Tuesday, November 28, 2006
A simplified version of the way the programs works is this:
Once a book has been scanned and placed into digital format by Googles, a portion of the book containing the word the searcher request is summoned upon doing a Google Book Search. The amount of the book reveled is determined based upon authorization by the owner of the copyright and by whether the book is in the public domain. Links to bookstores and libraries are provided in case browsers wishes to obtain a copy of the book.
The most fascinating aspect of this program is the online access portion, currently being developed, of the Googles Book Partner Program. Not only will this program help visitors find and preview books, but the publisher or owner of the copyright will be given the choice of including the entire contents of the book for sale in immediate online access format. Online access will be available to users only through their browser, and only when they have signed in with their personal account. Users will not be able to save a copy to their computer or copy pages; however, they will be able to purchase and read the whole book online.
Now, this in itself is not a novel concept. Except when you are an author and a company is willing to take your book, transpose it into digital format, publish it online, market it, give you profits based on sales and not charge you a dime, you just have to say wow!!!
As an author/self-publisher, I was more than happy to include my book.
When I went to my better half, who is a total computer moron, and described the access online program to him, my question was, "how much should I charge for online access of my book?"
"How much are they making you pay them to put your book in?" he wanted to know.
Patiently, I explained, again, that inclusion of the book into the program was free. He sort-of squinted at me. "Free. You mean they're not charging you anything."
From my trials of trying to get a book into print, even he understood that nobody in the writing/publishing world gives a writer anything for free.
"Yep. Totally free."
"Huh." He was dumbfounded. "And who can read it again?"
I shrugged. "Anyone in the world who has access to a computer and wishes to purchase the book."
"Anybody in the world?"
"Well then, I'd just charge a couple of bucks."
"What, five or six?"
"No. Two. If anyone in the whole world can buy it, than just charge two."
I went away thinking, "oh, ye simple man."
Yet, after reflection, I knew he was right. Being a writer is more than having a book on the bestseller's list or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. It is being able to reach people through your writing. A book, once read, cannot be unread; it becomes a part of an individuals collective thoughts and memories. I would like to think that a person in India could go to a library and sit down to read a copy of my book. I like the idea that I have the power to set the price so reasonable that libraries all over the world can include my book as part of their collection. We in America have become so numb to exorbitant prices we hardly flinch anymore. Yet in other parts of the world a couple of bucks for a book is a great deal of money. Libraries with limited resources, when faced with the American publisher's prices, may not be able to include many of the books they would desire to carry.
For a writer, the chance to have your book accessible across the globe is a golden opportunity. I would think that every author would urge his or her copyright holder to include his or her book in the online access program at a reasonable price. An opportunity to take advanage of a program such as this one provided by Googles may never rise again.
Another factor my commonsensical better half pointed out to me: if you sell a couple of book to a couple of people for a couple of bucks in every town in every city in every country in the world, that's still a whole lot of money.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I saw the dragon once, over on old man Doyle's farm. Billie Gene, Wendell, Allen and I were up there hunting. We really weren't old enough to hunt, not legal like, but Allen had an old musket that belonged to his grandpa and maybe his great-grandpa before that. It was rusted up some, but Allen handled it like he knew how to work it. Wendell had a Daisy B. B. gun he got for Christmas. He knew how to use that thing all right. He terrorized the cats, squirrels, and rabbits for miles around. He never hit any; Wendell hated to hurt anything and he was a bullseye shot, but he had a new gun and had to shoot at something with it.
We liked old man Doyle's farm. He was what my grandpa called a trader: buying and selling guns, knives, equipment, even furniture, dishwashers and refrigerators if someone made him a good deal. My grandma called him a packrat and fussed that someone from the county should make him clean up all that trash. Whenever something went bad, he just hauled it off to the holler, and he did have an impressive pile of stuff back there behind his shop and farm. We spent many a satisfying day picking through that junk pile.
The thing you have to understand about old man Doyle's woods was that they were deep with towering trees going back for miles and miles, and thick in spots, the underbrush so dense with briers, brake and small trees, a person could hardly push his way through it. This made great hidey-holes for rabbits, squirrels and deer; the very critters we were looking for. Small creeks crossed and crisscrossed, running down off the mountains behind the Doyle shop and farm. My dad said there were caves up in those hills, said he and his friends had explored some as a boy.
With dawn just cracking over the horizon and fog still thick in the air, we met up at the Pleasant Valley Church. The fall morning air was cold and crisp with just a hint of frost on the ground. Allen got there first with his beagle hound, Squirt, with me just behind him, and we huddled on the church steps as we waited. Billie Gene was an early riser, but he tended to be sidetracked easily and never really got in a hurry. Wendell was hard to get out of bed on a cold morning, and we were just discussing whether we should go throw rocks at his window when they came down the road together. Billie Gene was dressed for Alaska with a thick coat, gloves, hat, and most likely he had on long johns and two sets of clothes. Wendell wore a thin army jacket, no gloves and his ears were red with cold. He jumped around, hands shoved in his pockets, complaining about the cold.
We ignored him, as usual, and set off for old man Doyle's farm. It was a good hike. We had to cross three fields, climb over or scoot under a number of barbwire fences, slosh across a creek and pass through the Staggs's cow field, but we made it by midmorning. Now it is impossible to go to old man Doyle's farm without visiting his junk pile to see what new, exciting stuff had been added. You never knew what useful objects might be discovered. We scouted around, checking out the new additions: a rusted deep freeze, an ancient refrigerator with the door hanging on the hinges, a pile of broken, tangled Christmas tree lights, nothing useful
Disappointed, we set our sights on hunting and headed deeper into the woods. Here the path led by the section we had dubbed "the graveyard". Dead bush hogs with flat tires lie side-by-side old tractors and spent manure spreaders. Off to one side was an old corn picker, its long neck bowed under the growth of years of vines and briers. Allen let out a whoop and swung into the seat of his favorite tractor, a Super C young enough that the gears hadn't frozen into place yet. Allen was a big kid, and if he wanted those gears to move, they were going to move. As if on cue, Wendell, Billie Gene and I moved out, picking our equipment randomly, and soon the hum of voice motors and the grind of changing gears filled the air.
"Whatya doing?" Wendell called over to Allen.
"Mowing hay," Allen yelled back. "You picking corn?"
"Yep," Wendell, high up in the corn picker, called back. Hauling out his pocketknife, he dug around in the dirt packed around the gearshift, trying to loosen the lever. Mice had built a nest up there in the cab and one of the babies crawled out and climbed up Wendell's pant leg. Wendell let out a squawk, trashed around, threw his knife, fell out of the corn picker, landed on his back with a thump forcing the air out of his lungs with a whoosh, and lay there stunned. We all came at a dead run and gathered around. Billie Gene grabbed Wendell's shoulder and gave him a shake. From the way Wendell was staring, Billie Gene must have thought Wendell had passed on, because he began blubbering, telling Wendell not to die now, he was too young. Squirt, the beagle, licked at Wendell's face and Allen, thinking to revive Wendell, dug out his matches, lit one and waved the smoke under Wendell's nose.
Wendell came alive, jumped to his feet shaking his leg, dancing around in little circles as he howled and tore at his pants. Billie Gene was staring at Wendell with big, round eyes and mouth agape as if he had just seen the dead rise. Becoming excited by all this activity, Squirt started barking and jumping around Wendell in his own circles. Allen, clueless as to what was going on, just stood there with a dumb expression on his face. Wendell finally got his pants off and shook them around a bit, still yelling. The tiny mouse poked his head up over the waistband, looked around, decided he didn't like what he saw and headed back down into the pant leg.
For some reason, the whole incident struck Allen as funny and he doubled over, laughing in a high, hiccuping way that made Wendell glare at him. Soon Billie Gene started snickering and before long we were all rolling around heehawing so hard our sides hurt. Even after we got order restored and headed deeper into the woods on what was now a serious hunting expedition, Allen would get struck with a case of the giggles, we would all look at each other, and next thing you know we were all off on a laughing spree.
We stopped for lunch soon after that. Allen's mom had packed him a huge lunch, and Wendell had brought none, although his mom had probably packed him one. Billie Gene had crackers and bologna. We shared all around and headed out again, our thoughts now seriously trained on hunting. Since Allen and Wendell had the guns, they led the way, weapons loaded and held in the firing position. Eyes sharp for any movement, ears straining to hear the slightest sounds, we crept forward, feet soundless on the trail as we searched for signs. Squirt ranged ahead, flushing out the game, and soon we hear his eager, high-pitched yelp.
We all glanced around at each other wisely. We could tell by the timber of Squirts tone what game he had caught.
"Rabbit," whispered Wendell, and we all nodded in agreement.
"Come on" urged Allen, and the hunt was on.
The pursuit led us on a mighty chase through the woods, across a creek, out onto the Applegate's field, back into the woods, through a jungle of briers, back across the creek, and then deep into the trees. Squirt lost whatever he was chasing, found it or something else, and was off again. At times we got close enough to hear his bark clearly, but mostly we heard him from far off. Sometimes we had to stop to catch our breaths, regroup and listen hard to determine if we were going in the right direction. In this situation, we all cocked our heads to listen, but it was Billie Gene we all relied on. Wendell and Allen could both spot a deer two miles off, but neither could hear worth a darn.
"I think he's off that way," Billie Gene would say, and since he prefixed all his sentences with "I think", or "maybe" and most generally turned out to be correct, we all tore off in the direction he pointed.
The fall days were short and afternoon was fast approaching by the time we caught up with Squirt. It was darker, too, here in the gloom of the trees. Billie Gene looked around anxiously.
"Do you think maybe we should head for home?" he asked.
Wendell and Allen, the lust of the hunt upon them, ignored him.
"What's he got there?" Wendell wanted to know. Squirt was dancing around with excitement, pawing at the earth in front of an opening in the rock.
"Don't know." Allen shook his head.
"He doesn't have it treed," This came from Billie Gene.
"Looks like a cave."
"That's a sure-enough cave, all right." They looked around at each other.
"Do we go in?" asked Allen.
"Maybe we shouldn't," said Billie Gene.
"We need to find out what he's got," said Wendell.
"It could be dangerous," disagreed Billie Gene.
"It doesn't look very big," observed Allen, the largest.
"Pretty small," agreed Wendell.
"Best let Billie Gene go in. He's the littlest." They looked at Billie Gene.
"It'll be dark in there," said Billie Gene.
"It doesn't go back very far," Allen observed, peering into the opening.
"Nope, not far at all," Wendell concurred.
"It may be unsafe. Maybe we should leave it alone. Go home. That could be the best thing to do." Billie Gene looked around at the darkening woods, shaking his head.
"What do you think he's got in there?" Wendell pondered.
Allen shrugged. "Rabbit, most likely. It could be a fox."
Wendell poked a sick into the opening. "Think it's a bear?" he questioned with interest.
"It's getting dark, guys, maybe we should leave," Billie Gene urged.
"A bear, now. That would be neat."
"Even a fox would be cool."
They were both kneeling now, peering into the cave entrance. It wasn't a large opening, but there were shadows at the back, almost out of eye range, that suggested that the cave might widen out at that point.
"Whatever Squirt chased in here, it's either small or way back there. I don't see anything," Wendell observed.
"I can't see it either," Allen agreed.
"Billie Gene should check," said Wendell.
"It should be inspected," agreed Allen.
They both came to their feet, dusting their knees.
"OK. Here's how we do it," instructed Wendell. "You crawl to the back, light one of Allen's matches and see what's back there. If there's a dangerous critter back there, than get out of there quick. All right?"
Billie Gene shook his head. "I don't know. It sounds dangerous. Maybe we should just leave. I don't want to tell you what to do, but maybe we should just go home."
Wendell chewed his nail, glancing around. "It is getting dark," he observed.
Billie Gene nodded encouragingly. "It's getting dark quick. Maybe we should leave."
Wendell chewed his nail some more. He glanced at Allen who shrugged. Wendell turned back to the cave opening.
"Well, we need to check it." He turned to Allen. "Give me a couple of matches, and I'll check it real quick; then we'll go."
Allen had the matches ready, and within seconds, Wendell ducked under the ledge and squirmed toward the back of the cave.
"Do you see anything," Allen called anxiously. Squirt whined, sniffed and danced restlessly. We all waited what seemed a long time for Wendell to wiggle back out.
"It's a cave, all right," he told us excitedly. "It gets big way back there. I ran out of matches, so I had to come back, but it's a big cave."
"Did you see a critter?" Asked Billie Gene nervously.
Wendell shook his head with disappointment.
"Maybe it's a bear cave," Allen suggested with interest.
"Or maybe the home of the Foxport Dragon," I chimed in.
They all looked at me as if I were crazy.
"There is no such thing as a Foxport Dragon," Allen informed me.
"Yes, there is. My grandpa says one lives up in these woods; that you can see its dragon breathe hanging in the air."
"Have you ever seen one?" Allen shot back.
"No, but my grandpa did. It breathed on his pantlegs and put a big hole in them."
That quieted them for a second or two. My grandpa was a feared man, trusted too. If he said he saw a dragon, than nobody was going to call him a liar.
"Something bad lives in this cave." I pointed at Squirt. "Whatever it is, Squirt doesn't like it."
"That's true," Allen agreed.
"Things that live in caves come home to them at night," Billie Gene said quietly.
Wendell's eyes went big and round. "Oh shoot. Let's get out of here."
With Squirt leading the way, we headed back up the ravine toward old man Doyle's farm; that being the shortest route home. Although it was only about 6:00, dark was coming fast; the short daylight hours almost gone. In the murk, I could make out the slight figure of Billie Gene ahead of me on the path with the shadows of Allen and Wendell ahead, but all else was vague. Up ahead there was a commotion, and we all stopped to listen.
"Something's going on up at old man Doyle's farm," Allen commented.
"Shh," said Billie Gene. "Let's listen."
"Something's coming," said Wendell.
"Something big," agreed Billie Gene.
Whatever was up ahead was causing a ruckus. There was shouting going on and snapping branches.
"Do you think it's people on horses?" Allen asked.
"Maybe," agreed Wendell.
"Must be a lot of them," said Billie Gene.
We waited, listening.
"That's not horses. Too big," said Allen.
Whatever it was, it was not only big, snapping branches and flattening small trees as it moved toward us down the hill, but it was coming fast.
"What is it?" Billie Gene whispered.
"I don't know, but it's coming our way," Wendell whispered back, his eyes huge in the half-light. We were now huddled together on the path.
"I see lights" Billie Gene said. We were no longer whispering, the noise was getting too loud.
There were lights too. Two bright balls of red burning in the black as the thing thundered down the hill toward our little group.
"It's the dragon," Allen hollered. "Run".
We scattered, scrambling down the hill. Billie Gene was ahead of me in the dark; I could hear the trashing and breaking twigs of his passage. He was little, but he was fast, and before long, he was gone. Behind me, I could hear Allen and Wendell yelling and father back, the rumble and crash of whatever was coming down the hill.
It changed directions, maybe due to a tree, but somehow it had caught up with me and was beside me now. I looked over and then stopped dead, mouth agape. It was the dragon: two red eyes burning in the dark, the long arch of neck clearly outlined against the tall trees, flames shooting from its head rolling out into the sky and down over its shoulders and back; black smoke billowing out behind. If I close my eyes today, I can see that dragon as clearly as I saw it that night.
I could still hear Wendell and Allen hollering, and it took me a second or two to realize that they were still ahead of the thing. How they avoided getting killed, I'll never know. I think Wendell tripped on a root and rolled off sideways down the hill while Allen landed in a ditch and the thing went over him. It rumbled pass me and then down below all heck broke loose. It sounded as if half the mountainside was going with it, crashing and thudding and ripping and tearing. This was followed by an eerie, screeching noise, high-pitched and stricken. Then came a thud loud enough to shake the earth beneath my feet.
When all was quiet again and the shock wore off somewhat, I dragged myself to the top of the hill to the farm equipment graveyard and huddled there for what seemed like hours waiting for Allen, Billie Gene and Wendell. Finally Allen and Wendell pulled themselves out of the holler, but we never saw Billie Gene again that night. We were all dirty, covered with cuts and brier scratches, and bruised from head to toe.
We all saw the dragon that night, and we swore an oath that we would all tell the same story.
Over the years, I've heard a lot of stories about that night at old man Doyle's farm. One tale is that a drunk was up there messing around with the old corn picker and somehow knocked it out of gear and caught it on fire. Others say they saw some kids up there earlier in the day and they may have had something to do with the corn picker going amuck and rolling down the hill into the holler that night; that maybe they lit a spark that smoldered all day until it became a flame, burning away the brush holding the corn picker in place. No one seems to be able to get the story straight on how it all happened.
Me, I just know we kids were out hunting in old man Doyle's woods that night and saw a dragon. And I'm holding to that story.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
For those of you unfamiliar with the publishing process, let me explain. Publishing companies solicit manuscripts from the author, process them into book format and handle sales and marketing. Wholesale companies and distributors purchase books from the publishing companies and distribute these books out into libraries, bookstores, etc. This is a rather simplistic explanation for a complicated process, but you get the idea.
Publishing companies are given the choice whether to accept returns from the wholesalers, distributors and bookstores. Returns are the unsold books purchased by the wholesaler, distributed out to the bookstores and which did not sale. This means that if the wholesaler or distributor orders xxx amount of books and the publisher has xxx amount of books printed up and shipped to the wholesaler who distributes them out to the stores, but only x amount actually sales, than the remaining xx amount is going to, you guessed it, come back to the publisher.
If the returned books total is relatively small, the publishing company can absorb the loss of the cost of the print run, but a large number of returns on one book, or a smaller number of returns on several books, can quickly put a company in the red. This would be a controllable situation if books were printed up in small amounts based on sales. However, traditionally book printing has relied on use of the offset printer, a method that involves an expensive, time-consuming set-up, but a low cost-per-book print run. Using this approach, the publisher prints the maximum possible, saturates the market and waits with fingers crossed for the onslaught of returns.
In today's world of rising cost, where a company is judged by its stock merit and stocks seem to rise and fall with the blow of the wind, even the big boys shudder at the thoughts of large returns, decreased profits and irate stockholders. This leads to a new business model, the "play it safe, go with the tried and true, don't rock the boat, and definitely don't gamble on anything new, radical, or different." In a field based on creativity and diversity, this is a sure approach to shrivel and die.
For small or self-publishers, the decision of accepting returns is a ludicrous choice. As a method of doing business, it just doesn't make good common sense, yet stores and wholesalers often refuse to carry a book from a publisher who will not accept returns. This places the publisher in the position of accepting returns and potentially increasing sales and hoping the returns don't bankrupt the company, or refusing returns and be blacklisted. It is a dilemma.
The logical solution to this problem is to refuse or limit returns (if enough publishers employ this practice, it will become standard); utilize the offset printing method for large, guaranteed orders; and for all other situations choose the print-on-demand demand printing system (I recommend Lightening Source www.lightningsource.com/index.htm) where books are printed per order. This is a cost-effective method ensuring control of the flow of orders, distribution and returns. Only by controlling and reducing returns will a company be able to grow and be competitive in a global market.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Somehow, the term POD has become synonymous with the way certain publishing companies operate their business. Publishing companies who solicit manuscripts from authors, have those manuscripts processed into book format, pay the author for the work, market the book, etc., etc., etc., (i.e. Authorhouse, Random House etc. ) should not be confused with printing methods. POD is a printing technique, a system of getting the manuscript from the word processor into a physical book.
For those of you out there who are not familiar with the way printing works, let me give you a brief overview. Traditionally, there was one way of printing books: by use of the offset printer. These are the big printing presses seen in the old movies and magazines. Offset printers are tedious and time consuming to set up, but once rolling, an extreme number of books can be spit out in record numbers at economical prices. The biggest flaw to this method is that it is expensive to set-up, thus it is only cost-effective to print a large number of books. Over the years, printing presses have undergone many changes and improvements and are still around and utilized routinely. It is still the most cheapest way of printing large quantities of books.
POD printing involves taking the book from digital format to print using an laser or inkjet printer. I am not an expert on the subject, but there are several methods of doing this. The initial set-up is very little compared with offset printing, but the cost-per-book is greater.
Now let us consider a scenario. Two publishing companies acquire a manuscript from a writer, polish it up and are now ready to send it to the printer. Let's say that both have done an analysis, gathered pre-orders and determined that each will sale about 3,000 copies of their book in the next year. Using the traditional, offset printing method, a publisher will pay more for the initial set-up, but less per book and all 3,000 copies will need to be printed at one time. With the print-on-demand procedure the publisher will pay less initially, yet more per book and can print copies per order.
Let's say publisher #1 goes with the offset printing. He places the order for the 3,000 books (remember, it cost a great deal to set-up, but once it's rolling, the cost per book is cheap, so he will want to print as many copies as possible or necessary) and when the order is ready, has it shipped to his warehouse. Here it is unloaded and shelved for storage. When orders come in from wholesalers, distributors, bookstores, etc., the books are reboxed and shipped to the customer.
Publisher #2 chooses the POD printing system. He will order a few books to have on hand and wait until orders arrive from the wholesalers, distributors, bookstores, etc. As the customer's orders flow in, he places the orders to the POD company and has the POD company ship the orders directly to the customer.
In the first scenario the publisher may get a cheaper print run per the 3,000 books, yet consider all the cost he will have that publisher #2 will never have to face:
- shipping cost for transporting the 3,000 books to his warehouse for storage
- labor cost for unloading the 3,000 books
- labor cost for shelving the 3,000 books
- cost to rent or purchase the land
- cost for building or renting the warehouse
- cost of utilities for maintaining the warehouse
- cost of insurance;
- the list goes on and on.
Now, let's figure in the worry factor:
- worry that the 3,000 books will get damaged in transit (the books will be moved from the printer, off the truck, onto the shelves, back off the shelves, back into boxes and either through the mail or back onto a truck)
- worry about damage due to mold, mildew, mice and rot
- worry about hiring and maintaining labor
- worry about fire
- the list goes on and on
Even if publisher #1 has the printing company ship the books directly to the wholesaler, distributor, etc., someone will be storing those 3,000 books. Now, let's multiply the cost and worry factors by the number of books a big publisher or distributing company will handle.
In today's world of rising cost, the print-on-demand method of printing is most feasible. By utilizing smaller orders based on sales, eliminating or reducing the need for storage, decreasing the opportunity for damage, and cutting unnecessary transportation and handling, the overall system is more cost-effective and efficient. While offset printing will have a place in the publishing system for years to come with large orders, publishers, distributors and wholesalers need to take a hard, accessing look at the benefits of the print-on-demand system.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
So what do we do? We search around to find the best publishing solution possible. However, there seems to be much confusion about what, exactly, is the difference between publishing, self-publishing, vanity presses, POD, small press and book packaging companies.
According to Wikipedia, publishing includes the stages of development, acquisition, marketing, production-printing (and its electronic equivalents), and distribution of newspapers, magazines, books, literary works, musical works, software and other works dealing with information, including the electronic media. (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publishing)
This means that the word "publishing" includes everyone involved in the process from start to finish. This could be confusing.
Now let's take the word self-publishing. A self-publisher is someone who owns his or her own stock of ISBN numbers, is responsible for all aspects of the publishing process from start to finish including getting the book written, set in book format, picking a cover, choosing a printing option, and is in control of marketing, advertising and distribution. The self-publisher shoulders the cost and gets the profits. In order to obtain ISBN numbers the self-publisher must form a company, yet as long as that company is publishing only the writer's own book, this is self-publishing.
Any other publishing arrangement is not self-publishing whether the company the writer works with is a small publisher, vanity publisher, big publishing company, little publishing company, trade publishing company, huge publishing company, mega publishing company, imprint of a publishing company, subsidy press publishing company, or book packaging company. In short, if any company buys and owns the ISBN number and then assigns that ISBN number to one of your books, at that point they own the book as the publisher and you are the author who gets advances, royalties, pay, dividends, or whatever compensational arrangement you have worked out with that publishing company. Regardless of how much money, time, energy, advertising, book signing or input in any form that you, the author, have supplied, they are the publishing company, they own your book to do with per the contract you signed with them, and you are the author.
POD, presses and/or printers, and offset printers are means of getting the book/media into print. POD stands for Print On Demand: a digital, electronic form of printing the book. Small and big presses and printers are just that: companies that take the manuscript in raw form and transform it into a book format. Offset printers are the traditional printing presses used for years to churn out large volumes of books. All the guys above (the self-publisher, the small publisher, the big, mega, trade, huge, vanity, and subsidy publishers) use all three formats: POD, printing presses and offset printers to get the book in print. POD, presses/printers, and offset printers are not good or bad; they are merely tools used to get the material into published format.
This is not to say that a company cannot wear two hats and offer the services of publishing and printing, yet most companies stick with one or the other.
Which publishing method an author chooses to go with, whether it be self-publishing; a subsidy, vanity or book packaging company; small publisher; or large/trade publisher, is an individual choice. The most important aspect of this whole author/publisher arrangement is that the author understand what he or she can expect to get at the end (money, respect, esteem, fame, more time to write) and what he or she will need to put into the mix to get there (money, time, energy, more money, more time, more energy). When the author has done all the research, read all the fine print and thoroughly, totally understands what is ahead and what can be expected to be reaped, that is the time to choose a publishing approach.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The key word here is money. The cost for farm equipment such as tractors, hay rakes, round balers and bush hogs has almost doubled in the past ten years. Many farming supplies and fencing supplies as well as chemicals, fertilizer and fuel have more than doubled. Yet, despite the increase in price for equipment and supplies, the profits from grain crops, dairy, hogs, cattle and poultry have not increased significantly in that same time period.
Farmers have a joke. In 1968, it took the profit of ten calves to buy a new truck; presently it takes the profit of ten calves to buy a 1986 truck. In this revenue constricting scenario, which has everyone in the agriculture field desperately searching for ways to control cost while increasing cost-effectiveness, production and yield, it is little wonder the farmer has turned to agritourism. In fact, the major players in the agri fields, such as Farm Bureau, extol the wisdom of replacing or supplementing traditional farming by incorporating agritourism into a farm plan.
Our neighbor has taken this advice to heart and now he routinely mowes a corn maze in his corn crop with the corn attached. When questioned about this practice, he shrugged and gave the answer that he makes more money selling tickets to the maze than he ever did selling the corn. Another neighbor now sells his corn as decorative corn shocks; again, he makes more money. Indian corn, pumpkins, squash and gourds have long been raised for sale as decorations. U-pick-it farms have sprouted everywhere including strawberries, pumpkin, raspberries, blueberries,flowers and herbs as well as the whole range of fruit trees. Farm agri-related activities are offered routinely at many agrifarms: crafts, pig races, pony rides, mazes, fishing, hayrides, petting farms. Education stations are available on cheese making, compose education, equine grooming, dog grooming, chickens, cows, pigs, donkeys, orchards, fish, turkeys, you get the picture. Many farmers have turned their farms into bed-and-breakfast enterprises or dude ranches. Others now cater to hunters, fishers, or have developed trails for hikers, trail riding or ATV sport.
All this leaves me pondering. With all this agriproducts and agriactivities, who's growing the real food? Many farmers have been squeezed out of business and more will follow; other farms have been broken down into smaller units for development; farms have been confiscated by the power of eminent domain, and now with increased focus on agritourism, the emphasis is less on farming and more on the use of farm connected products and activities to earn a living. The long and short of this state of affairs is that a farmer can no longer make enough money through farming to farm. Soon farming may become a byproduct of agritourism.
We Americans need to wake up and pay attention to where our food is coming from. It may be that shortly our orange juice is not from Florida anymore and corn may be raised predominately for biodiesels rather than cereal. Having the bulk of our food imported in today's unstable world situation would be dangerous, expensive and could leave America exposed to world exploitation.
I was poking around a writing forum the other day, just snooping on all the conversations, when I can upon a discussion concerning the merits of utilizing a small press versus submissions to a large publisher with hopes of gaining a substantial book contract. This got me thinking.
All of us writers, at some point, go through the same or similar process. We write for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is, we write. Also, we are all trying to figure out how to get our stuff published. We read all the books and articles, ask the same questions and search the Internet gathering information on getting an agent, on publishing, on self-publishing, on trade publishing, on POD, on small presses, on agent scams and publishing scams. We research and calculate the odds of being published, and all the while, we send our writing out to agents, editors and publishers hoping for a bite.
We do all the same homework and research, yet each writer is a uniquely dissimilar individual with distinctly different work and diverse approaches to life and life's situations. A publishing method that may be ideal for one person may not be appropriate for another. Some writers may not have the patience or fortitude to send their work out time and time again only to be denied, while another writer may not have the skill, determination and resources to self-publish his or her work. In short, after all the information is gathered, dissected and mulled over, no one person can assure a writer of which publishing approach is guaranteed to garner success. A sound strategy and hope is the best that can be done, yet each individual will formulate a plan based on personality, resources and skills.
Perhaps the worst publishing plan to go with is the gut-feeling approach. The experts advise never to let gut feelings replace building a platform and developing a strategic, logical business plan, yet sending material out over and over based on hope does not seem all that logical.
My advice, for what it's worth, is this: do the research, access your personality type, skills, resources and last, but most importantly, go with your gut feelings. A manuscript, article or short story stashed in the box in your closet is of no service to yourself or others. Get the material out there in the method you deem best for you. This may, in the long run, involve an assortment of methods given the variety of avenues now available with the introduction of the Internet. If you make an error in judgement, so be it. Let's face it; it's all a crapshoot anyway.
Never give up hope that your material will be read, re-read, loved, talked about and made into a movie. Some of the best books I've read took ten years to become common household conversation and movies, and I picked up a now infamous diet book for a couple of bucks years before it became well-known. The main thing is to keep writing and never stop putting it out there.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Not being a total moron, I had some idea of how the tipping system worked before I took the position. Officially the server is hired by, and works for, the restaurant, but is paid less than minimum wage by the company; in my case, $2.15 an hour. It is expected that the diner will provide the bulk of the waitress' wages through tips.
"What if I don't get any tips? I asked naively.
I was quickly reassured that I would make more than minimum wage, and if I didn't, well, I just was not doing my job properly. Furthermore, if I did not average minimum wage, I would no longer have a job. I quickly learned the reason for this. If I did not make enough tips to average minimum wage, the restaurant is, by law, compelled to compensate to make up the difference; something no restaurant wants to do.
God forbid that any of the restaurant's profits go towards paying the wages of their employees.
Also at this 'learning' session the practice of tip sharing, a custom I was totally unaware existed, was explained to me. It goes like this. The restaurant not only does not want to pay the entire wages due the waitress, but neither do they wish to pay the minimum wage earnings of other employees. This includes: the hostess, busboys, and runners who help bring the food from the kitchen. The waitress, I find out, gets to pay part of the wages of these employees out of her tip money.
"Why," you might ask, and I certainly did. Because, it was explained to me by management, these employees are helping the waitress to do her job, which is to give the customer a speedy, efficient and totally wonderful dining experience. Due to the great overload placed upon the server by the sheer variety of duties expected of her in taking and placing orders, making and serving drinks, making salads and desserts, fetching food from the kitchen, handling special needs, and taking the time to make each diner feel special and comfortable, it is impossible, during busy times, to do all of these duties within the time frame expected and allotted for the optimal dining experience.
Simply put, a person can only do one thing at a time and can not take orders at one table, get drinks for another, fetch food for the third, while putting desserts together for a fourth, all at the same time, although all of these things needs to be done at the same time for each table to have the perfect dinner.
Since a server cannot do the job alone, helpers are hired in the form of the hostess who seats the customer, busboys who help clear the tables, and runners who help bring food from the kitchen. For this gift of help, the server is expected to give 6% of the gross amount of her sales, out of her tip money, to help pay the wages of these support personnel. This is not, mind you, 6% of the total tip money she makes for that shift, but 6% of the total sales. This means all of the food the waitress serves to her tables each shift is placed in the computer under that waitress identification number. At the end of the shift, this amount is totaled and the server pays 6% of that amount. If a server receives poor tips that shift, she may take home very little money.
"But why doesn't the restaurant pay the wages of the busboy, hostess and runners," I wanted to know. Is it not the restaurant's duty to provide adequate personnel to get the job done? I was bewildered as to why it was my responsibility to pay their wages. It was explained to me, as if I were slightly simple for not immediately grasping why it was my responsibility, that these support persons were helping me to do my job, and since it was my job, it was my duty to help pay them.
Well, we can take the support personnel away, it was subtly suggested, and then see how many tips you get. After all, if the diner has a bad dining experience, (say there are no clean tables, or the food is late coming from the kitchen) the server is the one who will be blamed and not get a tip.
So, I grudgingly agreed to help pay the extra help. By that time even I almost believed it was my duty to shell out my hard earned money to receive support help. Why not, after all? Apparently it was my duty to persuade the customer to pay me; by that logic it only stood to reason that I get more from the customer to pay the rest of the help too.
It was only after being hired and spending countless hours memorizing the hundreds of menu items, the long list of wines, whiskies and various coffee drinks, as well as absorbing all the other endless tidbits I would need to know in order to dazzle the customer with my suave serving skills, did I realized I was doing a lot of work but making little money.
First there was the waiting. Not the serving kind, but the standing around waiting for a customer to arrive kind. And while hanging out, I was making the whopping sum of $2.15 per hour Of course the restaurant wasn't going to pay 7 to 10 servers more that that to stand around waiting, although they wanted that many available just in case the restaurant got busy. I don't know how many other business would keep employees with that practice. If the restaurant didn't fill up and the waitress waited on only a couple of tables (or none in some cases) and went home with 5 bucks (minus the tip share, of course) well that was just the waitress' hard luck.
Now, to make things worse, before leaving each waitress had 'side jobs' that had to be finished each shift. Side jobs included stocking the salad bar, condiment bar, and dessert bar, cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the restaurant, bisseling the carpet, scrubbing down walls, hosing down trash cans... the list was endless. Sometimes I spent as much time doing side work as I did waiting on tables. And for side work I was paid waitress pay of $2.15 an hour. Restaurants can't get away with slave labor, but it's close.
I never became a great waitress, although I did eventually get into the range of about ten dollars an hour. Yet I did learn that when dining out, to tip my server really well because I understand how difficult the job is. I also know that the server is not being fairly paid by the company they are working for. Yet each time I lay down that tip, I can't help think how unjust it is for the customer to be expected to pay the wages of an employee rather than the company they are working for. Somehow, it seems to me that if an employee gives a good days work, they should be fairly paid a just wage by the company they work for. Every other company has to pay their employees using the government minimum wage standards. Why should restaurants be given special privileges? Tips should be used to show appreciation, not as a means for a company to bypass its responsibility to pay its employees a decent, well deserved wage.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
The following morning, the proper tools were carefully laid out, the technique for killing the pig was explained in detail and an expert demonstration was given of the correct way to skin the pig. Unfortunately, even Mr. Tundal could do nothing about the smell. When the pig was put in hot water, I think we all turned a little green. Yet, we got through it all right, and to this day, I remember it as an exciting and fun, although gory, day. We helped with the making of the sausages, the frying up of the cracklings, and at the end of it all, Mr. Tundal led my brothers outside for the most important part of a hog killing.
Building a huge fire in the backyard, they sat around it with green army blankets covering their heads, forming cowls, as they waited for the precise moment the ceremony could begin. Proper timing, according to Mr. Tundal, was critical, for even one event out of order could ruin the whole outcome. Dust deepened into dark, and still they sat. Standing at the window, I watched and waited for the event to begin.
Mother came into the kitchen and stood behind me, looking over my shoulder.
"What are they doing out there?" She asked.
"They waiting," said Musha.
"Waiting for what?" asked mother.
"It's the Ceremony of the Pig," I explained.
I shrugged, and we waited.
Finally, when I had given up hope that anything would happen, Mr. Tundal let out a great screech and jumped to his feet.
"The time has come. Arise with me and let the Ceremony of the Pig begin."
Myles rose so quickly he stumbled, tripping over his blanket and would have fallen into the fire if Mr. Tundal hadn't caught him. Moses went to stand, but as one of his legs had fallen asleep, he could not put his weight on it, and he began hopping around on one foot in a little circle, moaning and yapping and shaking the leg that had fallen asleep. He, too, tripped over his blanket and was hopping and tripping and yelling every time he came down on his tingling leg.
Behind me where I stood at the window, Musha asked, "that part of it?"
Mr. Tundal, the high priest, finally got order restored to his fledgling assembly and, with blankets replaced and dignity restored, proceeded with the initiation.
"You must stare into the flames and think about the hidden meaning behind the killing of the hog," intoned the high priest in a mystic voice.
Myles looked puzzled and Moses confused, but both stared hard at the fire.
"Search for the significance within the flames. Search for the secret." He was chanting now with eyes closed and head back. "Search!" he beseeched.
Myles and Moses stared harder, searching for the significance.
"What are they doing?" mother asked from behind me.
"Searching for something," Musha said, and I heard her snicker.
Moses' eyes were watering with all the searching. Myles was staring fascinated at the leaping flames. He had probably forgotten he was supposed to be searching.
Suddenly, the high priest ceased his chanting, "We have found it!" he announced.
Neither Myles nor Moses looked as if they had found it, but both looked glad the searching was over.
Picking up two sticks, the priest began circling the fire, tapping the sticks together loudly while starting a new chant. His followers hastened to grab their sticks and fell in behind him while tapping loudly.
They took up the chant: "Virility, procreation, virility, procreation." Over and over they chanted, marching around the fire.
They did this for a while. Behind me, Musha asked, "What's that mean?"
Mother said. "Let's hope they don't know either."
The high priest stopped suddenly. Myles almost ran into him. Moses ran into Myles.
"Now, for the feast of fertility," the high priest announced. Pulling a packet from his pocket, he opened it and dumped the contents into a skillet placed within the fire. He stirred the mess in the skillet a few times then, reaching into the fire with tongs, extracted the pieces. Dividing the morsels evenly onto three large leaves set handy nearby, he passed one leaf to each boy while taking the last for himself.
Musha asked, "What's that?"
"You don't want to know," said mother.
"Pig balls," I told her.
Myles and Moses stared down at the pieces of meat on their leaves. Myles looked interested. Moses looked appalled.
The mystic, waving his hand over the meat pieces, muttered strange words.
"What's he saying?" Musha wanted to know.
Mother shook her head. "You don't want to know that either."
The priest raised his leaf and, in a loud voice, gave the toast: "To a manly manhood."
"To a manly manhood," echoed his inductees.
The high priest tossed his manhood inducing meat into his mouth and chewed fiercely. Myles tossed his meat and chew with equal ferociousness. The other inductee was less sure, eyeing the manhood meat critically. Finally, he placed it within his mouth, gagged, chewed, gagged, chewed, gagged, swallowed, gagged, downed it, and looked sick.
"We have done it," yelled the high priest. "We are fertile; to the victory dance."
He danced around the fire with wild leaps and shouts. His two followers soon joined him, and all were leaping about with equal abandon. What other mysterious rituals the Order of the Pig would have engaged in were abruptly cut short when Myles trailed his blanket in the fire, and great havoc erupted as the high priest and the inductees tried to put out the blaze. Finally, the blanket was tossed into the fire, and the members of the Order of the Pig shared a silent moment as they watched it burn.
"That part of the ritual too?" asked Musha.
Mother sighed. "Maybe I had better go fetch them in before one of them gets hurt." She headed for the door.
Behind me, Musha giggled. "I'm glad I'm a female and don't have to eat pig balls to make babies," she said.
To see the preview of Grandma Tull's Stories and download sample chapters, visit www.grandmatullsstories.com
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Anyway, back to the job issue. Now, has anyone ever really contemplated the jobs the Mexicans are struggling to get to America to steal from the American workforce? I live in a small farming community in Kentucky, and as you know, Kentucky is known for its tobacco. How many people out there have ever worked in tobacco? Go on, raise your hand. Now, how many of you have ever cut tobacco? Or hung it? Hard work, wasn't it? Want to do it for a living? You bet your darn tooting you don't. It's toooo hard.
For those of you out there who have lived a sheltered existence and have never had the pleasure of cutting or hanging tobacco, we will enlighten you on the whole tobacco process.
First, there is the Tobacco Setting Process. Now this is not so bad. Other than riding on the sitter for long enough hours that your buns go numb and your back cramps, the worst that can go wrong is that you get sunburned, breath in the noxious chemicals (most of them poisonous to the human body) used in setting the tobacco, and get covered in wet, slimy, chemical-rich water.
Next, we have the Topping Process. After the tobacco has grown awhile, been sprayed with various noxious (most of them poisonous to the human body) chemicals to kill weeds, bugs and fungus, the farmer goes out into the field and individually breaks the top off each and every plant. Let's get an idea of the scope of this project. An acre of tobacco has about 8,000 plants. No machine for this job, folks. Just old-fashion hard labor. A farmer seldom raises only one acre of tabacco; it would not be cost effective. Let's say the farmer has three acres. That means 24,000 plants which have to be individually topped.
In late summer, the tobacco has to be cut: the Tobacco Cutting Process. This is where the Mexicans come in. Each stalk of tobacco (some weighing up to 10 lbs) is somewhere between 4 to 6 ft. tall and the stalk is about as round as the end of a baseball bat. The procedure for cutting tobacco is: get a small hatchet, called a tobacco knife, which looks like a small tomahawk; bend over; strike each tobacco stalk at the base with the approximate force you would use if trying to cut a watermelon in half; stab the tobacco stalk on something called a spear; bend over again and repeat the process over and over and over.
Now let's talk about spearing tobacco. The tobacco is speared onto a stick (4 ft. long x 2 in. square). The spear is a round metal cap that comes to a super-sharp point. The tobacco stick is pushed into the ground; the metal spear is placed on top. The idea is to jam each stalk of tobacco onto the spear with enough force to make the spear pierce through the tobacco stalk and the stalk to slide onto the stick. Most farmers, depending on the size of the tobacco, want about 6 stalks on each stick.
Think about this for a second or two. To place 6 stalks onto a stick, an individual has to bend over, cut, spear. Bend over, cut, spear. Bend over, cut, spear, Bend over, cut, spear, Bend over, cut, spear. Bend over, cut, spear. Is your back hurting yet? The pay is .12 cents a stick. No, I did not type that wrong. Twelve cents per stick. Not per stalk, per stick. Now, let's go back to those 8,000 plants-per-acre. Are you doing the math? Is this a job most people would give up their job for?
Now don't blame the farmer for these poor wages. They have to pay that little to make a profit. The government and the tobacco companies control how much money they are given per pound. Farmers can't set their own prices like your neighbor doctor, lawyer, or hairdresser.
We have now come to the Housing Tobacco Process. Tobacco is hung in a barn or similar structure to dry and cure. The top of most barns is about the same height from the ground as a single story home. One houser climbs to the top of the barn, places one foot on a round pole or board (think 4 x 4 in diameter), spreads his legs as far apart as he can, and places the other foot on another pole or board. Take a second or two to visualize yourself doing that little feat. Climb to the top of your house, put your foot on a 4 x 4, spread your legs and place the other foot on another 4 x 4, nothing underneath you but ground. Somehow, I don't think very many of you are going to rush to do it. Now lean down as far as you can (past your feet) balancing yourself on the poles, hands loose because you have to grab and pull up the tobacco that is being handed up to you, and hang the stick of tobacco on the rails. Remember, you can't hold on; your hands have to be free to grab, pull up, and hang the tobacco. Think how tired your legs will get in a very short while. Remember that 8,000 stalks-per-acre. If 6 stalks are placed on each stick, that makes 1,333 sticks of tobacco that has to be hung per acre.
Obviously housing tobacco is a group effort, but finding individuals willing to cut and hang tobacco is getting harder and harder. In fact, it's downright impossible. The older folks don't want to do it anymore (or can't), and the younger folks don't know how and most don't want to learn.
So, we come to the Mexicans.They are willing to do this hard labor for little pay under deplorable working conditions. All they want in return is money to help feed their families back home. They are willing to walk miles under conditions that would kill many of us, taking huge risk, to come here to do this job.
I don't think the Mexicans are taking the jobs that Americans want. Americans don't want to work in tobacco. It is hard, demanding, exhausting work. If there are Americans out there who want to work in tobacco, go to any tobacco farmer at cutting or housing time, and I guarantee you will be put right to work. For the rest of you who don't want to do this labor, let the Mexicans come. The American farmers need their help.
P.S: There are many other crops just as difficult to harvest. If you don't believe me, read up on garlic farming; then decide if you want to give up your job for that one.