30 April 2009

Writers Are Doin' It For Themselves -- A guest post by Vincent Eaton

A big welcome to Vincent Eaton, writer of fiction, plays, digital stories and more. This is his literary exercise from our workshop the other night... Essential reading!

(And for a tast of Vincent's wordplay, may I suggest The worm within.)

Now, over to Vincent.....

As I have been completing books during these last few years, I needed to consider whether I wanted once more to take the worn-out out route of script, agent, publisher. I began doing what has turned out to be three years of research into publishing. Gathering statistics. Acknowledging that the book business is using a broken business model where only two in eight books published make their money back. Thus, 3/4's fail. Logically, any business that runs that kind of business should be out of business.

Now, even the biggest brick and mortar bookstores stock less than 2% of books available. Anyway, they have basically become showrooms for bestsellers and prize-winners. According to Publishers Weekly, publishers and sales reps (editors are increasing referred to a product managers) they refer to the books on the shelves along the walls as “wallpaper”. It's there to give the look of a bookstore. What really makes the money is the 3for2 book deals.

However, for the first time, interesting, in the first three months of 2009, online books outsold bricks and mortar bookstores. This happened in 12 short years.

There was also my personal history with publishing to weigh and consider. Twenty long years ago I had my Fifth Avenue agent and my Viking Penguin publisher. My editor then is now a Vice President. She's gone places, I haven't. My book failed in the sales sense, and I was dumped with three sentences from my editor. Over the following years I have had a number of different agents, each tied to selling a different manuscript. One after another they got back to me with similar reactions from publishers rejecting each and every manuscript: “Good writing. Good dialogue. Interesting situations. Very professional. But...” there's the kicker... “we don't know what the market is.”

I don't do market. I can't, in fact. I tried to sell out to the best of my ability about ten years ago when I wrote what I thought was a pretty funny, commercial novel with tons of plot. Result: one after another said, “One of the best literary novels I've read but what's the market?” Even when I wanted to sell out, I failed.

Weigh and consider.

And now with two manuscripts done, and a third on its way (and actually, 18 in what I can self-importantly call my unpublished back catalog), I ask myself, Do I want to take the two years per agent, per manuscript, and wait for what I more or less know will be the inevitable repeats of previous years? The “Good this and that but what's the market?”

No, I just don't have it in me to give up the next half decade to the corporate gatekeepers.

So, there remains the choice of taking matters into my own hands. I've Wondered off and on for ten years now whether I should start my own little publishing company. I have the experience, ten years as a marketing communications manager with an international publishing magazine... I know all the steps involved in the process backwards and forwards.

I looked at bands launching their songs online, on MySpace. I looked at my talents and experience and my shortening days.

So I set-up a publishing company in the U.K. I have developed a publishing web site about to go live. I had my first book copy edited by a professional in the business. I am reissuing my first novel. I have a contract with the best print on demand company owned by the largest distributor in the Anglo-Saxon speaking world.

I had professional graphic designers create my cover, the inside layout, a first chapter published in an online journal so far—the cult of the printed journals are of no use to me. A series of videos, podcasts,and other excerpts being readied. Then there's submitting to online reviewers that statistically, with 5.6 reviews now done online, and 2.9% are off-line, such as the TheTimesOnline, and others, print is the dying thing.

I can look at thing as I would want them to be, or I can look at them as they are and how they apply to my ambitions.

I got more statistics at the international London book fair, where I attended numerous conferences, nosed around, made contacts.

Found out about ebooks. Currently they are just 1.8% of publishers sales. But it is also their fastest growing source of income. During 2008, ebooks grew 68%. In the first three months of this year, demand grew by 173%. Surprisingly, growth was biggest in the ages 55-64. Damn right I have a contract with an ebook distributor. The biggest sellers in ebooks is crime at 25%. Second is fiction, at 24%. And instead of writing and directing plays that few here in Brussels want to see, I am creating videos of scenes of my books and eventually I'll able to insert them and offer it as enhanced multimedia ebooks. Animation, text, voice over, text, video insert...

I heard a knowledgeable number of publishing professionals that the future of much of the industry will be dominated by electronic distribution, internet marketing to niche audiences, and reading by print-on-demand or hand-held electronic devices.

This I can do. In fact, this I would enjoy doing. The plan is to offer lots of small books making small turn-overs. It's about making a bit of a living, which is all my work will ever provide me.

I'll have to commit to blogging after speaking with Nick Harkaway (John le Carré's son—he probably gets a lot of that as an inevitable add-on), once a busy screenwriter, now a published novelists hot on the Internet (now my “friend” on Facebook), who stated he didn't want to blog, but once he did, he found amazing people, and connections, and new readers no doubt lead directly from this.

I'm on Twitter since yesterday (this is growing 3000% per month). Nick H. explained it's like a pub, where you can listen to conversations and participate in the one that interests you. And then connect, get known, get your name and books about.

So I've seen my book in print, so I do not seek that ego stroke. I have put my plays on locally, and have sparse attendance. I seek a wider, untidy audience “out there” that likes the odd stuff I like to write. I'm going where the future is: mine as well.

29 April 2009

One more school post and then I'll stop for the day

There was a meeting of the CIRI yesterday -- I can't remember what this stands for, but it is a government/ministry of education group set up to deal with the inscriptions mess. It supposedly has legitimate authority to do things such as (for example), ask parents to commit to their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choices, or even -- maybe? -- compel them to make a decision, and take a place they've been offered, definitively, and give up the other places they are holding, for those of us -- ahem! -- who have currently no place.

But apparently the CIRI has decided to do nothing. It wants to wait to receive inscription lists from the schools, to see the evolution of the situation before it acts! It doesn't want to act of its own power? Take action to rectify the situation?? It is useless!

The lists at most schools are not moving. They are blocked for many reasons, though I think I am most irritated by parents who already have been offered a place at one school, and have in theory accepted it, but have not completely committed, because they are holding out for another school. They won't turn down the place, but they don't really want it, either. I understand the motivation of such parents, but on the other hand I also think they are selfish bastards. How would they feel if they too had no place? Ah, but it's different of course then.

I wish I could tell the CIRI that I would happily take a place at any one of the schools we've signed up to, definitively, and give up the rest of my spots.

You gotta love this...

From an inter-school meeting held last night. When one participant asked, "What do we say to children who are still without a school?", the answer was:
the children, accompanied by their parents, should present themselves at their school of first choice on 1 September, or even on the following days, in the hope that the a space will have opened up for them. It will be in any case difficult days. The surest thing to do, for those who have a place already secured, would be to send a second adult to their first choice school.
There you have it. Show up hoping there's a place. Oh yeah, and if you already have a place, try getting one at your first choice school anyway. Just send another adult -- it's not like they have to go to work or anything, and you're sure to have a lot of adults around to do things for you. Neither are they likely to have to take younger siblings to their first day of school. Too bad, single parents, or anyone without their family around. Just be sure to pick an adult who is good at shoving, shouting and queue-jumping.

28 April 2009

Three attempts at a literary exercise

At my fortnightly writers workshop, we are meant to read out a literary exercise each meeting. This is, in the words of our chairman, "to keep us honest." I am often late and don't get to read out my exercise. But that doesn't mean I haven't done one! Here is last night's would-have-been exercise. (Note: they are adapted journal excerpts.)

1. Puddle

Feel like today got off to a good start, then brain was sucked out of ear during hours spent in office. I could feel it going, slowly, bit by bit; it pooled out onto the top of my desk, drip by drip, and made a puddle. It made a big soggy brain-pink puddle, and the puddle slooched off the side of the desk until it hung there, like one of the clocks in that Dali painting. You know the one.
I'm not saying that no one should ever work in an office, or that its inherently bad. All I'm saying at the moment is that it's draining me of will to live.

2. Quilt

So: I dared myself to sit at my desk and type. Set the timer for 13 minutes. I ran over, which felt nice, went to 20 minutes, and now of course am late, missing buses everywhere, it is the school holidays, and I don't have my bike because I left it at work when the weather turned bad. I wrote 229 words and thought, as I walked down rue du Bailli, that these 229 words don't have to be anything more than they are. They don't have to be perfect. They don't have to be pristine. They don't have to be publishable. They just have to sit on the page and be.

These 229, they feel like a block, like a building block, or a patch. I'm going to concentrate on making a bunch of patches, and when there are enough of them I will sew them all together. I'm not going to make any daft quilt analogies, but it is true that I have always admired quilts. I once tried to make one: I thought it would be easy but even finding the right fabric was hard, I guess because I grew up with quilts and they were already soft and worn, but fabric doesn't start off that way. That was disappointing. I did eventually find some suitable material, it still wasn't the right kind and when I started to cut the squares, the fabric started to unravel and it was hard to cut the squares straight. The entire process seemed to confirm everything I knew about myself and sewing, even though I really wanted to do it and I could see the result in my mind's eye: but I was crap at sewing and have no patience for it. I still am crap at sewing and have no patience for it.

One day perhaps, one day -- when I have a pair of green wellies and a dog and a goat, when I live in the country near an estuary -- perhaps I will try again.

3. Hotel

Now I'm in bed, and made a cup of tea as the minibar wine is outrageously expensive. It is very quiet. I can't say that I have warmed to the charms of Cologne. Frankly I can't see anything so charming. Today I talked with the man who came to turn down our beds. The girls and I were lounging about and he knocked on the door so I let him in to do it. He was asking where we were from and all that and we gave our usual schizophrenic answer, about being from Belgium but really from the US and etc etc. Well, he was from Afghanistan, 11 years ago. Said that he lost 2 brothers and his family said "that's it then." They got out. They had spent a lot, his family, on his education, but when his brothers were killed they got the hell out. Now they're scattered all over Europe and one sister in the US. Only his mother and oldest brother are still at home. I forgot what he said he studied, all I remember is the expense... And something about languages, being close to India. And now here he is, a middle-aged man, turning down beds in a big hotel and maybe lucky to be able to do it. It doesn't seem right somehow. I wish I'd asked him what he'd studied.

Each student blocking 4,75 places...

According to a survey conducted by the parents groups fighting the inscription process for 1st year secondary students 2009, the average child holds places at 4,75 schools -- whether on waiting list, inscription list, in commune or out of commune.

The sample size/survey response was fairly small (54 responses), but interesting enough to report.

And gives some hope as well for those of us who are stuck with nothing at the moment.

27 April 2009

Have you heard of this?

This is the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. I was writing a document in Google Docs and checked the word count. Whoa Google Docs! The word count function not only checked the word count, gave me number of paragrphs, pages, spaces and sentences, but also applied not one, not two, but three readability assessments to my document: Flesch Readng Ease, Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level, and an Automated Readability Index.

I pulled the following from Wikipedia, as referenced in the link above. But for the curious, my writers workshop literary exercise received an 82.50 on the Reading Ease assessment, and scored a 5th grade level on the other two tests......

In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read. The formula for the Flesch Reading Ease Score (FRES) test is
206.835 - 1.015 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total words}}{\mbox{total sentences}} \right ) - 84.6 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total syllables}}{\mbox{total words}} \right )

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below.[1]

Score Notes
90.0–100.0 easily understandable by an average 11-year old student
60.0–70.0 easily understandable by 13- to 15-year old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by college graduates

Reader's Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, an average year 7 student's (eleven years) written assignment has a readability test of 60-70 (and a reading grade level of 6-7) and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s. The highest (easiest) readability score possible is around 120 (e.g. every sentence consisting of only two one-syllable words); theoretically there is no lower bound on the score -- this sentence, for example, taken as a reading passage unto itself, has a readability score of about 14.3. This paragraph has a readability score of about 50.6.

24 April 2009

My hometown

Bra saves woman's life

Police in the city of Detroit said intruders tried to shoot a woman who saw them breaking into the house next door.

The bullet hit her, but was deflected off the metal underwiring in her bra.

She was injured but the injuries were not life-threatening.

23 April 2009

Courage, it will settle.... Right?

Wait, wait, wait. I can't make any major decisions right now, not until I know where The Eldest will go to school. Not that there are any major decisions to make. But I couldn't, even if I wanted to.

The school called Uccle-1 (also known as Athenée Royal Uccle-1) not only puts their inscription waiting list stats on-line, but also frequently updates them. Why doesn't every school do this?? I last checked a couple weeks ago, and we were up into the 90s from number 162 originally. There were 180 total originally on the outside-of-Uccle* waiting list.

Well today I checked again and we are now 80. We've passed the half-way point!

At the other two schools that remain real possibilities (and there are two others which are really too impossible), we have climbed slowly from waiting list numbers 18 and 29, to 6 and 18. That's as of a month ago. I am beginning to worry that both are too "bien démandé" (highly desired), but slow and steady wins the race, right?

Had brief exchange of email today with one of the people who run one of the groups that are fighting this inscription process. Their words to me were:
Courage, ça va se décanter ...

Which Yahoo! Babel Fish translated as
Courage, that will be elutriated.

Elutriated. Merriam-Webster Online defined that as
to purify, separate, or remove by washing.

Hm. Google Translate was better. It produced
Courage, it will settle.

* What's Uccle? the name of the community, in French commune, where the school is located. We do not live in the commune of Uccle, we live in the commune of Ixelles. We used to live in Uccle and The Eldest has always gone to school in Uccle. But that doesn't count. And I honestly don't know if that helps or hinders. There is also a separate inside-Uccle waiting list, because the school has to keep a certain percentage mixture of in-commune and out-commune, in the make-up of its student body.

Zitty Ditty

Life has seen fit
to give me a zit
at the age of 42.
O life....
Is that really the best you can do?
m disappointed in you!

21 April 2009

Why can't we all just get along?

I don't know. I wish I did. But it seems there will always be people like this in the world (the one on the left). They won't like what you do, for their own reasons; those reasons won't make sense to you and your reasons won't make sense to them; you could agree to disagree and to leave each other in peace, or try to sit down at a table and arrive at some sort of détente... but no, they'd rather not do that. Is it of some comfort that other people see it the way you do? Maybe a little. After all the hoo-ha in the press about the US boycotting the summit, it was nice to see that even countries like France walked out of this speech.

Fault lines split UN racism summit

15 April 2009

Postcard from the middle of the Easter holidays

Wish you were here! I hate to go so long without a post, but I've got The Eldest with me today, had her sister with me yesterday, and the weather is glorious. Spent a great day in Ieper on Monday -- Ieper, the little known gem of Belgium. Photos are on my mobile phone, and I swear the BF and I are going to install the necessary software this evening so I can download them and share them with you. I also have word counts and all sorts of stuff to share so tune in next week...

10 April 2009

It's too nice to be blogging. And there are eggs to buy. I mean these:

So this will be quick. It's probably the nicest day we'll have in Brussels all summer. A couple of things:

1.  Naturalisation dossier is IN. Went to the maison communale this morning. Everyone in Ixelles and their brother was there a
lready, because Ixelles changed its parking policy this month and now everyone needs residential permits. I got mine in March, but had to wait in the same long line. Still,  most people were cheerful and nobody tried to jump the queue. Had to go to two different windows, paid a total of 47 euros, got a nice stamped piece of paper that says I have asked to become a Belgian. The lady at the guichet said I would get a letter in the mail. "If you don't hear back in about 4 months, wait a little longer." Vive la Belge!

2. I wrote to the Bulletin, a local magazine in English aimed at foreigners, about the secondary school inscription problem. I told them th
ey were missing a trick, that this was a sottry they should be covering. Did they write back? Even a teensy tiny thank-you email? The answer is NO. Also did not get any reply to suggesting that they list this blog 
on the "Brussels blogs" page of their website -- Xpats.com.  Not even an automatically generated generic response email.  No wonder the magazine is hemorrhaging readers.

3.  In case I don't come back till next week,




as the case may be.

07 April 2009

Here, try some of these

I have been turned on via Scott Pack to Fiona Robyn's small stones. She also does a blogzine called a handful of stones. A small stone is described as "a polished moment of paying proper attention." They are haiku-like word formations: simple, often elegant, pure, surprising.

A handful of favorites:

from "handful of stones"

Friday, 13 March 2009

Birds love spring
So Cat decides
To love spring too.


Brian Pike

Monday, 9 March 2009

Young chestnut trees with black bark mottled with woody eczema.


Matthew Friday
Matthew Friday

and from "a small stone"

Saturday, April 4

First visitor, book signing

Are you the published author? I'm writing a book. It's about animals. It might take me five years to finish. It has an octopus and a cow with udders, the udders are like washing up gloves. It might take me a long time to finish it, maybe five years. It's good to meet you. You're a published author.

Saturday, March 28

Stopping for petrol

Suddenly the dark slate sky chucks out great waves of hail.

I will run feeds to both in the sidebar for our mutual enjoyment...

And now for my next trick

Having gone through yet another cycle of despair, I have a new strategy. It is only the latest trick but there you go: I have very long sleeves. I started yesterday. I set the timer on my mobile phone and write for 20 minutes. Yesterday I did 229 words and today 261. I am trying to hold myself accountable to just 20 minutes. No more, no less, no pressure. No one will see the project until it is ready. And it won't be ready for a long time at 200 words, 20 minutes a day, but that's how it goes. I completely disagree with the line of thinkng that runs, "you have to do at least half an hour if you want to make progress." It isn't true with playing the cello, and it isn't true with writing. I don't know who makes up that crap. Why do people believe it? And no more crazy-making submissions to the writers workshop before things are ready! I can't write with a bunch of other writers, even friendly ones, hovering over my shoulder wanting to know what they're having for dinner. Please, indulge me. It may be madness but it is the best madness I know.

04 April 2009

Child of the millenium, soon to be disillusioned. Or, Evian is naive spelled backwards

Me (to Anglo-American offspring being raised in French-speaking Belgium, trying to determine whether she's been more influenced by American English or British English): OK, so what do call trottoir in English?

Youngest: Hm... Sidewalk.

Me: And what about the back of a car?

Youngest: I know. Trunk!

BF (a Brit): And what about where water comes from? What it comes out of....

Youngest: A bottle?

03 April 2009

Things to do when not writing

Go to yoga class.
Sit in the sun.
Sit in the shadow.
Move back to sun.
Practice the cello.
Drink some water.
Water the plants.
Putz around,
picking things up and setting things down
in no particular order.
Consider clearing the closets, changing winter's clothes for spring's.
Cut the fingernails.
Paint the toenails.
Drink a coffee.

to be continued....

School waiting list update

Made some telephone calls this morning. 1000 6th graders still without a secondary school place for September. The procedure has been a pure lottery, and we are lost inside it. As far as I am concerned the French Community has completely failed these children and their families. Even when we get a place, I will still resent this process and the time and energy it wasted, and the detrimental effect it will have: my children will very likely go to different schools; the secondary school we get the Eldest into will probably not be our first choice; Eldest is a good student at a good school and deserves to continue in that same vein. Due to a perverse technicality she cannot continue into the secondary school attached to the one she is in now.....

Here are our waiting list statistics:

Notre Dame des Champs: we were very far down the waiting list, past 100. Today the school said that there had been a total of 12 désistements (places declined). 12.

Athénée Royal Uccle I: we were originally 162, now 100.

St. Boniface-Parnasse: we were originally 18, now 6.

Athénée Charles-Janssenes: originally 29, now 18.

Both Uccle I, Charles-Janssens and St Boniface expect more movement in June. The woman at Charles-Janssens believes there are many parents hoarding more than one inscription. I only know a couple of families who are hoarding at least one inscription plus waiting list places, but then we were at a very small school until this year. And most of Eldest's classmates will go directly into NDC secondary.

02 April 2009

Probably too much information...

It is spring this week in Brussels, again. It was spring two weeks ago, too. And I have no doubt it will also be spring in the future, so today I went off for essential body hair maintenance. Having got all prepared to wear skirts without tights, you can rest assured it will rain. But nevermind that. During the wax I was told by the young hair-maintenance expert that I have (1) ingrown hairs and (2) dry feet. Ah, youth.... If you want me to buy your overpriced skin care products, you are really going to have to do better than that!

PS Those are not my legs

01 April 2009

We need to talk about work

I never talk about work. Why don't I talk about work? I mean work, like for-a-living work. Not work like, shop-cook-clean-look after-tidy-feed-clothe cum taxi driver-social coordinator-homework overseer-personal development developer cum oh yeah my own personal dreams and goals work. I'll tell you why I never post about work. Simple. I am ashamed of my job, bored with my job, and frustrated because I need a job; and this particular job is flexible, part-time and close enough to walk to. I don't earn a lot and I don't take work home and no one calls me after hours and my brain is never taxed. There is not a lot of corporate-type BS. However, on the flip side, there is no room here for advancement; I'm not really part of a team anymore (as opposed to when I first started), and ... ahem ... my brain is never taxed. It would be nice if it was for a change! I know I need to do something else but to honest, I don't know what to do. I still need that basic flexibility and proximity to home/school. I'm starting to hate being in an office. Lately I fantasize about waiting tables, running a bakery, working in a bookshop, being a dogwalker. These all have a physical element... and also all a component of immersion in the immediate: a task at hand to be done, you put on the apron and start to do it.

My parents (sorry parents, but this is true) enjoy a certain amount of schadenfreude from my lack of career development. This is because I have always believed it possible to like what you do for a living, and for one's work to be meaningful. For them, they've made it clear, work is just work. So now I've got my comeuppance, ho ho ho... But actually my beliefs haven't changed in the slightest.

I'm starting only now to consider what I want to do. I never addressed this question before in a meaningful way. Like maybe most people do, say, in their 20s. Alas, I am a late bloomer, through and through. So what do I want to do? I don't know. What am I good at? Hm, let's see.... Baking cupcakes. Reading. Writing. Simple math. Standing on my head. Giving directions (to people who are lost on the street). Pretending to look busy, in front of a computer.