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State of the Art: Writing and Publishing in the 21st Century

Woman on the Edge of TimeOne of my favorite books in the groundswell of feminist writing that emerged from the 1970’s Women’s Movement was Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Residents in the Utopia of the story spent a good deal of their time and lives making art via paint, pottery, poetry, etc. I carried that vision with me into the future, and created my own literary art in between raising children and making a living with my typing fingers. I used to think it would be lovely if everyone was able to make a movie if they so desired; I myself wanted to turn one of Doris Lessing’s space fiction novels into a film. I didn’t want a career in The Industry, didn’t even want to make more than one movie; I just wanted to create this one little project for my own amusement. I raged against the injustice of a culture in which only an elite group of people had access to the means of art production.

Well, I have lived to see the day that this one aspect of Utopia has actually come true. If I took the time to learn the iMovie program on my Macintosh, I could go ahead now and make my movie. I could even share it with others, via YouTube. More significant to my life and well-being, however, is that this democratic accessibility also exists for the creation of literature, or more specifically, book publishing.

I may have wanted to create one little movie, but I had far grander goals for my life’s work. I’ve always known what I wanted to do: to publish a novel that would be respected and well-critiqued by the literati, yet mainstream and popular, so the money earned would launch me into a writer’s life. I would live quietly somewhere—at various times I imagined myself in a Manhattan apartment, at other times in a modest oceanfront house—and I’d spend every day of my life in front of my IBM Selectric, on which my handwritten first draft would be typed and retyped through dozens of revisions—that’s how I used to do rewrites back in the Good Old Days.Selectric

I believed with all my heart what writers and teachers and books about writing told me: that if I kept at it, if I did it enough so I got better and better,  one day IT would happen. I was coming from a literary tradition filled with anecdotes of rejection: writers like Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller were said to keep a pile of dusty unpublished novels in their desk drawer. Marge Piercy’s first book, Small Change, was her sixth.

I plugged on.

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career-pathI wrote in between babies and one child’s brain surgeries, through divorce and household moves, a munchkin holding each hand. I wrote in between secretarial jobs, poverty, and food stamps; past used-car breakdowns, furnace failures and snowstorms; I kept on writing in between one crisis after another. I was forced to stop occasionally, for two months, six, four. I lost a job, got another; at times I cleaned houses; I nursed my post-surgical son, sent him back to school, and pounded out another bunch of words. Altogether I wrote six novels. I sent each one out to agents and editors. The only one that’s been published is the last: an ebook on Smashwords that to date has sold eight copies. Hell, I don’t buy ebooks, so how can I expect anyone to buy mine? Still, I did kind of expect my friends to buy it. One of them did.

When I found out about Smashwords I was elated. The revolution is here! Hello, hooray, I’m ready, I crowed. Finally! Writers had seized the means of production! No more were the gatekeepers of literature young girls fresh out of college holding titles like Assistant Editor for glorified sectetarial jobs. No longer would a few behemoth corporations dictate what the public read. By now, as everyone knows, Smashwords isn’t the only game in town; these days, if you want to publish a book, the options are numerous. Free at last,  free at last, great godamighty, we’re free at last!!!

Uh huh. Be careful what you wish for.

I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, but I’m disheartened and depressed by the state of the art. I have gradually lost my once-burning desire to publish. The electronic format isn’t entirely to blame: I’ve learned to love my Kindle. And yet, being published electronically doesn’t feel quite real to me. It isn’t self-publication that bothers me: besides publishing a novel on Smashwords, I had an ebook collection of short stories published by Renaissance Books. I’ve never been good at self-promotion, and I find I’m even more reluctant to promote a series of bytes on a screen. There’s just something about it that doesn’t feel quite right. Future generations, should they read this, will be baffled. I’m fairly certain, though, that I am not the only member of my generation who’s less than enamored with the state of the art.

This sense of unreality, however, is nothing compared to the core issue: the glut of available ebooks.

glut [gluht] verb, glut·ted, glut·ting, noun
verb (used with object)

1. to feed or fill to satiety; sate: to glut the appetite.
2. to feed or fill to excess; cloy.
3. to flood (the market) with a particular item or service so that the supply greatly exceeds the demand.

A glut of books is (are?) being published. A glut of books are being promoted along with mine. A glut of books all clamor for attention.

Writer4Once upon a time when I told people I was a writer they sighed longingly and mentioned The Book buried in their hearts that they didn’t have time to write. These days, knowing their book will be read by someone, they’re somehow finding the time, not only to write but to post news of their book on zillions of websites. In the novel The Best Seller by Olivia Goldsmith (of First Wives Club fame), a character based on Jacqueline Susanne throws a tantrum every time another professional—doctor, lawyer, carpenter—hits the best-seller list with a book. She doesn’t suddenly decide to perform brain surgery; why must every professional horn in on her territory? Those people who used to sigh longingly have stopped sighing. They’ve gone to work, content—or dare I say arrogant?—in the certainty that their book will reach the reading public.

Inevitably with such a huge backlist, a lot of trash finds its way into the mix. Bad grammar, incorrect punctuation, and misspellings abound. Completing and publishing a novel used to be perceived as a major personal accomplishment. Imagine, after a multitude of rejections, what Marge Piercy must have felt like when Small Change appeared in bookstore windows. Yes, we had bookstores back then—in fact, it was in Borders that I got the first hint of the coming onslaught. When big box chain stores began popping up in every strip mall and big city, stores that actually placed chairs  near the shelves for leisurely reading, I expected to feel like I was in the Garden of Eden, but the first time I went into Borders I had a panic attack. I felt like rushing home immediately to read, afraid I’d never catch up. On the heels of panic came a plunge into hopelessness: The world does not need anymore words, least of all mine. It was all too much for me; there were simply too many books.

merry go round

I suppose it’s the baby boomer boom—too many of us reached the age of creative invention at the same moment in time. I’ve lost all sense that being published is a great accomplishment. I no longer care very much if a book I write gets published. At this point it would hardly matter, practically speaking:  It’s not like I have that many years left to live out my dream. I still love to write, and I’ve been fortunate to have published quite a bit other than novels—in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, poetry journals, and on my blog—so I’m not half-crazed with frustration and a burning need to share my work.  The only area in which I haven’t filled that need just happens to be my deepest passion:  I bought the Great American Myth that The Great American Novel is the brass ring you grab as the merry-go-round turns.But if everyone has a brass ring, it’s not as meaningful. If publishing a book is the latest hot trend, count me out.

Interview with Marcy

I’ve just been interviewed at Smashwords by myself! A tough reporter, but somehow I handled me! If you’d like to read it, just click right here. You can read an excerpt from my book, Halfway to the Stars, here as well. Or buy it! Enjoy!

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Take Advantage of A Great Deal

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Not only has the price of HALFWAY TO THE STARS been reduced to a mere $3.50, but if you buy a copy now you can get it for even less!  Just go here to purchase*, and add this coupon code:FX22G. How much, you ask? A mere two bucks! Go ahead, make my day–and yours!

Coupon code for one month only, so hurry and buy your copy. Good beach reading, just around the corner.

*Be sure the Adult Filter on the Smashwords site is turned OFF, or my book won’t show up—I gave it an X-rating to protect little children from things they cannot possibly understand. I’m not 100% certain this is necessary or correct, but it’s the way things are these days; I’ve succumbed to majority opinion.

 

FYI: Please do not assume, when I post “related articles” on my blog, usually those suggested by Zemanta for WordPress, that I endorse, or don’t notice, or don’t mind, the typo’s, misspellings, grammatical errors, lousy punctuation and other careless or clueless material. I mind very much, in fact; the current ongoing deterioration of standards is driving me batty. When an article has relevant and useful information, however, I sometimes overlook shoddiness in the presentation and post it anyway.–MS 

Halfway to the Stars EBook Publication

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Hot off the Press! Halfway to the Stars, a novel by Marcy Sheiner, now available as an ebook!

I’ve just published my first ebook on Smashwords.com!  Titled  Halfway to the Stars from the old Tony Bennett song about San Francisco, it’s a birds-eye view of the city’s sex scene, a busy, thriving, outrageous night — and day — life of sex parties, masturbat-a-thons, S/M dances, sex workers, sex-positive radicals, and  workshops on a plethora of sexual techniques that includes everything from fisting to dominance.

Halfway to the Stars is actually my fifth novel. None of them have ever been published, though believe me, I tried with the first three. The third one got as far as an enthusiastic agent who sent it to every major publisher in New York — and there were more of them at that time (c. 1980). I had high hopes for that book, not to mention plans for what to wear on Oprah and who’d play me in the movie (Barbra Streisand, of course!). I even wrote my own reviews, mimicking what people with different points of view might say about it. These were by Ellen Willis (politically pro),  Andrea Dworkin  (politically outraged) and Anatole Broyard (snobbishly offended). (Interestingly, all three of those critics have since passed away.)

I’m still here, and still writing — but by the time I finished Halfway to the Stars — around 2005 — I’d lost the motivation for trying to get into print. I only sent it to two agents, both of whom represented writer friends of mine. One of their rejection letters said, “Rachel {my main character} is simply not my cup of tea.” I don’t remember the other letter — but after so many years of being subjected to this kind of crap, I just didn’t have the heart or energy for the process anymore. It wasn’t just the five novels — I’ve also sent out short stories, and articles to mainstream women’s magazines (Cosmo, Redbook, etc.), that got similar treatment. In those days submitting work meant making copies and sending out self-addressed stamped envelopes — and sometimes we didn’t even get those pricey stamps back!

Why am I telling you all this? First, because this is my blog, and where else do I get to be so self-indulgent? The more important reason, though, is that my decision to epublish is a political act. I did not make this decision out of the desperation of not getting into print; I made it when I heard Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, speak at the Berkeley library about his electronic publishing site and his reasons for starting it. Like me, Mark was fed up with the publishing process as dictated by a behemoth industry. Not only did he rant and rave in the best progressive tradition about the low advances and royalties, the lack of publicity for midlist writers, and the usual stuff we all complain about — he also talked about the psychological damage inflicted upon writers by an industry that treats us and our work carelessly, with their insulting rejection letters, making us believe our work isn’t good enough to be presented to readers. They’ve become the gatekeepers who decide what will and will not get read, and if they don’t like our work, the failure is surely ours.

For years I’ve been hoping, and pretty much believing, that the Internet would some day deliver the means of book production into the hands of writers. We were getting closer with all the self-publishing venues for print, print-on-demand, and ebooks–but we usually had to pay to publish, and didn’t make much money on sales. Mark Coker’s Smashwords is something entirely new: he doesn’t charge the writer a penny, and authors get about 80% of net sales. That alone got me pretty excited — but it was Mark Coker’s fire, his outrage, his commitment to writers that really spoke to me. As I said, I’d been waiting for the day when we’d take over the publishing process. With Mark Coker and Smashwords, my friends, that day has come.

I believe that electronic publishing is the wave of the future. Just today, a story in theNew York Times on the state of print noted, “In 2008 e-books were 0.6 percent of the total trade market; in 2010, they were 6.4 percent. Publishers have seen especially robust e-book sales in genre fiction like romance, mystery and thrillers, as well as literary fiction. In 2010, 114 million e-books were sold.”

Now for a few words about the book:

HALFWAY TO THE STARS is the story of a 20-something rookie journalist who

leaves her small New England town on a quest for adventure, love, and meaningful work, in that order. After a brief stint in LA with her two best friends, she ends up in San Francisco, working as an editor/reporter for Libertine, an online sex journal. Making her way through a maze of sex parties, sex workers, and sex-positive radicals, Rachel discovers aspects of her own eroticism, not all of it welcome news, and finds it quite a challenge to write about sex in the upbeat, lighthearted tone demanded by her publisher/ boss. The love and adventure she’d been looking for turns out to be a lot more complicated than she’d anticipated.

I think readers will  find the descriptions of the SF sex scene authentic, considering that I spent the better part of a decade writing about it for On Our Backs, The Spectator, and several other publications, including one in Norway. No, Rachel Max is not me, and Libertine is not On Our Backs, and the characters and plot are pure fiction — but the stuff Rachel encounters and learns are, if not exactly “ripped from the headlines,” taken straight out of reality.

So get thee over to Smashwords, buy my book, and take a look around. If you’re a writer, consider epublishing there. If you’re a reader, buy a few books.

Marcy Sheiner’s Smashwords Author Profile:

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marshein 

Book page to sample or purchase Halfway to the Stars:

http://smashwords.com/b/79277

Publications List

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Books (Author)

IllusionsCoverLove and Other Illusions: Short Stories. Rennaissance E-Books / Kindle @ Amazon.com 2013

HTTSHalfway to the Stars: A Novel, Smashwords, 2010

Clueless
Sex For the Clueless: How to Enjoy a More Erotic and Exciting Life. Citadel Books, 2001

Perfectly Normal

Perfectly Normal: A Mother’s Memoir.
People With Disabilities Press, 2002

In Crowd Event

Connecting With The IN Crowd: How to Network, Hang Out and Play With Millionaires Online, By Brandon Wade With Marcy Sheiner. Bush St Press, SF, 2011

Books (Editor)

Her 4

Her 5

Her 6

Herotica 4 Plume, 1996
Herotica 5 Down There Press, 1998
Herotica 6 Down There Press, 1999
Best Women’s Erotica 2000 Cleis Press
Best Women’s Erotica 2001 Cleis Press
Best Women’s Erotica 2002 Cleis Press
Best Women’s Erotica 2003 Cleis Press
Best Women’s Erotica 2004 Cleis Press
Best Women’s Erotica 2005 Cleis Press
Best of Best Women’s Erotica. Cleis Press, 2005
The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica. Cleis Press, 1999
Ripe Fruit: Erotica for Well-Seasoned Lovers. Cleis Press, 2002

Best EroticaBWE 02 BWE 01 BWE 05

Oy of Sex

Anthologies (Contributor)

Herotica 1 ed. Susie Bright. Down There Press, 1988.
Herotica 2 ed. Susie Bright. Plume, 1991.
Herotica 3 ed. Susie Bright, Plume, 1994.

Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out, ed. Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu. Alyson Publications, 1991.

Virgin Territory, ed. Shar Rednour. Richard Kasak Books, 1995.
Forbidden Passages: Writings Banned in Canada, ed Pat Califia. Cleis Press, 1995
Best American Erotica 1997, ed. Susie Bright. Simon & Schuster, 1997
Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle. Routledge, 1997.
Hot Ticket: Tales of Lesbians, Sex and Travel, ed. Linnea Due. Alyson Books, 1997.
Spectacle: Women on Popular Culture, ed. Richard Aguilar. Pachanga Press, 1997.
Electric: Best Lesbian Erotic Fiction,ed. Nicole Foster. Alyson Books, 1999.
Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls, ed. Laura Harris and Elizabeth Crocker. Routledge, 2000.
Aqua Erotica: 18 Stories for a Steamy Bath, ed. Mary Anne Mohanraj, Melcher Media, 2000.
Exhibitions: Tales of Sex in the City, ed. Michele Davidson. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2000.

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Once Upon a Time: Erotic Fairy Tales for Women, ed. Michael Ford, Richard Kasak Books, 1996.

Starf*cker: A Twisted Collection of Superstar Fantasies, ed. Shar Rednour. Alyson Books, 2001.
Hot & Bothered 3: Short Short Fiction on Lesbian Desire, ed. Karen X. Tulchinsky. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001.
Guilty Pleasures: True Tales of Erotic Indulgence, ed. M. Christian. Black Books, 2002.
Best Fetish Erotica, ed. Cara Bruce. Cleis Press, 2002.
Five-Minute Erotica: 35 Passionate Tales of Sex and Seduction, ed. Carol Queen. Running Press, 2003.
Best S/M Erotica: Extreme Tales of Extreme Sex, ed. M. Christian. Black Books, 2003.
Whipped: 20 Erotic Stories of Female Dominance, ed. Carol Queen. Penguin, 2005.
The Essential Hip Mama: Writing from the Cutting Edge of Parenting, Ed. Ariel Gore. Seal Press, 2004.
My Body of Knowledge, ed. Karen Meyers, Physcial Conditions Press, San Francisco 2007.

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Crossdressing: Erotic Short Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Cleis Press, 2007.

Love You To Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child With Special Needs, Edited by Suzanne Kamata, Beacon, 2008.

My Baby Rides the Short Bus 
By Yantra Bertelli, Jennifer Silverman, Sarah Talbot – PM Press (2009) – Paperback

Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost (Volume 1) by Shawna Kenney and Cara Bruce

Poetry Journals and Anthologies (Contributor)

The Wild Iris #5, Wild Iris Collective. Berkeley, CA, 1978.
A Shout In The Street, ed. Joe Cuomo. Queens College, New York, 1982.
West Wind Review: Fiction and Poetry. Ashland, OR, Spring 1987.
Bad Haircut Quarterly, ed. Kimberlea Richards. Grove Gardens, CA, 1987 and 1989.
Bubbe Meisehs by Shayneh Maidelehs/Jewish Granddaugters on Our Grandmothers,
ed. Lesléa Newman, Herbooks, Santa Cruz, CA 1989.

Slipstream #10: Social/Political Protest, Niagara Falls, NY 1990.
Five Fingers Review #8/9, San Francisco 1990.
A Loving Testimony: Remembering Loved Ones Lost to AIDS, ed. Leslea Newman. Crossing Press, Freedom, CA, 1995

First Light: Poems, Stories and Essays of the Winter Holiday Season. Calypso Poublications, New York 1997.

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The Other Side of the Postcard, Ed. Devorah Major. City Lights Press, 2004

Online

http://www.slowtrains.com/baseballindex.html
http://www.gettingit.com/article/726
Smith Mag (Memoir Excerpt)
Bleacher Report
Red Room
Goodreads