Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony - "The Best Small City Symphony in America" - and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.
About the Book:
At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.
Thank you for your time in answering our questions about getting published. Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to become an author and pen this book?
Howard Jay: As a working professional writer, screenwriter, teacher and TV executive for almost four decades, I am always on the lookout for great stories of historical figures where my potential protagonist wrestles with the same types of profound emotional or psychological issues that each and every one of us can relate to in our own lives. I have also been a life-long lover of classical music and in fact sit on the Board of the Santa Barbara Symphony – the best small city orchestra in America.
My very first short story about piloting a Cessna – about half a page long – was written when I was in elementary school. And I got my first rave reviews!
I wrote all though High School and college, everything from the school paper to newspapers. My Master’s thesis was a draft of a novel about the social upheavals of the late 60’s and an accompanying teaching guide.
In my mid 20’s I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a Scholar into Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Conference where I met the late novelist, John Gardner. John became my mentor and over the next few years I returned to Bread Loaf as a scholar a total of three times. There I worked with other greats of that era, John Irving, Toni Morrison and Tim O’Brien. I also studied with John back in DC and Virginia. Gardner was hands down the best teacher I have ever had for any subject ever. It was through my work with him that I found my essential voice and truly began my career as a writer. I soon published a dozen or so short stories in literary magazines before heading to what I imagined were the greener pastures of Hollywood and screenplay writing.
Seven years ago, when I first came across the story of Beethoven’s death -- how at his last moment a bolt of lightning strikes the side of his building, rousing him from a coma; his eyes open, he sits up right, he shakes his fist at the heavens and then collapses back to the bed and is abruptly gone -- I found the contrast to my own near death experience stunning.
When I was not yet twenty-one and going to school overseas in Singapore, I had
a severe motorcycle accident. As my body somersaulted through the intersection, time stopped and a great and profound sense of peace and tranquility suffused my consciousness. Fear, especially that fear of death we all share, disappeared. My biggest surprise was landing very much alive – and in pain – on the other side of the crossroads and not the “other side” of life.
Beethoven’s death throes were so different from my calm transition. That led me to wonder what it would have taken for this great man to come to peace with all the turmoil and failings of his life – and there were many. In that nugget of a thought, Beethoven in Love; Opus 139, was born. Although those injuries still ache decades later – especially when it rains – researching and then writing this novel was an absolute joy.
Is this your first book?
Howard Jay: No, it is my third. I have also published or written for hire innumerable business articles, short stories, radio pieces, commercials and screenplays.
With this particular book, how did you publish – traditional, small press, Indie, etc. – and why did you choose this method?
Howard Jay: My friend and fellow writer, Russell Martin, author of the non-fiction bestseller, Beethoven’s Hair, also runs a small independent press, SYQ. I ultimately decided to go with SYQ and found the process much more to my liking. I was involved and had control over every aspect of the process, including the layout, design and cover. I should add that the cover art was done by my son, Zak Smith, a well-known artist in his own right with five published books and paintings hanging in eight museums around the world.
Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? The pros and cons?
Howard Jay: My first book John Gardner: An Interview was published way back in 1979 by the now defunct New London Press. The best surprise was walking into a bookstore in Middlebury, Vermont, that summer and seeing it on the shelves and for sale. Wow!
The publisher of my second, Opening the Doors to Hollywood, was Random House. It was a non-fiction work based on film and writing classes I taught at UCLA. We had great distribution through bookstores nationally and it was again, a great kick to walk into a bookstore and to not only find it on the shelves but to also be asked for autographs. That book sold in excess of fifteen-thousand copies but the profits were all gobbled up by Random House in shipping and distribution costs. We pocketed almost nothing directly.
Opening the Doors to Hollywood was also in terms of the history of the publishing world, ancient history and of little use in obtaining a new publisher for my Beethoven novel.
After I had a finished draft of Beethoven In Love; Opus 139, I made a number of attempts to reach out to literary agents and other publishers using my old networks of contacts and business connections. Soon, I realized that the publishing world had vastly changed since Opening the Doors to Hollywood was released. Every agent I spoke with – and there were many of high caliber - wanted either a celebrity driven piece or an easily commoditized book of 250 pages. Beethoven in Love; Opus 139 is neither. That’s when I turned to SYQ and struck a deal.
What lessons do you feel you learned about your particular publishing journey and about the publishing industry as a whole?
Howard Jay: Great question. Much of my career work has been related to not only writing, but business and finance. I have always been described as one of those “Left Brain – Right Brain,” kind of guys who goes back and forth between these two worlds. The first five years I spent researching and writing “Beethoven In Love; Opus 139,” were clearly the creative side. Once done though I switched gears and treated the printing, marketing and sales of the book as a business proposition. What good is it if you write a great novel but no one reads it? I focused on marketing and treated the costs and time spent as one would a business start-up, imagining that it would take a while to recoup those expenses.
Clearly publishing and bookselling are industries that has been radically transformed by the web. Once I committed to a small press, I knew we had to maximize the use of electronic mediums to generate real business. The old models didn’t work and I don’t think anyone has figured out the very best methods to deal with the new reality just yet. Understanding that world remains a work in progress.
Recalling my experience with Random House where the profits were gobbled up by shipping, SYQ and I decided to limit sales to online outlets such as Amazon. We created a large web and Facebook presence and then hired a publicist to promote the book to national newspapers and radio stations. In the first few months following the release I did a lot of public readings and interviews on radio, in print, on podcasts and through the web.
One of the beauties of a book about Beethoven is that I was able to target diverse markets through Facebook. We focused not only the world of book readers and clubs but also to the music world and have had a fair amount of success in both those realms.
I have also performed in numbers of classical music venues in conjunction with soloists, small ensembles and even a full orchestra and choir. The musicians would perform Beethoven’s compositions and I would read related selections from the book. In fact my first public reading was for a gathering of Beethoven scholars at the American Beethoven Society’s Thirtieth Anniversary Conference. There I was, reading a work of fiction to the very people who knew more about Beethoven than anyone, and, thankfully, they loved it.
Now I not only have a following of devoted fans all over the world, I have also made a number of connections with the descendants of some of the true-life characters in the novel, such as the great grandson five generations removed of the woman, Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom Beethoven dedicated the Moonlight Sonata and is one of the women consider as a candidate to be his mysterious Immortal Beloved.
All of these activities feed into daily Facebook posts and Tweets and those in turn have driven sales.
Not everything however has gone as smoothly as desired. There are no road maps yet in what is still uncharted territory. For the better part of the past year, I have often felt like I am being forced to re-invent the wheel. My first publicist was a very traditional book publicist from Hollywood who has a client list of many famous writers – but in this new reality she was of limited actual help and very expensive. I have since moved on to a publicist from the 21st century who understands the web and the results have been vastly superior.
In the end, though I have sold fewer copies than when I was with Random House, my personal return on investment has been much greater.
Would you recommend this method of publishing to other authors?
Howard Jay: Yes, but only, and I truly stress this point, but only if one is willing to make significant additional investments in the time and money to do the marketing. This has not been easy. Finding the right small press, and hoping they have the key people one needs to do the proofing, the type font design, the layout, the cover is all essential. And once the book is actually printed or put out electronically, one must be committed to spending both the time and dollars necessary on marketing. You can’t do it half way and expect good results. It takes total commitment and effort.
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?
Howard Jay: And what tips would I pass on to other writers? Researching and then writing this novel was a long journey, every moment of which was an absolute pleasure. I learned ages ago that if you want someone to take the time and effort to read your book and find your work compelling and engaging, you must also be equally passionate about what you create. I absolutely love the entire process of crafting a story, from jotting down ideas and doing research when necessary, to shaping each line, each paragraph, each character, each scene. I want to transport the reader into a vivid and continuous dream that is so powerful, so all-encompassing that the next thing they know is that someone is calling them to dinner. So my first advice to any other would be writer is this: love what you are doing and let that passion be your motor or you will most-likely fail.
That journey however does not end when you type, “The End.” It is just the beginning of the next phase. You still must be the driving force behind the actually publication and marketing of your fabulous book that everyone will want to read.