Writing on Demand for POD

I've been in Jerusalem for two weeks now, walking fifteen or twenty miles a day and shooting photographs for my expanded guide like they are going out of style. I'm also writing every day, five hundred words here, a thousand words there, and when the Internet version of the guide is finished, I may start looking for a narrative thread that would allow me to publish it as a POD book. One of the idle thoughts that struck me during all of this wandering about was that over the last five years, I wrote all three of the titles I self published with print-on-demand while in Jerusalem, and maybe half of my better blog posts as well. Considering I'm only here three months a year, it makes me wonder what I'm doing with the other nine months!

Thinking back on it, I wrote my first short story while staying in Jerusalem some fourteen years ago, and I took that trip precisely to help me make the transition from a gainfully employed engineer into a lazy writer. Strangely enough, I'm one of the more productive writers I know in terms of being able to sit down and dash off a couple thousand words of nonfiction, usually in the first person and based on experience, but I'm not somebody who can write on demand to fill pages on an arbitrary topic. Some people in publishing think that the ability to generate content without any real knowledge of what you are writing is what separates the professional authors from the amateurs. Based on some of the interviews I given on background to media folks, I suspect it's journalists who have the franchise for writing about anything on short notice, but it's rarely worth reading.

One of the attractions of on-demand publishing is that books can be produced in a very short time cycle on a very small budget. This leads some authors to try to use POD to catch the latest wave and be first to the punch. It reminds me too much of technical writing. I did a stint as a part-time technical writer back in the 1980's, and I think I had my only anxiety attack in a job interview when I was considering doing it full time. They offered me the job (paid $30/hour then) and I had to chew my paw off to get out of the place without saying "Yes". Thinking about it now, I've been missing that phantom paw for years.

Forcing oneself to write something every day is a great way to learn how to write, but it's not such a bargain for the reader if you publish it all. I'm still fooling around with cutting down the collection of blog posts I turned into a book. It just didn't work for me, as a reader, when I sat down to start proofing. After fifty pages or so, the tone lightened up and I've been enjoying it, so cutting another twenty thousand words might make it worth releasing. Forcing yourself to write is also a great way to build a blog, and when all is said and done, you may find the kernel of a book on the site.

Still, I'm struck by the fact that 100% of the writing I've done as a trade author was done in the U.S., while nearly 100% of the writing I've done on spec was done here. Back home, there's a contract to fulfill and a timetable to meet when I'm writing. Here, I know I'm not going to bother rushing a book through the system, even with POD, so I just focus on writing, and have plenty of time to think things through while wearing out my shoes.

The Self Publishing Therapist

I'm just getting set up in Jerusalem to try writing a neighborhood walking guide, and facing the usual issues of commitment phobia and general indecision. I thought about this yesterday when visiting an old friend (in the octogenarian sense) and helping him out with a publishing question. As a retired psychologist, he assigns a real value to advice and always offers to pay me for my services. This time, I offered to take it out in trade, but I was joking. The truth is, as much as I could use a therapist (and they say the people who refuse help are the ones who benefit the most if they accept it) I think I make a better disher-outer than a taker.

My friend is one of several people who keep encouraging me to sell publishing consulting services. I've never been interested in that game, primarily because people who seek me out waving a blank check always seem to be a little off. Who wants to be beholden to some whacko for a few hundred dollars, who thinks a couple hours of tutoring is all that it will take to turn their memoir into a bestseller? Then it hit me! Maybe I should be billing myself as a self publishing therapist and selling time to authors with problems:-)

The great thing about publishing therapy, at least as I interpret the original Bob Newhart show, is that results aren't guaranteed. I could charge somebody for five or six sessions, and then say, "Congratulations. You've made tremendous progress. I think you're ready to publish your book alone now." Or how about, "I'm sorry, but we've run into a transference issue, so I'm going to have to recommend you seek publishing help from elsewhere." If I could get the family and a judge to go along, a paid vacation in a state institution wouldn't be a bad solution in some cases.

There are lots of unhappy authors out there sending nasty-grams to everybody related to publishing for whom they can find an e-mail address, just to complain they aren't being given a fair break. Trust me on this one. Nobody even remotely connected to publishing wants to get another e-mail starting, "X, Y and Z all said that didn't want my book, but I know it's a conspiracy." It's not a conspiracy unless you have multiple personalities and several of them have gotten together behind the frontal lobes to sabotage your career.

Anyway, I'd like to write more about this idea, but I'm afraid our time is up.