by Dick Loftin.
Stephen King has sold over 300,000,000 books. Think about that number: 300,000,000. Astounding. So when a writer of his stature sits down and writes about his craft, it is wise, if you’re serious about your writing, to pay attention.
“On Writing,” is his book about his art, his craft, and his business. It was published in 2000, and he was working on it prior to his horrific 1999 accident, when he was struck and nearly killed by a man driving a blue van [The whole story is in the book in vivid detail.] It is also the book that – it could be said – brought him back to life, returning to finish it after he was able—and felt like—writing again: “The scariest moment is always just before you start,” he writes.
I enjoy reading and learning about writers and how their writing is done. What is it in us that makes us sit down at the computer, the typewriter, the notebook, and search for the words that bring about the poem, the story, the essay, the novel. The words are there—they are always there—we simply need to find them, and learning from the great craftsmen in the writing business, reading their interviews and books about how they write, can enlarge your vision and thinking about how to improve your own writing. It’s the ‘nuts and bolds’ of writing that I am most interested in.
Here are some gems from Stephen King, in “On Writing”:
Page 37: “Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere,
sailing at you right out of the empty sky … Your job isn’t to
find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
Page 104: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Page 131: “Writing is refined thinking.”
Page 145: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above
all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two
things that I’m aware of, no short cut.”
Page 147: “Reading is the creative center of the writer’s life.”
King reads whenever and wherever he can. Waiting rooms, check out lines, theatre lobbies. He says, “The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.” I try to take advantage of commutes back and forth to work as ‘reading’ time, with a CD going in the car.
Page 152: King writes about volume, here. He writes about British novelist John Creasey, who has written 500 novels under 10 different names. He then writes of Harper Lee, who wrote only one book, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” A classic yes, but only one? King is puzzled by the slim output of some writers. He writes of other novelists who have written under five books: James Agee, Malcolm Lowry, Thomas Harris. He wonders what on earth they were doing during this time? Here’s the take away line for me: “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?”
As I said, I love the craft, the why, the how, of writing. I love the tools writers use, and where they write. I have a habit of buying a writer’s biography before I read one word of their work. I never read Richard Yates, John Cheever, or Robert Lowell before I read the biographies of their lives. I have never read any of Stephen King’s books before reading, “On Writing.” Now, I want to read King. This reverse approach works for me. I like to know the writer. I like to know how he writes, how and what he thinks about his craft, and it helps to know a little about his life. I feel like I know Stephen King now. When you get the opportunity to spend some time in the writing mind of someone like Stephen King—whether you read his books or not—it is time well spent.
Visit Stephen King’s website, Here.
There is a 10th Anniversary edition of On Writing, available on Amazon.com, Here.
I picked up my copy of On Writing in paperback at the Holland Hall Book Fair in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in February 2012. It was owned by a girl named Hannah. I know this because her name was on the front cover, the back of the front cover and on the top of the book on the pages. She only got as far as page 86. Too bad, Hannah. I paid one dollar for the book. In February 2013 at the book fair, I found it in hardcover for three dollars. Some of the best money I ever spent. This copy was clean–apparently it wasn’t owned by Hannah. You can read my post about the Holland Hall Book Fair in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Here.
by Dick Loftin
There are few things I enjoy more than going to book signings. I love the opportunity to interact with the author of a book and having it signed is a particular thrill for me. I love books for their art, the feel of the pages, the knowledge they hold. I love authors for their ability to create careers out of words and I am particularly admirable of writers who can create a heavy volume of work, collected in one-thousand page bricks. I am a fan of books and authors and was absolutely star struck when David McCullough signed my copy of “1776,” after his speech at the Harry Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Kansas, in 2007. I practically chased him up a flight of stairs to ask him to sign my book. He said, “Sure, but, let’s step inside [the library] where it’s a little cooler.” It was summer and had to be a hundred degrees. He signed my book, I shook his hand, and from that moment, signed books became a passion. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, we have Booksmart Tulsa, operated by Jeff Martin. Jeff and his team have presented several readings by celebrated authors. The readings are fun, not too formal, the authors are polite and take the time to visit with you, sign your book and take a picture if you want. Blake Bailey signed my copies of “Cheever” and his biography of Richard Yates, “A Tragic Honesty,” but I can’t believe I forgot to have my picture taken with him. Maybe he’ll come back for his next book. I wanted to know more about Booksmart Tulsa so I asked Jeff if I could send him some questions. Here is his response.
Endpaper Review: Define your role in the book business. What do you do?
Jeff Martin: I started at the lowest possible level, working part-time in a bookstore. I eventually took an interest in book-related events and worked my way up the chain until I handled book events and began bringing in all sorts of authors to Tulsa through the bookstore. Everyone from Mike Huckabee to David Sedaris and every possible variety between, and that is a big gap. In the spring of 2009, after leaving the retail world, I started Booksmart Tulsa and since then we have made it our mission to turn Tulsa, perhaps even Oklahoma, into a more literary and literate place.
ER: With Booksmart Tulsa, are you finding the market changing for books? [Larger crowds for certain types of books, smaller crowds for others? Are you surprised by the turnout for some books? Are people asking about “e-book versions” of books you present?]
JM: It seems that with my audience, the focus remains heavily focused on the traditional book. Although, we do have the occasional person have their e-reader case signed with a sharpie.
ER: Do you think e-books will take on an “introductory role” in book selling by offering an avenue for emerging writers to be introduced to the book buying public? Could e-books be the appetizer, with a traditional book follow-up release being the entrée?
JM: I honestly feel that e-books will become more than just an “appetizer.” When you factor in the interactive possibilities (audio, video) the real question becomes, is this a book at all. In my mind, books will always be books. These are something else. We just haven’t figured out what to call them.
ER: How is social media impacting the book business? As e-books grow in popularity, could “online author chats” replace book signings?
JM: I think about this often. In much the same way that musicians have had to refocus their efforts on live performance and getting out on the road, it is my belief that authors will more than ever be forced out of the shadows. Booksignings, or at least public events of some sort, will become more important in making that connection to an audience.
ER: How do writers stay current as the culture of book buying and selling changes?
JM: While it’s not always the case, because some things do get lost, for the most part I believe that good is good no matter the format or time. New, original ideas and voices will find a way into a marketplace, via the printed page, the screen, or whatever else may come along.
ER: How can books stay current with the number of entertainment choices available today [iPhone, online games, web surfing]?
JM: Following up with what I was saying earlier, books don’t need to be current, they just need to be. The biggest mistake is thinking that books need to change at all. They’ve been around much longer than almost any piece of technology we have. There has to be a reason for this.
ER: While e-books may be a more convenient way to read and enjoy books, there is no true “product” to buy and own. There are no books to shelve, no book “collection.” Do you think we will still be able to buy a “book” in ten years, or do you think the book as we know it will go the way of the vinyl record?
JM: The vinyl comparison is one I make often. I was recently at Best Buy and was pleased to see a nice collection of new vinyl for sale. Not a huge amount, but decent. And this was not just old reprints of Dylan and The Beatles. These were new records by Jay-Z, etc… If there weren’t a market of some size for these, Best Buy wouldn’t be selling them. If you had asked me 5 years ago if this would be happening, I would have said you were crazy. But these things find a way. So books, may have a moment of panic, but they will come back and always be around.
ER: Is there anything you would like to add?
JM: People talk about the “death of books” as if books, like the Mayans, will simple vanish. But books, because they are a physical object, are all around us. How many books are there in this world for each of the now 7 billion people on the planet. I would guess at least a few. If we were to never print another book again, there is no way that books will cease to be a part of our lives in this tactile world. It’s not going to happen.
ER: Thank you.
Sources: Booksmart Tulsa website Here. BooksmartTulsa.com image from Booksmart Tulsa.
by Dick Loftin
I don’t follow the food world very much and I am somewhat amazed there is such as thing as a Food Network, but never mind. What I do follow are books and book people. Now that is something I can get my teeth into (sorry, had to do it). You might have missed the announcement last week about food king Anthony Bourdain moving into the publishing business with his own imprint. Reports say that Bourdain’s publishing outfit will release four to six books a year and he will be directly involved in the process of bringing the books to life. What really got my attention with this development is Bourdain’s interest in essays, having read Joan Didion, Orwell, and others. Here is where I perked up. I enjoy reading essays. It is what I call “light” reading. The kind of reading you want to indulge in when you don’t want to pick up another book, but have the urge to read before turning in for the night, or sip a cup a coffee while leafing through the pages. I enjoy John Updike‘s essays and those by E.B. White, but my essay reading is light and I want to delve deeper into it. Bourdain’s publishing effort may be the answer. Here is the article by Carolyn Kellogg from the Los Angeles Times which includes an interview with Anthony Bourdain. Food for thought.
“Writing is an act of love. It is the creative fruit of a passion for what you write about, for the eyes of those who read your writings, for yourself and the people you meet through your books. Passion will make a writer out of you.”
-Natascia Pane / Founder, Owner, Literary Manager / Contrappunto Literary Management
by Dick Loftin
Writing, at its foundation, is a love of words. And molding those words into meaningful prose that people will want to read, is the goal of any writer. Whether the form is fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays or any given outlet of written expression, the words are what matters most. Shaping and molding the words into a book that will reach its readers in a deep, personal way is the mission of Contrappunto Literary Management.
Founded in 2002, in Turin, Italy, and now established in the United States, Contrappunto Literary Management saw a need for the full representation of writers. Writers were recognizing the need for complete professional representation. Traditionally, the literary agency profession served as the connector between the writer, publisher and its public. Natascia Pane, founder and owner, refocused the effort by concentrating on the “person within the writer… paying close attention to the relational flows between all members of the publishing chain and constant updating of the related professionals.” By doing this, Contrappunto has reinvented the business model of publishing, literary representation and working with writers. By focusing on a model of “Literary Management,” Contrappunto takes a leap beyond the traditional agency, whose main purpose was to act as a mediator between authors and publishers. Pane says there is a more focused role at Contrappunto Literary Management. “It’s focused primarily on developing opportunities of all kinds for writers, both creative and purely market-related. The writer, whether they’re just starting out or already in the full flush of their career, is the center point that the whole business revolves around, and [Contrappunto is] poised and ready to enrich the value of their literary works,” she said. The company opened their English Language Market, serving Great Britain and the United States this year. They were the only Italian agency at the recent BookExpo America in New York.
While Contrappunto represents Italian writers and their works in the UK and US, the company is seeking English language writers for representation in Italy, Spain, Latin America and Russia. Contrappunto has experienced dramatic growth from Italian publishers contracting with the agency to manage their clients in these countries. The agency has also seen growth from English publishers contacting Contrappunto to manage their entry into these markets. Pane says the writer is always “at the center” of these efforts.
On the Contrappunto website, there are “Ten Guidelines for Contemporary Writers.” It provides excellent advice for new and established writers when thinking about their craft. For instance, #3 says to “Be the first… to believe in yourself, to take a chance on yourself, to run by yourself so that one day agents, publishers, critics and readers will run with you.” My favorite, “Be honest with yourself. Be a master of excellence: fill out, polish, and study endlessly. Be curious to see where the word ends, and where its ‘higher level’ begins.”
Contrappunto Literary Management is filling a void in literary representation by helping writers understand the markets they are trying to reach and lessen the distance between those markets and their work.