Trusting in My Journey as a Writer

I am not a natural storyteller. It took me my whole life to learn the elements of storytelling and to learn to write in a manner that pulls readers into my stories. After that, it took years to get published, because at the same time I was writing my first four novels, I had to learn the industry, such as what was required and who required it. I finally found a publisher who loved my books, and when the first two were released simultaneously, and a third six months later, I thought I stood poised for greatness. I was prepared to do what it would take to make a name for myself, but then, before that could ever happen, the gates of the book business burst open, and a horde of self-publishers surged into the arena. Not only did I have to compete with the established writers, I had to compete with millions of unknowns who were much better at marketing than I could ever hope to be.

Well, fate had other challenges in store for me. Five months after Second Wind Publishing released my third book, my life mate/soul mate/best friend/personal editor died, shattering me and my life beyond all recognition. One of the problems with losing the one person who connects you to the earth is that you no longer know who you are. For more than two years now, I’ve been tormented with the question of my place in the universe. With so many billions of people alive today, what is the point of being me?

I recently realized that the point of being me is simply to be me. I am the only me in the universe as far as I know, unique in a way only I can be. In the past few months, I have learned to trust in my life’s journey. I am trying to believe I am where I am supposed to be, being who I am supposed to be.

I now have five books released — the final novel my life mate helped me edit, and a journal of my grief — and I still have not reached the readership I’d hoped to find. I’ve been feeling as if I were adrift in an ocean of books, and I haven’t been able to find a reason to continue writing fiction. The books that apparently appeal to book buyers seem to have been written to capitalize on a trend — vampires, zombies, eroticism, bondage, symbols, serial killers — and my books are completely different from any of those. With so many millions of people publishing today, what is the point of my being one more unbestselling author?

If you’ve been reading my recent articles, you know how much this question about the meaning of writing has plagued me, and yesterday I found the answer. The point of writing is the same as the point of living — to be me. No one else can write the books I write. No one else sees the world in the same way as I do. Even better, most people who read my books love them. Such an incredible thing — to have written a book that even one person truly loves, and there are many who love my books. Would it be nice to make a living by writing, to be a bestselling author? Yes, of course, but in truth, it’s important for me to just write.

Now all I have to do is learn to trust in my journey as a writer. To believe I am where I am supposed to be. To write what only I can write. To be me.

The Future of Publishing

Some people have predicted a dire end to the publishing industry as we know it, and perhaps it needs to die. The old system of advances, where publishers subsidized the careers of a few specially chosen writers (literary authors or potentially lucrative authors who had not yet garnered a lot of attention) with the proceeds of bestselling commercial writers is a ridiculous anachronism in this world of corporate monoliths, and it is already being phased out.

The new publishing model of anyone publishing anything, no matter how trivial or poorly written, is no better. It still comes down to the same thing — that only a few writers will ever be able to make a living at the profession. As the anachronistic industry conforms more to the digital age of “content creators,” there will be fewer writers making millions and millions more writers making almost nothing.

In the old system, the publishers made the profits, not the writers. In the new system, the content distributors, such as Amazon, will make the profits. To Amazon, it makes no difference if they sell a million books by one author or one book by a million authors. It still comes down to the same thing — one million books sold (with absolutely no capital outlay). In fact, it doesn’t even matter if those books were sold or given away — Amazon still makes money from advertisers.

The price of books is constantly sliding downward. The $.99 ebook is becoming expensive in a world where readers expect books to be free. Unless there is a book they want to read (generally because everyone else is reading it) and so will plunk down cash, readers will most often choose the free item. In other words, writers will become drones feeding the machine with an ever-devalued product. There will always be a few writers making big bucks, of course, simply because hopes of financial success oil the machine. (In the same way, ordinary people occasionally become millionaires, perhaps by winning the lottery, which keeps taxes for the rich at a relatively low level, since people won’t vote to tax the rich if they expect one day to become rich themselves.)

In the end, what does all this say about the publishing industry? Perhaps nothing. Writers will still write. Most of us write not to make money, but to write and ultimately to be heard, if only by a few discerning readers. (Though a living wage would be nice.) People will still want stories. That is, after all, what we humans are — storytellers.

Print books will become scarce, but will probably always be available for those who want them, since books can be printed one at a time. (At least until the machinery breaks down.) Ebooks themselves will eventually be replaced by something else — interactive stories, perhaps, where the readers get to choose the ending. Or maybe stories that are fed directly to our heads via implanted computer chips. Who knows — certainly not me. All I know is that technology changes so rapidly that in twenty-five years, a book might bear as little resemble to today’s ebook as an ebook does to a print book.

There’s also a vague chance that the entire industry will burn itself out. When everyone can do something now, without working for it — such as publishing a book — there is no dream for the future. And what are we if we have no dreams?

(Perhaps that last paragraph needs an explanation. Many businesses were fueled by unfulfilled dreams of the young.  For example, the miniature business. So many girls didn’t get the dollhouses they wanted when they were young, that when they hit middle age and had the money to fulfill their love of the miniature world, they fueled an entire business. However, their daughters and granddaughters, who got the houses those women made, did not have unfulfilled dreams of a miniature world,  and now that those women are aging beyond the need for hobbies, the miniature business is fading.  I look at the publishing world and see how many writers middle-aged and older have come to writing because of unfulfilled dreams of being published. The new generations don’t have those dreams because they can write what they want and publish it. They don’t have to strive for the dream of publishing — they can get it immediately. So how is that going to affect the future of publishing? That’s all I meant.)

Book Blogs and the FTC

I was sitting here wondering what words of wisdom to dispense or, more probably, what subject to blather on about, when out of nowhere appeared inspiration: book blogs. Well, it wasn’t out of nowhere — I found a discussion of the new FTC ruling on a Yahoo thread. Apparently, many book bloggers are talking about having to give up reviewing books for fear of incurring the wrath of the FTC along with a fine of  up to$11,000.

The new rulings say that bloggers endorsing a product, such as writing a favorable book review, must disclose their connection with the publisher, author or whoever gave them the book to review, since the book qualifies as compensation (unless they return the book). This interested me primarily because I’ve been searching the net looking for review sites for Daughter Am I, otherwise it might have slipped past me as does most government shenanigans.

Today I received yet another notice from a reviewer saying that he couldn’t/wouldn’t commit to review my book. I console myself with the thought that at least I tried — I really hadn’t planned on going the book blogger/book reviewer route since I received favorable reviews for my first novels from people who bought the books and didn’t expect to get them free. Still, I thought it worthwhile to at least try getting reviews from book bloggers — I want to give Daughter Am I every chance of succeeding — and, in the process, I reviewed hundreds of book blogs. Apparently some reviewers receive tons of books (well, not tons, perhaps, but still a significant number) from the major publishers, and only give a token notice to those from small independents. Others will accept books from anyone without promising to read the book. Sounds like a racket to me.

Still, the hoopla over the FTC ruling is a bit premature. Almost all the book blogs post their review policy, and every one of them mention that they are given the books. If, in fact, the bloggers have some sort of arrangement with a publisher, they should disclose it in the interests of fairness. Authors should know up front they have almost no chance of being reviewed so they don’t waste their money sending their book into a void. On the other hand, if there is no arrangement, then there’s no problem. At the bottom of the review, bloggers can simply say “Author So-and-So send me Such-and-Such a book to review. I have no other connection to said author.” Problem solved. No FTC intervention.

Oddly enough, the FTC excludes newspapers from the ruling because a) newspapers are assumed to be unbiased and so are not “endorsing” the books they review and b) they retain the books, not the reviewer. Not so. Newspapers are much more biased than bloggers, endorsing books that no one in their right mind would read. Also, many newspapers have a review table where they dump books for any employee to take and review. And keep.

I wonder what theFTC ruling is on ebooks? Is that compensation? A reviewer is allowed to return the book so as not to have to disclose connection, but how do you return an ebook you’ve reviewed?

The FTC ruling seems to be just another phase of this year’s publishing industry upheaval. It will be interesting to see where it all leads.

DAIDaughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age adventure, will be available from Second Wind Publishing in two weeks!

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Is Genre Writing an Endangered Species?

I’m sure you’re all getting sick of me and my comments about the publishing industry, so today I thought I’d let someone else write about it. Andrew Vachss is guest blogging here blog today, though “ghost blogging” would probably be a better word for it. He doesn’t know he’s a guest and might not be happy if he finds out, so don’t be surprised if this post disappears.

I found this bit by Vachss in the foreword of Act of Love by Joe R. Lansdale, which might be the book that started the serial killer genre. (I always thought Thomas Harris started it, but this book predates his by several years.) I wasn’t impressed by the book (sorry Joe and Andrew) but I did find Vachss’s words interesting. He wrote:

Genre writing is an endangered species . . . for all the reasons any species starts to run out of road. Overpopulation, in-breeding, lack of natural predators, limited food supply. Words don’t work as stand-alones; they gather their power from juxtaposition . . . from context, from precision placement. But, in our game, words have become de-valued currency-you can’t count on them anymore. Our field is overdosed with flab: take some gratuitous, implausible violence, throw in some unrealistic sex, splatter some guts and hair on the nearest wall, sprinkle in a touch of mystical reference . . . and you’re walking on the “dark” side.


The genres . . . horror, crime, fantasy, whatever . . . all have their built-in places to hide. Write something stupid, it’s a metaphor. Write something mean-spirited and small, it’s satire.

Getting published is pretty easy today. And that’s good. I’m all for an open admissions policy. But the sorting-out phase, the natural, organic process by which the strongest survive . . . that’s not happening. What we have instead is favor-trading, networking, and other sordid forms of insulation from the culling edge of the evolutionary razor. When the awards outnumber the candidates, we’re heading for the Wall. With no breaks and the steering locked.

Remember I told you that the genre market was in trouble? A dragon’s coming soon . . .coming down hard. It’s going to walk through the jungle, clearing out the dead vines with its breath, stomping on those that can’t get out of the way. A hard, cleansing wind is going to blow.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Becoming My Own Genre

Libraries and bookstores used to be set up with a mystery section, a romance section, a science fiction section, and then all the rest of the novels. That’s what mine are — “one of all the rest”. Though that isn’t a genre. Drats.

When did we become so concerned with genre? When independent publishing houses were bought out by the conglomerates? It makes sense — because of my efforts at trying to promote my still-soon-to-be released novels (“soon” is sometime in January now), I’m becoming aware of how difficult it is to get people to notice a “one of all the rest” novel. Most people seem to stick with a reading a certain type of book, and they have certain expectations. Romance readers expect the romantic couple in a romance novel to have romantic conflicts, romantic interludes, and romantic delays until the final romantic finish. If any of their expectations are not met, they will hate the book even if it is spectacular.

I understand this; it happens to me with movies. If a certain movie is advertised as a comedy (Working Girl, for example) and it isn’t comedic all the way through, I hate it because my expectations have not been met. Later, if I watch that same movie without any preconceived notions, I might like it, seeing it (again, like Working Girl) as a drama with comedic moments. But how many people reread a book they hate?

A friend (James R. from Gather) told me: “Transcend genre, change the rules and the world is your oyster. Lamentably, only a few writers are able to pull that off, but hey, nobody said this writing, promoting, and editing stuff was easy, right?” So I need to build my own audience and then it won’t matter that I have no genre because I will be my own genre. Sounds good.

Now if I can only figure out how to do it.

The Blue Jeans Philosophy of Life and Writing

Last summer at Art in the Park, the realization struck me that everyone in my field of vision was wearing blue jeans. Men in basic, straight-legged jeans. Boys in baggy jeans that hung to their knees. Girls in cut-offs or low riders. Sophisticates in designer jeans. Heavy women in pleated jeans with elastic waistbands. Arty women in skirts fashioned from jeans. I’m sure they all thought they were dressed uniquely, but I saw the sameness: blue denim.

That’s when I came up with my blue jeans philosophy of life: be an individual — like everyone else.

Last night I extended this philosophy to include the publishing industry. I was reading a debut novel written by James Lee Burke’s daughter, and it was no different from thousands of others I have read. It was written well enough, but there was nothing unique about it. And, if by chance, it had been unique, I’m sure the publishing industry would have pulled her into line and edited out anything that was different. It seems as if what they are looking for is a high level of mediocrity: books that are original — like all the rest.

If you can understand this philosophy and put it into practice, there is a good chance that you will succeed in life and in your quest for publication, but there is no hope for me. I have never owned a pair of jeans, never even worn a scrap of denim.