Vita Brevis

By Marcus McGee
June 18, 2021

In the News…


On tomorrow, Saturday, June 19, “Juneteenth” will be celebrated as a federal holiday for the first time in the history of the United States. While Juneteenth has been celebrated for years, notably on the first time on June 19, 1865 when African American slaves living in Texas learned for the first time that they were “free.” What’s remarkable is that slavery in America was abolished by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Nine hundred days! That’s how long it took for blacks in Texas to realize their freedom, extended 2.46 years late.

It was the 1800s, after all, an era before tweets, Internet stories, 24-hour news cycles, and unaided by the Pony Express, which existed as a horse-mounted mail service between Missouri and California from 1860-1861. News travelled slowly, and since Texas was the slavery state farthest west, Negros living in Texas were the last folks to get the news, which came on June 19, 900 days late, and delivered by Army soldiers at Galveston by Union General Gordon Granger.

So from the beginning, Juneteenth was a Texas thing, where former slaves celebrated the end of slavery, 900 days late. Over time, however, and because the end of slavery wasn’t being celebrated anywhere else, blacks in other states began to join the annual celebration and to create traditions related to the event, which included church and community events, barbeques, food festivals and speeches by former slaves and their descendants, the equivalent of an African American Fourth of July. It was also celebrated in Coahuila, Mexico, and in eastern Canada.

Texas House Bill 1016 in 1980 declared June 19 Emancipation Day in Texas, a legal state holiday, and on June 17, 2021, “after unanimous passage in the United States Senate and subsequent passage in the House, President Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday.”

On an interesting note, the Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in Confederate states. However, there were two Union slave states, Kentucky and Delaware, who were not affected, and so slavery did not end in those states until after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which constitutionally abolished chattel slavery on December 6, 1865.

That was 156 years ago— ancient history in the minds of many, but we must consider the day an occasion to reimagine the psychological and fiscal impact of slavery on the the generations of African Americans who live and have lived in its wake. To reimagine slavery—an existence that was less than human, human chattel—to be owned, like a tractor, a plow or a mule—for generations. That has had an impact, a legacy that won’t be cured unless there is some intelligent, fair, counteracting weight applied on the distal dish of the skewed scales of justice.

But where’s the grist for the great stories? Think 900 days! If slavery wasn’t bad enough, imagine 900 days of living as a slave, when you were actually free. Imagine working two extra years for free when you should have never been working for free in the first place. Imagine the families hearing the news. Imagine how the relationships between slaves and their former owners changed. And the attitudes of owners who benefited from 246 years of free labor. How would the necessary work get done, and what would be the pay structure. Who were the first black sharecroppers? Imagine that first generation of freed blacks and their stories.

Certainly the wealthy black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma—just north of Texas, was a realization of some of those stories. Oklahoma was a territory that had been established for the resettlement of Native Americans from the American Southeast—many of whom had been slaveowners. Yet Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907.

Tulsa was segregated, as a 1916 city ordinance mandated segregation by forbidding either Black or White people from residing “on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were members of the other race.” In the Greenwood District, black businesses and families prospered, largely due to serving the black community. By 1921, Greenwood was the successful community known as the “Black Wall Street,” only to be destroyed and devastated on Memorial Day that same year.

Yes, the stories are there, and it is up to us to seek them out, listen to them, and to use our unique gifts in sharing them. It’s a good thing that Juneteenth is now a national, federal holiday, but we can give it true meaning by fleshing out its bones with its unique stories, lessons and histories.

VOD – Video of the Day – No Commentary

Vita Brevis

By Marcus McGee
June 16, 2021

In the News…

Reading the News

As conscious content creators, we apply an added filter when considering the news, and yet it is easy to get so caught up in political opinions and personal convictions that we miss incredible stories and novel ideas that are staring right back at us, begging to be written or developed. We only have to let go and channel the creative nature within. Instead of struggling to find something provocative or shocking to bring to the world, we should focus on the ordinary and everyday, and make something novel of them. Henry David Thoreau said it most properly — The only thing that you can grow is the thing you give energy to. With the right filter and lens, the daily news can be the source of your best ideas, your greatest work, since every great work of fiction is nothing less than a shadow cast by non-fiction.

For example, we might consider standing back apace and taking it all in, synthesizing from that greater perspective. So what’s in the news today? Well, we’ve got cyber hackers using ransomware to successfully extort the world’s richest and most powerful business entities for millions of dollars, and these companies pay up, despite being urged by their governments to resist doing so. Multiple news sources are also reporting record high temperatures that will affect lives of hundreds of millions across the globe, literally changing the face of Earth in terms of population. Many news commentators insist that global warming, for whatever reason it exists, will lead to extreme conditions in many places, leading to flood and drought, to famine and pestilence. In many places, fresh, clean water for drinking, agriculture and environment will become more valuable than gold.

Do we see an opportunity for a story here, from these news stories that might initially seem unrelated? As content creators, what if we found a way to connect these separate news stories and synthesize something completely new and provocative in terms of how many people who have been affected by these stories will relate to original content based on these relatable issues?

Here we go: H2O — We begin with a group of cyber hackers who are forward thinking, who realize that clean, fresh water is perhaps Earth’s greatest commodity. The origin or nationality of this hacker group is not as important as where they live–in a region where fresh water is abundant and self-sustaining. Global warming and the environment provide the pressure on their targets as limited water supplies shrink and dry up. The cyber group provides added pressure by hacking into the computers controlling filtration in local water supplies, the dams, reservoirs, water districts, etc. Ultimately, the new entity attains a level of control of 40% of the Earth’s fresh water supply, pitting nation against nation, and corporate entity against corporate entity. Perhaps the project answers the questions: Is there a limit to human greed and selfishness? Is there a point when something greater must prevail? Just an idea off the top of my head. But I get something like this every day when I read the news.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate approved legislation that will make “Juneteenth” a national and federal holiday. If you have to ask what Juneteenth is, you probably need to read more news, but I will provide an explanation in greater detail on June 18, after the legislation passes in the House and the President signs it into law.

Personal note: When I wrote Alberta in 2016 as a fictional work, my main sources came from contemporary news. The story involved an OLM (Our Lives Matter), abuses by law enforcement, conspiracy theories, political intrigue and a character, Justin Luck, the billionaire businessman whose ambition is to foment a second Civil War in America. A secondary storyline involves the issue of “personhood.” Give it a read. For anyone who would like a free personal eBook copy, please email me a request.

While I am working on becoming a competent blogger, I realize that your comments and sharing are necessary to the growth of this post. If a news story has ever inspired creation of content for you, please share your experience here, and share with us how to support you by purchasing your work. Let’s make each other successful! I look forward to your shares.

VOD – Video of the Day – No Commentary

Vita Brevis

By Marcus McGee
June 14, 2021

In the News…

Daily Snapshot

I’ve never been a late sleeper, no matter what time I get to bed. On a normal day, I’m up at 5:00, and I spend the first two hours reading the news for the day from at least four sources. I guess my reading is not “fair and balanced,” because there are media sources that I don’t consider news, on both sides. Journalistic integrity, methods and standards matter, so rather than listening to blowhards and chicanery from media barkers in equal parts, I prefer “sane and sensible.” It doesn’t take a journalist or a trained analyst to know the difference. And while I realize that a story can’t be shared without a subtle opinion, editorial or otherwise, no one appreciates being told how to think or feel about an event or development for a political end or for propaganda purposes. I realize, however, that I am not without my own biases.

When I read the news, I am looking for new concepts and ideas for stories, examining the “what is” with the “what if…” in mind. “There is nothing new under the sun,” and it’s a waste of time to imagine re-creating or perfecting the wheel. All the great ideas are already there… in the news, if you have worked to developed your imagination.

So what’s in the news today, Monday, June 14, 2021? And specifically for content creators? Well, the U.S. is trying to figure a way to deal with ongoing Ransomware attacks, where computer hackers are breaching the protocols of huge companies’ security systems and shutting down the companies’ abilities to do business unless paid a huge ransom in Bitcoin or some other crypto currency. Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million and JBS (U.S. beef supplier) paid $11 million. McDonald’s and the Teamsters Union have also been attacked. There are more than a few creative projects that could emerge from this news, with all the money, the intrigue, the betrayals, the sub-plots and the surprise twists and turns along the journey.

Then there’s the status of Covid-19 vaccinations in the U.S. and the world, along with the concern about more contagious and dangerous Delta variant: 20.7% of the world population has received at least one does of the vaccine, 0.8% of people in low income countries have received the same. In the U.S., 52.8 of the population has received at least one shot. And while the coronavirus is in decline for most of the country, some states, including Alabama, Florida, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Washington are reporting increases in new cases, with Florida recording 441 deaths in the last week. What would happen if a profoundly more deadly variant emerged and swept through populations and pockets of unvaccinated families? It would be a horrible and arguably avoidable tragedy, but incredible stories would emerge. Yet praying nothing like that would ever happen, the potential stories could be told anyway. What if?…

Christa Pike is a woman on Tennessee’s death row who is set to be executed for a murder (with torture) conviction from a 1995 case. She had two accomplices, Tadaryl Shipp, who was also involved in the murder of Colleen Slemmer, and Shadolla Peterson, who served as lookout. Pike, who was 18, was sentenced to death, while Shipp, then 17, was sentenced to life (eligible for parole in 2028), and Peterson got a six-year probation sentence. Pike’s lawyers cite that she was abused/neglected as a child, was born with brain damage and raped twice as a child. Maybe there is story there, and maybe the story will inspire a character or a novel story in fiction?

The heat is on in the West. Headlines: Climate change is making Rocky Mountain forests more flammable now than at any time in the past 2,000 years; and Farmers abandon crops, Utah residents asked to pray for rain amid record hot weather in parts of the US; and Potentially deadly heat wave to shatter records across the Southwest; and Across US West, drought arriving dangerously early. Predicted temperatures: Sacramento – 110°, Los Angeles – 100°, Las Vegas 117°, Death Valley 127°. Heat, drought and huge populations. The potential for problems, solutions and innovations are endless, and the potential for engaging, riveting stories is there.

The world’s largest family head, Ziona Chana, 76, died in his native Indian village of Baktawng Tlangnuam. This man had 39 wives, 94 children, 33 grandchildren and one great grandchild. They all lived together in a 100-room, four-story mansion. He was a construction worker with a strong back, but he was also the head of a polygamous Christian religious sect. Apparently, he had his wives on a rotating system for sharing his bed (circa 10 blessed nights each year!). Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear the story from one of his wives’ point-of-view?

VOD – Video of the Day – No Commentary

Considering the “Why”

Seeing things… In a whole new light!

“You’re an author. So what do you write?

How many times have you heard that question? The question is worthy of consideration because authors often are defined by what they write. But why is it that, when there are literally thousands of multiple authors writing on the same general subjects, that only a few are enormously successful, while others remain frustrated, struggling in obscurity. Well, in reality it is not so important what writers write—as hard as it may be for some writers to believe. Take a subject, stand it on its head, or its ear, and chances are someone has already done the same take, or something similar. There is nothing new under the sun.

So if it is not the what, then perhaps it is the how. Does technique matter? Do life experience and an idiosyncratic, methodical approach to the process matter? Of course they do! Yet, technique involves more than mere research, discipline and creativity. It involves more than focus groups, colleague critique sessions or an experienced editor. In fact, the process carries over to activities and choices authors make after the book is complete.

Will you self-publish? Will you opt for Digital Printing as opposed to offset printing? How will you determine the price and format? Will you elect to have a traditional publisher produce your book? Will a publisher even be interested in you work? How many formats and distribution channels will you pursue? Is there a marketing campaign in place?

The questions above are a continuation of the how, and many authors have mastered this aspect to a high degree of efficiency, cranking out book after book with a seeming sense of ease, but there are many prodigious authors (we’ve all met them) who create and/or publish volumes of work, and still struggle to find an interested and appreciative audience. Thus “the how” is important, but it is not the essential factor that distinguishes an individual from the crowd.

Many writers, when considering literary success, have been taught to work from a What—How—Why model, as opposed to a Why—How—What approach. Basically, these authors pitch, or begin selling (to an audience or publisher) with,

I have just written this great manuscript about this famous lawmaker who cheats on his wife and who lies to constituents. While writing it, I went to Washington DC to interview seven real-live corrupt politicians who tell me they will even endorse me! Wanna buy my book?

This manuscript could become a viable book, but it probably would not impress an audience enough to make it a well sought-after work or a bestseller. Why? Because we have already seen the same What and How, played out over and over in books, television and film for decades. Authors, if you think you can find success by doing the What and the How that has worked for other authors, then you are entirely missing the point. If you do your research, you will discover that what has made the most prominent and adulated writers unique… is the Why.

So the better question for you is Why do you write? What is your purpose? What is your cause? What are your beliefs? In the spirit of motivational speaker, Simon Sinek

Inspired writers start with what they believe. People don’t buy what you write—they buy “why” you wrote it. Thus the goal is to write for people who believe what you believe. If you write about what you believe, about what you feel strongly about, you will attract those who believe what you believe, and doing so, you will earn singular success.

If you truly want to be a successful writer, take a look at the video above to consider the words of Simon Sinek, a gifted speaker in the TED series. And after you have finished, please take the effort to share your thoughts about this post. Why do you write? What is your true motivation? How does what you believe affect your work? Do you find that your favorite authors tend to believe what you believe? After watching the video, how will you change change your approach in future writing projects?

We look forward to reading your comments! Better yet, use the space in the box below to create your own post, describing in specific detail why you write and how your beliefs affect what you write.

Have You Ever Wondered About…

Gutenberg Museum Fribourg – Cylindrical Printing Plate Made of Lead for Letterpress Printing, Detail

The Publishing Process?


The book production process officially starts when the acquiring editor of the book submits a final, edited book manuscript to a copy editor. At that point, the manuscript is considered to be “in production” and the page layout and design process begins.

Note that the jacket design process happens in another department, in a parallel timeframe.

  • Production
  • Author Publishers
  • Book Press
  • Manufacturing
  • Book Printers
  • The copyeditor reviews the final manuscript for grammar, spelling, and consistency. He or she corrects errors and questions anything that isn’t clear in the text.
  • The copyedited manuscript comes back to editor and author with queries from copyeditor. The author and the editor answer the queries and consult to finalize the text.
  •  The manuscript now goes for design and layout. For books that don’t have photography or illustration (sometimes called “art programs”), the author will likely not see the text again until the page proofs.
  • For books with art programs: In art-, photo- or illustration-heavy books (such as cookbooks or coffee table books or do-it-yourself instruction books), the author is often looped in during the page design process.
  • While the pages are being copyedited and reviewed, an overall design direction is determined for the book by the creative team and editor. At this point in the process, the author receives sample pages.
  • Once a design is finalized by the team, an entire “dummy” book is created, and all parties review the page layouts, to fit copy, to gauge the appropriateness of art-to text–and to make changes, as necessary. There may be more than one dummy book stage to be reviewed.

The author receives the text laid out in page proofs (or the text and art in a dummy book, see above). At the same time, the page proofs are being reviewed by the editor, a proofreader and various members of the production staff. Typos are corrected and minor changes made. There may be additional back-and-forth and fine-tuning in layout and design that doesn’t involve the author.

For some books, uncorrected page proofs, galleys or ARCs of the book may be printed and bound for advance book marketing and publicity purposes.

During the next, final stages of production, printing and shipping, there’s usually a lull in activity for the author.

Once the pages are final, an index is created, typeset, and proofread. (Note: the author generally pays for the indexing; this is outlined in the book contract and the money is deducted from the advance against royalties).

  • The files are now reviewed for any issues and prepped for manufacturing. Copies of the final, clean files (including artwork) are simultaneously sent to the printer for printing and binding, and to a file converter (either in-house, or freelance) who preps the files for the e-book version.
  • Books come off press and advance copies are rushed to the publisher. Samples are distributed to the author, the editor and the agent, but the bulk are generally used for publicity mailings to media and for the sales departments to give to accounts.
  • The books are packed and shipped to the publisher’s warehouse. The length of time for printing and shipping varies dramatically–from 3 weeks turnaround for an all-text computer book printed in the U.S. to months for printing overseas (which is the norm for most full-color books) and being shipped back via boat, going through customs, and trucked to the publisher’s warehouse.
  • Finished books ship from warehouse to retail destinations, such as individual independent bookstores or national account distribution centers (as for Barnes & Noble or where they are inventoried, unpacked, re-shipped (in the case of distribution centers) and shelved for consumer purchase in time for the on-sale date.

In a parallel timeframe to printing and shipping, properly coded e-book files are made available to the online retailers via data feeds from the publisher. The bookseller offers them for purchase and download by consumers through their websites.

Enjoy the video above, and please share your comments, suggestions and insights. Better yet, use the box below to create your own post, describing how your expectations about the publishing process have differed from your actual experience. What has surprised you most about the process? And how are you encouraged or disheartened by the many changes occurring in the industry? What changes would you like to see?

Striking a Delicate Balance

In the publishing industry, balance matters. Whether you are a writer, an author, a self-publisher, an independent publisher, a small publisher or a major publisher, the industry requires that you understand the delicate balance between various partnerships. And while many of us do what we do based on a genuine desire to share passionate stories, transform attitudes and inspire thought, we cannot escape financial realities.

Unfortunately, publishers today are forced to assess the financial viability of a work before ever considering its relevance and overall beauty, or genius. In that way, many incredible works by dedicated, talented authors fust unknown, unappreciated, while less talented authors and their work are celebrated and rewarded. We know this to be true.

Fortunately, changes in the publishing industry, brought on by digital technology and other advances, have shifted the balance. Because the production costs of publishing books have significantly declined due to Print-on-Demand and Digital Publishing, many gifted authors who have been slighted, over-looked or locked-out in the past now have opportunities they could have never imagined before. Many voices that were not financially viable can finally be heard.

As opportunities open industry-wide, we must all consider each other as stakeholders. On the one hand, authors spend countless hours writing and perfecting manuscripts, haggling with editors (professional or otherwise), and the expense of money and time to create a viable book with wonderful potential. On the other hand, the traditional publisher is required to assume the market risk, which includes production resources and costs associated with bringing the book to market.

And let us remember the caveats imposed book distributors, in case some do not know. In order for a book to be benefit from global distribution, meaning that its availability includes the 40,000 or so bookstores, retailers and libraries that are included in the premium title distribution network, publishers are required to provide a 55% discount to retailers.

This means that the wholesale price for a book priced at $10.00 amounts to $4.50, and the wholesale price for a book that retails for $20.00 is calculated at $9.00. From the wholesale price, publishers must subtract the actual cost for printing the book, production costs, distribution costs and the author’s royalty in order to determine actual compensation per unit. In addition, distribution agreements require that publishers buy back any unused retailer inventory (great for retailers—bad for publishers and authors). It is a factor we have zero control over, a demand we are forced to accept.

So when we, as publishers, price a book for retail, we do so while considering all these factors. While we want book buyers to get our products at a great value, we also want our authors to make a profit on their hard work, yet uncompensated. And while we want to publish many of the unique, nontraditional and niche manuscripts that come to us (because many of these are well written), we have to determine viability.

This means, in short, that we cannot afford to actually lose money on any particular title, regardless of how passionate we are about the work. Too many losses, and we are out of business. Because we intentionally keep operational and production costs to a minimum, we can afford to take chances where most publishers cannot, while providing first-class quality and services.

Uniquely, we tailor the publishing experience not only to the needs of the author, but also to the needs of the particular book. While we do not want you to spend a single penny you do not have to spend, we cannot afford to take on projects that do not involve ardent author involvement. As stated earlier, it is a delicate balancing act, but we are in it together, as publishing partners.

If it is convenient for you now or at some later occasion, please take the time and opportunity to consider the video above, which demonstrates the aspect of balance. For the woman in the video, the delicate balance for the entire physical equation (work of genius) that she constructs rests on the weight of a single feather, a beginning, which we, as publishers and authors would do well to appreciate. It is a truly incredible feat of balance, coordination and concentration!

Enjoy the video above, and please share your comments, suggestions and insights. Better yet, use the box below to create your own post, describing how balance plays a part in your own work and schedule.