Friday, January 25, 2019

May This Blog Haunt You Pleasantly (Part 1) by C. Kevin Thompson

C. Kevin Thompson
One of the things all authors do regularly is read about the craft. How to write, what to write, what makes exceptional writing, what doesn’t…all the nuances, opinions, debates, professional advice, and sometimes contradictory “rules” out there can make a writer’s head swim.

Especially if you’re a new author.

I am convinced, however, that if new writers wish to “get their minds right,” they should be reading about famous authors, for it may be just as important, if not more so, than reading what other authors have written—especially when seeking insight into “how” stories come to be.

I did just this very exercise over the holidays, reading Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. There were a few things I pulled from the pages that have inspired me. In the next three months, I will bring three major “gleanings,” if you will, that arose from those pages and have relevance for us all.

Gleaning #1: Authors have always wished to get their works in as many readers’ hands as possible, sometimes at the chagrin of their publishers (if they are traditionally published) or themselves (if they are independently published). And if not handled properly, it can become an all-consuming fire.

Charles Dickens, when he wrote his famed “little book,” known as A Christmas Carol, he was deep in debt, as he was most of his life. Yet, he wished for the average person to be able to get their hands on the book. Publishing prices for such a book in 1843 would have easily set the cost as high as thirty-one schillings or as low as five schillings for a seasonably red, hardcover copy with engravings done up in color and the pages edged in gold. Five schillings was not an exorbitant amount of money for the wealthier of the middle class, but definitely more than a worker like Bob Cratchit—who had a wife and five children—could have afforded on fifteen schillings a week without giving it some great thought and budgetary planning. Dickens allowed the price to be set at five schillings a copy, knowing some would be given to libraries. He also knew five schillings was somewhat of a bargain price that could still allow him to work his way out of debt.

I liken this entire price setting episode to e-books today. Many a publisher would like to charge $7.99 and up, but we often see books offered at $3.99 and less (sometimes free!) to build an audience. Something Dickens was always striving to do. If he had one fault, it was his incessant desire to make money so he would never be in debt again. Hmm…have you ever wished that wish? It seemed to almost consume Dickens at times, making him happy when his works sold well—as in the case of Oliver Twist, for example. But when his books didn’t sell well and placed him at odds with his publisher, then the pleasant Dickens became a cash-strapped worrier.

Before all of the six thousand books of the first printing were sold by Christmas Day, 1843—after being released just a few weeks before—Dickens had written to a friend, explaining how he hoped for a thousand pounds in profit to help his financial situation. And when compared to the two hundred pounds he was earning a month at the time for installments of his novel, The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, a thousand pounds definitely would have been a sizeable help.

But to his horror, after receiving his royalty statement from the publisher, Chapman & Hall, he wrote to his friend and agent, John Forster, on Saturday morning, Feb. 10, 1844: “Such a night as I have passed, I really believed I should never get up again, until I passed through all the horrors of a fever.”

Forster thought Dickens had some ailment. However, like so many authors, his ailment wasn’t internal. It was caused by an external force—His Publisher’s Accounting Statement:

  • Started with 6,000 copies, minus approximately 103 gift, library, and press copies
  • 26 copies sold at “three schillings, six pence” as a promotional deal to booksellers
  • Printing: 74 pounds, 2 schillings
  • Paper: 89 pounds, 2 schillings
  • Drawing and Engravings: 49 pounds, 18 schillings
  • Two Steel Plates: 1 pound, 4 schillings
  • Printing Plates: 15 pounds, seventeen schillings
  • Paper for the Plates: 7 pounds, 12 schillings
  • Coloring: 120 pounds
  • Binding of the books: 180 pounds
  • Incidentals and Advertising: 168 pounds, 7 schillings, 8 pence
  • Commission to the Publisher (@ 15%): 148 pounds, 16 schillings
  • TOTAL EXPENSES: 855 pounds, 8 schillings
  • BALANCE OF ACCOUNT TO MR. DICKEN’S CREDIT: 137 pounds, 4 schillings, 4 pence

As Standiford notes, “Dickens was shattered and said as much to his agent: ‘I had set my heart and soul upon a Thousand, clear. What a wonderful thing it is, that such a great success should occasion me such intolerable anxiety and disappointment.’” 1

Few people know this, but Dickens almost quit in February of 1844. He was in debt when he began writing A Christmas Carol in October of 1843 (did you know he wrote it in six weeks and had it published before Christmas? So much for NaNoWriMo saving the financial day, eh?). 2 He had also dealt with his debtor father, which is another long story that caused Dickens to spend his early childhood in a “workhouse” while he helped get his father out of debtor’s prison.

To help with his situation, Dickens had purchased a thirteen-room house on Devonshire Terrace—just around the block, by the way, from a more famous address: 221-B Baker Street—to accommodate everyone, including his father and mother. This massive house and his growing family of soon-to-be five children caused finances to be tight, indeed. As a result, he felt he might have to turn his efforts to more economically successful endeavors and abandon writing altogether.

Ever been in Dickens’s shoes? Is the writing life just as “paycheck to paycheck” as the next job? Yep. Can be. For most authors, it is.

Ever been told “back in the day, publishers picked up all the advertising costs”? Now we know, that is a lie. Even with the great Charles Dickens, publishers deducted the costs of doing business from the sales. His own disappointing bottom line caused him to eventually sign a contract with a new publisher on June 1, 1844. He received an advance of 2,800 pounds to get him through a furlough from writing and a trip abroad to garner new ideas. This amount would be paid back during the life of the eight-year contract.

Ever had your heart set on a certain bottom line only to see a fraction of that amount fill out the little box on the royalty check? Did that make you want to quit? Chase more lucrative endeavors to pay the bills?

Dickens was only thirty-two years old in February of 1844. Even with great “hits” to his credit, like The Pickwick Papers, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, The Life and Adventures of Nicolas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop, one of history’s greatest writers was one step away from throwing away his pen and paper…for good.

Aren’t you glad Dickens chose to tough it out? Otherwise, works like these would not have been completed or written at all: Martin Chuzzlewit, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, Dombey and Son, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times: For These Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Boots at the Holly Tree Inn, Reprinted Pieces, and The Mudfrog Papers.

As you can see, much of what Dickens endured in the mid-1800s wasn’t much different than today’s market. Publishers have bottom lines. Writers have hopes and dreams. And usually, a writer’s dreams and hopes are larger than the “Balance of the Account to Your Credit.”

The monetary cost of publication (and some would say the emotional cost as well) will always be a thorn in the writer’s side. Writers will always have a need (usually a financial one) to write more, especially if they are full-time authors. It has always been this way, apparently. And by the looks of it, always will.

So, are you in? For the long haul? Like Dickens? Regardless of the bottom lines?

I hope so.

Stay tuned for next month’s “Part 2,” where we will look at the publisher/author relationship through the lens of Charles Dickens.

1 Standiford, Les. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. Broadway Books; New York, NY, 2017. pp. 153-157.

2 Although, some would argue that Dickens wrote his best work in A Christmas Carol, so maybe there’s something to be said for writing fast after all. 😊

Book 2 of The Blake Meyer Thriller Series

A Looming Attack. A Loathsome Abduction. A Lethal Assassin.

Supervisory Special Agent Blake Meyer has an impossible choice to make. After thwarting a massive biological attack on the continental United States, the contagion is still missing and in the hands of the enemy. So is his family. Abducted as an act of revenge.

The clock is ticking, and the chances of finding his wife and children wane with every passing second. The assassin behind it holds all the answers.

Or does she?

Three demands. Three choices.

Blake Meyer knows what must be done...but can he accomplish it before it’s too late? Time is literally of the essence. And double time will not be fast enough.

C. KEVIN THOMPSON is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a kid at heart. Often referred to as “crazy” by his grandchildren, it’s only because he is. He’s a writer. Need he say more?

The first three books of his Blake Meyer Thriller series are out! Book 1, 30 Days Hath Revenge, Book 2, Triple Time, and Book 3, The Tide of Times, are now available! Book 4, When the Clock Strikes Fourteen, is getting closer! Also, the second edition of his award-winning debut novel, The Serpent’s Grasp, is now available!

Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too. It’s quite elementary, actually.

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