my mom, since I’m sure her genes were responsible for this book. Also, I couldn’t have made it without her.
Langston Hughes wrote a book called, I Wonder As I Wander, which I thought was excellent and had a great title. The more I read, the more amazed I am by the appropriateness of the titles given to so many books. It almost seems as though there is a title meister out there who reads books and then comes up with these gems. You’ll see some of the explanations for my book titles as you read on.
Once you finish reading the last chapter of I Don’t Want to be a Pirate – you can’t just skip to it without reading the rest – you should realize where I came up with my title. Being a Seinfeld fan, I couldn’t resist taking Jerry’s line from the puffy shirt episode. A friend of mine mentioned that he didn’t think that particular show was one of the top twenty shows and though it had some good laughs, I agreed with him. But since it was memorable, I thought I would use it.
The first consideration for any writer is to have a catchy title, one that people won’t forget. My title could have been The Journey of an Author, but that sounds boring and probably won’t sell books. It’s also easily forgotten. A title should hang around like a hemorrhoid; thus readers might spread the word to others – about the book, not the other thing, which I don’t wish on anyone.
As you read the book, you should be amused and even have a few laughs. I’ll be disappointed if you don’t at least smile. My previous five books are each known for their entertaining quality – part of that is the specific connection to the title. You may not laugh as much as watching the episodes of Seinfeld dealing with the marble rye, mutton, the Junior Mint or The Cubans, but I sincerely hope that you feel that this book is almost as funny as my 2005 book, for seeing eye dogs only. People told me that they laughed body parts off while reading it. Next time I see them, I’ll have to check what’s missing and if it becomes them.
I have been writing for some time, as you will find out in this book. You will also discover where the idea for this book originated: a literary event in November 2005, in which I came very close to not participating. I will get into the details later. I feel that what I have learned from dealing with agents, publishers, writers, book stores and marketeers – you may have a different name for them but you haven’t been there – will be of some assistance to other prospective writers.
I think the word “expert” is a gross exaggeration or misnomer. I really don’t believe these people can be found, as least not on this planet. For example, consider the phrase, “terrorism expert.” I feel the term is misguided, since these individuals don’t exist. If they did, why do we still have terrorism? Actually, it seems like those who strap explosives to their bodies or drive vehicles loaded with bombs are the “experts.” They have short lives, but of course need not worry about retirement or paying off their Discover Card bill.
I certainly do not claim to, nor will I ever be an “expert,” despite my dealings with the industry. There’s so much yet to be learned; my growth associated with the book business continues with each passing day. If writing a book is not on your agenda, then my hope is at least that you will be entertained. If authors can benefit from anything in it, this book will be a success. By the same token, this book is intended to convince people that not everyone can be an author. It’s not an easy trip.
They say that experience is the best teacher. Added to that might be that it’s a hell of a way to learn. Heuristic learning is probably the best way to obtain knowledge, despite what comes with it. The first book I published, The Read My Lips Cookbook tells of my journey in the kitchen, cooking for myself while not poisoning others. I did make chicken salmonella once – it wasn’t intentional – but I was the only victim and it wasn’t fatal.
After departing my parents’ home – I wasn’t booted out – I was forced to cook out of necessity, which you can read about in the cookbook. This book chronicles another trip. Along the way, I have had moments of great exhilaration and joy as well as times of disappointment. Most of the despair had to do with the fact that I had to deal with people who reached a level of incompetence.
There is another connection of the title to the book business, which deals with the piracy in the writing industry. When a writer winds up with under a dollar for a book that retails for twelve or thirteen dollars and the middlemen, such as the publisher and bookseller split the rest, a great injustice has been done. After all, the author is the one without whom there would be no book! I don’t feel that such a pittance is a fair compensation for the effort. You can only call the resulting scenario piracy. And these people don’t have eye patches. That, by the way, was another funny Seinfeld episode.
An additional significance of the title has to do with the life of a pirate. Being on the high seas, this individual certainly experiences adventure. Invariably, there comes a time when things aren’t so rosy. The fan keeps getting struck when things hit it! Suppose he boards a boat seeking booty only to find out that the people on board have no cash, only American Express Travelers’ Checks. These are worthless to him, as he doesn’t have the ability to match the signature. His writing hand is the one with the hook.
When he heads over to the cafeteria for some grub – the dining room and chef have been replaced because of cutbacks in the corporation – he finds the main entree is tripe, something he can’t quite stomach. The soup de jour is black bean soup, another choice he doesn’t favor. If you haven’t read my first book, you’ll miss the laugh with this bluish gray dish, or is it grayish blue? There are times when this pirate wishes his bird friend would find another home. Life, as he knows it may have its thrills, but there are bad times as well, not unlike the world of a writer.
Another meaning of the title concerns the career paths people take. In many cases they may study mathematics and wind up as social workers. That deviation may not be all that bad and the individual may even find a great deal of satisfaction in an alternate path. Parents may put pressure on their children to become doctors or lawyers. Other parents may even say that they don’t care what a child does in life as long as she is happy. The best part may be that the father and mother actually mean it. Other offspring may not be as fortunate and as a result, the son revolts and says, “I don’t want to be a pirate!” He doesn’t say anymore since he’s not sure about writing.
After finishing this endeavor, I thought of a slight variation in the title, with the change of a mere word. I’m sure that you can guess which one. I felt it was a great alternative, but after weighing all the possibilities, I decided not to alter what I had. You’ll have to finish the book to really appreciate this other option and its significance. However, once you complete the journey, I’m sure you will agree that it would have been appropriate as well. My thought was to replace “Pirate” with “Bullfighter.” 1. Don’t you understand English?
It’s tough to determine what really gets one going in an endeavor but I believe my writing adventure started way back before I was a teenager. I lived in the city of Buffalo, not far from St. Luke’s Church, where our family worshipped. I also attended the school of the same name. Today those buildings now house the St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, located at 325 Walden Avenue in Buffalo and whose most important product is love. It is run by Amy Betros and Norm Paolini, and it provides compassion, food and shelter for the less fortunate.
My mom and dad rented a place at 375 Walden Avenue for the five of us – this included my two brothers, Tom and Ken. We lived upstairs and my parents tended a butcher shop on the first floor. My Mom was the main proprietor of the store as my Dad had a few other full time jobs. The business truly was a “Mom and Pop” store – they sold soda too! Dad was a workaholic and set an example for my brothers and sister relative to the work ethic. He also inspired me to write a book on work, which unfortunately he didn’t live to see published.
That’s probably enough of a background so let me continue. I had yet to reach my teenage years but I can recall some really exciting and happy moments at that address. Those came about when I went down the street to the library. Our family may not have been rich enough to travel to the ends of the earth but I made my own journeys through books. That small building provided me with the means to go to Europe, Africa or Asia without buying an airplane ticket. Yes, there was air transportation at that time even though the term “concord” referred to a type of grape and not a mode of high-class transportation. I can still recall the thrill of walking into a room with so many books and so little time.
Obviously I didn’t read Shakespeare and Milton in those days. I really can’t recall that many of the titles, but books piqued my interest in reading, which I think is a requisite if you plan to be a writer. I’ll spend more time developing this thought later. However, I did check books out and read most if not all of them. Soon I’d returned for another batch.
At that time libraries didn’t have CDs or DVDs or even videos. “Uncle Miltie” wasn’t a relative of mine – one of my uncles reminded me of him, or maybe it was the other way around – but I did watch his program on a black and white screen. For those of you who are not older than dirt, “Uncle Miltie” refers to Milton Berle, the great comedian on the Texaco Star Theatre beginning in the late 1940s. Television was in its infancy and there were only two major networks. ABC had not yet arrived on the scene. Maybe I didn’t view that much TV because there were no “reality” shows. Perhaps my limited television viewing had something to do with a preference for the written word. One good thing about that situation is that it ingrained in my brain the conviction that books were so much better than the addictive box in the living room. Today, the gap has gotten even wider and there is no sign that it will ever get close again!
We moved from that home to the house on Borden Road in Depew that my mom sold in the fall of 2004. My siblings and I, including my sister Pat, who was born after we moved, lived there through most of our childhoods and all of our teen years while my mom and dad spent half their lives there. Though I wasn’t to see that library in Buffalo ever again, I found other ones. I continued reading and towards the end of my years at St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster, I got involved with the school paper. This may have been the real beginning of my life as a writer.
Senior year I was the sports editor of the paper, The Lance and I became an ink-stained wretch. I wrote articles about the major sports: baseball, basketball and football. When you’re the boss, you can write about the sports you like and pass off the other less desirable work to your subordinates. I had a system for getting information for the games as I created a log of the game I covered. In football, I reported each play in a notebook and, in effect had a playby-play account of the game, which went something like this. Bob Gaiek, number 16 carried the ball for a 15-yard gain; I would write “16 – 15G.” Marty Scherrer, number 18 completed a 20-yard pass to Tom Schmitt, number 14; I would record, “18 to 14 – 20G.” Of course, to be able to accurately note each play, I roamed the sideline. This approach seemed to work quite well until one afternoon Coach Woj needed a person to work the chains and I was volunteered. The “chains” – still in use today, despite technology – consisted of a ten yard chain connected by two poles with a third pole, all of which determines where the ball is on the field and if enough yards were gained for a first down. You’ll have to look up the rest. Suffice it to say this additional assignment resulted in quite a challenge as now I had multiple tasks.
Somehow I managed, and throughout the year, I wrote the articles for these sporting events. Writing about the games was thrilling but I’m sure it wasn’t very exciting for people reading about the contests. As a writer in high school in 1960, even if I had a scandal to spice up the piece, I wouldn’t have added that to the article. My writing could only be described as ho-hum. It just relayed what had happened on the playing field in factual detail and wasn’t very colorful. I don’t recall any humor being tossed in.
However, I do remember writing an article for Mrs. Jack Cavanaugh’s English class that raised a few eyebrows. It was a humorous spoof on “women drivers.” It was tonguein-cheek and I apologize to all the females who were or may be offended by this. We all know that neither sex has a monopoly on atrocious behavior behind the wheel. But anyway, my teacher loved what I had composed and got a few laughs. She encouraged me in my writing and this may have been the spark that really got me going in the books that I have had published so far.
I had the pleasure of attending the 45th reunion of my high school class on Labor Day weekend in 2005. I was part of the committee for the event and some of my classmates brought in some memorabilia from our high school days. This included copies of the school paper, which had articles in it that I put together. I didn’t read them as I figured I had better things to do than read boring sports features.
On that Saturday before Labor Day, I saw one of my classmates for the first time in over thirty years. This individual also shares my sense of humor. On talking to this graduate, Mrs. Cavanaugh’s name came up again. I was told a story that reminded me of the comedian Gallagher, the king of the “Sledge-o-matic.” I had the opportunity to absorb his act at Melody Fair in North Tonawanda in the late 1990s. That town is a suburb of Buffalo to the north and Melody Fair still exists but the name has been changed.
When I walked into the “circle in the round,” I noticed that every seat was covered in plastic and there was an additional plastic bag on top of each chair. There’s a very good reason for this and you know what it is if you are familiar with this comedian. For those of you who have never heard of him, he is noted for smashing watermelons with a gigantic custom-made sledgehammer, thus the plastic on all the seats. The plastic bag on top of each chair is for the spectator to crawl into when melon meets mallet. As you can imagine, this encounter isn’t necessarily that spectacular, but it can be refined. Gallagher showed that he had made minor changes in his methods to enhance the viewing pleasure of those in attendance.
All around the performance hall stage sat perhaps a half dozen butcher-block tables. Eventually, each held an aluminum pie plate, whose contents would be introduced separately to the sledgehammer. As Gallagher got through his act, he described mixing foods to achieve better projective action and more dynamic visual effects. Of course, this would mean more people would get slimed, and with a greater quantity of whatever wound up in the pie plate. He mixed Pepto Bismol with dog food and then asked if that didn’t remind the audience of Spam. He wound up mixing quite a few of these concoctions, with Ragu being thrown in to the mix. Eventually, as the show ended, with just the right lighting, the smashing began. It was quite a show. Think of it as fireworks minus the gunpowder.
If you get a chance to see him perform, don’t miss the show, but wear clothes that are ready to be tossed into the laundry or into the garbage. Gallagher is very graphic, although he’s not rated X by any means; he is also a great cerebral artist. I recorded one of his appearances on the Tonight Show and he mentioned that when he was in school he got an “F’ on one of his papers. It was his opinion. He got an “F’ on his thoughts! It was his feeling about the school. He said, “Your home economics teachers are divorced, your physical education teachers are fat and your shop teachers haven’t got all their fingers.”
The reason I bring the Gallagher remark up is that my classmate of so long ago mentioned writing a paper for Mrs. Cavanaugh that she raved about, resulting in an “A.” However, she said she couldn’t return the paper but had to burn it. She didn’t want anyone else to see it as she could lose her job. What my classmate had written was a hilarious but scathing essay on the teachers in the school. I wonder if Gallagher somehow got a hold of the piece and used it in his act!
I did graduate from St. Mary’s – in four years – and went on to college. In the years after high school, I didn’t write for any school paper but was forced to come up with sociology, English, theology and philosophy papers from time to time. Fortunately I didn’t have to do any theses in all my years in college and at the universities I attended – undergraduate and graduate. Of course, I read extensively for one course after another, although if I had my way, I would have read books other than those assigned me. But I had no choice in the matter.
Throughout my life, I have always read a great deal: magazines, newspapers as well as books. I have subscribed to Time, Newsweek and News and World Report as well as more interesting publications like Gourmet, Prevention and Conservationist. I’m ashamed to admit I even had a subscription to TV Guide. If you want to be informed about what’s on the tube without actually turning on your television, read the Guide.
Magazines and papers may be fine for information, but they are very limited, especially the latter. There’s much more knowledge in the books at the library. I mentioned my early adventures at that building but, even today, I spend a great deal of time going there to borrow books. Having moved so much in years past, I have had library cards in quite a few cities – probably most if not all. Of course, today not only can you get books, you can also find music and movies to borrow. You can also find back issues of magazines and newspapers. While living and teaching in Binghamton, New York in the early 70s, I even borrowed art from the library for my apartment. At that time, not only did I rent the rooms, I also rented – the wrong word, since I didn’t pay a cent, but you get the idea – what was on the wall! Today, I need not do that. However, my time in that part of the state had a great deal to do with my writing, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
You probably figured out that the title of this chapter refers to a rhetorical question made by many parents to their kids, “Don’t you understand English?” Since I talked about my youth, that specifically was the connection. However, I need to add that there is an answer to that question, although as a child you probably shouldn’t utter it. It comes from the sharp mind of George Carlin. His reply: “Not completely.” 2. Make some lemonade
You have to start somewhere or more specifically, if you’re going to be a writer, there has to come a time when you create your first book. Events may seem disastrous and though you might not realize it, they will lead you to happenings that will make a difference later. Though it may have taken time before I came to this understanding, my days in the Triple Cities of the Southern Tier of New York played a huge part in my becoming an author.
In the fall of 1972, I was teaching mathematics full time at North High School in Binghamton. Fran, a good friend and fellow teacher at the school, convinced me to join the male chorus in which he sang. My girlfriend had just moved back to Maryland at the end of the previous school year and I felt I needed to do something else to occupy my mind so I wouldn’t jump off one of the bridges – Binghamton has a few rivers and hence those things that traverse them. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but I had to keep my sanity. Love does that to you sometimes! So I decided to write a book on computer math for high school students – romance novels were out of the question, then and even now. I had been teaching mathematics for over five years and had recently received a degree in computer science from the School of Advanced Technology at Binghamton University, so I figured I had the qualifications.
The book would use the computer language, APL, which stands for A Programming Language. It is a very scientific language, not unlike C+ or C++ today and it was one of the languages we learned at the University. I got started and between teaching, writing, singing once a week and visiting friends on the weekend, I didn’t have much free time. You might say I had a relatively full schedule. I also was moderator of the chess club at school and during football season, I helped out at the concession stand and learned a great deal about popcorn. It cost a nickel to make and you could sell it for a quarter. In fact, the chess club borrowed the machine, sold popcorn and bought some nice chess sets for the group with the profits.
I really got going on the book and enjoyed every minute of writing. Sometime in the spring of 1973, the book was done. A few friends of mine at the University gave me some names of publishers that might want to print the book, so I sent off some queries. I couldn’t email them as my PC had crashed. The recipients asked for the manuscript so I sent out copies of what I had written. There was interest but eventually the book didn’t get published. I left Binghamton in the fall of 1973 and headed to a new teaching assignment in Wappingers Falls, New York, with the manuscript.
Despite the fact that it wasn’t published, a few things were accomplished by my efforts. I did teach a class in computer math at John Jay High School in Hopewell Junction shortly thereafter, using another text but supplementing my teaching with the my computer math book. I also seemed to be cured of my “love sickness.” More important, I got the opportunity to conceive a book, design it and actually write it. I found confidence that I would later use when I decided to begin another book. Without this effort, I may never have attempted to undertake that a similar project. Of course, at the time, I had not come to the realization of the benefits of my endeavors.
The moral of the story – taught by the above experience – is never give up. The connection to the title of this chapter should be quite obvious. My lemonade may not have sold, but it didn’t go to waste and I got the benefit of the vitamin C. If you don’t know how to make lemonade, find someone who can. It’s really a shame to let all those lemons spoil.
Since the book didn’t get published, I put it in a box in the closet. As you might guess, that box got moved from town to town, as I seemed to be a vagabond. Actually, that may be an incorrect term as I really wasn’t “homeless” although “wandering” definitely applied. There is a bumper sticker that says, “Not all who wander are lost,” and that applied to me. Since I moved out of my parents’ home in 1968 until the end of 1988, I had lived in eighteen different places. I’m happy to report that since late 1988, I have only had four addresses, so I seem to be settling down.
I mentioned starting out as a high school math teacher, which I did for eight years in five schools in four school systems. While in Binghamton I taught at Central High School as well as North High, which no longer exists. The two schools were merged into one, some years ago. While teaching at John Jay High, my girlfriend at the time suggested we head over to Nestle Foods and apply for jobs since they were hiring computer programmers.
I drove her in my orange 1975 Subaru, a car I really liked and I’m sure she did too. Its predecessor was a 1971 Audi Super 90, which I’m sure she was happy never to see again. Originally the Super 90 was a four speed but at its demise, it was reduced to two gears, second and fourth. Reverse was no longer an option. The car was fine if you only wanted to go forward – something I advocate – but it was quite a challenge for parking; I had to make sure that I could always pull ahead or find someone willing to push the beast. My girlfriend wasn’t too thrilled when we went to New York City for dinner and a play and reverse gear was missing. She was inside at the wheel, complaining; I did the pushing.
I did have the necessary parts ordered to bring it back to normal, whatever that was relative to an Audi. I mention that because whenever I started the vehicle, the back end produced a puff of white smoke and no pope was being elected. Later I was informed that this was not unusual! Maybe, what I went through was routine for that car. Well, I was tired of waiting for the parts so I bought the Subaru.
Anyway, we got to Nestle’s and applied for work. Shortly thereafter I was called in for an interview and hired, but she wasn’t. I guess that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. Some people just can’t take a joke. It probably was for the better.
I worked at the Nestle Company as a programmer analyst and eventually system analyst for almost four years. I met a guy who convinced me I should become a consultant and Sal introduced me to two brothers who ran a consulting firm. They grilled me and interviewed me on numerous occasions to see if I could fit in as a consultant. I journeyed to downtown Manhattan for an interview at Bankers’ Trust Bank, across from the World Trade Center and easily got the contract. Thus began my journey as a software consultant, which lasted for over 22 years. There’s an entire chapter on my consulting adventures in a book I completed in the summer of 2001, Tick Tock, Don’t Stop: A Manual for Workaholics. There’s also a chapter on management entitled, BOSS spelled backwards is double S O B.
It was during the time that I was a consultant in the early 1980s that I read Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein and Lee Lorentz. By the way, I don’t like quiche. The book is very short, about 85 pages but it’s somewhat amusing. It may even have made the best-seller list. After I got through it, I decided I could write a similar book. Don’t forget, by this time I had already written one book, even if it was sitting in a box, unpublished. I actually felt I could write a book that was better than the one I had just read. Boy, was I naïve!
Before I tell about that idea, I need to relate my recent Amazon search for Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche. I found the book on Amazon and could have bought a used copy for one cent or a bit more. The shipping fee will be four hundred times that, although I would recommend getting the book from the library if you really want to read it. On Amazon, I saw a review of the book that used the words, “Real Men Don’t Buy this Book.” I guess the reader didn’t care for it. Perhaps I was right when I decided that I could produce something better than the Feirstein and Lorentz effort. However, that wouldn’t be for some years.
But getting back to my reading Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, I thought about writing a book about the English language with all its expressions, sayings and clichés. It would be an attempt at humor, just like the book I had read, dealing with phrases and words through the eyes of someone who initially had no knowledge of English. However, this person would sign up for courses in the language and would eventually graduate, learning the rules as well as the exceptions in the language.
By this time, my younger brother had studied Russian while my older brother got involved with Japanese, so much so that he spent two full years in Japan learning that tongue. Personally, I had only studied Latin, German and French, none of which I found difficult. I felt Russian and Japanese were tough but I find it hard to believe that English isn’t the most difficult language.
Returning to our foreigner who is ready to make it in a strange land by speaking her new adopted language, she is soon confused when she starts her job in corporate America. The employees seem to be talking in English but she has no idea what they are talking about, especially the preponderance of groups of letters that are peppered throughout the conversation. We know these as acronyms, such as PC (Prone to Crashes) and FEMA (Forsaking Every Means of Assistance.) Her friend, who went through the same English program, is in the same boat. (No, they came here by plane and didn’t have to row to make it ashore!) As he starts work in a computer job, he is baffled by what the staff is talking about. It appears that corporate America and the computer business have their very own language as well.
A similar feeling occurs when these novices to the mother tongue get involved with sports or the music industry. The words may be familiar by themselves, but combined with others, the result makes no sense to this couple whatever. When they turn on the television and listen to a politician speak, the confusion only increases as what is being offered sounds somewhat like words except they can’t be found in Webster’s dictionary. Some people like to create their own words. These are the very reasons why I believe English is the hardest language to learn.
Fortunately, with this difficulty and confusion comes a blessing as I can take advantage of the situation and write a book about expressions, sayings and clichés from the point of view of someone who has only a cursory knowledge of English. Comedians have taken advantage of just this scenario over the years and I was to try my hand as well. The book was to be entitled, You’ve Got My Word!
I got started and it didn’t take too long to finish. The book was rather short but I felt long enough. Nonetheless, it was missing something. I thought it could be funnier if I had some of the anecdotes and ideas illustrated. As luck would have it, a friend of mine was casually dating this woman who was a graphic artist and she kind of agreed to do what I needed in the book. However, at the end of a Sunday in April 1983, she became lukewarm to the idea and a few months later became lukewarm to my friend. Thus You’ve Got My Word wasn’t done. I put it in the box in the closet on top of my other manuscript. However, somehow it would be resurrected in the future.
3. Read my lips and other body parts
I moved back to Westchester County in the middle of 1988 and bought a condominium in South Salem and found a new home, although not in that same order. Actually, I rented first before making the purchase. My place was on a lake with gaggles of Canada geese – yeah, there were lots of them, although I didn’t mind. My residence was close to the Connecticut border, between New Canaan and Ridgefield.
I know I’m jumping ahead, but these fine creatures bring to mind an incident that occurred in the spring or summer of 2005. My present home is very close to the Ellicott Creek Trailway, a paved path that covers over ten miles and is used by skateboarders, those on roller blades, joggers, bikers and others. I’m one of the others, as I walk about four miles each day, provided the trail is not covered with ice or snow and it’s not raining. No one wants to fall on his buckles and why get wet if you can avoid it?
On the day in question, I noticed some maintenance guys with chain saws attacking a huge, beautiful willow tree very close to the path. I asked what they were doing and one of the men mentioned that they were just trimming a few branches. On my return trip or perhaps it was the next day, I noticed that the willow had been transformed into a stump about two feet high. Today, there is no sign that this tree ever existed.
The next day I noticed some other maintenance people busily cleaning up a mess along the trail. Canada geese don’t have bank accounts – well perhaps in Canada – but they can still make deposits (I’m not sure about withdrawals or mortgages,) and that’s just what they did. I mean, this stuff covered a good portion of the trail that I traversed. At first, I joked to myself that this was revenge against those maintenance maulers for what they had done the day before to that defenseless willow. However, this was no gag and really seemed to be payback. The geese weren’t happy about what had taken place. I base my conclusion on the fact that in my being on the trail for over two years before and after this debacle, I had never seen a doo-doo dropping development like this.
Getting back to my stay in South Salem, it was not long after I got settled in that I started to develop gastrointestinal problems. I got the name of a highly recommended physician from a friend of mine living in the area and proceeded to have a few tests done. After a few weeks of trips to medical buildings for tests, including a lower GI Joe Series, no conclusion was made and I went about my daily existence, accepting whatever may have developed in this matter. However, as I will get into later, this was only the beginning of more trouble down the road.
I was still doing software consulting and thought about buying a word processor and soon purchased one. I really liked it and someone else felt the same way because in a few years after I moved to East Aurora, a suburb of the city of Buffalo in Western New York, these same admirers broke into my house and stole it along with some other almost worthless electronic equipment. It was a good excuse to buy some new stuff. I will get back to this theft a bit later.
The reason I bought this successor to the typewriter, besides the obvious comparison of the two, was because I figured I would write another book. This was to be a cookbook, featuring recipes that tasted good, were economical, healthy and uncomplicated. These are qualities that most people look for in a cookbook, but I realized that those reasons alone wouldn’t entice people to purchase it. The book was to be somewhat biographical, with eight chapters, one for each of the many places in which I lived. Each chapter would cover seven days of main meals and thus the book would feature fifty-six meals as well as ideas for party menus towards the end of the work. The cookbook would parallel the journey I followed after I left my parents’ home but it would also be a narrative of how I progressed with my skills in the kitchen, improving with each day.
Because I was to relate culinary events that I happened to be a part of, there would be a few humorous instances thrown into the book. However, it would instruct at the same time and was intended for beginners, experienced cooks and those who never intended to get anywhere near a kitchen. I would close each chapter with an anecdote or joke about food, so there would be no shortage of laughs. As I found out years later on publication, the number of laughs was beyond my wildest dreams.
I finished the book and then decided it was no benefit to place on top of the other two unpublished books in the closet, which had become a bit more permanent by this time as I stayed at this address for longer than at any other. I checked Writers’ Digest and got the name of a few companies that published cookbooks and sent out a few query letters, probably a dozen or two. It wasn’t long before I got back some replies. Actually, it would be more precise to say rejections. One of the people took what I had sent and wrote two words on it, which I couldn’t quite decipher at first. After a while I determined that it said, “Not interested.” Now you might think that that was bad and the person quite lazy but it was much better than the publishers who didn’t even respond!
Since that wasn’t working, I needed a different approach. I went back to Writers’ Digest and thought that maybe I needed to find someone to represent me. Agents know who is publishing what and when and they have some connections in the industry, something I certainly didn’t have. I found a few and decided to write Barbara Bauer in New Jersey with a query as well as a sample of my writing. She agreed to do it, if I paid her. Nothing comes for free, so I sent a check along with the manuscript for the cookbook, with the title I mentioned earlier.
You probably have a good idea of the origin of that title, if you follow politics at all. The first President Bush, George Herbert Walker made a statement, “Read my lips…no new taxes.” Of course, he could always raise the old ones for generating revenue. He chose to raise taxes, broke his promise and eventually lost in his reelection bid in 1992. Thus, the first book I had published had some politics connected to it.
That was part of it but also remember that at this time, the country was in a recession. That meant money was a bit harder to come by and people couldn’t go out to dinner as often as they desired. They were forced to stay home and cook for themselves. The solution was my cookbook, which could result in delicious meals as well as a few laughs. Who needs dinner at a fancy café or bistro?
An idea came to me three years after the book was published. I justified the original title with some really fuzzy logic. There’s another meaning to it. Before I proceed, I should relate that the full title is The Read My Lips Cookbook: A Culinary Journey of Memorable Meals. I have already alluded to the significance of the subtitle when I related the journey from my parents’ home as well as my trip becoming proficient in the kitchen. Thomas Fortenberry of Midwest Book Review loved the book but he felt that the subtitle better represented the theme of the book. He didn’t think the main title appropriate, and I can’t really blame him, as I didn’t see it myself until recently. It’s the fact that the “lips” reference deals with a part of the body which first experiences the delicacies of the kitchen. It is part of the mouth, without which we really couldn’t enjoy chocolate mousse or a prime rib. Think of the expression “lip smacking good.” But also consider the smile on someone’s lips, as in a good laugh, and you can make the real connection to the title. I should probably use this concept in my marketing endeavors.
When I sent off the manuscript to Barbara Bauer, I could barely spell “marketer” and it was the farthest thing from my mind. At least I was on my way. However, I couldn’t wait around and had to begin another book so I decided to write a novel about the national lottery. I would use my experience with computers and statistics to create a tale of intrigue and deception with some politics, fear and food thrown in. Naturally my hero would be a software consultant from Buffalo, John Kuzinski, who would get all caught up in events.
I promised more details about the break-in at my home in the early 1990s. I had gone on a long weekend trip to visit friends of mine and when I returned on a holiday Monday in November, the day was quite gloomy. It was mid afternoon but the sun was missing and the sky was a blackish gray in East Aurora. I used my garage door opener to bring my car inside and when I opened the door leading into the kitchen, I noticed that I had left a light on in the house, something I rarely do. Before long I got to the realization that it was not a single light, as there were others.
On entering my kitchen and dining room, I felt a cold draft and saw that the sliding glass door in the latter room was slightly open, accounting for the chill. Moving over to the living room, I noticed an absence of a few pieces of electronic equipment. It was then that I realized that someone had broken into my home. An awful, horrible sensation overwhelmed me, and I injected this feeling into my novel.
That’s all I can tell you about the break-in and the book. If I say too much, you won’t buy it. But anyway, I finished it and called it, Don’t Bet On It, a title with a double meaning. The first is the obvious warning about not buying those lottery tickets and the more subtle significance has to do with things not being what they appear to be, a concept called deception that is found throughout the novel. I used the food angle to tie into my cookbook, as at the end of the novel I mention that the recipes for much of the food described in the novel can be found in my cookbook. You can’t do enough marketing.
Once this work of fiction was done, I figured it was much too short so I drove to the library and picked up a few books on lotteries. This gave me some new insights about the games, which I laced throughout the book, making it more informative. Thus anyone who reads it should find quite a few interesting facts about LOTTO. Much of what I added was new to me as well. Once this was done, I sent off this manuscript to my agent.
If you are wondering why I didn’t ship out my first two manuscripts, it’s only because they weren’t quite ready for consideration for publication. The computer math text was too scientific while You’ve Got My Word still needed to be illustrated. Nonetheless, I may have rested, but it was not for long, as I soon began another book. Since I had been in the business world for about twenty years, I figured it was time to write about it. I wasn’t very happy with my dealings with corporate America, so I don’t have to tell you that this new book wouldn’t sing its praises.
I have always found that the word, “business” seems to have bad connotations. Just consider the expressions, “None of your business,” “Mind your own business,” and “Business as usual,” for starters. I decided on the title, Give Him The Business, and I related my fun times at the post office, banks and just dealing with buying something as well as my work experience. I enjoyed my years as a teacher but I also had a few interesting stories to tell, mostly about the administration. I had plenty of examples from consulting, so I wouldn’t be short of material. It’s always fun to poke fun at management. Eventually I wrote another book called They Gave Us the Business and it’s on my PC somewhere.
I finished that more personal business book and sent it off to Barbara in New Jersey and followed that up with a collection of essays on a variety of topics. Some of these were controversial, such as divorce and drugs. Since I am neither a drug user nor have I ever been married – so I could never have been divorced – you might feel that I’m have no qualifications to talk about either of these topics. However, I have seen many examples of what harm both drugs and the separation of people who were once married can do to others. It’s not a way for anyone to live.
I gave this latest book the title, Think Again, Dude, as in, God gave you a brain, so use it. This would be a theme of a few other books that I would create in the future, especially books on missing intelligence, the first of which was published in June of 2005. Once the Dude book was complete, I sent it off to my agent and she now had four of my manuscripts. You might think that I was quite prolific while still having a full time job as a software consultant but these four books were written over the course of about six years. I don’t write epics, as most of my books are under 200 pages, which is the length of the cookbook. Reading shorter books means you can read more of them! The book published in 2005 has fewer than 120 pages, but it has a lot of laughs.
We are now in the last few years at the end of the decade, century and millennium and I had yet to meet my agent. We had conversed on the phone on a few occasions and I had renewed my contract with her yearly. Every so often I would get postcards from her stating that I had a “bite.” This had nothing to do with me being in the Everglades and having been attacked by mosquitoes or a croc. It only indicated that a publisher expressed interest in one of my books. The manuscripts in consideration were the cookbook and the book on business. There was hope on the horizon.
In October 1996, I signed a contract in Rochester at Blue Cross and Blue Shield to work on the Year 2000 project. They had a few systems and wanted to get a good jump on the work so there wouldn’t be any problem when the year 2000 reared its ugly head. About a year and a half later I left them to do another Y2K thing for the County of Monroe, in downtown Rochester. My work on those projects triggered my next book called, 2000 Headaches, and I don’t have to tell you what it was all about. It didn’t have to be a long book and I sent that off to Barbara Bauer as soon as I could. This book only would be good for a short while, unless I brought it back for Y3K!
As you can surmise, I’m fascinated by book titles. I mentioned for seeing eye dogs only earlier. It actually used the third idea I had for a title, but I will talk about that later. You’ve heard the expression, “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” I certainly agree, but I do believe you can sell a book by its cover, and I might add by its title. Some of the books that I read, but may never have even considered had they had different titles, include: Five Finger Discount by Helene Stepinski, Muddy Socks and Red Boots by Malcolm Browne, Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, If the Gods Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates by Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins Can Say That, Can She? by Molly Ivins, Jeffrey Marx’s Season of Life and Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son by Peter Manseau.
That brings me to the title of this chapter. By now you’ve figured out that the “body parts” refers to the head, brain, tongue and the mouth. I hate anything to do with plumbing, whether in my home, but especially in my body, but I’ll have to add that other internal organs come to mind. They too could be implied in the title. In my case, this period would be a time when events relating to those parts of my body occurred which I wish I didn’t have to relate. 4. Everything causes cancer
You may have heard of Joe Jackson and I’m not referring to the baseball player of the early twentieth century. This Joe is a musician who came into his own in the 1980s. One of his songs has the title that you see above. Most of us don’t have much concern for certain types of illness since they probably won’t hit us. I felt that way about cancer until Labor Day weekend of 1998.
I earlier referred to some intestinal discomfort I had at the end of the 1980s while living in South Salem. Well, I had a recurrence in early 1998 so once again I had a few more tests done. As before, the doctors couldn’t find anything so I went on, putting up with my discomfort. Some days were fine and others weren’t that great but I carried on. At one time I figured I had an allergy to some type of food but it seemed that everything I ate bothered me. In the days leading up to early September of 1998, the situation would get much worse.
I have never had any problem at the dinner table. You may have heard of the expression, “Don’t be afraid to eat.” Well, that never applied to me, ever, at least until the summer of that year. My friend Sal, the one who recommended I become a consultant, was visiting in Buffalo and we spent the Saturday morning before Labor Day at a winery in Westfield, south of the city. We then headed over to the White Inn for lunch. I ordered a roast beef sandwich but a funny thing happened: I took one or two bites and I was suddenly full. This was repeated hours later when we went to the Pearl Street Grill in Buffalo for dinner.
I survived the weekend but on Tuesday morning I wasn’t feeling too good. I called in sick to work at Monroe County in Rochester and did so for the remainder of the week. I ate and drank a bit but couldn’t empty my system of solid waste. I called my doctor, we tried a few things but not much helped and he said if things didn’t get better in a few days, I should check into the emergency room at Sisters’ Hospital. On Saturday, I called my sister Pat and she drove me to the hospital. I hate getting graphic so let me just say that x-rays taken that night found a blockage in my colon and surgery was performed to take care of the problem, specifically a colostomy. If you’re not sure what that surgery involves, you probably need to watch more hospital shows. You could also do a google search on the Internet to satisfy your curiosity.
After the surgeon was through with me, I awoke on Sunday morning and wasn’t too happy, feeling like I had gotten run over by a truck. I urge you to avoid that possibility at all costs, if you can, even if it’s a small vehicle. Cancer was found but Dr. Naim Dawli, the surgeon who I had not known before that day but now know quite well, mentioned that he thought he had removed all the destructive cells and I probably would need neither chemotherapy nor radiation treatments. The days and weeks that followed were difficult but I was quite lucky and blessed.
This reminds me of a song by the poet, songwriter and singer, Arlo Guthrie. In the 1970s, I had a record album of various performers, one of which was Arlo doing a song called, The Pause of Mr. Claus. I’ve been trying to locate the song without much success. The piece deals with the CIA, Santa Claus, being down on your luck and rebellion, as in the 60s. Just think about Mr. Guthrie’s famous song and movie, Alice’s Restaurant. Anyway, in the song, Arlo mentions that we may feel down and out but just consider the very last guy. There’s no one who has it worse than him. I may have had a tough time but I was very fortunate.
At the end of November of 1998, I had a reverse colostomy and after a recovery of a few weeks, in the middle of January of 1999, I reported back to work in Rochester to continue on the Y2K project that I had started months before. I was glad they kept the desk that I had occupied open for me.
This contract paid well for a task that should never have ever come up. I elaborate on that feeling in a book on work that I would write later. We had our desks in the basement, which was really quite dusty, although it was a great deal worse before major cleanup was done. When I arrived, the environment was still a good reason to leave your best clothes home. I remember wearing a sweater, which at one time was white. That was the hue it had when I first wore it there but soon it matched my gray suit – which I refused to wear to work. The sweater had really gotten filthy. I did take it to the cleaners and they did a magnificent job in restoring it. However, I never wore it on the contract again.
I had to wear this extra piece of clothing because the place was frigid. It was in the basement so maybe those in charge figured there was no reason to touch the thermostat. Some of the other people on the project discussed the matter with me. I came up with the suggestion that perhaps there was an agreement between management at Monroe County and our consulting firm. The plan was to keep the place so cold that they could freeze us and then bring us back for the Y3K project.
When I resumed the contract in January 1999, the first few days were a challenge but not unbearable. I managed to stay overnight in town rather than driving back to Buffalo, which helped a good deal. With each passing day, I recovered more and more and by the spring I was a great deal better. Around this time, I headed out to meet Barbara Bauer, my agent, for the first time. We couldn’t meet at her place in New Jersey so instead got together at the Newark Airport. Either her office was too small or too cluttered or both. I never did find out the real reason.
Barbara was pleased with what I had written and wanted me to keep up what I was doing. She insisted that I spend fifteen minutes every day writing, no excuses and no exceptions. That wasn’t much but it was the key to eventual success. She set a goal of ten books for me over the course of ten years. By this time she had five of my manuscripts, not counting the two books in storage, so I wasn’t far off. Before I departed, she gave me a novel or two by some of her writers but they appeared to be trash, romance books so I never opened them. Don’t tell her!
I recently finished reading Finding Fish by Antwone Quenton Fisher, the memoir of a man who spent his youth in foster homes but overcame tremendous odds. His inspiring story was made into the movie, Antwone Fisher, which you may have seen. Everyone should read this book. In it, the author mentions that we all should experience being homeless and going without. It changes your perspective and gives a greater appreciation for what you have.
At the time of my surgery in September 1998, I went through a long stretch of time without taking in food. Anyone who does the preparation for a colonoscopy on the day before realizes that he might get a bit hungry as well as saddle sore. If you don’t get that one, do another google search on the web. By the way, that process is painless, a pain in the you-know-what for more ways than one, but a good idea, which I really recommend. Today, going a few hours without food or even a day is no big deal for me. My cancer certainly did give me a new lease and outlook on life.
In the days that followed my hospitalization and recovery, I got involved with environmental issues that I wouldn’t have been so concerned about had I not been stricken with that awful disease. I joined the Cheektowaga Citizens Coalition (CCC), which you can read about in my book on the environment, a finalist on the Indie Excellence 2007 book awards. I hope to have it published in 2008 and I will say a few more words about the CCC later.
5. Computers…you can’t live with them
The title above is a variation on the words of Ted Bundy, the husband on the TV show Married with Children, not the serial killer. This program didn’t discriminate and delighted in deriding and demeaning all people, something like The Family Guy. Shots were taken at each of the family members or anyone else who happened to be nearby. It’s not my favorite kind of humor as it makes fun of people, as is the case with blonde or ethnic jokes. Rather than tell those kind, change it to lawyer or politician jokes and then I can accept it. I was going to suggest “criminal lawyer” or “dumb politician” stories but those are pleonasms.
Nevertheless, despite the shallowness, the program did have a few good laughs. On one occasion, Ted said, “Women…you can’t live with them.” That’s all he said. As you can tell, I changed one of his words. Knowing my background, you can probably see the significance of the title. By the end of the chapter, it will become even more relevant.
As the decade of the 1990s was winding down, I discovered that my niece Elizabeth had artistic talents. She was in high school and I asked her if she would like to do the illustrations for You’ve Got My Word. She figured why not and got started. She was about halfway done but wasn’t really pleased with her work. She didn’t think the illustrations were that good. Nonetheless, I looked at her artwork and told her it was perfect, exactly what I wanted. Now I only had to convince her to finish them.
She was going to school and soon got a part-time job that on too many weeks seem to be full-time. With school, work and partying, it’s difficult to finish drawings, even if it they are for your favorite uncle. Once she enrolled at the University at Buffalo to study art, I knew that the book would go back into storage, even though it was a lot closer to getting finished. Sometimes it’s not worth coming out of the closet!
Around this time I had another idea for a book. It would be about the dumb things that people say and do. I started to collect material in a vanilla folder, as opposed to chocolate or lemon since I just love vanilla. All right, it really was a manila folder from the Far East. I had a few things already and kept adding stuff every day. As I read different things, I discovered potential laughs based on stupidity and I put it into the binder. I decided to call this effort, (What) Was I Thinking? I thought this was a great title as it really could be two titles, depending on whether you left out the first word. By the way, the answer to the question is no, if you happened to make it into the book. That’s for the three-word title.
As you can surmise, this new effort would be a long process and I would add to it from time to time. Thus I decided my main thrust would be a book all about “work.” My father was a workaholic, which can be good as well as bad. I tend to think that moderation is the key and I really believe that work can kill you, despite the common phrase to the contrary. This book would cover the origin of work, or at least where I thought it started. By the time the book was done, it dealt with the minimum wage, unnecessary work – a pet peeve of mine – the union that Lincoln was trying to save and labor unions. I even threw in a chapter on all the jobs I had through the years. I didn’t realize that I had done so many different things to list until I put them down in writing. This included jobs that I never got paid for such as my own web design and work around the house.
There was a discussion about dangerous jobs as well as high paying jobs and how management might come up with a rate to pay people. I covered immoral work, home work, that which involved labor in and outside the home as well as those assignments given to students by their teachers. There was a chapter on consulting, one on management – the longest in the book – and reasons why we hate work. I think you know why but if you don’t, you’ll have to read the book. Slavery, created jobs and an alternative to hard work is discussed, namely working smart. I threw in a great deal of my experience and concluded with suggestions for people to make their lives better since we really can’t avoid work. I like to think that if you read the book, you won’t be able to retire today, but you should be able to retire sooner. You won’t be a millionaire, but you should have a richer life.
In August 2001, I finished it and sent it to Barbara Bauer. By this time, I had created a comedy folder on my PC. People had been sending me all kinds of stuff; some of it was even quite funny. Those hilarious anecdotes I moved to this file. I noticed that some of these were good examples of people doing dumb things. There was a collection of criminal behavior that would make Willie Sutton turn over in his grave. He would have asked, “Doesn’t anyone have respect for what they do anymore?” Someone sent me some really funny announcements for the church bulletins, proof that the creator of the document didn’t do any proofing, instead hitting the bottle of 100% proof. Apparently, they never heard of spellchecker, although it may not have helped that much.
I had read Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, Crimes And Misdumbmeanors by Daniel Butler, Alan Rey with Larry Rose as well as Leland H. Gregory III’s Great Government Goofs. Each of these books gave me some material that I would either put in the manila folder or into the comedy one on my PC. There were examples in each of people acting without thinking. However, what they did or said was worth a chuckle.
(What) Was I Thinking? was taking shape but was really only secondary, since it was a long-term project. I had an idea about reviving my book on computer math. During one summer Sunday afternoon, I dug out that first manuscript and thought about how I could bring it up to date. I looked it over, spent some time analyzing what to do but then decided not to proceed. However, the next day I changed my mind and figured that I would create my own computer language, using my experience from different contracts and features of languages I’d studied. I could take the best concepts from a few languages in an effort to teach others a few basics of computer programming.
Once I got cranking, it was more fun than when I first wrote the book – I wonder why. This revision would also be a lot funnier and a much better tool for teaching others. I will get into a discussion about the role of humor as related to teaching a bit later. Many of the concepts of the original work were still around, including the final chapter, which discussed a practical application for a computer system. Of course it was brought up to date, as was necessary. I included about five or six computer programs and the whole intent was to give enough information to guide people who had some interest in a career in software. It might also give people who can’t program their VCR – that’s most of us – some insight into computers.
The only problem was that since the language was theoretical, I really couldn’t test the programs. Thus it would take a great deal of checking before publication. Every book needs at least one editor but this would also require a technical editor who knew a bit about programming. I did finish the book but as you can guess, it’s not quite ready for publication. It still needs some checking and editing. At the same time, I heard about a book that was published that would have a huge influence on me before long. But I will get to that in the next chapter.
For now, let me get to the trip I made to New York. It was a month after the terrorists flew into the World Trade Center when I agreed to meet my agent for the second time. We couldn’t meet at her office, as it was still either too small or cluttered, I guess, and there were security problems so meeting at Newark airport was out of the question. She said we could meet in Manhattan if I liked, so I agreed. I saw her at one of my favorite places, the library. This was the Mercantile library on 47th Street, if I recall the location correctly. I had been in New York on numerous occasions, but this one was entirely different because of what had occurred on September 11, 2001.
My agent and I spent about an hour together and then headed over to Starbucks for coffee. Barbara mentioned that I should continue my writing and offered encouragement. Through both meetings with her, I felt like I was an English student back in college. However, I was part of a self-study program so I could work at my own pace. Best of all, there were no tests, theses or final exams, which I will get into later.
I conclude this chapter with an anecdote about mathematical terrorism. You probably never knew such a thing existed. When I initially wrote this manuscript, I had another bit here but since it can be found in This Page Intentionally Left Blank – Just like the Paychecks of the Workers, which was published in October 2007, I won’t include it here.
At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a T-square, and a slide rule.
At a morning press conference, Attorney general John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.
“Al-gebra is a fearsome cult,” Ashcroft said. “They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute values. They use code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to ‘unknowns’, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.”
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, there are 3 sides to every triangle,” he added. “Read my ellipse.”
President Bush warned resolutely. “Sure as God gave us oil rigs, we’ll tighten the hypotenuse around their necks,” he added, reading from a note hastily handed to him.6. How can I be overdrawn?
Since I am a prolific reader, I need to have a collection of book titles that I may someday wish to read. I get ideas from a limited amount of television viewing of shows like The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, C-Span2, which features writers hawking their work and NOW on PBS with David Brancaccio. Watching a flick sometimes inspires me to read the corresponding novel or work of non-fiction that was the impetus for the movie. Reading one book gives me suggestions for others.
Naturally, I have such a list of titles and it keeps growing, like a beer guzzler’s belly. I have had this for some time now – the list not the gut – and one of the books on this list in the new millennium was a book on writing by Dan Poynter called, The Self-Publishing Manual.
Sometimes a book stays on my list for months without me reading it. This was the case with the Poynter creation. However, since Barbara Bauer had my books – six of them to be precise, even though one was out of date and useless, and the others weren’t getting into print – I decided I needed to do something different. I went to the library branch downtown and checked the card catalogue, as it would be a short time before the library was completely computerized, and found that the Poynter book was listed there. I was even more pleased to find the book on the open shelf. Within minutes the book was withdrawn, not overdrawn, I took it home, read it and reread it – at least some parts of the book. I will spell out the significance of this chapter title in chapter 20.
Before long I discovered that Dan Poynter was the guru of self-publishing. I also learned he had a web site, so I proceeded to it and learned that he lived in California but gave presentations all across the nation. I found just such a conference in the spring of 2002 in Kentucky, which I could have gotten to by car. But then I noticed that he would be in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania the second weekend in April for a writers’ conference from Friday to Sunday. That was a great deal closer, as it was only a six-hour drive from Buffalo. As Valley Forge was the symbol of freedom for our country, it would also turn out to be the same for me relating to my agent, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
The conference was sponsored by Infinity Publishing of Pennsylvania, a company that will publish your book if you pay them. They publish books through a process called POD or Print on Demand, which I will get into later. Anyway, I signed up for that weekend and drove east on the Thursday before the event, staying in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, since I didn’t feel like rising at 1 a.m. to begin my drive the next day. If I did that, I would have checked into the hotel, went to my room, slept and missed the first day of the conference.
When I got to The Sheraton Hotel on Friday morning and checked in, the clerk asked me for the method of payment and I was a bit taken aback since I thought I had already paid for the weekend. I didn’t feel too good at this point and asked myself what I was doing there. At that moment I felt that I wasn’t a writer, even though I had written eight books, even if some had not come out of the closet.
I told the person behind the counter that I would return. I left to find someone from Infinity Publishing. After talking with one of their representatives, I was assured that my accommodations were in order there with no further need to drag out my Discover Card. If I had thought about it, maybe I should have originally given the clerk behind the counter my Nothing Card. This was a card that closely resembled the American Express Card. It was good for – you guessed it – nothing. It had President Millard Fillmore’s picture on it. As you may recall, he was a member of the Know Nothing Party. I understand that the Republicans and Democrats may be uniting and will use that same name. As far as that Nothing Card, it was worthless but a great conversion piece, given to me as a birthday gift sometime in the 1970s. I used it a few times and it almost worked at a few restaurants.
Getting back to the writers’ conference, I soon convinced myself that I wasn’t about to get into my Saturn and head home. Eventually I met some of the people from Infinity Publishing as well as a few authors, very much like myself, as well as two editors. Everything was to be fine from then on.
Once the conference got going, I heard a few speakers and I felt at home. The final speaker on that Friday afternoon had a tough time concluding his spiel and apparently there wasn’t any hook or gong at the Sheraton. However, we did get to dinner that evening. I have to admit that the food was outstanding.
On Saturday morning, Dan Poynter gave his presentation. It went on for about three and a half hours and I found it completely boring. That’s because I had read his book and obviously absorbed what he said too well because his talk covered everything therein. The afternoon sessions weren’t much better as one presenter seemed to be from another galaxy. I’m not sure what her agenda was. It had to do with writing at some other level, which I doubt that anyone really wanted to hear. Another woman had it in her mind to really move and touch us all, but I know some of the participants avoided this session on purpose. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Happily, we weren’t going to be denied dinner and once again we weren’t disappointed.
Thus, it seemed like Saturday was almost a complete waste of time, except for the food. Sunday was another day that I could have skipped but there was a breakfast buffet to consider. Don’t tell anyone from Infinity Press about my feelings. Since my cookbook was the first book I wrote that was close to being ready to go, after some discussion, Ed from Infinity and I agreed that it would be published first. Besides the food, I did get to meet quite a few people who helped me after that weekend, including some writers who could be characters in a novel if I ever chose to write another one.
I left the conference at noon and spent the journey home coming up with ideas for marketing. I felt I should create a web site with free recipes. Once the people tried and liked them, they could buy my cookbook, which I would be selling through my site. Ideas about fundraising by selling the cookbooks also crossed my mind.
I had no web design experience despite my computer degree and background but I had signed up for a two-day course at the University at Buffalo. Unfortunately, my head was spinning from the conference – I felt like Linda Blair in The Exorcist – but my course was to take place the following day as well as two days later. I really wished it didn’t have to occur so soon. A week later would have been a much better time.
Once back home, my first priority was getting the cookbook ready for an editor. I took down phone numbers and email addresses at the conference so I contacted someone who could edit my book. Before I sent it off, I needed to format it. I also had to worry about the class in web design. I went to the class and two nights later, I was completely snowed by the presentation. It was in Buffalo, but the white stuff was gone by then, except in the classroom.
Sometime later, I talked to another writer from the
Authors Guild of Western New York – charge of it was turned over to me in October 2007 – who thought that my teacher might have been her nephew. I didn’t remember the name so I couldn’t verify it. She said that he wasn’t that caring about students. From what I saw, it probably was her relative. At the time of the classes, I wasn’t too worried, as I had a Dreamweaver manual and thought I could figure things out and create my own web site. That’s exactly what I did.
I failed to mention that at the end of 2001, my contract at Blue Cross in Rochester came to an end. I decided that it was time to leave the business world for good, mostly my own. On a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 2002, Ro, my last manager at Blue Cross, came over to my house for some perennials that I promised her. She mentioned that I could come back for more work as a consultant, but I told her I would think about it. However, I had no desire to return and felt that I had to stay retired after having written Tick Tock, Don’t Stop. Otherwise I would have been a hypocrite.
In November 2002, The Read My Lips Cookbook was published. I felt just like a parent welcoming his child into the world. Of course, it was my creation and there would be more to follow. There’s nothing like proliferation. I had come a long way since sitting down to write the book on computer math some thirty years before. I also declined to renew my working agreement with my agent. Now all I had to do was market the book. Simultaneously, I decided that the novel would be the next book published. In 2003, Don’t Bet On It and Tick Tock, Don’t Stop were published.
Before my first book came into print, I got to work on designing the web site. There was a slight problem since I didn’t get a web host or register the site until the book was close to being published. This was for financial reasons, as well as the fact that the cover wasn’t designed. I should have known better and not delayed getting my web site on the net because then I could have had my web site listed on the back cover, something readers will see if they buy the book from me directly. I added a small sticker with the site name on the back of those copies. On all of the back covers of my other books published since, you will now find bobcooks.com. I did try to sell my books through that site, but there were few buyers.
I then proceeded to get a merchant account to entice sales. Since I had three books to sell, the whole process became a bit complicated, programming wise, but eventually it was accomplished. However, I procured another web site and soon found that the costs for the merchant account and the extra web site were mounting. At the same time my cash flow needed a boost since book sales were minuscule.
Merchant accounts are a great way for those who sell them to make money. Those who use them in their business aren’t that lucky. You pay a certain amount each month for this privilege and then when you sell some books, you also surrender some of your profits, a small percentage. If you sell no books, the bank or company involved still gets cash, a fixed payment each month. When you have a good sales month, they will make even more. Piracy may be the word that comes to mind. I decided to end this contract but in the process had to pay a huge surrender fee, about $250. It wasn’t cheap to get out, but financially I still thought it was the thing to do. I also eliminated my second web site and merged the two into one. In early 2006, I revised the web site, although the flavor of the original remains – it started out as a recipe web site and it has really evolved.
Eventually I replaced my first web host with another and saved a great deal in the process. What I had paid for two months hosting initially was sufficient to cover an entire year with my new hosts. In addition, I had to pay a fee to register my site but with my new host, that fee was included. Beware of pirates! It wasn’t long before I discovered that not all pirates were banks, had a bird on their shoulder, said “argh” or wore an eye patch.
7. Sign before they read
I’ll get into piracy later, and certainly more than once, but first let me tell you about another way to sell books: through book signings. Ordinarily, we read a document before we sign it. In the case of writers, we sign before the buyer reads.
There are quite a few places for writers to do this besides bookstores. In fact, probably the worst place to sell a book is in that type of venue. I was told this at the writers’ conference, and I am starting to be convinced that they were right. If you go there to sell your creations, you need to be aware that you won’t make much money on the sale of each book. I was fortunate to get involved with an owner who let me keep all of the profits from sales on one Saturday in East Aurora in December 2003. His thought was that since the event was publicized in the local paper, it should bring business into the store. I did sell a few books but I had higher expectations.
In most cases at bookstores, you will be lucky to make 10% of the list price of the book as a profit. That’s $1.50 if the book sells for $15. I had a signing in spring of 2005 where I sold a grand total of one book. The store got the books from their distributor and anyone who bought any book of mine paid for it at the checkout. My royalty would only show up in my monthly statement from the publisher, which may not reflect this sale for months. I’ll talk about this whole scheme on the part of publishers in another chapter.
Nonetheless, a bookseller, such as Barnes & Noble or Amazon, will get paid for a book the day of the sale but I won’t see any cash for weeks. A case in point was an evening in September 2005 in which I sold six books in an hour and a half period – not bad for a short night’s work at a book store in Buffalo on an evening featuring local authors. I related this fiasco in This Page Intentionally Left Blank, so I won’t repeat it here. This is one of the reasons why I hate bookstores.
I have had a handful of signings at stores that sell books, and I will do more, even if the sales are minimal or non-existent. From my experience, you might feel that in general, it’s not worthwhile. However, it may be have value for the exposure alone. Nonetheless, I have had signings at other events. In the fall of 2003, I decided to try my luck at the Octoberfest in Ellicottville. It’s a yearly event held in a small town south of Buffalo. Unfortunately, it wasn’t free but I thought it might be all right and could be fun.
I got the information about the weekend and sent a check that was more than $100 for the two days for a “booth.” I tried to contact the people in charge because I wasn’t sure what I needed or could bring, besides my books and food. I had some questions. I didn’t think of bringing an assistant, which would have been a good idea. I sent some emails and tried to call but got no response in either case.
Not getting the information I wanted, I figured I had to wing it. The Saturday morning of the Octoberfest was cool and crisp when I arrived on the scene. I figured it wouldn’t be long before it was in the 70s and from the look of the sky, there was no rain in sight. I figured it would be a great day. My first task was to find where I would be situated. I walked around and before long found my “booth.” It was an area of about ten feet by ten feet on the street and that was it. There was nothing there but asphalt. People were setting up the tents they brought with them along with their tables, chairs and merchandise.
Fortunately, I brought along a card table but left the cards home as well as something on which to rest my behind. I soon managed to borrow a chair from the beer tent. I promised to return it later and buy a beer. The chair I did return but I wasn’t in the mood for a beer. I set up my table, chair on loan and the books with my fliers. Compared to the other vendors, my setup looked like a single kernel on a corncob. The rest I left up to fate and the visitors who would soon be on the scene.
For this annual event, there are people galore and you get to keep all of the profits from whatever you sell. Your hope is that you can cover your expenses. It was an interesting experience and you can probably figure out how things went. I wrote a piece about it, which goes something like this.October Flavors
October is time for the fall festival in Ellicottville. It was a gorgeous day and I participated as a vendor, selling my books. To be more precise, I was “trying to sell them,” as there is a difference. I did sell a cookbook before Octoberfest officially opened to the public, and before long the real crowd arrived. They came in all sizes, shapes, nationalities, classes and religions. The people flowed past me like the tide at the Bay of Fundy. As I glanced around, I couldn’t avoid witnessing this never-ending procession. It almost felt like I would need some Dramamine. I wondered why these people all gathered here. Maybe it was the food or the crafts. As the day progressed, I’m sure it wasn’t to buy books.
The next booth was selling do-it-yourself cheesecake. To encourage purchases, they handed out samples. Besides normal flavors, they had raspberry, key lime, amaretto, Creamsicle and apple crisp. News of this concession seemed to be spreading like a wind-blown forest fire. Everyone flocked to this booth for a taste.
Besides the people, there were the dogs, every kind imaginable, and then some. If the specific variety was not there, I’m sure I saw a t-shirt displaying the missing type. I even saw a small pooch in a backpack. In fact, I saw three canines in this mode of transport, unless it was the same dog. I doubt that one person would come back down our aisle that many times, but you never know. The hounds were behaved for the most part until late in the day, when you could hear the growling. At that point we almost had a rumble, but the owners calmed the animals down. A woman in front of my “booth” wondered why people didn’t leave their pets home. I imagine they couldn’t get a sitter.
With all this activity in front of me rather than at my table, I was thankful that I was stationary rather than part of the crowd. It’s not that I don’t like being with people. I just don’t care to be part of a huge throng caterpillaring along from one end of the street to the next on a warm day. Despite this, the event was worthwhile as I met some wonderful people, including those who delighted in the culinary arts.
I wore a WBFO t-shirt and was twice mistaken for a Buffalo radio station personality, to whom I have no resemblance whatever. Does that mean that if I wear a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, people might think I am the late great guitar player? Or if I wear a Jim Kelly shirt, could I be mistaken for the former Bills’ quarterback? “I thought he was taller!” But I did talk to a current student at the University at Buffalo who saw my t-shirt and asked if I went to school there, which indeed I had, though some years ago.
I saw one Harley t-shirt that said, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” There were a few others, some of which were a bit off-color in this season of brilliant orange, gold and crimson. Probably my favorite was one that was appropriate for Octoberfest, which read, “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.”
The multitudes made me wonder where they all parked in such a small town. People were arriving on the scene even as I was leaving. I was told the strollers would be around until eight p.m. or later, and this would happen for two days. Would the same people be around on the second day or would there be a new batch? As I thought again what brought these visitors to Ellicottville, I believe I finally figured it out. They came for the cheesecake!FINIS
The two words, “interesting experience” gave away the ending. In fact, after Saturday, I figured that returning on Sunday wasn’t worth the effort, so I didn’t. I certainly won’t do that again but may try similar possibilities such as the Harlem Book Fair, which I was a participant during the summer of 2005 in Buffalo. Again, the it cost more than I wanted to spend but I had a good time, sold a few books and in the future, probably won’t hesitate to be there again. However, I will reduce the cost by getting some other writers from the area to join me at the booth.
I did do signings with other authors from Lockport, New York. This was at the Lighthouse Festival at Golden Hill State Park on Lake Ontario, a yearly event that I participate in. The festival in October 2005 was a bit cool for fall but that probably brought more people inside, where we were stationed. I donated 25% of the sales of my books to the Lighthouse Fund but did sell quite a few books. I wasn’t complaining. We did the same gig the year before in the summer with more authors but it wasn’t as successful for me. In 2006, I didn’t sell as many books as the year before. In each instance, it cost us nothing besides our donation. I doubled my sales from the year before in October 2007.
I have also done more signings where there was no cost but we did contribute some of the proceeds for some cause. One instance was to help the Palace Theatre Restoration Project in Lockport, although if they relied on what we contributed, their campaign would have been a failure. In February 2004, our writers’ group was fortunate to spend a wintry day at the Power Project in Niagara Falls, talking about and selling what we had written. I’m not sure which was more difficult, driving back and forth there or selling books.
By myself, I sold my cookbook after all the masses at St. Joseph University Church in Buffalo, donating all the profits to charity. It helped fund Paul, a student at Kenyatta University in Kenya for a few years and he graduated in late 2007. You can ask him what he thinks of my books as he has them all, even my latest. I also donated cookbooks to the auction that was held each year until 2007, when it was cancelled, on WNED-TV, the local PBS station in Buffalo. Publicity is a good thing and very necessary.
A few years ago, I got involved with the group I mentioned earlier, the CCC, an environmental group in Bellevue, New York, which is part of the town of Cheektowaga, a sprawling suburb of Buffalo, where I spent all of my teen years and more growing up. Bellevue is home to a stone quarry, multiple landfills and an asphalt plant, all in close proximity to our family homestead. Unfortunately, the health of many who lived in the area was compromised by this industry. Asthma, autoimmune diseases and various cancers are extremely high in Bellevue.
I did sell a few of my cookbooks in order to raise funds for what the coalition was doing. I had hoped to sell more. Once my cookbook was published, I notified various charitable groups about the possibility of making money through its sale. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any appreciable interest. Either I wasn’t going to give them all of the proceeds or they figured that they couldn’t make enough bucks through these sales. That appears to be the philosophy of many organizations in their attempts to raise funds. They seem to have forgotten that every penny counts and small amounts of money add up. Just check out my monthly Visa statement.
My cousin Maria got involved in 2005 with fund raising for the tsunami that occurred in December 2004 as well as the hurricane that devastated New Orleans. I offered to sell my books and donate all the money from the sales. In addition, I sold my books for the Relay for Life of the American Cancer Society in 2004 and 2005. In each of these instances, I had hoped to raise more cash than I actually did.
I had another possibility for some fundraising through sales of the cookbook. I was told that it could happen in a few months. The bad news is that nothing has yet taken place and this offer was made to me a few years ago. I doubt that this will ever be a reality.
I did have a book signing at a location that wasn’t a bookstore but had volumes around. You probably can figure what that place is. When I got to the area and looked for my nameplate to see where I sat, I couldn’t find it. The staff apologized and hastily made one for me. I sold a single book that afternoon. If you still haven’t guessed what that place is, you will be included in one of my forthcoming books on missing intelligence – it’s a library.
I also “tried” to sell books at yard sales, twice. The good thing here is that it will only cost you about ten dollars for a table and it may even be indoors or under a tent that is provided so you need not worry about rain, wind or snow. The bad news is it might be difficult to cover costs since you won’t sell too many books. People who come to these events don’t want to pay more than a dollar for anything. Also, they don’t really have that much time to read as they spend most of their time at garage sales! I won’t do another of those as I sold two books, one at each.
I did try one ploy to sell books and it seemed to work quite well. I bribed the people with samples of food from my cookbook. On numerous occasions I have made a recipe for Irish soda bread that is really easy, but more important, delicious. Once they try it, people are sold on the cookbook, at least some of them. If you have written a cookbook, you could do buffets showcasing some of your recipes and offer your book for sale. If you haven’t written one or if the recipes are dreadful, you probably should try a different approach and stay out of the kitchen for everyone’s good. Depending on what you have written, with a bit of ingenuity, I’m sure you come up with some ideas.
8. Don’t get caught in the WEB
Even though the writers’ conference was boring for me at times, it was very useful. I absorbed quite a bit in those three days. Some of what I heard I ignored, but other words I have considered and even put into practice. It should be obvious that you can find some good ideas on the Internet. However, you have to beware of thieves, distant cousins of pirates.
One good web site has to do with just what I’m getting at, predators,
Education that comes later is better than none at all and I got a good lesson beginning in January 2005. I related this incident in This Page Intentionally Left Blank, so I won’t repeat it. The lessons from my debacle are: watch out for fraud, do as much research and checking ahead of time as possible and don’t give up. One person can make a difference. Of course, you can accomplish more with a group of people. Unfortunately, in some cases, you may have to do it on your own.
Elizabeth Martinez wrote a book called DeColores Means All of Us. In it, she relates what Rudy Acuna went through a few years ago. He is a professor of Latino Studies who applied for a position at the University of California, being recommended by a member of the faculty at that same institution. His qualifications were impeccable, but he didn’t get the assignment. He was frustrated because there was no way that anyone had better credentials. He could have ended his pursuit and let it go at that.
He decided to sue the university, as he had quite a few choices for a lawsuit based on discrimination. He selected the one bias based on age, since he was in his late 50s. He was David against Goliath since he was one person versus the huge higher institution of learning in the state of California with all its power and high priced attorneys. He found his own counsel, but would they match up to that from the U of C?
Of course, they did and Acuna won, otherwise I wouldn’t tell you about this. He was victorious despite his odds because he didn’t give up. He was successful as the small guy, not against one but two giants: the University as well as the three-piece-suited lawyers that tried to defend California’s University in this case. My disaster, which resulted in some compensation to me, pales in comparison to his efforts.
So don’t despair, but be aware! If you use the Internet, whether you are a writer or not, be on the alert for scam artists. If you are an author, no matter how many books you have had published, people know about your creations. Unfortunately, these people aren’t the type who will buy your book. Rather, they will try to get money from you to peddle your stuff. But they really won’t help you and only transfer cash from your pockets to theirs. You will get offers from individuals through emails as well as through phone calls, the United States Postal Service and venues you may not even have considered. If you decide to use any of these “services,” do some research first. It will help your bottom line. You can’t go wrong if you remember, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”
You need to realize that some email should be ignored, no matter how promising it sounds. You can sell books through web sites, bookstores, hair salons – on which I will elaborate later – and through the media. Paying booksellers to peddle your books – what faced me – is ludicrous, unless it is done without any charge. I made a mistake but learned from the experience. I have more tales to tell about using these agents to spread the word, so you can learn from what I did. They’re better known as marketers. 9. Mousse marketing madness
I’ll talk about the significance of this chapter title later. After being really involved in the book business for more than five years, I have come to realize that writing a book and getting it published is a great deal easier than selling it. Getting reviews is tough too, but the real challenge seems to be letting others know about your work. I have been told that you shouldn’t spend money to advertise. I feel that you have to open your wallet for this endeavor, but you must consider how much you spend and where the bucks are headed.
Fortunately, you can let others know about your books through newspapers and television, but it isn’t going to be easy. If you’re a known author, it won’t be difficult. That’s the catch-22. I was somewhat fortunate to be a part of the CCC, through which I met Barbara O’Brien, a top-notch reporter for the Buffalo News. I also got to know Sue LoTempio of the News, whom I will talk about in another chapter. The latter played a major part in my writing, though she doesn’t know it.
Barbara came to my home and interviewed me for an excellent article in the News on Sunday August 7, 2005. You can find what she wrote on my web site below the recipes on the home page, by clicking on “Buffalo News article.” She’s a wonderful person and did a fine job in the article. However, I made one mistake: I should have read the article before it got into the paper. That is always a great idea when someone does a feature on you.
There was an inaccuracy that Barbara got from my web site, telling where my books could be purchased. It wasn’t her fault and not mine either. On the day after the article was in the News, I called the person at one local bookstore, which should have had all my books. He said that two people wanted to purchase the 2005 book but he didn’t have it. He did have one copy that I gave him as soon as the book was in print. I also gave him the name and phone number of the publisher so he should have gotten the books by the time the article hit the newspaper.
Having lost a sale or two, I offered to drop off some copies but he said corporate policy dictated that he go through a specific process. I called him about a month later and he still didn’t have copies of the book. Eventually, I dropped off ten copies of the book, and he finally got some from his source and I got my copies back in January 2006.
I can’t emphasize enough that you should make sure to proofread an article before it hits the papers. Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy used the term “ink stained wretches” when referring to some members of the media. I have to definitely agree that those words truly apply, although not to everyone. If you are a writer or are in the process of becoming one, heed my words of advice.
One writer I know was well aware of this warning and did all he could in this regard, but it really didn’t make a difference. An article was to be written about his books for a small paper. He was interviewed, the piece was written and he checked it over. He found a few things he wanted changed as well as a few things that just weren’t true. Facts hadn’t been checked and the reporting was a bit sloppy. He mentioned this to the reporter and received a copy after further changes were made. Unfortunately, it still was not to his liking and some factual errors remained. Before too long, the composition went to press with many of the same mistakes. It was too late and he couldn’t do a thing about it. Sometimes you give it all you got and pigeons still find you!
Getting back to the article by Barbara O’Brien, the people interested in buying my book may have gotten it from another store in the area, since I had dropped off copies to a few other places. On the other hand, it appeared that people who wanted to buy the book didn’t get it. Since it’s hard enough selling books, you really don’t want to lose any opportunity. I had been at this store doing a book signing earlier in the year. I did manage to sell a book so the afternoon wasn’t a total loss.
In one week over the summer of 2005, I was on the air for two TV broadcasts. One was on Crossroads, a local cable program, while the other was on a local Sunday morning program called Buffalo Matters. Each was a great opportunity to let people in Western New York know who I am. Both interviewers praised my books and I had an opportunity to mention some of my upcoming book signings as well as my web site. I am sure that this resulted in more books sales at events where I appeared.
Earlier in 2005, I called Eileen Koteras Elibol, local TV personality on Channel 17, whom I had met earlier. The station was doing another cooking show benefit for the station. Eileen mentioned that I should call Mindy Fox, who was in charge of the guest cooks. I had talked to her before when I donated books to the station for the Annual Auction. As luck would have it, she just so happened to have an opening. I had seven minutes to make a recipe from The Read My Lips Cookbook on WNED-TV.
I read Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch not long ago. I highly recommend the book and it relates just what goes into a cooking show. It was noted that when Julia created a chicken recipe for her viewing audience, she needed four of those fowl, one each at various stages of preparation. Remember, her show was only a half-hour, if I recall correctly. I need to mention another great book by Paula Deen, It Ain’t All About the Cookin.’ The book is insightful, inspiring and hysterical – I guarantee you’ll have a tough time putting it down. I will talk more about the city of Savannah later.
For my cooking appearance on WNED-TV, I only had seven minutes. I was required to bring a prepared batch of moose, excuse me, mousse, as a moose wouldn’t have fit inside the studio. The day before, I did create some of that chocolate delight, but it took me fifteen minutes. I didn’t have a paddle! However, I figured I would have help, as either Eileen or Goldie Gardiner would be on the set with me. They don’t trust cooks to be there alone.
When Saturday came and I got to the kitchen to perform, I wound up whipping the cream and the egg whites while Eileen helped by melting the chocolate and adding the rum. Didn’t I tell you it was delicious? The mousse au chocolat was done in the allotted time and it was a huge hit as the people who tasted it raved and thought they were in heaven. People in Buffalo believe in an afterlife.
Those in the studio were actually fighting over the dessert. The purpose of the program was raising funds by selling their new cookbook, WNED Cooks: Q Is For Quick And Easy. I do believe chocolate helped make the day a success. I was on during the first part of the four-hour stint, but there was still chocolate conflict between Eileen, Goldie and Stratton Rawson, even as the show was ending, hours later. The program had a variety of dishes that day, which I’m sure were good, including a pasta dish and mushrooms stuffed with crab. However, unlike the day at Octoberfest in 2003 in Ellicottville, this day mousse was king!
Besides my stints on the tube, I also recorded a short radio broadcast about for seeing eye dogs only. I checked and it’s no longer available, but if you like to hear a pod cast of my appearance on the local Buffalo TV program, Crossroads with Pete Anderson from September 27, 2005, click on Episode 34: The Robert Swiatek Show on the right side of the link,http://www.bbla.com/awol/awol.html.
You are probably fortunate to not have to listen to the defunct radio broadcast because had you been able to hear it, you wouldn’t have been able to drive a car for three hours afterward. The spiel was a bit dull and boring, unlike the pod cast and the new book. On my web site, you will also see a link for a 2005 interview I did.
10. This little piggy went to market
At the writers conference in Valley Forge I met a woman who was a writer as well as a marketeer. Once my first three books were published, I decided that she might be able to help me sell them, so I enlisted her services. When she first sent the contract, I almost declined the offer, as the price was outrageous. However, upon talking to her on the phone, I realized that there was a slight error in the numbers – she threw an extra digit in there. I was relieved, but maybe I should have had second thoughts based on this sloppiness on her part. Maybe she should have been a Mouseketeer!
Eventually, I read one of her press releases and found that this initial mistake wouldn’t be the only one of hers that I would encounter. I still employed her services anyway, and though there was not an appreciable increase in book sales, she did accomplish something I couldn’t have done on my own. Through her efforts, two of my books were read by professional critics. The best part was that they garnered excellent reviews. People who read and critiqued books for a living loved what I had written, but so did friends and family as well as people I have yet to meet.
Getting someone to review what you write is a challenge filled with frustration. My book on missing intelligence was reviewed by Candace K. of RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on November 9, 2005. You might feel that this took a long time but the cookbook was published in November 2002 and reviewed by Thomas Fortenberry of Midwest Book Review in August 2003 while Alice Holman of RAWSISTAZ Reviewers reviewed it at the end of October 2003 and Kevin Tipple of the Blue Iris Journal reviewed it the next month, almost a year after it came into print. For each and every one of these reviews, it was worth the wait. All the blame can’t be put on the critics for the delay, as they may not have gotten the book when it first came out. Also, yours isn’t the only book they have to comment on.
If you check the Internet, you can find web sites for book reviews. One is
and another is
I went to these sites and sent emails but got no response. I even tried again but still no one contacted me. Fortunately, through the reviews of my earlier books, I found that I had made a connection so that someone at Midwest or RAWSISTAZ would look at my latest offering. I should add that as soon as I had copies of a new book, I had the opportunity to contact reviewers and sent it to them.
I dealt with an organization in Buffalo in an attempt to get publicity. In this case my investment was a good deal of cash and the results proved that I had grossly overspent. I did wind up on Crossroads on local cable, which I mentioned earlier, on which I would appear again in 2005 without the use of a marketer. In addition I was written up in the town newspaper where I resided and wound up doing a book signing in East Aurora, which I described earlier. Through this organization I was scheduled to give a presentation on my books at our college reunion weekend but it was cancelled because only four people signed up for my session. I guess the people were too busy partying and reminiscing.
Naturally, some of these events were made possible because of connections between people. Thus my recent appearance on Adelphia cable – now it’s Time-Warner, as you may have heard of the scandal – was possible because the host of the show knew me. However, I may have gotten on the program the second time without my initial visit. In the latter case, I sent Pete a copy of the book on temporary brain deficiencies and followed up on it. When I talked to him, he said he had not read the book because they were in the process of moving but he did get to it and then I made the appearance. Better yet, he raved about the book, which sold a few copies.
One association I had was with a company in the Midwest. If you look in the dictionary under the word “thieves,” you’ll see the picture of the head of the organization. They took my money, did very little and had no shame. To illustrate how bad they were, they supposedly have a bookstore to sell books so I sent them copies of my first three books, at least ten of each. Besides giving them way too much money, I never saw a cent from the sale of these books, at least a token since I gave them the books.
With this group, I worked with a few people. At least I did some work; I doubt that anyone else did. The last woman I worked with could have easily been featured in my book on missing intelligence. She did get me one book signing and I did sell one book. This was at the store I discussed earlier that didn’t have the book people were trying to buy. I wonder if the book guy and this woman are related!
Since the end of my involvement, I have received solicitations in the mail from this marketing company. One stated that for a mere $7000, they would concentrate on Don’t Bet On It and make my name familiar to households across the country. I’m sure they keep sending emails but the mailbox they send it to is defunct. After canceling our association and before changing email addresses, I sent an email to four of the people there who were supposed to be helping me. I mentioned the $7000 offer asking, “Wasn’t that what you were supposed to be doing all the time during the contract?” I got no reply. They had their cash and my books and they could care less. When I talked to a friend of mine and mentioned the company president’s name, she mentioned that he was a crook. Not long ago they changed the name of the company. I wonder why.
Another venture of mine concerned a firm in North Carolina. Through their efforts, press releases were written for my books and an interview was done for people to see on the web. If you’d like to read it, I could present the link but I checked and it is no longer there.
If I am not mistaken, it was through this company that I did the radio interview that I mentioned earlier that was available for a while. An interesting event took place with these people that enlightened me. I will get into what I learned shortly. After my first book on missing intelligence came out, Keith Pearson of Aventine Press sent me a template for a press release. These are an important part of marketing but I am not sure how to write one that will sell books. There are no rules so just about anything might work. I have had people do some for me but they haven’t sold that many books, either. I’m not sure what the secret is.
Having some experience, I started to write a press release on the template that Keith had emailed. I then sent what I had to this woman “working” for me, mentioning that I had started the release. I simply asked her to finish it, using what I had begun. A week or two later she sent me an email saying she had received a press release from Aventine Press. I asked her to send me a copy, since I hadn’t seen it. It was what I had sent her earlier. Beam me up, Scotty!
I’m sure that dealing with this company had some benefit although probably not much. What I got from this encounter was that I discerned the way marketers work. They have a flowchart to follow for the books of the authors that use their services. What they do is the same for everyone, even though writers are different. Each book has various opportunities for sales. These publicity groups don’t consider this and they have no ingenuity. I also discovered that in every case, I wound up doing most of the work. I created fliers for their use, I wrote about the books and told them about the reviews and my web site. I did all the grunt work and they hardly did a thing, except for snorting when they got my check, which they had no problem cashing.
I had an opportunity for two more involvements with marketers, one on each coast but so far nothing has taken place just yet. The first person sent me a proposal and I emailed her back with some specific questions. She responded and I had more questions, which I sent. I did not hear from her in the months that followed. While talking on the phone with this person, I was asked certain questions that made me wonder if I should get involved with her at all. One was a question about my phone number or email address when this individual had initiated the call and had earlier emailed me. Maybe that was a sign.
The person from the second firm did a few things that made me have second thoughts. This promoter seemed to give good advice and I expressed some interest. Before a book signing I emailed this individual some questions about a flier I intended to use to sell books. I wanted the one that would have the most impact. There was no response and again no answer after I left a phone message shortly after that. In early 2006, I thought about using her services, so I emailed her, called and left a message. Perhaps, she will eventually respond but she hasn’t done so yet. I could still hear from her since some people only answer their email every two years!
One lesson I learned is that you need to look into any company with whom you may be dealing. Check the Internet and talk to others who may be of assistance. Even if a friend says he had luck with this company, remember that you may not be so successful. This firm may have worked wonders for a sculptor but might not do anything for writers. Another lesson is that you have to do much of the work. If it winds up that you are doing just about everything in this regard, why pay for a marketer? Above all, don’t give up.
11. Smoke peace pipe
In the summer of 2003, I thought about selling my house in East Aurora. It was a nice house in the country with a wonderful sunroom but it was in snow country. I’m talking lake effect snow. When others places in the area received an inch of snow, we got a foot. Besides, I had joined the Contemporary Music Ensemble of St. Joseph University Parish, which rehearsed each Wednesday evening and sang at the 11:30 mass each Sunday morning. My commute to the church was twenty-five miles. I decided to buy a condominium not far from the church. I made an offer for it, which was accepted and then put my house on the market. This was a different type of market. My house was soon sold and in early December that sale was finalized.
On the last weekend of November, I moved from the house to my new home. On the following Monday, December 1, I had an appointment to see my urologist, whom I had yet to meet. My PSA count was high and my family doctor recommended I have some tests done. A few days later I had an ultrasound and biopsy of my prostate, something I recommend all men should avoid – women are exempt as they don’t have that organ. Cancer was found and at the end of February 2004, I was no longer the owner of a prostate gland.
It wasn’t an easy time, but I managed with the prayers and help of my family and friends. I was blessed to need neither chemotherapy nor radiation treatments. While I was recovering at home, I noticed blood in my stool and soon I had a colonoscopy and then got word that there was cancer in my colon – again. I was a bit distressed since I figured I would have to go through the same two operations that Dr. Dawli performed on me in 1998. I was somewhat relieved when he said that he would do a colon resection. I was going to ask if there was enough left but everyone knows that there is plenty of colon in the human body, though no semi-colon.
At the end of April 2004, I had the dreaded surgery and once more, no other special treatments. It took some time after what I had been through, but it could have been a great deal worse. I have to see my oncologist every six months for blood tests and it appears that I’ll be having a colonoscopy every year from now on. Oh, joy!
During the late 1990s, around the time of all my first surgeries, my brother and his wife were going through a nasty divorce. I wouldn’t say it was bad but somehow it made the movie War of the Roses seem like a family picnic. However, somehow my brother received from his ex-wife a copy of a book on essiac. He let me have it for a while in 2004 and eventually I bought my own copy and returned the one he gave me. I have been taking an ounce of essiac tea with an equal amount of hot water before retiring each night. It may not make a difference, but at a prostate cancer support group meeting in February 2005, I talked to Russ, a gentleman in his early eighties, who swears by this combination of four herbs. He carries a cane but was diagnosed as a terminal prostate cancer patient in 1995. Since I talked to him not that long ago, he’s obviously alive so the cane can stay. Meeting him and a few other users at this support group, as well as reading the book, led me to create an addition to my web site about essiac, which just might be a cure for cancer. The link is still there – I checked.www.bobcooks.com/cancer.htm.
While I was recovering, I decided to work on another book. You may recall the manila folder from a few chapters ago. Since I started that, I had also been adding material to the folder on my PC for comedy. There were a few files in the folder with material similar to the paper folder. People had sent me plenty of email with funny stuff that indicated temporary brain deficiencies on the part of humans. Some were about things that criminal trainees did – really dumb stuff but hilarious. Other material sent were quotes by athletes, actors and politicians, things that children wrote, courtroom behavior and signs. Without doubt, it looked like I had enough for the book.
I got organized and decided that the title, (What) Was I Thinking? may have been clever but wouldn’t sell books. I settled on a title that matched a sign that I had seen years ago at places that do ear piercing: Ears Pierced While You Wait. It’s really quite dumb since you can’t drop them off in the morning and pick them up after work. The book was coming along and so I needed to get an editor and a publisher. I thought about not using my first publisher so I contacted Diane Newton and she recommended Aventine Press in California. She mentioned that Keith Pearson had scruples and wouldn’t just publish any book. I emailed him and sent a part of a chapter of the book, describing what it was all about. He loved it and agreed to do it.
Diane also recommended an editor in Australia and I emailed him the book. I was a bit disappointed when I got it back after his editing for three reasons: first, he sent it back too fast; second, I had to explain the humor in some of the anecdotes; third, he missed many errors. I paid him anyway, did some editing myself but realized I needed another editor, so I found one. Meanwhile, I added a page on my web site advertising the new book. The information on the upcoming book was on the site for some time before I decided to change the title again.
I thought Ears Pierced While You Wait would have been too difficult to illustrate. Remember my words about selling a book by the cover. I decided on for seeing eye dogs only, another sign that you see everywhere. One such occurrence is at the United States Post Office, another great place for laughs. All I need mention is the name of Newman and Cliff Claven, but remember that they are probably the best workers there! Anyway, if I am not mistaken I heard George Carlin mention this sign at the USPS and ask, “Who is it for – the dog or the blind person?”
When I emailed Keith Pearson the finally edited manuscript, he read it and said it was “hysterical.” He sent back the proofs and I asked my sister to proofread it. At the time, Pat had just moved into a different house with her fiancé, Lou and daughter, Liz, the artist, so she was quite busy. My sister – who finally married Lou in August 2007 – agreed anyway, said the book was “hysterical,” and finished on time. I also did some proofreading and asked a friend of mine who was home after having knee replacement surgery. Mark became another proofreader. When all was said and done, my book on intelligence follies had three editors and three proofreaders, although not all could be described as competent.
At the end of June 2005, the book was published. That was the good news. You’ve already heard about the bad news, namely the bookstore stuff. So far people have raved about it, mostly describing it as a “very funny book.” CandaceK of RAWSISTAZ Reviewers loved it too, although she only gave it four stars. I was hoping for five. Reviews can be found at Amazon.com as well as on my web site.
Editors and proofreaders – there’s a slight difference – are an interesting group of people and I need to talk about their job. Not counting myself, I have had five or six editors and a few less proofreaders for my books. One volunteer was going to edit the 2005 book but was too busy. Instead he gave it to his sister, who reads a great deal and did a great job. I had two editors for the cookbook and they did fine work. I met them at the writers’ conference. For the next two books, I found an editor in Buffalo, Gina. She did good work and was very helpful, especially for the novel.
Before she agreed to edit my novel, I talked to another editor in the area but his cost was so high that I figured he wanted to rewrite the book and take all the credit. Hence, I settled on Gina and was planning to have her edit the missing intelligence book but I couldn’t reach her. That’s how the guy from down under – maybe his problem was he was under the table too much – got into the picture.
You need to realize that what you write is your book and if you accept all the recommendations of your editor or proofreader, will the result still be yours or will it be compromised? On numerous occasions, my editors made suggestions, which I ignored. They might say that it would be better written a bit differently but I figured the way I put it, it had more impact. In general, editors do their part, and it is necessary to have one. As a writer, you are too close to the work to catch all the errors, even with that unreliable, bizarre tool, spellchecker. You can use relatives and friends for editors as well as proofreaders, but don’t forget to pay them or take them out to dinner. A few lotto tickets won’t cut it. I also have to mention that the author needs to edit the book more than once because there are certain errors that other people won’t and can’t possibly catch.
And now, I need to explain the significance of the title. Smoking may be quite pleasurable and that parallels the release of my 2005 book. On the other hand, smoking has some bad effects. Though I don’t smoke, I didn’t escape the cancer. I should mention that the title needs three words to create a few laughs. You may know what they are. I will mention the Smothers Brothers later, but in one of Tommy’s skits, he talked about the Indians and the Pilgrims. He mentioned that the former were not that dumb when it came to trading goods and dealing with the European settlers. Proof of that was their command to the Pilgrims,Smoke peace pipe…rot your lungs. 12. Eye patches and peg legs
To date, I have had two publishers. I don’t mean I went to dinner and a show with them but rather that two different companies have published my books. If you were paying attention, you knew that. Before I get into my experience with them, let me describe the types of publishers that exist.
The first type is called a royalty press. These are the corporations that make money for themselves and for people like Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and Dan Brown. When any of these people write a book, they get paid and don’t have to open their wallets. They receive an advance before the book comes out and then get royalties on every book that is sold. The advance is subtracted down until the initial royalties cover it, although it probably depends upon the way the contract is worded. Without question, this is the way to get your book into print.
Of course, you’ll have to do book signings and you can’t write just one book. You will be under contract for the one book as well as an agreement to write more. The company will have their editors and because of this, you may need to change things that you would rather not. Even though it is the twenty first century, if you sign a contract today for a book with a royalty publisher, that book won’t be on the market for a year and a half. Technology changes every day so it might not take that long, at least for some publishers.
This type of company probably won’t promote your book. You will have to do that yourself. Of course, with a well-known name, your books will be sold before they even come out. As far as quality goes, you will see good, as well as bad books through these types of publishers. After all, they will print what sells. That’s what they are in business for – to make money.
To get your book into the hands of a royalty press requires that you query them first with your idea, even if the book is complete. It may be a great book with tons of potential, but they may not even want to read it. You may need to get an agent. However, as my experience shows, that may not be enough. It’s an almost impossible task. There may be hope for you if you publish your own book and it does well, and then some royalty press decides to republish it. That might pose some other problems, which I will get into.
The other type of publisher is referred to as a vanity or subsidy press. If you merge the two words, you get “insanity.” The meaning of the words, “vanity” and “subsidy” should be obvious. The first term is used because people have all kinds of cash and desire to have a book with their name on the front page. This precludes felons, criminals and politicians who have been arrested. These are not really writers if they stop at a single book. A quarter century ago you could get your book in print by paying a vanity or subsidy press a fair amount of cash, for example, $20,000. Of course, you would have 6,000 copies of your book with no place to store them, so you’d have to rent a self-storage area and hope it doesn’t leak when it rains.
“Subsidy” implies that you pay to have the book published, not unlike “vanity.” Fortunately and also unfortunately, technology, along with greed, has changed things. Now you can have a book published for under $1000. This includes the cost of the editor for a book with 200 pages or less. Self-publishing has really made its mark. Along with this has come a good thing, sort of, called POD or Print On Demand publishing. POD is really subsidy publishing since you pay the company, but they only print books if people ask for them. This means you won’t have to store books in your bedroom and the environment gets a reprieve.
The not so great thing is that in some cases, anything that resembles a “book” winds up in print. It need not be that way. I mentioned that Keith Pearson had some guidelines for what his company published and he read my book when I sent it. I didn’t mention that he read it again after it was proofread. By the way, he still thought it was hysterical. His actions indicated to me that he wanted to prevent puke proliferation. I wish I could say the same for some of the other subsidy companies as well as some royalty companies.
I have to return to the writers’ conference. I mentioned that I received some good advice that weekend. However, there were a few things that were misleading. One argument to entice the attendees to use their company as opposed to a royalty press was the idea of marketing. Anyone there may have surmised that a royalty press did no marketing while a subsidy press did, or at least the company sponsoring this conference provided that service. Maybe so, but you had to pay for it and if Print It Press did your book, they really did nothing to help you sell it. Yet, doing so would have brought more money into their pockets.
Thus it would have been beneficial not only to print the books but also to market them. They didn’t do this because they would receive money up front from the writers, so why worry about selling the books. I soon discovered that once my books were printed, my first publisher could care less about selling them or helping me to get sales. Their attitude was that they would fill the orders if they came in but offer me the minimum amount of assistance in order for the books to get sold.
Specifically, I asked their web master to add some reviews of my books that the critics had provided to their site. I was told that it couldn’t be done. By this time I had developed my own web site and so knew a bit about what effort would be involved. It’s a simple task and there’s no reason for this not easily being accomplished. Eventually, that procedure changed so the reviews got to the site, but what I experienced only confirms what I pointed out earlier about publishers’ lies.
An author that I know recently received his royalty statement from the publisher, another POD organization. For a total of 82 books sold that averaged a list price of close to $15, he received a check of $55.02. That averages out to 67 cents per book or less than 5% of the list price. He wrote another book with a list price under $12 but used a different publisher. His royalty statement from them was for sixteen books and his check was $32.77, almost 18% of the list price Which company would you rather have publish your books? Granted, it costs money to print books and if the book is sold via Amazon, which I will get into later, these people need to make some money. I don’t think that royalty publishers offer writers that high a percentage either. Considering that the person mentioned wrote the book, this can only be described as piracy on the part of the first publisher I mentioned above.
Another devious practice by pirate publishers is the way royalties are paid. This applies to any type of publisher. Let us say that a book is sold on the first of April, through Borders Books online. That seller gets the book and ships it within a few days but the sale may not get reported to the publisher for some time. This is despite the fact that the publisher prints the book and is well aware that a sale was made! Either Borders delays or the publisher holds off, maybe both. Consequently, the sale doesn’t show up on the author’s royalty statement until a month later. It may even get much worse as the sale doesn’t show up on the statement until August, four months after the sale. In each case, the publisher and the bookstore get paid for the sale right away.
Unfortunately, there is still more piracy as the publisher won’t send out a check for the book sales until another two or three months has passed. That’s because there is another delay that routinely takes place, and that applies to all books. The person I described earlier who received the check of $55.02 mentioned that his company wouldn’t send him a check if the payment due him is less than a certain amount. Instead, it would accrue. That last word rhymes with a five letter word ending in “w,” which applies here. So, if he doesn’t sell many books, he may not get paid for sales for months. You need not transport a bird on your shoulder, have a peg leg or a hook to be a buccaneer.
I have already mentioned the lack of standards for some subsidy companies, but there are plenty of other opportunities for piracy. Consider a company that sells some books because someone ordered them. However, through some corporate snafu, the sale doesn’t get reported to the author. It shouldn’t happen but unfortunately it does. It can be intentional or accidental but in either case, the writer sees not a penny from the sale of some of his books.
I should add a few words about some subsidy publishers and they aren’t favorable, but the company deserves them. In many cases, I doubt that anyone in the company reads some of the stuff that eventually becomes a book. This means that trash will be produced, unless the writer really makes sure that his book is top notch regardless of those publishing it. I have heard of situations where covers were designed by artists who had not read the books. I don’t see how they can come up with anything unless they know what the book is about. The excuse might be that they don’t have the time, a rather lame one, I feel. Of course, the writer could provide a synopsis for the cover creator, provided that the graphic artist reads that.
Recently someone mentioned that he wouldn’t buy my cookbook because of the cover. He had a great point because it wasn’t reflective of the flavor of the book. If you read some of the reviews, especially Thomas Fortenberry’s, you will see that the design really missed its mark, as I pointed out earlier – except for my unusual far-fetched justification. It may be too late now, but I could have it redesigned and republished. My other covers were much more appropriate.
I alluded to problems that could occur if a selfpublished book got republished by a royalty press. Suppose Random House decides to bring my highly praised cookbook into print. One problem might be that I have to compromise part of the writing. I will have to make some changes, but I don’t see that as a problem. I can correct the few errors – found in any book you read, no matter who edits it but some of their suggestions I may be reluctant to accept. The second difficulty is that during a part of the publishing process, I don’t believe I will be able to sell my cookbook, nor can Amazon or any book store for that matter. Thus there will be a gap before the revised book comes into print.
As far as royalty presses go, the same problems exist that will you encounter if you self-publish. For example, in the summer of 2005, I talked to a journalist who mentioned that she read the latest Harry Potter book. She said that she wasn’t that impressed with the writing. I haven’t read the book but I will take her word, since I have other books that I want to read. I added that I wasn’t surprised, though. Publishers only care about green and the artist comes secondary. Fortunately, there is a good side to the Potter phenomena. It doesn’t matter how inadequate the book is, as long as it encourages children to read. Then, it becomes a great thing when youngsters obtain more books and continue and find even better stuff to read.
I have always felt that even though a book sells a million copies, it’s not necessarily a good book. The various trash escapades are proof of that. But even a Potter book or a presidential biography with high sales may not be in the class of one that is struggling to get exposed to the public. I think you will agree that there have been best selling books that in many cases have never even been opened. There might be a reason for that.
13. Help – I need a paddle
From the previous chapter, it should be clear that the number of books on the market is almost unlimited – I have to add the word “almost”, having been a math major in college. Certainly, they are not all worth reading. So then the question becomes, how do you sell a book that has gotten great reviews? If you find the answer, let me know. I’ve been working at it for years.
There are a few reasons why it’s almost impossible to sell books. First, many people don’t read. They don’t for a number of reasons: either they don’t have the time or they make excuses to that effect, or they really can’t read and need to learn how. Just because you have a high school diploma or a degree from some university doesn’t mean you can pick up a book and understand what’s there.
I was at a workshop on writing humor in November 2005 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. I’ll get into more details about that evening later. One of the participants mentioned a book by Anders Henricksson called Non Campus Mentis. This book is a great example of “truthiness,” the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts. The word was used by a panel of linguists, the American Dialect Society, to best reflect the year 2005. If you really want to be intellectually discouraged, check out the word for 2007. I will mention it in a future book if you can’t find it.
Non Campus Mentis is world history as seen through the eyes of college students who apparently fell asleep during the lecture. Fortunately, I got a copy from the Buffalo Public Library and read it and laughed so hard I cried. I then shed tears again because these students would eventually be leaders of our country. Actually, this scenario has already happened!
You will be even more depressed when you realize that the students with a similar view of world history are attending our colleges and universities today. What does that say for our high school people? What is being taught to the children? Kids today know a great deal about technology, which I’m not sure is a good thing. By the way, the word for 2007 is closely related to that field. However, reading, writing a sentence and solving simple math problems may escape these students. What good is it if you are the engineer on a mission to Mars but can’t read the manual to solve a problem that occurs while on the flight?
Don’t give up on our youth, though, as there is some hope. Not long ago I watched the movie, The Yes Men. If you haven’t seen it, do so. The heroes of the movie created their own web site called GATT.ORG. It appears to be legitimate, but it’s a huge scam. However, it did fool some individuals and the duo were asked to give a presentation at one of the meetings of the World Trade Organization. What these two came up with was outrageous, but funny and very entertaining. What was more unbelievable was the ludicrous acceptance by those in the audience of the ideas presented. This is where the title of the movie originates. By the way, I checked and the site is still there, and the two presenters haven’t been arrested yet!
If that wasn’t maddening enough, the scammers continued their efforts and more people fell for their presentations. You really need to see the movie to find out all the specifics. However, when our heroes attempted a similarly ridiculous program at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, the students got wise to the charade. The two idea guys were glad that there were some people with more intelligence than yams. They only wished that others had uncovered their dastardly deeds.
Our society should be more perceptive and have more smarts if only they read more. People say they don’t have enough time. Is she working sixty hours a week at her job? I hate to clue her in but she can’t do that since she won’t be productive for more than about 25 hours, if she is lucky. Her boss should realize this but he’s probably clueless too – that’s why he’s in management! Anyone stuck at a job of this nature should get out and find a different one. It will be beneficial to that person’s health and the well being of the family as well. It may be a great idea to pick up and read one or both of my books on work. For less than $14, this could be the best investment you ever made and you’ll get a few laughs at the same time.
We don’t read because we spend too much time in front of the boob tube, despite the fact that there is more crud on the airwaves than in the bathtubs of hippies. A good comparison is comparing TV to a landfill: there’s a great deal of crap and toxicity in both environments. Even watching the evening blues can be hazardous to your health and you won’t learn much from sitting down watching Fox News or CNN. And yet, there is great potential when it comes to that box – in some cases now, it’s a very narrow box, but it’s huge – found in every living room, especially for the purpose of teaching. Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street are great examples of what good programming can accomplish.
So, rather than turn on the set when you first arrive home in the late afternoon, either put on some music or rest with the sounds of silence. It will do a lot more good. I suggest a new approach to television viewing that will give you more free time. When the TV Guide or TV Topics arrives, find the programs you care to watch and set the VCR to tape them. If your machine shows the time blinking, you may have to read the manual or talk to one of your kids for help. Don’t tape every show that’s broadcast but limit it to an hour or less each evening. You can make an exception during broadcasts of Ken Burns’ specials. By doing this you will only spend about twenty minutes per half hour program and less than forty-five minutes per hour show. That’s a saving in itself. Moreover, by only watching one program a night, you will have the opportunity to do some reading.
This approach will make some time available to you. There’s even more for your use if you lose the remote. Throwing it in the trash is a great idea. By the time most people figure out that they can turn on the set without it, they would have had enough time to finish reading a book. Television has great potential, but over the years it hasn’t been realized that much. News has been replaced by news / entertainment. Sports have become a big business and an oxymoron of one word. Today, there seems to be no “sport” involved, only steroids, cheating, hype and too much unneeded before and after game analysis.
Because of its addictive nature, television still has great potential. First, the networks need to stop being so greedy and produce decent, instructive entertainment. My suggestion is that they follow the lead of PBS and some of the other cable stations that have been doing it for years. Outstanding programs like Ken Burns’ Baseball or Jazz can be so enlightening that they lead viewers to read more about the subjects. As I write this, I have all episodes of his 2007 epic, The War on tape, but have yet to begin viewing it. Any program, whether a series or a half hour episode can teach as well as delight an audience, thus serving a double purpose. I will get into the benefit of humor in education later.
You can see what writers are up against in their efforts to sell their works. People who don’t read have no reason to buy books, unless they have a lot of pictures. Most good books aren’t illustrated. The other catch-22 has to do with the fact that people don’t buy books unless they are “best sellers.” But how do I get my books on that list if people won’t buy them? I talked to someone at a book club in order to get exposure by selling what I wrote but I was told that she generally picked material from the best seller lists of the New York Times. No one said that selling books was easy!
I can recall a few books that were best sellers but they didn’t impress me in the least and I wouldn’t recommend them to others. I might tell my friends that I didn’t like them. I won’t get into specific titles but you have probably come across similar works that just weren’t good reads. If you’d like some suggestions for good stuff, go to my web site. Besides my books, there is a link for “recommended reading,” listing books I have read over the last few years, which grows with each passing day. You should be able to find something that you’ll like.
There are many obstacles for writers selling books. Besides the television, bestseller lists, publishers and illiteracy, there are also the bookstores. I discussed one earlier but my books are in a few other places. One big-name place has the cookbook and I have spent months trying to get the book dude there to stock the others. Shortly after Don’t Bet On It and Tick Tock, Don’t Stop came out, I asked him about adding those two to the shelves. He mentioned he was clearing out space for books. But that was over two years ago.
Just before my treatise on brain flatulations – if you have to, look it up – came into print, I handed him my business card heralding its arrival and asked about the possibility of stocking it, when I got copies, as well as my other two books. You probably have a good idea what he said. I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with clearing and nothing whatever about pimples. I said I would call when it was available and a few weeks later I was in the store and I handed over a copy of each of my last three books. That was in the summer of 2005 and I assume he is still alive but he didn’t contact me, so I called him. As far as I can tell, not only will my other books not be added to that store’s inventory, my cookbook will probably be removed. I’m not sure why I even bother with this guy.
Another store has all four of my books but has yet to sell a single copy, unless one sold recently. This place looks like a bomb hit it, so maybe I should remove my stuff from the premises before another one graces the store. I use that verb in a feeling of “doing some good.” There seems to be no order to the store – think “clutter” and Oscar Madison – and I doubt that anyone would spend more than a couple bucks for any book there. I won’t reveal the name of the bookstore but it certainly seems like its name fits perfectly. I’ll probably get sued or at least booted out with my books on the next visit. Of course, they’d have to read this book first.
There are a few more places in Western New York that sell my work. The first is an establishment that has two bookstores in the Buffalo area. So far they have gotten me some sales. The other is a gift shop that I just got involved some time ago. They only have my cookbook and the missing marbles book. They have sold a few books to date and until recently were the only business in the area that actually bought what I wrote. The others have the books on consignment, except for the one store that I referred to earlier that got the first three of my books from their distributor. This was the store where I dropped off ten copies of stupidity personified and eventually retrieved.
Consignment means the bookstore takes no risk since they don’t buy the book from you. They merely stock a few copies and when someone makes a purchase, you get a cut of the profits, usually 60%, but it might be less and they get the rest as well as a replacement. The better choice for a writer is to sell the book outright to a store with the option for a full refund, assuming the book returned is in good condition. With that approach, the store may have more pressure to make an effort to push the books. Otherwise, there is less of a concern about sales. Of course, the books do take up space so the store should try to get rid of the books under either situation.
I like to compare book placement in a store to a date for a testimonial dinner. Your black book lists two individuals as possible escorts, choice number one and a secondary and less preferable, number two. Think of selling your books to this business as the former and consignment as your second choice. Obviously either will get you inside the door but that may not be your first pick.