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Archive for January, 2009

PROMOTING THE BOOK … ON THE WEB

Thursday, January 29th, 2009
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I was interested to read the article in the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES Book Review about how the Web and online publicity is taking an ever larger share of authors’ promotions. Promotional websites started in 2002 and have rapidly expanded since then, and about 60% of today’s marketing by publishers and authors alike is done on the Web.

Over the past few years, publishing houses have encouraged their writers to create a robust online presence, and talented experts have created book-specific websites and videos for an increasing number of authors, who usually support these projects from their own pockets.

The creation of a Book website with attractive and continuous updated material can be a substantial addition to the marketing of a book.  Some authors try to increase their chances of sales by including a book video modeled on a movie trailer.  These have become increasingly popular since 2006, with the advent of YouTube and MySpace.

A recent survey found that 8% of book shoppers visited author websites in any given week.  However, nobody seems to know how many of those visitors have clicked on to the “buy the book” link.  Nevertheless as with all things “online,” there are plenty of companies trying to persuade those potential shoppers to buy.

To promote my novel, I have tried all of these avenues – the website, video, online publicity and blogging.  In addition, I created what I hoped would be a unique and interesting promotion to help sales.  Many of my readers commented on how they thought my book would make a good movie, and this led to the very enjoyable “game” of selecting actors and actresses to fit the parts.  I decided to turn this into a Hollywood Casting Director Contest, where readers have been able to select their choices for the leading parts in a movie version of the book (I do have three producers looking at the project), and the winner selected last week will receive a free trip to Hollywood.

The publishing world not unexpectedly, has been slow to embrace these new forms of marketing, but they are all facing the same problem of declining sales and profitability. Thus authors, agents, and indeed some publishers now recognize that they have to try new ideas.

Since 85% of the cost of online promotions are being paid for by the authors, the publishers have little to lose.  Of course most authors will add book tours, book signings, discussion groups, and other traditional forms of media promotion to the mix.  You have to try everything to achieve success.

Whether the websites, videos, and other online activity help sell books, is an unknown quantity.  But, speaking personally, I thought it was worth a try.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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The Audacity of Persistence

Monday, January 26th, 2009
Ox (zodiac)
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When I read Obaba’s Audacity of Hope, I found myself touched and inspired most of all by what he called the “audacity of hope.” I’d like to use the term “the audacity of persistence.” I remember reading his description of making phone calls for support and donation at the beginning of his political career, only to be met with rejection or silence; his participation in a parade to get himself known, only to be placed in the very end of the parade, with his float next to the last vehicle of a sanitary truck and the audience he wanted to reach dispersing before he could reach them. But the numerous setbacks he encountered didn’t deter him—he persisted with audacity, which eventually led him to the White House.

Obama’s “Yes, we can” message conveys the same idea—hope and persistence. As a first generation immigrant, I know from my own experience the importance of such attitude and spirit. It doesn’t matter one is pursuing a new start in an adopted country, or striving to move forward in one’s own, the optimism and consistence are the key elements of success. This applies to our effort of writing as well—despite the fact that it is a labor of love, at times, it is very challenging and difficult—only with the audacity of persistence that we can finish a project we started, to a satisfactory level we are capable of reaching, by going through numerous revisions and rewrites.

Today marks the start of a New Year in the lunar calendar—the Year of the Ox. Some key characteristics of the Ox are: hard working, patience, and persistence. For those of us inspired to write, I’d like to say: let’s keep at it, be it poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, until we accomplish our goal, one after another.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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President Obama – A Personal Perspective

Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Field of Gold
Image by Chris Gin via Flickr

Like millions of Americans, I watched the incredible scenes at the Inauguration of our 44th President.

The high hopes, expectations, and emotions of the vast crowds were clearly evident.  I was struck once again by the diversity of what the President called the “Patchwork of the American people.” Black, brown, yellow, and white faces – some shedding tears – but all eagerly awaiting a new dawn for America.

The peaceful transition of power in these times of enormous fear and hardship is a credit to US democracy and an example to the world.

The appointment of Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American President of the United States, sends another wonderful message around the world to both our friends and enemies.  Surely, it becomes more difficult for those feudal military dictatorships that govern most of the Muslim world to continue to call the US the “great Satan,” when we have a new President whose father was a Muslim. Those who challenge the Western democracies way of life, hiding behind women and children, teaching hate and prejudice in their schools, and launching rockets and suicide bombers at innocent victims will ultimately fail.

It is also remarkable that after eight years of the Bush/Chaney administration, our former leaders are able to return to private life without public vengeance or humiliation.  Where else on this planet could leaders, who have transformed a five-trillion-dollar surplus into a ten-trillion-dollar deficit in eight years, pursued an unnecessary War, and brought the country’s economy teetering on the edge, not face public trials, arrest, or massive media condemnation.

I am an American by choice.  I am an immigrant who came to this country in 1982.  I grew up in England during the Second World War, when that country faced the threat of defeat and occupation by Germany’s Nazi regime. My family and I lived through air raids, food shortages, and black-outs, and then through the post-war austerity of continued food rationing, power cuts, and shortages of services.

In my adult life and career under successive Socialist Governments, I lived through economic highs and lows, strikes and disruptions by powerful Marxist led unions, and prohibitively high taxation.  The US was to me always the land of opportunity from glimpses through the Hollywood movies I saw as a child, and the can-do philosophy and American optimism that I encountered on my business trips.

I saw a productive population who believed that anyone could be President, and that hard work would be rewarded.  Doors were always open, and the class-ridden prejudices that I encountered in England were not in evidence.

I left a comfortable life in England for the challenge, excitement, and the opportunities that the US had to offer, and I have prospered in this great country.  My transfer to the US was really risk free and easy.  So many others, however, were much more courageous and faced many obstacles, but recognized that the US could provide a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

My friend and co-blogger, Jian Ping, came to the US in the 1980’s from China that was still recovering from the traumas of the Cultural Revolution.  Her story is reflective of many other immigrants.

President Obama faces enormous challenges but, with the support and hard work of the American people, I am sure he will succeed and the US will once again become the land of opportunity.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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The Power of The Book…

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

We already know that our new President, Barack Obama, has outstanding ability as an orator. We also know that he is a writer and has the eloquence to use language that can persuade and inspire.  His devotion to reading and language has been a powerful force in his ability to communicate his ideas to millions, not only in the US but around the world.

His two bestselling memoirs – DREAMS FROM MY FATHER and THE AUDACITY OF HOPE –highlight the importance of books both classic and modern, which have influenced his thinking.  It has been well publicized that his recent readings have contributed to his strategic plan for governance of the nation.

TEAM OF RIVALS” – Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Abraham Lincoln and his decision to include former opponents in his cabinet, may have influenced the President’s decision to bring in Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  He is clearly going out of his way to court Republicans from the other side of the aisle, and to develop a strong personal relationship with his former presidential rival, John McCain.  This appears to be clearly following Lincoln’s program.

He has also indicated that he has been profoundly influenced by books describing FDR’s first 100 days in office, which may help him deal with the enormous challenges, both economic and global, that he will face upon taking office.

Our new President has had a life-long love affair with books, and his personality, intelligence, and intellectual abilities have been shaped by his reading from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to the richness of American history. His use of language and its rhythms has been as important to Mr. Obama as his undoubted ability to inspire while at the same time provide down-to-earth analysis and inspiration.

As we enter a new era of change with a well-read intellectual President, who can exude and inspire confidence, maybe we shall truly see an America that once again surmounts major challenges and reinvents itself as the  Country of freedom and opportunity.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Inspiration…

Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Art Institute of Chicago
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As Ellis watched films at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and talked with film directors today, I battled the coldest day in Chicago, minus 12 F, and went to the Museum of the Art Institute to attend a poetry reading by Eamon Grennan earlier this evening. It was part of a program called “360 degrees, art beyond borders,” presented by the Art Institute of Chicago, Poetry Foundation, and two other organizations. I was pleasantly surprised that more than 80 people were already in the auditorium.

Mr. Grennan is known for his sensitivity to the world of nature—animals, plants, landscape, and etc. I was soon mesmerized by his reading. His words are seemingly simple, yet clear and precise and his description vivid and delightful. Ordinary objects became alive as he turned from one poem to another. With the ups and downs of his voice, my mind was filled with images of bees in the attic, small black ants hauling a wasp, and colorful pheasants flying above the prairie. The landscape in my mind’s eye was intertwined with Chinese water and color painting, which have nature—mountains, rivers, and trees—as dominating features. Mr. Grennan explained his keen observation and real life incidents that led to the descriptions in his poems. He had such full attention of the audience that when I accidentally dropped my ballpoint pen, the noise it made as it hit the concrete floor sounded as if a heavy object had cracked and broke the silence of the audience.

I walked away touched and inspired. Instead of taking a cab home, I tightened my scarf and charged into the cold for the one-mile walk home. I paid attention to the squeaking of the compacted snow under my feet and noticed the crystal like icicles hanging from tree branches on the sidewalks. I’m inspired to think of the words I can use to describe such bitterly cold yet beautiful winter scenes in Chicago.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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Memoirs, Documentaries, Docudramas and Feature Films.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009
Scene of Viet Cong in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam
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I’ve been attending the Palm Springs International Film Festival all this week.  This is now the largest Film Festival in the United States. This year, they are showing 208 films from 74 countries, attended by over 125,000 people.

Now in its 20th year, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has proven itself to be the source of many an Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, discovery of new talent – both acting and directing – and of course an insight to numerous cultures through the medium of film.

The Festival always includes some high-quality documentaries. These days, we see on the screen not only documentaries, but dramatization into feature films of what previously may have only qualified for a documentary.  This year’s possible Oscar nominee – FROST/NIXON – is an example.

Yesterday, I saw a wonderful documentary – AN UNLIKELY WEAPON (morgancooperproductions@hotmail.com) – beautifully directed by Susan Morgan Cooper about the professional career of the American photo journalist, Eddie Adams.  It was his 1968 photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner being shot in the head that profoundly influenced public opinion and changed the course of the Vietnam War.

Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph, but he expressed regret about this image throughout his life.  He felt it was unfair to the shooter in the photograph, Saigon Police Chief, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, who was demonized for this event, even after immigrating to the United States.  It transpired that the victim had shot and killed the General’s assistant and his family a few minutes before having his own life terminated.

It is often said that a “picture is worth more than 1000 words.”  In this case, a picture was able to rouse the American public into finally demanding an end to the Vietnam hostilities.  Later, Eddie Adams photographed the over-crowded boats of Vietnamese refugees as they were turned away by other southeastern Asian countries.  His images eventually resulted in the United States granting amnesty and immigration status to 250,000 Vietnamese.

During Eddie Adams long career, he covered thirteen wars and then moved into celebrity photography, producing beautiful lasting images of six American Presidents and most of the major celebrities over the past fifty years.

Hopefully, this wonderful documentary will receive the wide distribution it deserves. It could have followed other examples and been made into a docudrama or feature film, but would have undoubtedly lost the impact, understanding, and reality of Eddie Adam’s personality.  He was a perfectionist who was never really happy with his work and suffered by his own admission from wide mood swings.

As a photo journalist in the Vietnam War, he was in the thick of the fighting, on helicopters, rescuing the wounded, and crawling through the undergrowth, all part of his striving for the perfect image.

As a former Marine, he was tough and gruff, but devoted to his profession and his photo journalist peers.  Perhaps, his mood swings might today be described as post-traumatic stress syndrome from his experiences in Vietnam, which he was unable to shake off for the rest of this life.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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The Promotion of Reading…

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Bates Hall reading room at the Boston Public L...
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It is indeed very encouraging to learn about the survey results on the rise of fiction reading. In the midst of bad news in the book industry—layoffs and eliminations of new titles at publishing houses, it feels like a refreshing breeze.

Book clubs and libraries certainly have played key roles in the promotion of reading. Recently, I met with two book groups, both exclusively women, in the Chicago area. I was impressed by the depth of questions the members raised in our discussions. The two groups both meet once a month and discuss a different book each time they meet. What’s more, both groups have been meeting for more than ten years, with the majority of the members remaining the same. The long history and regularity of their meetings are outstanding. They certainly represent thousands of book groups in the US.

Of course, libraries all over the country organize various book events that have also effectively promoted reading. Living not far from the Harold Washington Library, the most spacious nine-story library in downtown Chicago, I’ve attended many such events—interviews with authors or lectures given by authors, from Joyce Carol Oats, Ha Jin, to Alaa Al Aswany (author of Chicago, a novel). I bought and read their books as a result of attending these events.

Recently, both Ellis Goodman and I were invited to attend the Lexington Public Library Foundation’s Fundraising Event in Lexington, Kentucky. The Literary Feast, which includes fifteen authors from around the US, will be held from January 29th and 30th. Details are posted at: https://web.lexpublib.org/foundation/feast2009/. Local residents will open their houses to host dinners for each of the invited authors and participants will get a chance to talk with their selected authors over dinner in a private setting. I’m looking forward to the event—to meet with readers and the other authors. This is the second year the Lexington Public Library organizes such an event. I am proud to play a role in the support of the library and the promotion of reading.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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Reading on the Rise…

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Harry Potter
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Good news at last.  The National Endowment for the Arts has just announced that a 25-year decline in fiction reading appears to be reversing itself.  They are to release a report next week titled, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy.”

The report has apparently discovered that, for the first time in over 25 years, the proportion of adults over 18 years old who have read at least one novel or short story in the previous year, has risen to over 50%.  This will be good news for the publishing industry as well as for authors and educators.

Publishers have for years been bemoaning the decline in sales and have struggled to maintain profitability.  Because of these pressures, publishers have often turned to celebrity “tell-alls,” scandalous personal memoirs, and an endless stream of “how to” books.

As television has continued to “dumb down,” perhaps the public is at last turning to alternatives in their culture lifestyle.  Television is of course the main culprit in providing an ever-declining quality of product, which is nothing more than censorship by ratings.

But in today’s world of text messaging, blackberries, email, and on-line sales of everything, the quiet reading of a book has to compete with the time constraints of today’s frantic lifestyle.

Four years ago, a report was released that showed that fewer than half of adult Americans read novels, short stories, play, or poetry.  Hopefully, the latest information is a genuine reversal of this trend, to which credit should be given to community based programs like “The Big Read”, Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, and the incredible success of the Harry Potter series.

However, the individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents, and civic leaders in their efforts to get people to read more and to show their children by example the pleasures of reading, must
also take credit.

Hopefully, more of the public will recognize that in these harsh economic times, the best entertainment value is still a good book.

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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What? a “memoir”

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

It’s interesting that Ellis talks about several recently released movies which are “based on true stories” yet use dramatization to embellish the facts. With a simple disclaimer, the audience’s expectations were set and the exaggerated drama and creative deviations are accepted, though the characters presented on the screen are real life figures. The key lies in the forthcoming statement of “based on a true story.” I wonder why some authors wouldn’t have the sense to call their titles novels based on true stories versus memoirs as truth. When a “memoir” turned out to be fabricated, it generated severe damages not only to the particular book that was exposed, but also to the genre in general.

The latest scandal is Herman Rosenblat’s Angel at the Fence, a “memoir” scheduled to be released in February and was pulled from release. When the truth came out that part of the love story was embellished, Mr. Rosenblat stated: “I want to bring happiness to people…. My motivation was to make good in this world.” That might be well said, but why not place the book under fiction if it was not true? A well-written novel can be just as motivating and inspiring. I wonder when he talked about his love story on Oprah Show and was hailed as one of the most touching love story of the century, was he bothered by his behavior? His fabrication was a betrayal to his viewers and readers who took his words as truth.

Last year, Margaret B. Jones’ Love and Consequences: A Memoir for Hope and Survival, created an outrage. Her fabrication was beyond comprehension: from a foster home to a mixed race, none of them was true. She completely invented a story of gang life in Los Angeles against her own white, middle-class upbringing. What was she thinking? Could she have believed that once the book was released, she could get away with such high tales? And there was the infamous James Frey whose story of suffering and redemption was grossly embellished and fabricated. As writers, we have the obligation to maintain the integrity and truthfulness of memoir. Many fictions are based on real life stories. Those who intend to fabricate stories should learn from the movie industry: call their work as fiction “based on true stories,” not memoir.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. www.mulberrychild.com

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Words to Movies…

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

One of this year’s hot Oscar tips is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  This epic movie is based upon a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It is amazing how this short story has been turned into a two and half hour major movie, and I feel to a certain extent, some of the many messages in this intriguing and imaginative tale have been lost.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used beautiful descriptive language in his books and short stories and captured the Jazz Age Era of the 20s and 30s.  The Great Gatsby brilliantly described the excesses and obscene wealth of the pre-depression era.  Perhaps not so different from the 1990s era, for which we are now paying dearly.

Fitzgerald also reflected his turbulent relationship with his troubled wife, Zelda, in many of his short stories and novels.  She was particularly upset to discover that the leading character in his novel, Tender Is The Night, was clearly based upon her and her marital relationship.  Their wild excesses, drunken parties, and abusive and impetuous behavior became an embarrassment to their friends and associates, ultimately leading to Zelda’s mental breakdown.

Tales of The Jazz Age, which was Fitzgerald’s second collection of short stories, including the famous The Diamond As Big As the Ritz brought him further acclaim.  His second novel also published in the same year (1922) The Beautiful and the Damned was adapted to the screen with some success, but perhaps All The Sad Young Men contained the most insightful view of the troubled world that was to come with the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression.

Fitzgerald’s beautiful prose and illuminating descriptions were used in movie adaptations with some success, but it is a rare movie maker indeed that can transform the brilliance of the written word onto the Silver Screen.

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