An Open Letter to my Fellow Authors from novelist Richard Russo

It’s all changing, right before our
eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a
living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most
writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up
sheet-rock, or cage fighting.
It wasn’t always so, but for the last
two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and
stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the
road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and
not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their
educations paid for.
I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it
also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to
affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who
haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I
won’t have to go back to cage fighting.
Still, if it turns out that I’ve
enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the
most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I
suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these
writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here.
Not everyone believes, as I do, that
the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by
the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth
capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who
won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe
that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search
engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that sell
pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians who see no
reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books without restriction.
But those of us who are alarmed
by these trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life
that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will not have
our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers, whose imaginative
lives will be diminished if authorship becomes untenable as a profession.
I know, I know. Some insist that
there’s never been a better time to be an author. Self-publishing has
democratized the process, they argue, and authors can now earn royalties of up
to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for what traditional publishers
told us was our share.
Anecdotal evidence is marshaled in
support of this view (statistical evidence to follow). Those of us who are
alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will tell who’s right, but
surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to stand on the sidelines while our
collective fate is decided by others. Especially when we consider who those
others are. Entities like Google and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful
enough to influence governments, and every day they demonstrate their
willingness to wield that enormous power.
Books and authors are a tiny but not
insignificant part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a
battleground that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think
it’s fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries
have all gotten their [butts] kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked now.
And not just in the courts.
Somehow, we’re even losing the war for
hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When we
justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the physical
book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our altruism, when
we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as self-serving.
But here’s the thing. What the Apples
and Googles and Amazons and Netflixes of the world all have in common (in
addition to their quest for world domination), is that they’re all starved for
content, and for that they need us. Which means we have a say in all this.
Everything in the digital age may feel
new and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the
relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be part of
it.
To that end we’d do well to speak with
one voice, though it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are
notoriously independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary
days filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way, or
we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of life will
endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to defend.
Protecting it also happens to be the
mission of the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when
the light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not,
please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of
reinforcements.
If the writing life has done well by
you, as it has by me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now,
because there’s such a thing as being too late.
Richard Russo
December 2013

Richard Russo is the author of numerous novels,
including Straight Man and Elsewhere, and won the Pulitzer Prize
for his fabulous novel Empire Falls. This letter was forwarded to
me by novelist Scott Turow, president of The Authors Guild, in order to build
support for the Guild.  We at Novel Rocket believe in the role, goals, and
objectives of The Author’s Guild, and I’ve joined. Novel Rocket encourages all
authors to consider the benefits of the Guild. You can find more information
and a membership application at www.authorsguild.net
or authorsguild.org. Tell
them Novel Rocket sent you!

Time—The Stuff Life is Made Of Five Tips on Finding More of It — Anita Higman

Time—The Stuff Life is Made Of
Five Tips on Finding More of It
by Anita Higman
Benjamin Franklin said, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” 
Okay, I don’t know anyone who gets up in the morning with the idea of squandering their time, and yet we all do it. At the end of the day, we wonder how all those precious hours slipped away. Where did they go? But, the time is indeed gone, and there’s no getting it back.
However, there is good news. We can train ourselves to use our time more wisely. I am not a time management expert. However, I am an author, and that has forced me to work a little smarter, since with each passing year, I’m expected to help out more and more when a book is released. That is, more participation in a publisher’s promotional efforts. More social media. More blogging. More out-of-the-box marketing. More everything.
With some tweaks, though, in my management of time, I have more hours for promotion, more time to spend with my grown kids, and even more time for refreshment, such as those empty-nester vacations. So, here are my five tips for organizing that precious thing called time. 
Tip Number 1: You’re Not Superman 
I think it’s vital to accept this truth—WE CANNOT DO EVERYTHING. It’s not humanly possible anyway. To think otherwise will only make us perpetually angry or make other people perpetually angry at us. Or we’ll be fatigued all the time or make ourselves ill trying to be super author or super anything. Also, when it comes to donating our time (even to good causes) we need to be discerning. Sometimes the word “no” is appropriate, even though it might be uncomfortable to say it. So, after we accept our limitations, and we’re able to choose our extracurricular activities wisely, we’ll automatically have more time for what’s important. 
Tip Number 2: Delegate is a Beautiful Word 
What daily tasks could be delegated to other folks, either with the help of volunteers or with a bit of part-time paid assistance? For instance, I pay a webmaster to manage my website as well as some of my other online sites. My husband helps me with some of my smaller jobs that I no longer have time for. Do you know someone who can assist you, say, a few hours a week? 
Tip Number 3: Multitasking Still Works
When I watch a movie with my husband, I use that time for a potpourri of boring and time-consuming tasks, such as sewing on buttons, ironing clothes, or bleaching my teeth. I might let a clay mask dry on my face, jump on a mini-trampoline, do floor stretches, put an icepack on my back if it’s inflamed from a long day at the computer, fold laundry, or anything else I can think of to do that might otherwise consume my time unnecessarily. I admit, though, that if it’s a movie I haven’t seen yet, or a new episode of Downton Abbey, then I may sit and enjoy it, calling it a special treat. But if it’s a rerun or a movie I’ve seen before, then I pull out my various ta-do chores. 
Tip Number 4: Cook Smart
When making meatloaf or spaghetti or other dishes that freeze well, make extra, enough for several dinner-sized portions to thaw and heat on evenings when you’re out of groceries. Also, while I’m just standing there cooking and tending the evening meal, I might mull over a few manuscript page, or scribble notes on a proposal or brainstorm some book titles. 
Tip Number 5: What to do With All That Waiting! 
Right now, I’m sitting in the dentist’s office, and I’m busy writing this very article on time management while I’m waiting. I’m utilizing a personal writing tool called the Neo 2. I take this small, handy device with me when I think I might end up playing “the waiting game.” Also, if I’m standing in a long line, I sometimes read a book. There are so many possibilities. When we’re in traffic we can listen to an audio book or a CD that builds vocabulary words or that teaches a language. Try brainstorming fresh ways to use what could potentially become “lost hours” in the future. Yes, be wise with your time, because as Benjamin Franklin said, “That’s the stuff life is made of.” 
Anita Higman is a CBA best-selling and award-winning author. Among her many accolades, Higman has won the Inspirational Reader’s Choice award twice. She has written or co-authored more than 30 books, including fiction and non-fiction for adults and children, as well as plays. Higman has also been recognized for her contributions to literacy and has raised thousands of dollars with her book I Can Be Anything while serving on the board of directors of Literacy Advance of Houston.
Even though she’s written in many genres, Higman does have her favorite. “I love inspirational romance. There’s just nothing else like it for writing and reading. It naturally makes you want to curl up on an overstuffed couch and read the day away.” Her latest release is A Marriage in Middlebury
She loves good movies, exotic teas and brunch with her friends. Higman and her husband live in Houston, TX.

To keep up with Anita Higman, visit anitahigman.com, become a fan on Facebook (Author Anita Higman) or follow her on Twitter (@anitahigman).

When it Gets Hard

In a recent post on her blog, Karen Hancock, author
of The Guardian King Series, The Arena and The Enclave, commented on the
struggle she’s having as she works on her next book:

 “ … and this kind of
thing, the ideas, the modification, the sudden realization of
inconsistencies, the  major readjustments, the refinement – or the dumping
as unworkable and starting over… it’s all part of the hard work of building a
world for a novel. So… nothing’s wrong here. It’s part of the process and the
process is long, hard, confusing, frustrating, exciting, gratifying, rewarding,
never easy. Nor simple. Nor fast. It’s been like this before. Many times. I’d
forgotten that. Forgotten that I just have to keep plugging along, and be
patient, It will come, in time.”

Anyone who has worked hard and long on writing a novel can
relate to those words. They are true for all of us and I appreciated the
reminder that struggle doesn’t mean something is wrong or broken or out of sync
with the writer or the work. It’s just the reality that the process isn’t easy.

And such is life, even a life lived in and through and with
Christ. It’s just not easy because we live in a world ruled by forces that are
continually at work to cause chaos and disease and pain. We’re in the midst of
it, trying to cope with our own particular segment of it, trying to bring sense
to it, both for our own peace of mind and that of others. That’s the challenge
for writers of faith. Madeleine L’Engle has said, “The discipline of creation,
be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.” Notice the word
effort – that implies struggle, the need for perseverance.

There are days when it can seem too hard, when the fatigue
and frustration make us just want to lie down and give up. That’s the selfish
streak in us, the streak that wants all the struggle to go away and life to be
always sweet and full of sunshine. But Christ calls us to a different attitude.
One that urges us to keep going, to do the work He has laid out for us. We are
assured that there is purpose in all of this process, purpose that affects not
only us, but those around us and those who will read our words. And, because of
Christ, there is even joy in it all.

So when it gets hard, know that it’s normal. Know you’re not
alone. We’re all with you. And so is the One who has given you this work to do.
Be encouraged by David’s words to Solomon – “Be strong and courageous, and do
the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, My God, is with
you. He will not fail you or forsake you until the all the work …. is
finished” (1Chronicles 28:20).
****

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta
Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She
was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel,
One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been
endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Marcia’s
second novel, A Tumbled Stone was recently short listed in the contemporary
fiction category of The
Word Awards
Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for
writers can be downloaded here.
Visit Marcia’s website

Responding to That Niggle

I joined my husband at the table with six others,
thinking I wouldn’t have much to contribute as they began to plan our church
association’s western region conference. Our district superintendant revealed
details about the main speaker, venue and other things that had already fallen
into place. Then the group began to discuss workshops. These are, typically,
focused on topics pertinent to pastors and lay leaders in the church.
That’s when I felt that little niggle – offer a
writing workshop. I pushed the thought away. I knew the attendees at the
conference would be a group of highly qualified, highly educated people, mostly
pastors. What could I possibly teach them? I reasoned.
But the niggle wouldn’t go away. So finally, in a
soft voice I asked, “Do you think anyone would be interested in a workshop on
writing their testimony?” Our superintendant’s eyebrows rose a bit and his
words surprised me. “Good idea,” he said. Then he grinned. “And do you know
someone who could teach it?” I smiled back and volunteered. As I prepared I
wondered who, if any, would show up.
The majority of the conference was over by the time
the workshop was scheduled and I was very much aware that God had been at work.
The preaching and teaching had been excellent and the general mood was upbeat. I
had facilitated a session for pastor’s wives that morning that had gone very
well. So it was with a lightened spirit that I made my way to the room where
the workshop was to be done. But my heart sank as I stepped into the room.
One man sat in a corner with his head in his hands,
obviously praying. I hesitated. Did I have the wrong room? The man raised his
head, smiled and stood to introduce himself. Franco’s English was halting. As
we waited for others I hoped would join us, I asked where he was from and
discovered he had been in the country for only a couple of years. I was about
to ask him why he wanted to take this workshop when two women arrived. The four
of us sat down and I prayed for our time together.
As I taught, my three students began to scribble
notes. Now and then one of them would ask a question. The ninety minutes flew
by. At the end of the time they gathered around my small book table, each choosing
a purchase and each of them thanking me over and over again for the teaching.
Franco’s face beamed. “Now I can do this,” he said. “Now
I can write to my friends and my church back home.” 
The younger of the two
women nodded. “I know God has been nudging me to write,” she said, but with little
kids it’s hard to find time. This has shown me that I can do it. It’s just what
I needed.”
“I’ve only ever written things for my children,” the
older woman explained. As I encouraged her to reach for a wider audience, the
light in her eyes told me she would.
As I packed up the remainder of my books I was
smiling. Such a small class. Such wonderful potential for God to do mighty
things through them. I thanked the Lord, over and over again.
“Who dares despise the day of small things…?” (Zechariah
4:10).
****
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta
Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult daughters. She
was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award for her novel,
One Smooth Stone and also has two devotional books in print. Her work has been
endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark Buchanan. Marcia’s
second novel, A Tumbled Stone has just been short-listed in the contemporary
fiction category of The
Word Awards
Abundant Rain, an ebook devotional for
writers can be downloaded here.
Visit Marcia’s website