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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Warning to Hopeful Writers

I first started writing in total isolation here at Wake Robin Farm. Nobody for feedback.  No writers group, no writer buddies. This was long before the internet, so I'd get excited when my copies of The Writer and Writer's Digest would arrive in the battered mailbox out by the road.  I remember reading them in the hammock strung between two oak trees, just happy that I had this one little thing I intended to pursue entirely on my own.

 

Finally, for feedback, I sent one of my short stories to the Wrtier's Digest critique service.  I couldn't believe my amazing good luck when the writer assigned to me was Merrill Joan Gerber, my favorite Redbook Magazine fiction contributor.  I was thrilled to have her help me with a couple of my stories. She gave me solid advice.

 

But then she said, "You don't need me.  You should be sending your work straight to editors."  She didn't feel right, she said, knowing a good chunk of my critique payment was going to Writer's Digest. She lamented that those working for the critique service were told to encourage even the worst writers, the better to keep that money coming.

 

Interesting. And I appreciated her levelling with me.

 

For many years thereafter I did not have to deal with the concept of people trying to make money off of my hopes.  My books began to be traditionally published by Random House, and everybody who helped me polish and promote those books had the same goal I did, to come up with the best product possible and make money off of its sale.

 

Enter Self Publishing.

 

Long before I actually tried self publishing with my two recent memoirs, I came in contact with the concept when members of the Authors Guild were invited to take advantage of a deal the Guild had worked out with iUniverse to bring back into print the works of  authors who had formally reclaimed the rights from their publishers. It was free for us, and the books were decently produced. What's not to like?

 

Then the phone calls from the relentless iUniverse salespeople started coming, and I am embarrassed to admit that my closets still contain far too many cartons of my own paperbacks. These people were totally hard-sell!  And it's difficult to resist going for the larger quantity in order to get the best price break. Also, I hadn't quite figured it out yet: beyond what iUniverse collects from non-Author's Guild  authors as upfront production costs , they must be making a good share of their money from selling cartons of books to the authors themselves, not  to individuals on their website.  I mean, when was the last time you went book shopping at the iUniverse site?

 

Now Self Publishing has exploded, and there are tantalizing stories of a handful of individuals being incredibly successful.  Wasn't that Matt Damon movie about the guy stuck on Mars based on a self-published  book?  A huge industry selling publishing services has sprung up around all the hopeful writers.  Yes, people might need editors and cover designers, and I'm sure many of those freelancers out there offering these services are highly talented and completely legit. But most of the services offering "promotion" must surely border on outright scam.

 

These are the calls I get these days, two or three a week. Almost always the caller has a thick accent, and I feel so bad that this is what they're forced to do for a job, convince some hopeful writer to throw good money after bad in  trying to promote their self-published book.  When somebody tries to claim they have carefully vetted my thirty-year-old book and wants to discuss it with me, clearly, it's bogus. Because I know better!  But I worry for the self-published author  who would so desperately want to believe  that somebody thought her book was great.  Clearly, when so many of these callers leave numbers asking for a return call, (because they just can't wait to talk to you!) there must be people falling for it. 

 

One caller asked if I'd like to go to the Los Angeles Book Fair. Sure, I said, and you're going to pay for my trip?  Because when you're actually getting properly published, that's how it works.  The publisher gives you a plane ticket to the Miami Book Fair and a hotel room overlooking the bay and somebody throws in a thousand dollars a day for you to speak in schools and pretend to be a celebrity.

 

My husband and I don't spend long on these calls now.  We've got it down, and the bottom line is this: if the caller wants to pay me money for the rights to one of my titles, I'm interested.  If their plan in any way involves me sending  them money, then, no. This shuts them up. After all, a con only works on hope, not cynicism. 

 

No, I don't worry about inadvertantly turning down anything legitimate.  I figure if Reese Witherspoon ever calls,  she'll at least be able to say the title of my book correctly.

 

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Brides of Eden: a True Story Imagined Now Available as an ebook.

Brides of Eden was first published in 2001, before ebooks were a thing. I've finally now been able to make it available in an ebook edition that contains all the lovely historic photos of the original.

Check Goodreads for a lot of great ratings and reviews.








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Childhood at the Beach

Well, time flies! My little cover model for Someday I’ll Laugh About This, Gillian Stephenson, probably around eleven when she posed for me, just graduated from high school. Congratulations!

Coincidentally, I was just shipping another box of this title to the lovely sisters at Mari’s Books And…..in Yachats, Oregon. I wonder how many titles can claim to be sold exclusively in one store? I was going to write that the book is available on Amazon but nobody buys it there, but when I went to check I saw that, yeah, that’s right, probably nobody has ever bought it through Amazon. That’s kind of what a ranking of 8 million or whatever means! So, Amazon gave up. Can’t blame them.

So, this summer vacation story can be bought only in Yachats, where Mary and Mari, the store's owners, do a great job of hand-selling the book the way only independent book store owners can, doubtless pointing out to customers that Yachats is the actual setting of the book, renamed Perpetua for fictional purposes.

It’s certainly dated in terms of the technology available to my characters; the beloved beach cabin, Sea Haven, doesn’t even have a phone, and cell phones are still in the future. But the heaving emotions of puberty are still the same, and I was so sad to see that last summer, a teenage girl from Eugene died in a rolling-log-in-the-surf accident similar to what I describe in the climax. The need to warn of this Oregon Coast peril will never be out-of-date.

Gillian, my model for Shelby, is the granddaughter of my dear friend, Margaret Anderson, who has herself just released a memoir entitled From a Place Far Away: My Scottish Childhood in World War II.

I loved this book! Read it last night in one sitting and it was so soothing, such an antidote to the current state of political affairs and the degradation of our culture. So pleasant to read about decent people coping with the threat of war as they live through what will in retrospect seem rather idyllic childhoods.

Margaret is a wonderful writer, and she had me laughing out loud over and over, describing her childhood antics. It’s a difficult thing to write about oneself, and she pulls it off to perfection. Fans of her earlier novels—who are no doubt now reading these books to their own children—will definitely want to read From a Place Far Away and learn about the places and incidents that inspired her earlier and much beloved works.

From a Place Far Away is a gem. Don’t miss it!  Read More 
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Keeping it Local

Yachats—pronounced YA-hots (go figure)—is known as the Gem of the Oregon Coast and boasts a gem of an independent bookstore called Mari’s Books And…..For several years the lovely owners, sisters Mary and Mari, have been cheerfully handselling my set-in-Yachats middle grade novel SOMEDAY I’LL LAUGH ABOUT THIS, making it one of their small-scale bestsellers. Sweet deal--I let the store know when my mother is heading to her beach house in Yachats and she delivers whatever new stock they need of this title plus BRIDES OF EDEN, which also has a local setting. In this person-to-person way, we save shipping costs and keep it local.

For this recent Mother’s Day, my mother was booked with my brother and his clan (four great-grandchildren!) at the Yachats house before I invited her to our smaller gathering, so, to get a card to her on the right day, I sent a Mother’s Day card to the bookshop, with a note to Mari and Mary asking them to hand over the card when my mom showed up with the current delivery of my books.

When I didn’t get a call from my mom, I worried. Had she inadvertently left my books at home and so not visited the bookstore? I didn’t want her to think I’d forgotten her on the big day, and the Hallmark card (first off the rack to choke me up) was a misty-making epistle about a Lifetime Legacy of Love which I knew she’d agree was perfect.

Well, I needn’t have worried. As it turns out, the sister who received the card was not the sister in the store when my mom came in. When they realized the card hadn’t been handed over, Mari took it upon herself to go looking for my mom at the family cabin, knowing only that it was up at the end of Salmon Street. How hard could it be? She ended up delivering the card to my mom as she sat with the rest of the family down on the beach.

Now, I ask you—do you think anybody at Amazon.com would pull through for a writer like that? Please support your local independent bookseller!

And don’t forget to stop in at Mari’s Books And…in Yachats.
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