Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Tuesday, February 6, 2001





A little known fact about author Suze Orman emerged for all to see during her appearance last week at the Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, California.

One assumes a person who's made her living as a financial planner probably grew up getting better grades in math and science than in reading or English, and this was certainly the case with Suze.

But a speech impediment early on, it turns out, severely affected her ability to learn how to read.

"When I was growing up in Chicago, I could not pronounce my Rs, Ss or Ts," she told the audience, "so words like beautiful came out 'booda.' A name like Caretha would come out 'Kiki.'

At her elementary school, classroom seating was arranged according to reading scores, she explained. "My best friends excelled at reading and sat in the first row," she said. "I had the lowest grade in the class, so I sat in the last seat in the last row.

"I grew up thinking that because I couldn't read, I was stupid and would never amount to anything. I worked my way through college as a waitress and thought I wasn't capable of doing anything else. My grades in English were horrible, and I barely got through."

At the same time, though, Suze Orman was turning out to be a whiz-kid at math.

"The professor would work out a complicated problem on the blackboard and tell us to take a week solving it," she said. "By the time he got done showing us the problem, I had my hand raised and could give him the answer. 'Where did you get that?' he'd say, thinking I was cheating. But I saw the world numerically. I knew the answer instantly."

The result is that Suze Orman may "read all the financial books ever published," but she doesn't read anything else - not novels, not science books, not biography or history or essays or short stories.

"I'm probably the only bestselling author you know," she said to the startled audience, "who's written more books than she's read."

Until now. "On vacation I promised a friend I would read my first two books, and I did. They were 'The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood' and 'Dreaming in Cuban.' "

Did she like them? "I loved the books but I didn't like what they did to me," she said. "Prior to that I hadn't had any other voices in my head - no characters or plots. My life was all just me.

"But after I finished those books, I found myself walking around with the voice of the father, the ocean, the sisters of the Ya Ya making cookies and being fat, and I thought, 'Get out of my head!'

"So now I know I can read, but I'm almost afraid to do it. In the same way, after I write a book I don't read it -- I can't go back and look at it. Ever. It's done."

Doesn't it ever give you a feeling of inspiration to know that millions of people read your books and believe their lives have changed for the better?

"I love the feeling but am in shock about it. When my first book ["You've Earned It - Don't Lose It"] came out, I used to stand outside bookstores and ask friends to go in and see if the book was on sale. Of course it wasn't, most of the time, so I'd ask them to go back in and order it.

"Even now, I don't like to go into bookstores, don't watch myself on TV. Success is a kind of facade to me in that way."

But your message is true. You know that. "Absolutely." Then what scares you? Is it the texture of language?

"Words in print scare me. I'm more than comfortable with the texture of the spoken word," she said. "There's nothing I enjoy more than radio interviews."

But here's the great irony: Literary critics like me are drawn to Suze Orman because she so often talks like a novelist - money to her is like a character in a work of fiction.

In her second book especially ["The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom," just out in paperback], money starts out as something to be afraid of. It's crafty and elusive, increasingly unmanageable, even wild. Everyone wants to escape from it.

But as the story progresses, characters learn to face their fears about money, and we identify with them. Once we stand up to our own pasts, we can look at money as the bridge to a future we've never imagined.

Soon we're in a relationship with money. We want to know where it is every day, and where it is going. We put up signs everywhere - on the refrigerator and in our calendars and checkbooks - to help us give money its due. To know when to parcel it out, and when to let it grow.

We learn to stop accepting substitutes and imposters, like those hated villains, plastic credit cards.

Eventually we find ourselves on such intimate terms with money that we like to take it out and rearrange it all the time, and to touch it all over.

So by the end of the story, money becomes, as Suze promises, a "trusted friend" - something we've come to respect, even to love.

And what a wonderful word is "trust" - everybody's looking for a financial planner you can trust, but when we do all the exercises in "The Nine Steps," we realize that all Suze ever does is hold up a mirror that we can read for our own truths.

And Suze, remember: that's just what a good novel does.



Apparently Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos thinks he's getting tough in the new "Get the Crap Out" memo he sent out last week to Amazon workers everywhere.

But as independent booksellers well know, when you tell your buyers to get rid of inventory that doesn't sell, you're running scared.

"We'll ferociously manage the products we carry so that we sell only products that are profitable," Bezos writes. "The 30-pound box of nails isn't long for our world."

So much for the famous "customer-centric" approach Bezos made famous during Amazon.com's ascendance.

Now let's see: Didn't we hear that the joy of the Internet is the ability of a company like Amazon.com to "carry" inventory in cyberspace -- i.e., make it available without having to stock it physically?

Is that gone? Maybe in clearing out physical inventory the company never should have bought in the first place, Amazon.com isn't even going to list products it thinks aren't "profitable."

Does that mean that if I want that 30-pound box of nails, Amazon won't even show it as product, won't get it to me fast by bothering to contact the specialist that does carry it as physical inventory?

And does it mean that the Books department will be judged by the same standard?

Why, that would be impossible. Apply that notion of profitability to books, and you know what would be dropped from the inventory - all those slow-moving literary biographies, histories, serious novels, works in translation, science books, essay collections, poetry and so forth.

Of course, Bezos doesn't dare get rid of titles - he'd look too much like a chain store if he did. But the message -- slow-moving items are "crap" -- certainly speaks volumes.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

Enjoyed the "Lip Service" success story. As you might recall, though, I self-published "Thousand Pieces of Gold" in 1981 and sold over 30,000 copies. It was also an alternate selection of BOMC's Paperback Book Club WHILE it was a self-published book. In 1983 Dell brought it out in its Laurel Line and in 1988 Beacon brought it out as a trade paperback. It has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1983, has sold over 200,000 copies, was made into a film, and has been translated into Chinese, Mongolian, French, Portuguese, Danish, and will be shortly coming out in Greek.

Ruthanne Lum McCun

Dear Holt Uncensored:

[This letter went to iUniverse on February 5]:

To iUniverse, and other interested parties:

In the first few days of April of last year, I sent a manuscript on behalf of my mother to iUniverse. I had heard of you through my sister, who was engaged in sending a previously published book of hers to you for reprinting. She went through a different program at iUniverse than we did; we used Writer's Club.

According to the publicity out about you at that time, average time for turnaround was about 4 to 6 weeks. My mother just got her first order of books this week, on February 1. The ten months that elapsed between the original submission and her delivery have been hellish for me, and caused many tears, and I want you to hear about it.

Every stage took an average of six weeks: 1) processing the original book; 2) designing the cover (which I loved, and accepted right away); 3) the first round of corrections (which were numerous, because of our own typos, and which, incidentally, we paid for); 4) the second round of corrections (not so numerous, but many caused by your own poor correcting, and which we wouldn't have even bothered with, except that the only small piece of copy you typed yourself--the back cover--had eight typos, and I couldn't read it when I printed it out originally to check it because the design happens to be very dark, and which I was assured would be fine and I wouldn't have to proofread it because it was "taken from our own original keystrokes," but weren't, because pieces of it appeared elsewhere without error; 5) the third round of corrections (ONE new correction, which we bothered with only because somebody was still going to have to fix some old errors originated by you and remaining unfixed by you; 6) the fixing of her name on the cover and spine (you left out the middle part of her name; 7) the ordering (you canceled my order several times without my knowledge, and finally sent only one-fifth of the final order--50 books to me but not the 200 to my mother, even though the 250-book order was mentioned on the phone and in various e-mails; the 200-book part just vanished), and billed sometimes for the canceled orders and not, to my knowledge, ever taken off the credit card; 8) the re-re-ordering, to finally get the books to her; and apparently a few other stages I can't even remember, when we were taking one step forward and two steps back.

This was, incidentally, a straightforward book of fewer than 200 pages. Throughout this ordeal, during which the mistakes made by iUniverse were legion, I never heard anybody say, "Wow, we screwed that up; let's see if we can hurry up this part." On the contrary, all the people I spoke with, which seems like dozens, seemed to have no power whatsoever to shepherd this thing through with any kind of real oversight. The correctors would seem to work on contract, or something, and can't be hurried, or criticized, and so do the printers, and God knows who else. The correction form you require capitalizes words whether or not you want them capitalized, and when the correction you're making is specifically to make a word lower-case, it's a stinking mess. Overall, the form is unwieldy and confusing. I have mentioned this before, but nobody seemed interested in feedback about it coming from the user end.

When your representatives were on vacation, or gone for whatever reason, e-mails sat for weeks and weeks, and phone calls elicited "You need to talk to so-and-so" . . . who won't be back for weeks.

I always did my part immediately; you never did.

People said things like "That department isn't in this office; it isn't even in this country." So? Does this matter? Isn't this an Internet deal here?

When I was fighting to get delivery by Christmas, someone said, "We have so many versions of this book [three], I'm going to have to order a copy to make sure it's right. That'll take 5 days." It took much longer, of course, and seems to me a rather inefficient way to find out which version the printer has. Needless to say, it blew any possibility of books by Christmas.

The e-mails to me always said, "Do this by such-and-such a date." I did. You never reciprocated when I asked you to get something done in a reasonable amount of time.

When I talked with ordering people about ordering small numbers of books, they said that large orders are shipped more quickly. When I talked about ordering large numbers of books, they said that small numbers are shipped more quickly.

When my mother's middle name kept being left off the cover and spine, I noticed on Barnes & Noble that her middle name appeared not once but TWICE in the middle of her name in the listing; when I mentioned this to someone, they said they'd take care of it; last time I looked, it was still there. Generally speaking, one out of three or four things requested usually got done right, one wrong, and the others forgotten.

A representative advised me when ordering to refer to the CMS, and that the orderers would know what I was talking about. They never did, and had no idea how to proceed with information I was passing along from the representative, and had to have the representative get back to them, and then they would get back to me, which always took lots of time.

The book took months to get into the "Parenting" category on your site, though it was listed on the site. (It was put on the site long before the final version was ready, which I okayed at some point, since I didn't see taking it off and trying to get it on again.) My comments about this elicited no action or apparent interest.

I asked that all messages from the representative be sent to two others as a matter of course; you couldn't seem to make those two other e-mail addresses stick.

I could go on forever. I have not mentioned many strange omissions and odd mistakes. Some of the above complaints seem petty, I guess, but some of them are huge. The most hurtful thing was the lack of anybody really taking over, and the lack of anybody, as far as I can remember, ever acknowledging errors. Your system seems riddled with problems, and nobody seems to have control of a whole project, and can't seem to get anybody else to do things. What gives? How do you get books out?

I had occasional friendly e-mails and occasional admissions that many, many other clients were upset about their books, but never a real accounting of things. And though I made jokes and friendly overtures, mostly it seems pretty humorless out your way.

I'm still angry, and still resent the treatment from your company. (I can't remember having been treated so poorly for such a long time by any company with which I have ever dealt.) I hope you get organized some day.


Mardi Steinau

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

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