Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review of "John Wesley and Slavery"

As part of the research for my John Wesley small group study book, I have spent time looking at his position on slavery. This is best stated in his long tract/short book Thoughts Upon Slavery, printed in 1774. My research led me to an article a 2008 issue of the Wesleyan Theological Journal, which in turn led me to other references. One of those is the book John Wesley and Slavery by Warren Thomas Smith, Abingdon Press, 1986 [ISBN 0-687-20433-X, Library of Congress No. 85-15796].

An older book, you say, and not worth the time to take up band width in reviewing. I think not, however. This thin volume (160 pages including index and a copy of Wesley's 1774 work) is a treasure trove of information. Smith starts with the story of the ending of slavery in the British Empire, in 1838, and a little bit on how they got there and what it meant to millions of manumitted slaves. He asks,
"How did all this come to pass? Who was responsible for the eradication of this intolerable institution of slavery? Indeed, many! One name, however, must be mentioned. He contributed much more than most people have ever recognized—more than he himself ever knew. It is long past time that he received his due recognition. His name is John Wesley!"

A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but Smith makes the case that Wesley's contribution to the eventual end of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery is huge, perhaps even essential. Smith traces first the establishing of the trade and the institution of slavery, then Wesley's part in bringing it down. The importance of the writings of Anthony Benezet, a Philadelphia Quaker, are shown. Thoughts Upon Slavery is analyzed (see my review of Thoughts Upon Slavery here).

Smith documents some contacts that John Wesley had with African, both during his stay in Georgia and in the years in England after his evangelical experience. I believe Smith is trying to say that these encounters were important to Wesley's coming to an understanding that slavery was wrong. In journal entries and letters, in the few times he mentions blacks, he always presents them in a good light. It was clear to Wesley that this racist garbage that people were writing—that Africans were lazy, unreliable, untruthful, without feelings, and somehow less than human—was wrong. Blacks were as human as whites. And actually, when he speaks of slave traders and owners, he doubts the full humanity of those. For Wesley humanity was defined by mercy and justice, not by skin color. I would have liked for Smith to be more forceful in developing this strain of his research. It's in the book, but the reader has to come to conclusions about it, rather than seeing a forceful statement by Wesley.

Also included is Wesley's efforts against slavery after the publication of Thoughts Upon Slavery. In other tracts, letters, and published journals, Wesley does not seem to miss an opportunity to speak out against slavery. By this time in his life, Wesley was well known and somewhat popular. His publishing platform was huge, and he had a distribution network though Methodist preachers that writers of today dream about. Smith develops this well.

I could pick at the book a little. Smith included a chapter on Wesley's ancestry. It's short, a mere four pages, but it wasn't necessary. He has a few typos, such as claiming something written by Wesley in 1755 was written in 1743, and one time placing Thoughts Upon Slavery as published in 1744 instead of 1774. These aside, another bone I have to pick with Smith are some statements made without references that really need references. Without those references, they are assumptions presented as facts. A couple of examples:

p. 42 "Charles [Wesley] had written it, and doubtless discussed it with his brother." This concerned an entry in Charles' journal about barbaric treatment he had seen of slaves. Can we assume that each brother shared everything with the other? While this is an assumption, it's probably correct.

p. 38 "The Wesleys vigorously applauded the original ban on slavery [in Georgia]." This might be, but I'd like to know what writing shows this.

p. 41 "Of course they had read much on the subject [or slavery], and they would have seen Africans in England, but now it came home to them." Where is the evidence that the Wesley brothers had "read much on" slavery? I find no documentation on that, and Smith presents none.

I could go on, but those should show the nit-picking I could do, but I will end there. The book is worth reading. The last twenty-five pages is a facsimile reproduction of Thoughts Upon Slavery, and not a particularly good copy. In 1986 that might have been the only way for a reader to easily find it. Today it is in many places on the Internet.

Well, I took up the bandwidth. This book is of interest to Wesley scholars, and dabblers such as me. I obtained it through inter-library loan; it goes back on Monday. If you ever come across it at a used book sale, it is worth having. For someone whose interest is piqued, it's probably worth buying through Amazon or ABE Book Exchange.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Status of Two Works-in-Progress

So these are my two current (that is, I'm actively working on them) works-in-progress:

Documenting America, hopefully volume 1 of several, an historical/political non-fiction books

Essential John Wesley, a small group study, such as for an adult Sunday school class, of Wesley's writings. The title is a place-holder, and not necessarily final.

I am finished with Documenting America. I could upload it to the Kindle store tonight, with its imperfect, self-created cover. I was hoping to get some critique on it from the new writers group, but, alas, we ran out of time Tuesday. I don't really want to wait two weeks to get the critique and then upload it. This weekend is supposed to be rainy. Not much chance of getting significant outside work done. I think I will do the formatting and uploading Saturday.

The John Wesley study is in its infancy. The outline is done, including the addition I made today. One chapter is done, except for tweaks I might do. That chapter is Wesley's stand on slavery. Today I found two scholarly papers on the topic, read them, and will likely make a few changes to the chapter. A second chapter is well along, the chapter on Wesley's other political writings. I have the excerpting fully done, and have much marginalia in my copies to form the basis of the rest of the chapter. I anticipate I'll have it done by Sunday, and will be ready to think about which chapter to work on next.

I can already see that this will be a larger book than I at first anticipated, probably 100,000 words: half of them Wesley's, half of them mine. But it can't be helped. The project is too important to me not to do it in a way I think is right. I also think I will have a separate volume, much smaller, to serve as a leader's guide. I'm just beginning to think of some things for that now.

One thing not yet clear to me is if I will be able to work on this Wesley study continuously, or if I will have to take breaks from it. As I said a few days ago, the pressure to have it done for teaching around September 1st is off. I've probably got till the first of the year, possibly longer. But that still means I need to do two chapters very three weeks, or a minimum of 3,000 words a week. I'm not sure I can keep up that intensity that long. Plus, my novel beckons, as does volume two of Documenting America and a sequel to "Mom's Letter". Cursed day job!

So why am I writing this post? I've talked about these books several times, perhaps ad nauseum for some readers. I don't really know. Maybe it's to "clear my head", do a self-appraisal of where I am with my writing career, or at least to be putting this in writing as a sort of accountability. If so, I guess that's a good reason for writing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Two Year Assessment of Freelancing

Tuesday I conducted an interview for an article I'm writing for A professor at my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, is conducting research into using asphalt pavement for collecting solar engery. He's also looking into research for related things, but the solar energy from pavement interests me the most. I wrote an article on this subject last November for Buildipedia, and recently pitched a follow-up article to them, which they accepted. Only after the first article was published I learned that my school was also conducting this research.

So I conducted the interview, want to conduct another one with the professor at Worcester Polytech, the one I've had such a difficult time reaching, but the article just isn't coming to me. I'm now two days behind my deadline, and I should be writing the article (pending additions from the second interview), but it's just not coming. Why?

I don't think I'm a journalist, nor really an article writer. I started pursuing freelance work back around February 2009 as a means of building a platform to improve my chances of having a book accepted by a traditional publisher. That's the advice given by Cec Murphey and other pro writers: write articles, lots of them, then try your hand at books. I started my writing career backwards, I guess.

In these two years my articles have appeared in three print publications, and two on-line publications. Including all the ones I wrote for and posted at, it's somewhere around 150 articles in those two years. What have I benefited from that? It's a resume, I suppose, showing a potential book editor some stick-to-it-ness on my part. Maybe it shows some flexibility, writing on engineering, history, poetry, stock trading, genealogy, and environment. None of that could hurt.

But I don't enjoy it a whole lot. I'm not good at cold calling, so contacting by phone or e-mail people I don't know to ask them about some fact I need in the article is not a fun thing. Even talking with an engineering professor was not pleasing. It wasn't unpleasing—just kind of neutral, kind of blah. The article writing itself has been okay. I don't get the thrill of word crafting an article that I do from a poem, or from a scene in a novel. I don't feel the enjoyment that developing a complex fiction plot gives me.

So why do it? When I have two active book projects, two or three more immediately on heels of that, and things to learn and do related to the books, why keep writing articles? One reason is, while the writing itself leaves me somewhat flat, I get a feeling of accomplishment at the completion. I can look back at those 150 articles and have some satisfaction at a body of work. Another is the original reason: to build a body of work that may some day be considered a platform that will impress a book acquisitions editor. I'm pursuing self-publishing now, but could always make a reverse decision at some point and pursue traditional publishing. This all might come in handy then. And I'm making some money at it, enough to fill the tank and pay a bill every month (though recently it's trailed off a bit).

I guess I'll keep freelancing, but it's unlikely I'll seek to expand the markets beyond those I'm currently for. A few articles a month, mixed in with novels and non-fiction books, should give me variety of research and writing, and portfolio. But I'll revisit this decision often over the next six to nine months.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Calm Place in the Whirlwind

Life is busy. At my engineering day job, it seems like no task gets closed, yet many more get open. I can't quite get my current floodplain project to work. The lateral structure I entered, as a way to simulate an overflow pipe, needs to be revised, and I haven't yet figured out how to revise it to make it correct. Or rather, I believe I know what needs to be done and how to do it, but time to do it hasn't materialized. I figured it out at the end of the day yesterday, but today so far has been fully consumed in...

...teaching a class at my company, and preparing for it. I haven't done a class in at least three months, due to busy-ness, and several people have been saying they needed professional development hours. So I decided to teach a class titled "Five Important Construction Items Often Overlooked During Design". Creating the PowerPoint presentation to go with it took all morning—or all least all of the morning that I didn't let myself get distracted with a couple of personal things. Even half my lunch hour went to that. I didn't actually prepare what remarks I was going to say. I just talked an hour from the PowerPoint, using my many years of construction engineering experience. From the comments of attendees, I did pretty good. Add this to my list of classes for listing on a resume or on a website, if I ever get one built.

Back at my desk after teaching, I talked with my wife. It seems I am to go to the next town over after work and purchase a used jungle gym to give to our grandson Ephraim on is third birthday in two weeks. That's if the one called ahead of her doesn't take it. We are second in line. Hopefully we'll get it. Sounds like a good bargain. But, it does take away time I could have used on something else.

My writing efforts right now are fully consumed with the John Wesley small group study. One chapter done, another half done, the outline finished—except today I realized I had left out a major part of his writings, the many hymns he wrote, and the many of his brother's he published. How can I leave those out? I can't, so I will have to insert another chapter (I think I'm up to 22 now), figuring out the best place for it to go. The pressure to have the study ready around September 1 is off, as I believe the church is going to do another all-church series. I might not need it finished until December or January. That would be nice. I might be able to work on volume 2 of Documenting America. I'm still inching toward e-self-publishing volume 1, maybe in less than a week. It looks as if I'll have to do that without any beta reader comments, as no one has gotten back with me. I think I ran four or five of the chapters through my previous writing groups, though they were shorter at the time.

So where, you ask, is this calm place in the midst of life's whirlwind? It was last night, from 6:00 to 7:30 PM at the Bentonville Public Library, as we held the second meeting of the BNC Writers group. The previous meeting was to organize; last night was for critique. The same four of us met. Four others who want to attend couldn't because of illness or other unspecified reasons. About the time some would be traveling here the sky opened up with another round of rain, which probably contributed some to keeping people home.

But the four of us who met had a great time. Last meeting I had given them copies of my short story, "Mom's Letter", not for critique, but just as a sample of my writing. But they came back with some critique, and I will consider it. It's already for sale on Kindle, but I can easily make changes and re-upload it if necessary. As group leader, I chose the order of presentation. The three ladies went first. Brenda shared a short story based on a dream she had. Joyce shared the first chapter of a novel she has just begun. Bessie shared a non-fiction story from her years on the mission field in Papua New Guinea. I know that was her first formal writing, and first time sharing writing in a critique group. I think it was also Joyce's first time. She had been involved in the writing process before, helping writers through critique and editing, but I think she is just beginning her writing efforts.

We had a great time with the critiques. Our procedure is for each person to have copies enough to pass around, then for the author to read their work while the others follow along and make notes. We then discuss the work, making suggestions, asking questions. In the end we give the author the copy we have marked on. The author can respond to comments, sometimes indicating what their intent was, but always accepting critique with graciousness and thick skin.

Alas, we ran out of time, and I wasn't able to present the Introduction and first chapter of Documenting America. Maybe next time. I did receive the crit on "Mom's Letter", so it's not as if I was left out. We will meet again in two weeks, probably at the church this time, which will allow us a full two hours, not limited to the library's allowed schedule for conference room use.

I left the group and went home, to evening storms (outside and inside), a checkbook that wouldn't balance, a pile of mail to go through, and no time to write, very little to read. But that was okay. A momentary respite out of the whirlwind was sufficient for the day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Few Words on Health

I'm in The Dungeon on a very rainy Sunday afternoon. Easter Sunday. He is risen! This is our fourth day of rain, with two more expected. Mostly it's been moderate rain. It was heavy on Thursday evening, but since then just wave after wave of light to moderate rain. The creeks are all full, with some out of their banks. Just taking a minute to write about my health before I get to my main writing.

On March 1 I went to the doctor for my quarterly appointment. The results were not good. My fasting blood sugar was up, as was my A1C (the long-term measure of blood sugar). He had told be to begin testing myself for blood sugar three months before that, but I had never done so. So on March 1, with very bad lab results, he put me on Lantus, a slow acting insulin given with a shot. That would be along with the two pills I already take for Type 2 diabetes.

This did not make me particularly happy. I went home with the Lantus samples he gave me, but didn't go right out and fill the prescription for the works. Lynda was in OKC with the kids, helping with Ezra's birth that morning. I wanted her around before I started shooting up, just in case I had an adverse reaction to it. Plus, I had no idea if I could really give myself a shot. I finally got the stuff for testing my blood sugar, but had a lot of trouble getting blood out of my fingers. It turned out I was missing the small apparatus that one uses to launch the lancet that pricks the finger that gives the blood that goes on the test strip that feeds the meter that measures the blood sugar and makes a display. Finally, on March 31, I had the contraption and all I needed to measure blood sugar and take my shots. The evening I had my first reading: 399.

Ouch. That was high. That week I was still at the very busy point, working late, not taking proper lunch hours or getting any exercise. My weight was beginning to go down some more, my body having finally passed through a weight set point. That was about the only good news for my health. But that high reading was like a light going off. That and the fact that, by measuring blood sugar several times a day, I was going to have knowledge of what my eating was doing to my body. April 1 I began a new regimen. Chips—gone, and not just for lent. Diet soda, which I think somehow feeds the carb beast—gone. Bread—gone. Other carbs, not just sugary things but any type of carb I could think of—gone. Exercise—increased.

This I have done. The next evening my sugar was still high at 379. I began taking Lantus, just two units at first, intending to step it up until I got down to the 100-140 range. To my surprise, the shot was easy and painless. That needle is so thin that I didn't feel it at all. I assume it's working, and some of the good stuff is getting through the needle and into my flabby tummy. The next evening it was down to 279, and I upped the dose to four units.

[Lost a bunch of this; not really wanting to have to re-create it.]
I'll give the short version. By the beginning of last week my Lantus dose, my blood sugar, and my weight had all "converged" at better numbers. Almost all my blood sugar readings are now between 100 and 140, with many of them 100-120. I had one reading below 100, prompting me to lower my Lantus dose from 10 to 9. My weight is down to 245, the lowest it's been in 10 years. My blood pressure, as measured at those stations at Wal-Mart, was 87/59 a week ago. I began cutting my blood pressure pills in half, and yesterday it was 110/61. I'm hoping to be off that completely in a month.

Meanwhile my energy level is up. On Saturdays I normally take an old saw and work on cutting up a tree that fell. Normally I can get one piece cut (7 to 8 inch diameter oak) before my arms give out. Last Saturday I was able to cut two pieces with no problem, and could have done more I think. I'm walking 20 minutes at lunch after eating, and almost that much evenings after supper. I think walking after eating is doing more for me than walking before.

Today my mother-in-law took us out to eat after church. This is the first time I've eaten out since my March 31 awakening. Chinese buffet. I ate too much, but the selections I ate were better than I normally do. No potatoes or heavily breaded items. Lots of vegetables, not much fried rice. It will be interesting to see where my blood sugar is before supper.

All of which is of little interest to my loyal blog readers, but I'm writing it anyway. My next doctor appointment is on May 24th. I'm actually looking forward to it. I'll probably post something here, saying what his expression was like to see a reformed, transformed patient.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More on Self-Publishing: Upfront Costs

So, the commenters on Rachelle Gardner's blog indicated "affirmation" was their number one reason for seeking publication through a traditional publisher and avoiding self-publishing. Another reason mentioned was cost—it costs too much to self-publish. Here's a sampling of the comments.
Because as a self-published author, either you are limited to e-books...or you have to pay a lot of money up front - on editing and professional-quality cover art - to produce an attractive print version....

One, because I lack the ability to do two things at once (ie: write a novel AND market it). If I self-pubbed, I'd need the resources to hire someone to do that part for me, and I am too broke to do that currently.

...I chose to persue the traditional route for a couple reasons. I don't possess the resources required up front for a first class publication....
It seems, however, that these and other commenters who mentioned cost are using old information. Or they haven't conducted complete research and discovered the full range of self-publishing options available. Not so long ago self-publishing involved paying a hefty set-up fee, then having to purchase a large number of books you would sell yourself. Stories of boxes of books in writers' garages are legendary. The initial investment could easily be two to three thousand dollars.

Today, however, while that arrangement is still available, two other options to self-publish are very reasonable. Electronic self-publishing (eSP) involves zero upfront cost, unless the author needs to hire out formatting and covers. Well, a freelance editor may also be needed to make the text book perfect. Still, the cost of covers and formatting are very reasonable for a full length book. Freelance editing could be expensive, I suppose, though I haven't looked into the cost of that. Options such as critique group and exchange of beta reader time and effort are ways to offset those costs. But for the writer who can format and edit sufficiently, and if you accept just a slightly lower quality of cover cost (presuming you can't do it yourself), the upfront cost to eSP is quite minimal. And there's no initial inventory of books.

eSP, of course does not put a physical book in anyones hand; thus this may not be fully satisfying. For physical books, the inexpensive alternative is POD—print on demand. This relatively new technology has improved by leaps and bounds the last few years. Cost of the equipment has come down, and the quality of the bound book has improved. People who have bought these (I haven't yet; haven't been any place that had one of the machines, nor ordered any books that came that way) say you can't tell the difference between an offset print book and a POD book. Offset printing costs more for a small print run than does a single POD book, but a POD book costs more than an offset print book in a large print run.

So the negatives about the cost for the author to self-publish as compared to the traditional publishing route have pretty much vanished. Part of the reason for this is the cost to the author to traditionally publish. Yes, there are costs involved, and I don't mean lower royalties. I mean up-front costs. First, the best way to break in to trad-pub is to attend conferences, meet agents and editors, attend classes, network with anyone and everyone you can, and pitch your book at each opportunity. Those conferences cost money. With travel and tuition it could be $1,000 per conference, and you might have to do that for years before you attend the right conference with the right agent or editor having the right product to pitch. Thousands of dollars.

Of course, you could say that you need to attend conferences for the classes and networking, even if you don't pitch a book, just to grow as a writer. I won't argue that point, other than to say conference attendance would be a whole lot less if you eliminated the chance to meet editors and agents. I don't think that many people would go simply for the classes and the networking.

Then there's the cost of a freelance editor. Yes, read carefully all the advice given by publishing professionals (agents, editors, publishers, already published authors), and you will see they all recommend that you hire an editor to edit the manuscript you intend to submit to a traditional publisher. When signing a first time author, publishers want a manuscript that doesn't need a lot of editing. That's what all the experts say. So really, there's not cost savings there. If you need an editor to self-publish, you need an editor to pre-edit your work before submitting for traditional publishing. The cost is the same.

Then there's the cost of time and emotions. Once the quality of your writing is where it needs to be for acceptance by a traditional publisher, that doesn't mean you will be successful at getting it placed. Publishers are the buyers in a buyers' market. They turn down excellent books all the time, making a judgment of what might sell by the time they can get the book to market. Or they may have just contracted for another book the same as yours, and don't want to have two competing books. Or any of another hundred reasons why they may have to pass on your book that is just as good as others being published, and maybe better.

And finally there's the emotional cost of dealing with rejection after rejection, of waiting, and of wondering if you'll ever break in. That will be more of a concern for some than for others. Rejections strike different people in different ways. We all know it's part of publishing, and so we become philosophical about it. Still, there's an emotional cost for everyone as they process the rejections and the wait times. Those costs can be beneficial, but they are still costs.

So, all in all, it seems to me the cost to traditionally publish is not less than the cost to self-publish, and may in fact be more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Cover for "Documenting America"

Okay, loyal blog followers. Today I finished those few things I needed to do to call Documenting America, Vol. 1 done. Completed the Introduction, added a few lines to the quote in one chapter, and typed all the quote revisions--or maybe I finished them last night. Printed a copy for my final review and reading by my wife.

That gave me time to think about a cover. My thoughts were to have the title, subtitle, and my name superimposed over one of those documents in the book. I chose the 1816 letter of Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, which I downloaded from the Library of Congress (a public domain document. Try as I could, I couldn't get done in Paint what I wanted to get done. So I pulled the picture file into MS Word and did what I wanted with a text box and a footer, screening out the document picture using the Word picture editor. You can see the result.

Obviously, I am not a graphics designer. I'm just trying out the concept. If this is a valid concept for a book such as this, then I'll see about getting a proper cover made according to the concept. I wanted to make something that I could, in a pinch, upload to the Kindle publishing platform and make work for a while during the wait for a proper cover.

What say you, loyal readers? Is the concept for this cover valid? I'm not looking to have the background document readable, just there for show. Let me know in the comments, if you would. Try to look past the specifics of these graphics to the concept.

Progress on Documenting America

My non-fiction book Documenting America continues to inch its way toward publication via Kindle, Smashwords, and hopefully in print via CreateSpace. Last week I did almost nothing with it. I was consumed with meeting date-certain demands of the IRS, and the Arkansas DFA. What time I spent on writing went mainly to the small group study on John Wesley that is my next project. I know, that was probably not the best use of time. DA is a few hours of work away from being ready to upload, whereas the Wesley study is hours of work and months of time away.

But I can’t fully explain why I go off on whichever project seems to command my attention. I wanted to make some progress on Wesley, something beyond just gathering materials. The planning was essentially done, so I mainly had to pick a place to start and start. I did that with Wesley’s views on slavery. This was actually going to be part of a chapter on political and health writings by Wesley, but after reading Thoughts Upon Slavery and some other items, I decided this needed to be a chapter of its own. So I redid the outline/table of contents, and set to work on Wesley on Slavery. I managed to identify the basic excerpt I’ll use, and write a few hundred words of text. I did this in manuscript, with typing to being soon.

So what of Documenting America? Early last week I left it at the proof-reading stage, about 1/3 done. Over the weekend I finished the proof-reading, did a little editing, and typed all that. In the course of this I found a few things in the quotes in most chapters that I want to verify against the original document. Today in my before-work private time I began doing that. I’m through exactly half the chapters, and so should finish that today. These changes are minor, so I should be able to make them tonight, print it tonight or tomorrow, and begin the second review. I’ll ask my wife to read it and see what she thinks, as I value her opinion. It would be nice if my three or four beta readers would get back with me.

Beta readers are a problem. I’m not one to push people. I put out a call for beta readers, and several people said, “Yes, I’d like to read that, and will give you my opinion.” However, so far none of them have come back with comments. I’m just not going to e-mail them another time and push. That’s not in my nature. So I’ll wait a little, then forge ahead. Right now it looks as if I’ll be ready to upload to Kindle next weekend, assuming I can come up with a cover.

So this is kind of exciting. It will be my first book-length eSP work, and later in book form.

Monday, April 18, 2011

More Thoughts on eSP vs Traditional Publication - Validation

I blogged some days ago about the post and comments on Rachelle Gardner's blog concerning reasons why readers of her blog continue to seek traditional publishing when self-publishing has become an easy and relatively inexpensive option. By far the most common reason was VALIDATION. Here's a couple of examples.
I'm pursuing traditional publishing because I want the affirmation from publishing professionals that my novel is good.
...traditional publishing is an acknowledgment that you have actually crafted something worth reading.
The validation, for lack of a better term, from professionals in the industry. The stamp of approval from people who have given that same stamp to others I respect....
As a fiction writer with sights set on a writing career, I want the legitimacy of acceptance into the traditional publishing industry.
That's enough. Through over two hundred comments this theme was most often repeated. To have your book printed by one of the big six publishers, or even the next dozen publishers, in both the general and Christian markets, you need to pass muster with the gatekeeper. Actually, several gatekeepers, in sequence. Since these large houses are closed to direct submissions, you first need an agent to accept your work. Then you need an acquisitions editor to be willing to present your proposal to a committee; call it the acceptance committee if you like. If the acceptance committee likes it, you are mostly home free. Although, your book can still fall through if: the economy tanks and the publisher decides to cut back; if your story is later judged not up to par; if after editing the book simply isn't good enough for the editing gatekeepers.

I admit it. I would love to have the validation of traditional publishing. However, that must be weighed against the lottery of the acceptance process. The gatekeepers pass up good books all the time. A book is not always rejected because it isn't of the required minimum quality. Books are often reject—perhaps as often rejected—because the gatekeepers don't think it will sell. They are trying to project a point in time two years away (or even three years away at the agent level) and guess what the book-reading public will be buying. That's a long time to look into the future.

So, for various reasons, the mainstream publishers reject good books. Writers feel un-validated, and keep plugging away on the query-go-round, looking for other publishers or other agents, writing new books and looking for agents, all in search of validation. Eventually they begin taking chances with smaller, independent presses, the ones you can submit to without an agent. Still searching for validation.

Self-publishing, however, can provide another type of validation, provided by the last gatekeeper in the sequence: the book-buying public. Everyone says that self-published books are awful; the quality of writing and production are poor. Yet, the public does buy self-published books. It's difficult to get your book noticed, but it does happen. In the era of search engines, it's perhaps easier than ever before. In the era of e-reading devices, the eSP book can be less expensive than the traditinally published book, giving the eSP book an advantage: the book buyer still considers price before they buy.

Sales are a form of validation. The two sales of "Mom's Letter" to people I don't know are validation. When Documenting America appears either later this month of in May, any sales I make will be validation. Will it be equal to the validation that would come from having a book accepted and published by the Big Six or the Medium Twelve? I guess I'll find out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Thoughts Upon Slavery" by John Wesley

As part of the research required for the small group study I'm writing, tentatively titled "Essential John Wesley", I'm reading his works right now. I've done enough to outline the book, and to have an idea of how long the study will last and how long the book will be. I was kind of amazed when I went through a bibliography of his works. I knew the major ones (well, not really all of them), but was surpised just how much he had produced.

I was familiar in general with Wesley's stand on slavery. He was against it. The last letter he wrote, six days before he died, was to William Wiberforce, encouraging him to remain firm to the end in his struggle to end the slave trade. But as I researched Wesley's writings, I found he had written a short book titled "Thoughts Upon Slavery", written in 1774. I found an on-line copy of it, printed it, and finally over the last few nights read it.

It is a great read. Not terribly long by book standards, about 9,000 words, so it could almost be called a tract. Wesley took some of his material from a book by American abolitionist Anthony Benezet. Those who have read both works say that about 30 percent, though Wesley re-did some of that. He begins with a description of slavery as it existed at that time, including how slaves were procured and transported. He claimed it was the English and other Europeans who set the African nations warring against each other, resulting in prisoners of war who were then sold as slaves. Kings were offered bribes and, once corrupted by the Europeans, sold out their villagers for slavery.

This idea that the Africans willingly sold their own people to the slave traders is something I hear a lot lately, as if that made what the Europeans and their New World colonists did somehow better. It wasn't a mitigating factor, and Wesley said as much.

He contrasted the behavior of the Africans in their native environment to that of the slave traders, and found the latter wanting, inferior to the black man. To the slave traders he wrote:
Are you a man? Then you should have an human heart. But have you indeed? What is your heart made of? Is there no such principle as compassion there? Do you never feel another's pain? Have you no sympathy, no sense of human woe, no pity for the miserable? When you saw the flowing eyes, the heaving breasts, or the bleeding sides and tortured limbs of your fellow-creatures, was you a stone, or a brute? Did you look upon them with the eyes of a tiger? When you squeezed the agonizing creatures down in the ship, or when you threw their poor mangled remains into the sea, had you no relenting? Did not one tear drop from your eye, one sigh escape from your breast? Do you feel no relenting now? If you do not, you must go on, till the measure of your iniquities is full. Then will the great God deal with you as you have dealt with them, and require all their blood at your hands. And at "that day it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you!"

We always want our heroes to be on the right side of history, as we currently judge what that right side is. It seems John Wesley was. It took him a few decades from when he first saw slavery up close in Georgia until he began making opposition to it a part of his public pronouncements. I suppose we could fault him for the delay, but he did have a lot on his plate. That he eventually stepped out front, encouraged by the works of Benezet and others, is a good thing. That he inspired Wilberforce and others, even better.

I'm now at the point where I'm excerpting Thoughts Upon Slavery, then will write some analysis to go around that, plus questions for the class, plus a list of references and further reading. I think I'll have all that done by Sunday evening. One exception: I have ordered a reference from interlibrary load, and purchased another one on-line. Until I have these in hand and can digest them, I won't really be "done" with the chapter.
The last couple of sections are Wesley's own writing, his statement how a Christian—indeed, a human being with a real heart—could not possibly engage in the slave trade, could not possilby own slaves. They are the best part of the book. He was everything wrong with the world as the result of sin. It's hard to argue with that. Certainly this "execrable villany" was a sin against God and against man. That it took "Christians" so long to recognize that is shameful.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More on the "New" Editing in Publishing

Yesterday I blogged about re-thinking my decision to go with self-publishing and cease beating my head against a wall of traditional publishers and their gatekeeper infrastructure. I suppose I'm not really rethinking that decision, but rather re-stating it and expanding on the reasons why I made it.

I actually wrote that post some time the day before that and scheduled it to post later. Since then, several other posts to TWV2 have been made. One writer who is under consideration for a contract with a traditional publisher for a Bible study said she received an e-mail from the publisher, saying what they are expecting of her for a platform: so many Facebook followers by a fixed date; so many speaking engagements by a fixed date. More on platform later.

Another writer, who has been at it full time for close to thirty years, told how he has seen the pub house editing function change over the years. Once they had multiple editors assigned to a project. An editor for proof-reading, and editor for checking quotes, a general editor, etc. Five or six different editors touched and tweaked the contents of a book before it went out. But that changed, this writer said:
About 20 years ago I saw a drastic change: Publishers eliminated many of those positions, citing smaller profits. Today the responsibility is on writers. The most I get from a CBA or ABA publisher is what I call a broad-brush editor, who makes a general edit. After I respond, I receive the copyedited manuscript. Sometimes that version is the print proofs, but usually, I receive one final time to catch typos and punctuation errors-and there are always a few.
So again, I ask myself, and the traditional publishers in the world: What is the advantage to the writer to go with you? If you aren't even going to edit our books, not even proof-read them, we might as well publish them ourselves.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Re-Thinking the Arguments for Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

The debate rages in the blogosphere about traditional publishing (or, as some call it, legacy publishing) and self-publishing. This debate has always raged, waning and waxing according to what new self-publishing company is ripping off how many writers, but technology has brought it once more to the forefront. Electronic self-publishing, or eSP as I call it, along with affordable print-on-demand printing processes, have changed the game. The cost to self-publish, especially to eSP, has gone way down. The playing field between traditional and self-publishing is much closer to level.

I’ve blogged about this before, but want to again. Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, wrote a post in defense of traditional publishing and asked readers to say why they intended to publish traditionally. I want to say that Rachelle is very fair and even-handed about the two methods. She doesn’t overstate the advantages of traditional nor trump up the detriments of self-. I found the 200+ comments to be quite interesting, and wanted to discuss the reasons people give for wanting to embrace traditional publishing or avoid self-publishing. Those are not the same thing.

The first issue is one of quality. Self-published books are poorly done, the commenters said. The writing is poor, the editing is poor (or non-existent), the printing is poor, the binding is cheap, and the covers are amateurish. You look at a self-published book, you can tell right away that it was self-published, and then shy away from it.

That might have been true at one time, but I think the quality gap is closing. At least it is closing for the best produced self-published books and the average pub house’s book. Again, this is partly a technology thing. POD is now so inexpensive to set up any computer literate person can do it—provided it isn’t an illustrated book. Computer art technology makes excellent cover production inexpensive, and again can perhaps be done by the writer with only a modest learning curve to climb. Binding and paper quality are also overcome in the POD process, so I’m told. So you can have POD self-published books that are as good in physical quality as a traditionally published book.

What about the editing? On The Writers View 2, the current question is what would you like to ask an editor. One member said she wanted to ask an editor at a major Christian pub house why their books are so full of errors: typos and grammar. She marks the books, she says, and reports them to the pub house, which invariably then asks her to send them the needed edits, a request she declines to fulfill without payment. An editor who is on TWV2 panel responded this way:
Wow! I just watched an earth-moving machine, maybe a D-7 dozer (a big one), take a huge swipe out of the playing field. If pub houses are no longer going to guarantee their books to be as error-free as they can possibly make them, then how are they better than self-published books? Content editing, copy editing, line editing, and proof-reading have always been touted as a reason why traditionally published books are better. As Inspector Clouseau would say, “Not any more.”

Other issues in Rachelle’s blog, including quality of the writing, will have to wait for another post.
…the rising incidence of typos is inevitable as revenues and time allotted for the final proofing stage decline, I'm afraid. The final proof is usually the last in a long line of missed deadlines, and all involved often have their hands tied. Those with responsibility for quality control before print often have their hands tied because of scheduling, lack of competent freelance proofers, or even incomplete collating of those proof edits in-house (if there were an uncommonly high number, some always get missed).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A New Writers Group

Tonight, when this posts, I will be at the Bentonville Public Library, meeting with three or four fellow writers from my church. When I met with our new pastor ( of four months) in March, I discussed the possibility of forming a writers group/ministry. He liked the idea and told me to run with it. I knew of three others in the church who either wrote or wanted to begin writing in earnest, and two others who seemed interested. We ran a notice in the bulletin for two weeks. That brought one more person to my knowledge who not only writes but has published a couple of books.

Today I posted a notice to one of the church member's Facebook wall, because I had a difficult time getting hold of her. Another lady in the church saw that and wrote, "What? I want to come!!!" So she will be there tonight. That makes seven people who have expressed specific interest in the group, and three others in the church who either write or want to start writing. Who knew there were that many?

My last writers group, the Bella Vista Writers Guild, faded into non-existence about May of last year. One of the ladies moved to Oklahoma City, leaving not enough attendees to make if viable, or at least no one to take the lead to recruit and build it up. That wasn't where I wanted to go. I've missed the fellowship. I've missed the discipline of preparing something to share each week. I've missed the critique. I submit some things to an online group for critique, and the critique is good, but there's no discipline to do so. I sent some items to beta readers, but truthfully more than half never respond, even though they have either requested the material or agreed to read it. So this has been a bleak year as far as writing fellowship is concerned.

I don't know how our BNC Writing Ministry (or whatever name we decide on) will turn out. Seven plus three writers is more than enough for the critical mass needed to make a viable group. But how many of us are serious at it and putting in enough time to make a group work? Will it be a critique group? A fellowship group? How often will we meet? Will we allow members from outside the church? These are things we will determine tonight and in the coming weeks. I'm excited. I think something will come of this.

Of course, as always happens, the minute I ratchet up my writing activities, during a lull in the whirlwind of life, the whirlwind picks up again. This time, though, instead of complaining and flying off the handle, I'm trying to work my way through it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Sale and a 4-Star Review

My e-short story, "Mom's Letter", continues to languish in the Kindle bookstore, ranking a little lower than 100,000. I haven't promoted it, the hours in the day being insufficient for the purpose. Heck, I haven't even figured out how to put a widget promoting the book on this blog. I haven't had time to promote it on the Kindle boards. I haven't figured out the HTML commands needed to add promotional words/links to my blogspot signature. I haven't figured out how to change my Yahoo e-mail signature to include those. In short, I've done nothing to promote it except a couple of posts on Facebook and pleas in a few posts on the Suite101 forums.

I check the Kindle report almost every day, just in case something does, but it never does. I had the two early sales in February and one review. Then March was zero sales. April was zero sales, until today. When I checked the report this morning, it showed a single sale in April. Now there were three! That's $1.05 in commissions earned, nowhere close to the $10.00 payout, but it's earnings accrued. Not only that, but the purchaser posted a review on the Kindle boards. This purchaser/reviewer is unknown to me. I haven't interacted with her on any writer's boards, or in a blog. She's not a relative. Here's what she wrote about "Mom's Letter":

Very touching and sweet. The only downfalls? I have to agree that it's not so much a short story as a slice of life-ish vignette. That and this is the only work available by this author. Too bad, because I really enjoyed it.
Well, if that doesn't get the juices flowing! Makes me regret all this time I've had to work my day (and evening) job this last month. How quickly can I finish Documenting America and upload it? I've spent the last two evenings on my Wesley small group study. Maybe I need to be working on the other.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: The Good Life by Charles Colson

I bought The Good Life [2005, Tyndale, ISBN 0-8423-7749-2] by Charles Colson at full price at Borders about six months ago. I bought it because the small group study our Life Group was about to start, Wide Angle: Framing Your World View, said that the two were companion books. I didn't like the Wide Angle book, so I bought The Good Life, thinking the two together might work. The $25 price tag on it, though, I knew was excessive for our Life Group.

However, having the book in hand, and it being a companion to our study we were about to do with the video series only (no book), I decided to keep and read it. I'm glad I did, even though I didn't think it went with Wide Angle as well as the latter book suggested. Colson, with his collaborator Harold Fickett, did his usual excellent job. The subtitle of the book is Seeking purpose, meaning, and truth in your life. It is a follow-up book to Colson's How Now Shall We Life, a worldview book I blogged about previously (and again here). That was a great book, so I entered this one with high expectations.

The book is full of stories. Colson/Frickett tell stories to illustrate points. It begins with the Normandy graveyard scene from Saving Private Ryan, where the older Ryan says to his wife, "Tell me I'm a good man." Most of the stories are from real life, however. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco is the poster child for corruption. Jamie Gavigan, a Washington DC celebrity hair stylist, is the poster girl for excess consumerism. Nien Cheng, an educated Chinese woman who ran afoul of the Cultural Revolution, shows steadfastness and honesty under duress. John Ehrlichman, a colleague of Colson's on President Nixon's staff, shows how a life without repentance and acknowledgement of wrongful deeds can be anything but the good life.

With each story, Colson/Frickett give many annotations of the points being illustrated. Frequent mention is made to How Now Shall We Live?, indicating how the worldview of the person in the story is illustrative of a right or wrong worldview—or perhaps I should say of a beneficial or destructive worldview. While some of the same themes span both books, The Good Life is not a re-hash of How Now Shall We Live. It is a different book. The authors are encouraging us to adopt a Christian worldview and make it a real part of our lives. In this way we will live the good life, make our lives count for something. Thus, the book is evangelical in intent and content.

I will probably read some or all of this book again. Certainly, when we return to the Wide Angle study in our Life Group after the fourteen week interruption for an all-church study, I will be seeking to pull illustrations from this to go along with the video lessons. But one of the reasons I'll read it again is that, by the end of the book, I had forgotten the beginning. No joke. In many of the latter chapters the authors would say "Remember the story about ___________", referring to an earlier chapter, and I would have no idea what that story was. Rather than go back and find and re-read it, I just plowed ahead, knowing I'd be going back in support of our Life Group study.

That forgetting so completely the early parts of the book concerned me. The reading is easy. Did I read in a distracted manner, thus not retaining? I had some time gap between the first part of the book and the latter parts, but not that long. I shouldn't have forgotten it so easily.

Were there too many stories? I wonder if that's true. The book contains a lot of stories. Perhaps retention of so many is difficult. Or was the book written in such a way that the words and organization did not facilitate retention of the stories? I know as a writer I shouldn't blame the reader. If the reader doesn't get it, blame the writer. That's one of the mantras of the poetry critique forums I've been in.

But sometimes the reader doesn't get it, despite clear and excellent writing. I suspect that's the case here. For whatever the reason, my retention was lacking. I won't lay that on the authors, though I do mention it for consideration of my readers.

By all means pick up a copy of The Good Life and read it. I don't think you will be disappointed. Then, if you haven't already, find How Now Shall We Live? and read that. The two are related and supplemental, and worthy to have in the Christian's library.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stymied at Work on a Saturday

This morning I had a busy time at the house, doing the usual Saturday chores/ maintenance/ operations. I had a lengthy to-do list, and I did a lot of it. Some remains for tonight, but that's okay.

About 12:30 PM or so I headed to the office, a little later than I wanted. I had five things on my office to-do list, things that just never seem to get done during the work week. I had two letters to write documenting construction items that are either done or decided, from more than a month ago, which I reported verbally to the responsible party, but which I'd never documented in writing. That is now done, with the letters sitting on the admin assistant's desk for Monday mailing. I created a form that will help a client receive reimbursement from the highway department for our water line relocation project. This is outside the contract scope, but the client seems to be as busy as I am, so I decided to help him out. That is done and sent via e-mail.

I have a nagging item to help a citizen fill out a form for a floodplain protest. I'm not in favor of the protest, but the City has asked me to help them fill out the form. I printed everything I need, but set it aside to do a larger item, getting back to the floodplain project in Rogers that I had to lay aside the last three weeks due to urgent items on other projects.

So I began my floodplain work, and discovered what I had a CAD tech do to help me with this is not really in the format I need. The data is probably correct, but I need her to 1) check the location of an improved city street within the cut cross-sections, and 2) adjust her ground point horizontal stations to what I already have in my computer model. Once she does that, I should be able to enter the data in the model with no problem. I have another item or two to do on this model, not related to the cut cross-sections, so maybe I'll jump on those.

Or maybe I'll just go home. I had a certain order in mind of what I wanted to do on the floodplain model. Entering data for those cross-sections was first. I'm not sure I want to do the other items before the cross-sections. Maybe I'm just out of pep. I'm feeling slightly under the weather today, weak and with a rumbly tummy, as Winnie would say. Maybe the best thing for me to do is head to the house, accepting what I was able to accomplish and not regretting what I couldn't. I can take a few minutes to complete that form for Centerton, then be on my way.

I have much to write about on this blog, about three or four items. Let's see what the next day and a half yields.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thirty Minutes of Foraging

So yesterday I had a delivery to make in downtown Rogers, a set of engineering drawings to the Rogers city engineer. I've been waiting for this opportunity, a trip to Rogers on my own, so that after my business was up I could take time to visit The Friendly Bookstore, also located in downtown Rogers. I had not been there since they moved to a new location almost three years ago. Downtown Rogers is not far from our office (a little over 6 miles), but with gas prices the way they are I just don't drive 6 miles out of my way. The bookstore turned out to be a mere three or four blocks from the City Admin building.

This is the bookstore run by the Friends of the Rogers Library. It is an outstanding store. Prices are close to what you expect at a thrift store or yard sale, but the supply is huge, more on the lines of a for-profit used book store. I never go in there but that I come out poorer in dollars and richer in volumes. Yesterday was no exception.

Of course, book buying for me is like therapy, or comfort food (and with my restricted diet I need all the alternative comfort food I can get). It boosts my spirit. Yesterday I dropped $17 there, but am the richer for it. Here's what I found:

--Orthodoxy: The American Spectator Anniversary Anthology. 491 pages of conservative essays from 1961-1986.
--The Hogarth Letters. Some letters from the early 1930s commissioned by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Not sure what this is really about—hopefully literature—but the price was right.
--The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Vol 3 1923-1928. I'm not a big fan of VW, but I am a fan of letters, and of writing and writers, so this should be good.
--Coleridge: Poems and Prose Selected by Kathleen Raine. I already have a fair amount of Coleridge material, but nothing to keep at the office. Now I do.
--The Writings of Arminius.

The Arminius book was pricey at $6.00 (well, pricey for me), but it will hopefully turn out to be a treasure. Arminius was a theological influence on John Wesley and the Wesleyan/holiness movement. It's something a wannabe Wesley scholar should know something about. Today I began reading it, and am not disappointed. Except, I am disappointed that it is only Volume 1 of a three volume set. I can get the entire three volumes from an on-line bookstore for a mere $44.00 plus $4 shipping and handling. That would bring my total investment in James Arminius up to $50.00 I'll have to think about that.

None of these will go in my reading pile, which is in desperate need of reshuffling. They are more resource books and occasional reads when nothing else tickles my fancy. I won't touch the letter ones till I finish the letters of A Conan Doyle, begun a year ago but set aside for other things. Still, I'm looking forward to this comfort food.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blog Topics Wide Open

The siege within the whirlwind is still winding down, enough so that I can at least begin a post during an afternoon break. I'm not sure how much time I have or when I'll post it.

My problem is what to blog about? What would hold the interest of my 13 followers and four or five regular viewers? I could blog about my writing: the new on-line magazine article assignment I received, or the problems at Suite101 due to the Google Panda update, or the little bits of progress on various projects. I could blog about my foraging half hour in a used book store this afternoon, coming away $17 poorer in cash but much richer in volumes. Or I could blog about the engineering work I'm doing. I could also blog about how my short story is not selling on Kindle, but I'd also have to say how I've been way too busy to do anything to promote it.

But instead, I think I'll talk about my health, because of the major change that occurred at my last doctor visit. I've had Type 2 diabetes for about 10 years, normally under control, but lately with blood sugar edging upward. Two visits ago he told me to begin testing sugar once or twice a day. I didn't get going on that however, and last visit (Mar 1) my blood sugar was very high, so he put me on Lantus, a long-acting insulin that I have to inject every evening. That wasn't what I really wanted, but I've only myself to blame for being so long about getting serious at fighting the disease.

I waited to begin until Lynda returned from her extended trip to Oklahoma City. Plus, as busy as I was at work, I didn't have time in the evenings to do my homework and know what I was doing. So it was March 31 before I began sticking myself and April 1 before I began taking the Lantus. The good news is that the shots are very easy, much easier than I imagined they would be. The bad news is the blood sugar testing procedures are a little harder than expected. I think I've finally got the routine down, but I lost a few days of proper testing.

My sugar is on the way down. I'm not where I need to be yet, and I'm not happy about taking the medication, but I think I'm on the right track. I made a recording form and am using it. Hopefully when I go for my next appointment on May 24, the results will be good.

In other health related news, I'm finally losing weight again. I reached some kind of set point at 254 pounds. It seemed that nothing I did would get me below that. I'd hit that then bounce up three pounds; hit it again and bounce up five; hit it again and bounce up two. It's been like that for more than a year. I've been bouncing around in a narrow range. Finally, two weeks ago (before the start of testing/insulin taking) I dropped just below that. In those two weeks I've lost 5 1/2 pounds, and I'm at my lowest weight since 2001.

I've read that everyone's body has these weight set points, and that dropping through them is difficult. I don't know if this is true; I haven't done real research on it, but it has seemed to be a reality in my weight loss attempts. I hit one around 280-282, and it took me time to lose to below that. The next one was 254, and I've hit that twice in the last decade. Finally I'm past it. It's time to lose twenty-five pounds in a year. I'm sure I have another set point, most likely around 230 or so pounds, at which I'll find it difficult to lose more. That's okay. I won't mind losing 25 pounds this year and leaving more for another.

All of which may be of no interest to anyone reading this except me. That's okay. It seemed a good topic on a day when I couldn't take a lot of time to write.