Category Archives: Quotes

A New Book: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times

Emma Lapsansky-Werner and Chuck Fager at the Quaker History Roundtable, summer of 2017

Continue reading A New Book: A Quaker’s Life in Our “Interesting,” Tumultuous Times

”All God’s Critters Got a Place In the Choir”–But Sometimes They have to Make (or Change) It

”All God’s Critters Got a Place In the Choir.”

And being in the choir is work.

I’m not much for singing gospel songs; but Bill Staines, who wrote this one, was more of a folkie, and his tune, “All God’s Critters” is more folk than (Lord help us) “praise” music. But whatever the genre, I’m more interested in its theology, because I agree with it.

All God’s critters got a place in the choir,
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire.
And some just clap their hands, or paws,
or anything they got now . . . . Continue reading ”All God’s Critters Got a Place In the Choir”–But Sometimes They have to Make (or Change) It

How I Became a Successful Writer & An Independent Publisher (The short version) – Part 3 of 3

Part 3

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Actually, the publishing revolution started nearby, in South Carolina. A company there originally called BookSurge, and later CreateSpace, began using a machine, not much larger than a good-sized office copier, that could print and bind paperback books one at a time, quickly, automatically, at a low cost.

About 2009, another fast-growing company, built on selling used books, wanted to expand its reach in publishing, and bought CreateSpace. That fast-growing company was Amazon. And thus was born the Print-On-Demand (POD) book publishing industry.

This change was seismic, and still boggles my mind. I won’t dwell on it now, but for interested readers, here are links to two short (3 minutes or so) videos that provide a quick visual tour of how POD works.

This book is a collection of photos I took near Camp Lejeune NC, of homemade banners welcoming home Marines who survived combat in Iraq. It was a powerful yet ephemeral form of warrior folk art. They were “exhibited” by being hung on a fence by a public highway where buses filled with the returnees passed.

What Amazon brought to the deal was its unrivaled bookselling apparatus: an author now could upload a finished manuscript, and Amazon listed it; when a reader ordered a copy, the new machines printed it, then Amazon collected the money and shipped it.

And here’s the kicker: for all this service, Amazon charged the author exactly (wait for it) NOTHING. $Zero!

This wasn’t charity, though: the company took a commission on each order.

With POD, Amazon brought together printer, mail order bookstore, shipping, and bookkeeping. For me, this combination meant no more nights stuffing packages, no debts to printers, no cartons stacked in the hallway. What I did was write, edit, upload and collect royalties.

POD took a huge load off my mind as a writer/publisher. Yes, my niche still produced niche earnings, typically in the high three figures for a year. But so what? It paid for itself, I had more time to write, and still kept my day job.

There are two other key aspects of this POD revolution to acknowledge: one, with this service, Amazon put tiny niche independents like me “on the map,” by including us on the virtual “shelves” of the world’s largest ”bookstore.” I was right up there with Stephen King and the other big names. That made us real and accessible.

And second, in the process, Amazon thereby brushed aside the legacy publishing industry’s gate-keeping function. Authors didn’t have to put up with sheafs of rejection slips; Amazon invited us into the marketplace willy-nilly, to take our chances.

Further, unless you send them terrorist plans or kiddie porn  — or they caught you plagiarizing somebody else’s stuff — Amazon doesn’t censor. That also frees us from the old industry’s fads,  phobias, and insufferable snobbery.

Are you from (or writing about) an underrepresented or unfashionable group? Come on in.

There’s no sensitivity screening (unless you want it); authors  can try our experiments, make our own mistakes — and correct them.)

Sure, lots of what comes off their presses is junk; but [PSSSST!] that’s also true of the mainstream, except with (sometimes) classier covers. (And, face it: some people buy the junk.)

By 2007 I shifted the printing and mailing of my Quaker journal and niche books to CreateSpace. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I’ve done numerous books there, almost 50 different titles. All are still “in print,” too; goodbye to the dreaded “remainder” notice!

Amazon has printed the books (and makes E-books too), shipped them, handled the credit cards, and has paid me by direct deposit every month. (Talk to other authors about horror stories of publishers who didn’t pay.)

A few years ago, Amazon turned CreateSpace into Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). New name; same radical publishing game.

At the end of November 2012, I retired from day jobs– eleven days later I turned 70, and began collecting Social Security. Since then my finances and writing have finally come together. It’s my “trust fund,” and will likely stay that way til I wear out. It’s also my version of tenure.

2012–TODAY– I have since pretty much lived “low on the hog” mostly on Social Security; and am still writing, editing and publishing my passion. More of a writer’s success story. Having recently turned 80, I’m feeling my age, and slowing down some.

Yet I still do books, and turn up the occasional Quaker scoop and scandal, and put the royalties into new projects. Since the Orange invasion and the pandemic, I blog more, and write most every day. And there are readers: the blog reached half a million hits a few months back, and I haven’t yet run out of appealing/challenging Quaker material.

Some friends of mine like to hate on Amazon, and the company definitely needs some help (mainly a UNION). But as a writer I am very thankful to Amazon/KDP, for busting up the old exclusionary publishing world. It has let tens of thousands of writers, particularly newbies & those with niche passions, knowledge and stories, into the marketplace, including ME, by vaulting over the old gatekeepers.

As of 2018, KDP reportedly had issued 1.5 million titles, and by March 2021 its authors monthly royalty payments were over $40 million, including a bit over $100 that month to ME.

(But if you want to publish POD and really can’t abide Amazon, FEAR NOT: there are other smaller companies that will do similar work – for a fee.  Find them on Google & YouTube.)

Despite this big opening, the hard truths of competition remain: for most Amazon/KDP writers, as for writers generally, bestsellers are rare, average book sales are modest; most published writers still need day jobs.

But now they – YOU–can be in the game, and getting it done. And there are KDP authors who do make lots of money. They write for money — I write for passion; we both get what we want.  More at: kdp.amazon.com

PS. For the record, I did not and will not receive  one penny of payment, finders fees, commissions, discounts, or any other compensation from KDP for writing about it here. (Well—that is, unless you buy any of my books there, then I’ll get a royalty.) I don’t work for KDP; they work for me.

PPS. One last thing: What about “immortality”?  isn’t that a kind of success many writers aspire to? Sure, and I plead guilty. But continuing readership is as much a lottery as penning a bestseller. Consider: in my early decades as a Friend, Rufus Jones was mentioned frequently. He published 40 books. But quick quiz: what quotes do you remember from him?

John Woolman, on the other hand, only wrote one book, a journal, and didn’t even publish it. But it’s been in print since a committee brought it out in 1772 — 250 years and counting, And how many recognize this quote?

There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren in the best sense of the expression. (From his Journal.)

Is there anything remotely as memorable in my body of work? Only time will tell. Otherwise, one of my much-favored books is a set of lectures from 1992 I call Wisdom and Your Spiritual Journey.

It’s packed with timeless and memorable quotes. I know that because I put them there, plucked mostly from the Bible. But to leaven its pages, I included some of my favorite Quaker chuckles, original or revised. Maybe the opening one is a fitting closer for this account:

In the early 1830s, a young man went to sea, hoping to make his fortune.  A Baptist by birth, he read the Bible each night in his shipboard hammock, and was especially struck by a verse in the fourth chapter of Proverbs:

            “Wisdom is the principal thing: Therefore, get wisdom: and with all thy  getting, get understanding.”  Wealth, the youth piously decided, was nothing without this seasoning of wisdom.  But where was such a combination to be found?

               Presently his ship sailed into the harbor of Nantucket Island.

            Nantucket was then a prosperous and vibrant community, built and largely populated by members of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers.

               As he walked the bustling, cobbled streets of Nantucket town, observing the fine grey shingled houses and the plain but well-heeled inhabitants, another verse from Proverbs came to him.  It was something about “I am Wisdom, and  in my right hand is riches and honor.” 

               The more he saw of Nantucketers, the more he felt sure that here was a group that genuinely understood and knew how to apply this kind of Wisdom.

               When he turned down one street, known then as “Petticoat Row,” he saw a succession of neat, well-stocked shops and stores. Almost  all were operated by Quaker businesswomen. 

               The sailor was so impressed with this commercial tableau that he impulsively entered one of the shops, a kind of grocery store.  He walked up to the counter and said to the plain-dressed woman behind it, “Madam, I want to know why you Nantucket Quakers seem so wise in the ways of the world.”

               The Quaker woman said to him, naturally very humbly, “Well, of course, it’s mainly because we follow the Inward Light.  But,” she added, “it’s also because we eat a special kind of fish, the Wisdom Fish.”

               “Wisdom Fish?” the sailor exclaimed.  “What’s that?  Where could I get some?”

               “Friend,” the Quaker shopkeeper said, “thee is in luck.  I just happen to have one here, which I can sell thee for only twenty dollars.”

               Twenty dollars was a lot of money in those days, but the sailor didn’t hesitate.  He pulled out his purse, handed over the money, and she gave him a carefully wrapped parcel, which he carried out of the shop with an excited smile on his face.

               He returned a few minutes later, however, looking puzzled and a bit disturbed.  “Excuse me, madam,” he said, laying the half-opened package on the counter.  “This is nothing but a piece of ordinary dried codfish.”

               Under her modest white bonnet, the Quaker shopkeeper raised one eyebrow. 

               “Friend,” she said quietly, “thee is getting wiser already.”

The Apple and the Easter Egg: A Message in Meeting, 4th Month 9 2023

[NOTE: This morning – 4th Month (April) 9, 2023– it was my turn to bring a message to Spring Friends Meeting, in Snow Camp NC. Herewith an edited version, with images added later.]

I’ve been to Easter morning worship at a good many Friends meetings, mostly liberal & unprogrammed. And the most visible special character noted at many on the occasion was someone, usually female, in an adult-sized cartoon rabbit costume. It brings to mind a cartoon I turned up this past week:

It is not, of course, that liberal Quakers worship rabbits or poultry. The focus on floppy ears and colored eggs serves as a familiar, welcome distraction and deflection. It’s all-but certain to avoid the framing of the occasion by the vast majority of Christian groups. Because in these Quaker meetings, that framing is believed in even less than that of a bountiful bunny. Continue reading The Apple and the Easter Egg: A Message in Meeting, 4th Month 9 2023

Elias Hicks: It’s All His Fault (Until ChatBot Came Along)

Elias Hicks (1748-1830)

There’s a story about an earnest young Quaker grad student and a wise and wizened elder scholar. One day they were working in one of the best Friends archives, and —

“I’m having trouble making sense of this old Quaker journal,” said the graduate student to the venerable Quaker historian. “The Friend who wrote it keeps talking about going from one place to another, but she doesn’t really tell what she did there.” Continue reading Elias Hicks: It’s All His Fault (Until ChatBot Came Along)