Do Women Dominate #SelfPublishing ?


A to Z Stories of Life and Death

My self-publishing experiment

On Daily (w)rite, the majority of bloggers who comment are women.

In any creative writing workshop, women outnumber men by ten to one.

I recently read an article in the Guardian, that says women dominate Self-Publishing:

Alison Baverstock, an associate professor in publishing at Kingston University, Surrey, said her research showed a clear gender split, with 65% of self-publishers being women and 35% men. Nearly two-thirds of all self-publishers are aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half are in full-time employment, 32% have a degree and 44% a higher degree.

Baverstock said there was a widespread misunderstanding about who decides to self-publish a book, and how the genre was changing the publishing industry.

The article goes on to talk about how self-publishing is quite a robust alternative to traditional publishing:

“…there were popular subjects that traditional publishers had ignored, including “respectable soft porn” and “gentle memoirs of everyday disasters, such as losing a child”. Most publishers, she said, were being outpaced by a heady mix of democratisation and digital distribution, because they came from a “very limited gene pool … all agree on what they like … they know each other, and are not necessarily in touch with popular taste. Self-publishing is going on in schools, across institutions, spreading knowledge [of how to publish].”

While I agree with self-publishing having had a much huger impact in the last few years, I’m not so sure of women authors outstripping the contribution of men in this area. I’ve tried self-publishing a book of flash fiction, mostly as an experiment in learning how it’s done. Being less interested in publication and even lesser in making money out of it (both are unarguably good things, just not things I’m terribly interested in so far), I’ve mostly gone the traditional route. I’m trying to learn how to write, and despite the small published portfolio of short fiction I have gathered, I think I have a very very, long way to go.

I’m interested, however, in how the publishing world is shaping up: as a reader, I want to stay in touch with who’s publishing the books I read, and why. So here are a few questions, if you have a minute:

What has been your experience? Have you read more indie books by women than men? If you self-publish, would you drop a comment here, so we can have some real, first-hand accounts? Why do you self-publish? Have you tried the traditional route?

Who’s your Hero? #India #ProjectWhy

Who’s your Hero? #India #ProjectWhy


Everybody needs heroes. And I’ve needed mine– I just had to wait around to find her, way into my adulthood. Today, I’m talking about her on Daily (w)rite as my contribution to the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest.

Anouradha Bakshi NGO India

Anouradha Bakshi: My Hero from Project Why

Joy Campbell is running the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest today on her blog: Post approximately 300 words about someone who has encouraged or inspired you. Your hero may be a friend, spouse, teacher or writing buddy.

I love my friends, adore my spouse, have tremendous respect for some of my teachers and writing buddies. But the person I want to write about is someone I’ve met for a very short time in real life, but who’s had a huge impact on my way of thinking, my attitude to the world around me.

Her name is Anouradha Bakshi, the founder of Project Why, an organization that works in the slums of New Delhi. Lots of such organizations are doing good work, so what’s special about Anouradha and Project Why?

Project Why works with the slum children and women from within the slums by empowering the slum community. Some of the teachers were once maids, who got an education at the Pwhy, and are now teaching the kids from the slums. Others are helping to manage the project and run it. Yet others work as drivers, who ferry the kids and teachers from one learning center to the other. A Project Why team member’s family helps cook the midday meal for the creche kids. Most of the education given to about a 1000 kids from creche to secondary levels is free, as are the courses on sewing, and other skills for women. One of the schools is literally situated in the middle of a dustbin, because that’s where a majority of the kids who attend it, live.

Visiting this school, as I did this month, is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

All this is supported by donors touched by Anouradha’s way of thinking– “Seeing with the Heart

Where others see a burden in a disabled person (a common sentiment in many parts and social strata in India) she saw God’s own children. The Special Section, which I visited on my recent trip to New Delhi is poorly equipped, but full of love, as is the rest of the Project.

Project Why Kids, Doll Museum New Delhi

Day out with the kids at Project Why at the Doll Museum, New Delhi

Anouradha insists on spending most of the donations received on the kids and the women, finding innovative ways to cut corners on overheads. One of the centers uses a solar panel donated by a businessman introducing their use in India– and the water system is donated by a visiting school.

Tying all this is together is Anouradha’s compassionate yet indomitable spirit: you can’t help but be touched by the smiles she brings on the faces of so many people, with such honesty, kindness, and willingness to move on despite tough circumstances. (Her honesty, and her unwillingness to make a circus of the slum dwellers makes it difficult for her to raise funds– donors sometimes come in with cameras trying to pose the kids of the Special Section for public relations exercises, or to exploit them for publicity.)

Inspired by her, I try to look at the world around me with the eyes of the Heart, to understand, empathize, relate, build community, spread joy, in whatever small way I can. Not that I’ve succeeded, far from it– but I’ve made a start. I’ve been a contributor of sorts for years, and now, I’m trying to help get their social media and online fundraising efforts off the ground.

We need more heroes like Anouradha Bakshi. To my mind, though I can never become the hero she is, maybe I can learn and become a better person each day.

Who are your heroes? How long have you known them? Would you like to join in the Who’s Your Hero Blogfest, or just talk about your heroes in the comments? Would you like to support Anouradha Bakshi in her efforts?

How Self(ie) Obsessed are You?


Writers have an excuse for people -watching. Research, they say.

Today, at the beach with the family, I spotted a thin young man, with his techie camera, floppy hat, long-sleeved, stylish clothing.

I paid him no mind when he took the first selfie. After all, people all across the beach were either jumping in front of someone with a camera, letting out squeals, arms raised in fake ecstasy; or fishing for selfies, waist deep in the lapping waves, selfie-rod held in firm grip, grimacing away. (Notice the women modeling on the rock in some of the pictures.)

But this man’s persistence amazed (amused) me.

He kept trying to take Selfies, with a focus to rival a fishing stork–only he didn’t remain still except to pose.

He kept skipping and scampering across the sand and splashing into the water, busier than a seagull, and possibly livelier. He had no use for the blue vistas and white sand spread out before him, other than as a background for himself, and his nascent muscles.

I’m cruel. I guess so is my family.

That man adjusted his camera and jumped in the sun for the best part of three-and-a-half hours. For all that time, in between snoozing and chatting, we snickered at him, and I took pictures. I know I should have walked up, offered to take his picture, put him out of his misery. But it was far too much fun to just lie back and watch.

Here, I bring you the man on his quest for the Perfect Selfie. I hope he got it.

Selfie-Obsessed Man on a Beach Sunday morning Thoughts

Sunday Morning Thoughts: Selfie-Obsession at the Beach!

Selfie Obsession

Jumping about in Search of a Selfie

Do you take selfies? Possess a selfie rod? How many selfies do you take in an hour/day/week/month? Have any selfie-obsessed friends or relatives? Do you think we sometimes lose the moment while trying to show off on social media?

Have you heard of the New York #Writers #Workshop ?


Here at Daily (w)rite, I run a series of interviews of publishing industry experts: I’ve had poets, authors, and creative writing professors. Today, I’m chatting with Tim Tomlinson, who teaches at the New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program, and is an author and poet in his own right.

My first encounter with him was through his book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, one of the first books that gave me the confidence to go on writing without an MFA, and not lose heart. I took a writing workshop with him some time back, and speaking from experience, if you have the opportunity to go for one of those, do not hesitate.

1. You’re one of the founders of the New York Writing Workshop. What was the impetus behind it?

Solidarity and frustration. The founders were all teaching for another organization whose demands began to clash with our values. We met, somewhat conspiratorially, and we decided that we could do it better on our own. The rest is a combination of history and farce.

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

Meeting new writers, hearing their material, and giving them ideas for presenting the material most effectively. I recently finished two long sessions in Baguio, Philippines. Lots of talent, many wonderful people, but with a need for craft, useful practice, and self-belief. In two days, we made great progress in all those areas, and that’s gratifying.

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

Portable MFA in Creative Writing

3. Tell us about your book, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. How would you like a reader to approach it?

The Portable MFA in Creative Writing was meant as something of a substitute to MFA programs, or more accurately, a substitute for the expense of MFA programs.

At New York Writers Workshop we encountered hordes of recovering MFAs—aspiring writers damaged to varying degrees by destructive MFA programs. Writers who’d become convinced their work was garbage unless it matched whatever criteria were being pushed in whatever program (if, indeed, any criteria were being pushed). The Gordon Lish survivors were the most crippled: they couldn’t get beyond sentence one (which, according to Captain Fiction, must be perfect before one can proceed to sentence two). So we wanted to offer an alternative to spending $50,000 on nothing, or worse than nothing. For $16.95, the conceit had it, one could avail oneself of some, many, or close to all of the lessons of the MFA program.

But, and this is a big but, the book can’t provide community, or readers, or encouragement. MFA programs can (although none of these is guaranteed). The book also encompasses a range of disciplines: fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, poetry. Some programs prohibit movement between disciplines; our book encourages movement.

4. Can creative writing be taught? Why/ why not?

It most certainly can, and as we say in the book, one should run away from any program or instructor who says that it can’t. Talent can’t be taught, luck can’t be taught, discipline can’t be taught. But talent can be recognized and nurtured. And when it is, discipline follows – it’s more fun to sit down to the grind and discover that good work, or better work, is forthcoming. And when disciplined practice becomes part of the routine, luck often follows—one creates one’s luck. You teach the craft, you suggest the discipline, good things follow.

5. What advice would you give someone who is applying for MFA Writing programs?

Ask tough questions, of the program, and of yourself. Who will be teaching? What is her approach? (Does she believe creative writing can be taught?) What’s the rate of acceptance? How many nonsense requirements will intrude upon my writing time? Can I afford this? How deep will I fall into a financial hole? Can I achieve the same goals through less costly means?

6. If you had three pointers to give an aspiring writer, what would they be?

Read a lot, write more, and spend time far away from books (or universities). The work of too many young writers is informed by university experience solely, or predominantly. That creates the kind of provincialism you see in American fiction and poetry today.

7. You have taught creative writing in the West, as well as in Asia. What would you say are the key similarities and differences in the two experiences?

Very broadly speaking, Asian writers have more humility, which is a good thing for the development of craft, but maybe not the best thing for career advancement. Aspiring writers in Asia, too (again, broadly speaking) have far greater awareness of global realities than most aspiring writers in the U.S. American writers are freer in their diction, less formal.

8. Which is the last novel you read that you would recommend and why? Which authors would you name as influences on your own writing?

I liked Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth: A Novel. Her fragments are fairly large (in comparison to the fragmented fictions of Maggie Nelson, for instance, or Evan Lavender-Smith), but they’re still discrete units of narrative that enable Guo to focus on smaller moments, which build like blocks to a full coming-of-age story.

As for influences, in fiction no one has been more important than Henry Miller, particularly his Tropic of Cancer, for language and spirit. John Cheever for structure, Denis Johnson for lyricism, Robert Stone for rhythm, James Salter for vision, Lydia Davis for options, Junot Diaz for freedom, Mary Gaitskill for awareness, Edmund White for honesty, Chekhov for neutrality. The diction of cowboy movies. Sam Shepard. And the diction of gangster movies. Martin Scorsese, and David Mamet. So many. In poetry, I don’t know if I’ve been influenced. Rather, there are sounds and visions to which I aspire. Charles Wright, Li Po, Merlie Alunan, Mary Oliver. And subject matters that enable my own. Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder, Philip Levine.

9. You help run a literary journal Ducts.org. Tell us more about it.

I’ve edited the fiction section for the past six or seven years (we also run essay, memoir, poetry, art, and humor). I’ve tried to make the representation global, and non-New-York-centric. I’ve run stories from Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, England, India, as well as from many places in the U.S. Our readership has grown, the quality of submissions has elevated, and publication has become more and more competitive. We have two best-of anthologies: How Not to Greet Famous People, and The Man Who Ate His Book.

Tim Tomlinson New York Writers Workshop

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson is co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. Stories and poems appear or are forthcoming in The Blue Lyra Review, Caribbean Vistas, Coachella Review, Writing Tomorrow, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Fast Food Fiction (Anvil Publishing). He is the fiction editor for Ducts. He teaches at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program.

Do you have questions for Tim Tomlinson? Have you taken an MFA or considering applying for one? Would you like to talk about your experience?

 

Walking with Tina– Do You Believe Life is Good?


Sunflowers for Tina

Sunflowers for Tina

For the coming week, Daily (w)rite ‘s header would remain a field of sunflowers, in honor of Tina Downey, my friend, fellow blogger, and Sister in Spirit.

Today, on the 8th of September, the blogging world is coming together to celebrate Tina’s life, and all that she stood for– beauty, brightness, good cheer in the face of all kinds of odds. This is the Sunflower Blogfest, folks, for a woman who adored sunflowers. Sign up if you haven’t already.

If you knew Tina, send her a tribute. If you didn’t know her, celebrate anyway– because joy needs to be celebrated now, today, every moment. Tina embodied that spirit of Taking joy in small things, and smiling through suffering.

For as long as I’ve known her, she’s struggled with her health– and she has never let that stand in the way of life, family, church, friendships, blogging, creative writing, or gardening– she did it all with a snark and a ready smile.

Tina and I spoke often, and every once in a while we spoke of visiting each other. I’ve never been to the USA and she’d never been to Singapore– so between Colorado and Singapore, we exchanged snapshots and dreams.

Tina Downey's Sunflower in SIngapore

In Singapore, with Tina Downey

I know that I still want to visit the United States, and if I do, I would like to spend an hour beside a field of sunflowers, soaking in the sun, remembering Tina’s voice, the one that always sounded so happy to hear mine– even on the days she had a hard time breathing.

I wrote about Tina and my swimming pool in my other blog, and on this one, I have this to say: Never ever postpone a plan to meet friends or family. I had planned a trip to surprise Tina this year.

But instead, I have this photo above, of my sunflower.

This is the view from my balcony, the view we would have shared, had Tina visited me, like she’d talked about doing, so many times.

I could have had other photos, different ones, had I made it to Colorado last year.

But I shall not shed tears.

“When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.” ~Khalil Gibran

Until we meet again, dear Tina. Life is always Good, and I believe it, in part, because of you.

(Tina’s family has set up the Downey Education Fund for Tina’s sons, if you’d like to donate, the way I and some others have done, the Donate link is given below. If you want the code for a badge on your own blog, drop me a line at atozstories at gmail dot com)

Donate to the Downey Education Fund

Donate to the Downey Education Fund

Would you all celebrate Tina with us?

Do you believe, the way I do, that no matter what, Life is Good?

Are You Searching for Beauty in the NOW?


Beauty in the NOW

Beauty in the NOW

I’ve had a sad few days.

After this post, you know some of the reasons why. There are others, but they don’t matter.

We all get a little blue from time to time, so we all know what it is about, don’t we?

But over the past years of occasional bouts of feeling blue, I’ve realized one thing. It is never a loss or a problem that causes my sadness.

It is my attitude towards it.

If I look at my sadness, accept it, watch it, it reduces. I see that I can either do something about the problem, or accept that I can only do something about my attitude towards the problem.

As I watch the sad part of me, I also see that the happy part of me, the calm blue lake within, hasn’t gone anywhere.

It is up to me, to choose to be in the NOW, be mindful of what blessings I have at present, and focus on those.

I took the photographs of these orchids two weeks ago, and saw them on my phone just now– and they made me smile.

In this moment, now, watching the orchids as I type, the sad part of me has receded.

It is in this spirit that I also write about the Sunflowers for Tina Blogfest , which we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

Sunflowers for Tina

Sunflowers for TinaSunflowers for Tina Blogfest we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

This 8th of September we hope to cover as big a part of the internet as possible with Sunflowers, the favorite flower of our dear Tina who we lost all too soon.

As we mourn her loss, we also celebrate who she was: a bright, compassionate, large-hearted personality.

If you knew Tina through her blog, I encourage you to take part, by signing up here.

If you didn’t know Tina– celebrate this Blogfest as a day of choosing to be joyful– a choice Tina Downey made, despite all her suffering, every day of her life.

——

Would you join us in celebrating Tina with the Sunflowers Blogfest? In your life, are you searching for beauty in the NOW?

 

 

What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?