Saturday, February 16, 2013

Can Tarzan Save The Post Office?

Up until a few years ago you could dream about being honored by the government with the issuance of a postage stamp of yourself. Now, you can go online and buy stamps with your face on them.”

Still, to be on a government-issued stamp is extremely rare. Only a few dozen stamps are issued by the Post Office each year and in the last year, it issued stamps honoring poets and other writers such as O’Henry (he wrote The Gift of the Magi) and Edgar Burroughs, who created the Tarzan story and was an influential sci-fi writer of the series, (John Carter of Mars.

Writers want to be read – to make an impact, to get rich, to be best-selling authors. And to be viewed with respect. Being on a stamp is a huge accomplishment. Will the Post Office one day honor another dead hero of the past – itself – and issue a stamp praising the accomplishments of itself?

It could have celebrated 150 years of Saturday letter delivery in 2013. Instead, it is closing branches, raising fees, and ending the 6-day a week letter delivery in August. Their motto used to go on about delivering mail no matter sleet or snow or rain, but apparently the calendar is now its toughest foe. The ramifications could be significant.

How will we receive Netflix, birthday cards, and checks on time? Banks, check-cashing places, and some stores, including the Post Office, will be bombarded on Mondays as result of the delayed check deposits taking place. People may not miss junk mail and bills can come a few days later to them, but Saturday commerce will no doubt be stalled by fewer people having money to shop. Businesses next to banks or post offices may suffer as they are no longer along the errand list for Saturday. Stores dependent on people receiving coupon mailers on Saturday to drive weekend activity will be hurt as well.

Heck, could elections be influenced when solicitations and campaign literature does not get delivered on Saturday before Election Day? Will people increasingly conduct their lives online because the Post Office is beginning to shut people out? To save the Post Office, according to government logic, will require making it smaller and less available to the people. IT runs a deficit of $40 million every single day of the year, whether its doors are open or not. Instead of decreasing service, it should increase it. Make its service better – and with a smile. There should be a better way to save it than to cut it.

Maybe the Post Office will one day issue a stamp to commemorate its lost services such as Saturday delivery, but by then, no one will be around to mail the letter carrying such a stamp.

Interview With Author Alexis Burling

1.      What do you find to be rewarding and challenging as a freelance writer? For many years, I worked in the publishing industry, first as a publicist, then as a writer and editor. Now, I work for myself. What do I find challenging? The fact that I never seem to stop working. Day and night. During the week and on the weekends, my brain is always circling around writing or reading or editing or what my next project might be. It can be challenging to Step. Away. From. The. Computer. 

Other struggles: Dealing with late payments. I abhor following up about missing or late checks. I write cloying passive-aggressive emails to well-meaning editors and the whole process, to put it bluntly, stinks. If anyone reading this has figured out a way to deal with this issue, please send a few tips my way. Also? Working from home means spending a lot of time alone. Don't get me wrong, I love being alone. But it certainly gets . . . interesting at times. Walks, hikes, (or, more often, runs) help. A stroll to the grocery store does the trick (now I understand why my grandmother's fridge was always so well stocked). And when in doubt, there's always coffee to be sipped or a secret movie to be watched. 

So, yes. Balance is key and I certainly find that . . . challenging. But on the flip-side, what do I love about freelancing full-time? Despite the pestilent freak outs over steady income (cringe), I love being my own boss. I love choosing each and every project I work on and knowing that there's always room to grow or learn something new. I love striving and reaching for a long-shot goal and, eventually, accomplishing it. I love having the freedom to decide how to structure my day and to be able to take time off when/if I need to. In short, the possibilities are endless and I find that to be tremendously invigorating. I never know where my next idea might come from. 

2.      What advice do you have to struggling writers? Every writer starts somewhere . . . even the most prolific and most celebrated authors. If you don't have any published clips, blog or take on jobs for free in order to start a portfolio. There are plenty of reputable Web sites that are open to queries from writers who are just starting out. Pick a focus you're passionate about and send out zillions of pitch letters. Sure, you'll get just as many rejection letters in return, but keep trying. Sooner or later, something you write will get picked up. 

When you have enough clips you're proud of, create your own Web site to show them off. Speaking as an editor as well, it's so much easier to browse a potential freelancer's clips if they're all in one place and accessible via a few clicks of the mouse. Plus, when you're emailing editors, you can direct them to your Web site rather than picking and choosing which clips to attach to your query emails. 

If you're working on self-publishing a novel or even an article, invest in a good editor, and, preferably, one who can copyedit. I've heard some aspiring writers complain that editors from publishing houses are too busy or too elitist or too [fill in the blank] to invest any time in a self-published project. Not true. In fact, there are plenty of editors out there (from inside the industry and out) who would be more than willing to help if they think they are suited for the job. I've had the pleasure (and, sometimes, extreme displeasure) of reviewing self-published work and let's just say it's very easy to tell the difference between an edited manuscript and an unedited one. All (well, most) of the editors I have worked with have been an invaluable resource not only for their line-edits and corrections (i.e. spelling, grammar, structure, flow), but for their ideas as well. Bottom line: Editor! Invest! Must!

Lastly, pay attention to what you're working on and try not to focus too much on what others are doing. In these days of the social media fiesta, it can be difficult to shut out the noise and not be incessantly aware of what other people have achieved. Sometimes that helps to spur you on, but other times, it can be a deterrent. Too much comparison is never a good idea, in my book. Be your own champion, basically . . . and I mean that in the least corny way possible!

3.      Where do you see book publishing heading? That's a tricky question. The short answer is: I don't know. But whatever happens, it's bound to be interesting.

A few years ago, I would've had a very different answer than I do today. Back then, it seemed that many people in the publishing industry were struggling to reconcile the old model (i.e. print) with the new(er) one (i.e. online) and to keep up with the ever-changing demands of technology. Plenty of articles foreshadowing the doomsday of print and physical books were written and it seemed like battles were always being waged between brick-and-mortar bookstores and online merchants, with opinionated and often indignant consumers taking their righteous stands on either side of the line. But today, dare I day that the disruptive tremors are settling ever so slightly and while arguments and tirades about technology are still having their field day, more and more people are tuning out and either adapting new technologies or . . . not. At least the publishing industry seems to be taking it all in stride.

4.      Will e-books squash physical books in the long run? I doubt it (at least, I hope not). Will bookstores in the flesh disappear? Wow, that would be a sad world if that came to pass---bookstores are some of the most magical and my most favorite places to stroll through. Is reading a physical book better than reading one on a tablet? Eh. I prefer to read a book I can hold, smell, and physically flip through, but that doesn't mean I won't EVER get some sort of device on which I can read the news or a book or two. (I'll say this: long-term traveling with an e-reader is much lighter than hoofing it with 7 books in your bag.) 

These are exciting times in publishing . . . for editors, publicists, marketers, designers, techies, illustrators, and of course, writers. It seems like anything is possible. You just have to have the right attitude and keep moving forward while embracing integral aspects of the past. 

5.      How did you become a book critic? As I mentioned earlier, I used to work in the PR departments of a few different publishing houses and one of my bosses gave me a very telling critique: my press releases sounded too opinionated---in other words, like reviews. When I thought about why that was, I realized it was because I wanted to review books instead of planning their publicity campaigns. While I continued to work in PR before eventually making the transition to editorial, I started to write reviews for free for various sites on my off-time. I developed a portfolio, picked up a few more prestigious (for lack of a better word) assignments while learning a lot from a team of excellent editors, created a Web site, and shazzam! Book critic, I am.

6.      Who do you write for? My reviews and articles have been published in the New York Times, the Washington PostTime Out New York KidsPublishers and other print and online publications. I have contributed articles to many of Scholastic's in-classroom curriculum-based educational magazines for kids and teens, and am writing a series of leveled nonfiction Hi-Lo books, also for kids. On a non-book level, I kept a blog detailing my travels through South and Central America for eight months in 2011. 

7.      What do you love about books? What don't I love about books?!  I think that's the best way to answer that one. 

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©

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