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 past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.
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.
Before you started writing your book, what kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?
I spent almost two full years researching Beethoven’s life before ever writing a word. This included reading a dozen or more biographies and notebooks from his contemporaries as well as his diaries and the six volumes of letters to and from Beethoven. I also bought and recorded as much of his music as possible. I attended every concert possible in the region that featured Beethoven’s music. I also thoroughly researched numerous related topics, such as the spas towns of Europe, the Age of Reason, Voltaire, Napoleon, Mozart, Vienna, and the Archduke Rudolph. I visited the library of the American Beethoven Society and studied both their restored and replica pianos. I generally read each book more than three times. The first just to get a sense of his life or the material. The second to highlight or underline sections I considered important or relevant and a third time to transfer those notes to my own ever growing computer word file organized chronologically.
Did you pursue publishers or did you opt to self-pub?
“Beethoven in Love; Opus 139,” is my third book. The second, “Opening the Doors to Hollywood,” was published by Random House. When I completed my Beethoven novel, I went back to my old literary world contacts, only to realize how much the publishing world had been transformed since “Opening the Doors,” came out in the late ‘90’s. I opted not to self-publish but rather to go with a small literary press owned by a close friend.
If published by a publisher, what was your deciding factor in going with them?
In going with a small literary press, I was able to have almost total control over the process by working in conjunction with knowledgeable editor who was also a personal friend.
If published by a publisher, are you happy with the price they chose?
Did you purposefully choose a distinct month to release your book? Why?
Yes, we thought January would give a professional book publicist we hired sufficient time – six months - to pre-market a draft. She pick the exact date.
How did you choose your cover?
My son, Zak Smith, is an internationally known artist whose portraits hang in the collections of eight world class museums. It was a natural to ask him to come up with a new and iconic portrait of Beethoven Dreaming of his Immortal Beloved. Once we had the portrait in hand, we used our professional book designer, Hans Teensma, as the guiding hand as to how to incorporate the portrait into a full cover.
Did you write your book, then revise or revise as you went?
All of the above!!! I wrote, revised and wrote again, polishing constantly even as I moved ahead. My mentor, the late novelist and teaching, John Gardner had a simply concept about writing which he called “The vivid and continuous dream.” “What you are doing when writing a book or telling a story,” he would say, “is creating a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind that is so powerful and all compelling, that the next thing they know is that someone is calling them to dinner. Anything you write, no matter how brilliant or wonderful you think it is, that breaks that that dream is no good. Throw it out.” That bit of advice is the single most important lesson about revising that I could ever share and in fact “The Vivid and Continuous Dream,” was the title of the writing class I taught at UCLA when I worked there.
Did you come up with special swag for your book and how are you using it to help get the word out about your book?
Postcards and business cards to hand out only.
Did you consider making or hiring someone to make a book trailer for your book? If so, what’s the link?
What’s your opinion on giving your book away to sell other copies of your book?
Having worked for fifteen years in Hollywood, I all too often saw – and experienced – the exploitation of writers. Therefore, no, I am not really fond of any marketing concept that forces writers to give away their product while the printers, publishers and E-Sellers such as Amazon make a profit. At least in Hollywood there was and is a union, WGAW, that protects and fights for the rights – and wages – of its member writers.
What are three of the most important things you believe an author should do before their book is released?
First is to write it! Next is to make sure you are absolutely thrilled with every word, every line, and every page. And then, make sure it looks and feels as wonderful and you believe it is.
What are three of the most important things you believe an author should do after their book is released?
Promote, promote, promote.
What kind of pre-promotion did you do before the book came out?
I did a lot though not all of it was as effective as I had hoped. First, I made a point of reading from the book and speaking about it at professional seminars and symphony fundraiser, such as at the American Beethoven Society Annual Convention. That led to critical reviews which enabled early promotional steps. I hired and worked with a traditional Book Publicist who sent the book out to dozens of national newspapers. However, given that we are no longer working in a “traditional world,” much of this effort was unproductive. My publicist did however obtain a number of radio, Web-TV and a few readings and book signings for me. I also set up Web and Facebook pages to promote those appearances.
On Facebook I made “friends” in selected areas, including other writers, musicians and journalists until I reached the 5,000 mark. I joined over 35 groups. I began by posting news stories about the book, readings and reviews almost daily but eventually switched over to publishing snippets from the book in an ongoing series of posts I have entitled, “The Music Behind ‘Beethoven in Love; Opus 139.’” The response to these have been very positive, with each one reaching some 1,500 people daily. Some of those posts are also boosted on Facebook in order to reach other audiences outside my groups and current friends.
Do you have a long term plan with your book?
Yes, to keep on selling and promoting.
What would you like to say to your readers and fans about your book?
Buy “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139.” You will not be disappointed.