Ok. I think I'm with Lynne this week. I just read the week's blogs and I too find myself a bit overwhelmed at the very idea that I might be expected to perform up to the standard of my peers here. I'm not sure anyone can top Barbara's toilet story. Although I seem to recall telling you I'd try to be brilliant this week. Let's just consider that a rumor for now. But I shall persevere.
And frankly, that's got to be in the nature of all of us or we'd not be in this business we're in. My week has been unusually trying (as I've been making more media calls with my husband's absence from the office), but enjoyable in its variety. I usually leave the television and radio personalities to him, and I'd forgotten how fun and eccentric they can be.
In the first place, it turns my typical schedule totally upside down because radio hosts and guest schedulers rarely keep regular office hours. You generally catch them either half an hour before the show goes on, or during the show. When they go off the air, they're outta there. And since a majority of the interview shows are on in the morning, that's when you'll catch them. But I'm not a morning person. Challenge number one.
So I've set Outlook reminders to alert me to the times I need to call particular shows because you've gotta be quick and darn if that phone doesn't ring in between outgoing calls. Distractions are everywhere and multitasking is a necessity, not just a desired skill or bonus. I have a desk phone I use for outgoing calls so I can still receive incoming calls on the Blackberry because IF one of them actually returns the call from the voice mails left the last however many days, I don't want to miss it.
Another thing that had faded some from my memory was the "on air" pitch. Well, not actually on air, but maybe between. Or during the commercial. It's when the host is only there when he's on the air, say from 6 am to Noon. So if I want to schedule an interview for someone I have to talk to him then. He'll answer the phone in his exuberant "on air" voice and I better talk fast. "No time for that now," he might boom, "can you call back in 10?" Of course I can. And do. And get a repeat of the same. While the temptation is great to simply wait ten minutes and call back. After all, I have the perfect pitch on the tip of my tongue and don't want to lose my train of thought. But it's a six hour show and I can lose a lot more than that if all I do is sit and wait between callbacks. I've learned that generally after the third or fourth "call back in 10" it changes to, "I don't have time for this today, can you call back tomorrow?" or Tuesday. Or Friday. Make a note, move on.
Thankfully, they're not all like that, but a lot are. And the bigger the show, the more likely. Maybe it's the producer or guest booker, and they're not on the air, but they're juggling even more phone calls and pitches and nobody has any time to waste. This is why, if you were watching over my shoulder you'd find a variety of sticky notes all over my monitor, keyboard and any other exposed part of my desk at any given time. It's like juggling authors and book titles and trying desperately to keep them all in the air without dropping one between calls. Because I may be pitching clients 5 and 12, then get a callback for client 17 and, in a brief lull, answer an email about client 9. More challenges.
Another thing I've noticed bears an interesting relation to an article I skimmed about marketing this week - How to Make Your Message Stick. In talking with these hosts and producers, I don't recall a single one asking me any detail about the book, but several had questions about the authors. The same thing is true about responses to press releases we send. The more information there is about the author, the more likely we are to get callbacks requesting more info or scheduling interviews. If the press release or promo we give is almost exclusively about the book, it doesn't usually get much attention.
Is there a message in all that? If so, I think it would have to reiterate what I said some weeks back about making your promotion memorable. Making it personal. Another book just isn't news in most cases. So it's up to the authors and their publicists or publishers to find those angles that bridge the gap between fiction and newsworthy. Without those, you'll likely get lost in the shuffle.
In case you're wondering, the pace doesn't stay that frantic all day. Things tend to tone down a bit after noon. Journalists, store personnel, librarians, event planners - they're not running at quite the same breakneck speed as broadcast personnel, but the juggling is still the same and the number of phone calls in an ordinary day is frightening if you bother to count them up. It's also surprising at what hours the callbacks will come. I generally stop answering the phone around 11 pm.
Today's market is tough and there are lots and lots of good books being released every month. If an author wants his or her book to really stand out, it's going to take something above and beyond what is typical in regard to marketing efforts today. I know it can be hard to understand how the impression an author makes on 15 people at a booksigning can have any significant effect on the sales numbers, but it's a snowball thing.
You know how it feels when you get hit with that first snowball? Or maybe just that first blast of really cold air right in the face? No matter how fast you're running or how hurried you are, for just a moment time stops until you can catch your breath again. And call it what you will, there's a sense of exhilaration. That's what I have to try and do when I finally catch that elusive producer on the phone - I have to make time stop for just a few seconds. Just long enough to say something that captures his or her attention and, hopefully, makes him remember me. Or remember my client.
And that's what an author has to do. Whether it's with a personal comment or anecdote, a smile and signature personalized on request. A story about writing the story. The author has to come up with something memorable that captures a reader's attention and makes them want to prolong that time. And if it's done well, the reader will find that essence in the book. That voice that carries the same qualities glimpsed in interview.
No small task, granted, but after all - you write fiction, right?
Till next time,
Once a sub-editor, always a sub-editor, that's my view. I can't read anything over for people without a pen gripped in my right hand, or 'track changes' selected in Word. My late best friend Ian never forgave me for editing a letter he was sending to his bank manager. In my defence, m'lud, he did shove it under my nose when I was tunnelling my way through a pile of student work.
Poor old subs have always been undervalued. Whoever said they were just failed reporters needed a jab in the eye with an em ruler. That'll be the subs who turn turgid prose into polished English, spot legal howlers that would land the paper in court, and write snappy headlines . . .
That's why I am still rolling my eyes a lot after reading the article in Monday's Guardian newspaper which was responding to a blog from Roy Greenslade. He's a man who has developed some very strange views after moving from editing newspapers to being a meeja commentator.
Greenslade reckons that there's a case for sub-editors to stay on national newspapers, but not on magazines or local papers. I am still scratching my head over his cock-eyed logic. Clearly it's a long time since he had to bash cryptic offerings from 'correspondents' (i.e. non-journalists) into shape or save a reporter from their own ignorance when it comes to knowledge of your patch or ensuring that a technically-complex article in a magazine is accurate.
We all know there's a revolution under way in the media, and that cost-cutting can be better described as massacring across the sector. Multi-skilling – something which those of us who started out 20-odd years ago turned our delicate noses up at – has now become a necessary fact of life.
But I raised an eyebrow at the following quote from Greenslade: "There are other things to take on board too, such as the inflow of a "new wave" of highly-educated, well-trained young journalists with digital knowledge. I might be idealistic, but I do believe their work - on camera, on video and in text form - will need less scrutiny than used to be the case."
Journalism training has changed hugely in those 20 years. Newspapers and magazines have more or less handed it all over to universities in the UK. The course I teach on turns out some damn good young journalists – but their work still needs editing, be it text or image-based. My work needs editing, for heaven's sake. And according to the last line of the Guardian article, so does Greenslade's!
Everyone needs an editor. One sports desk I worked on, we boasted one of the best sports journalists in the UK as a contributor. Lovely guy, but his stream of consciousness column needed editing with a pick axe. The sports editor never cottoned on why the old hands used to hide in the loos until some long-suffering casual had been allocated the column to sub.
You'll understand now why I have such an aversion to those amongst the self-published brigade who claim they don't need their beautiful prose touching. Yeah, yeah, in your dreams . . .
It’s been a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of week, and time for pleasurable displacement activity like reading everyone else’s blog posts has been in short supply. But this morning I indulged myself, and read a whole week’s Dead Guy posts at a single sitting.
Not that I didn’t enjoy reading them. For ten minutes or so I was thoroughly entertained. But I now feel completely inadequate, and wonder why you all put up with me. Barbara’s zany account of the toilet police made me laugh out loud. Jeff’s feelgood nostalgia about The Man from U.N.C.L.E carried me right back to lunch breaks at my all-girls high school and adolescent sighings (not just mine) over the acme of male beauty that was David McCallum. (Sorry, Jeff; Napoleon was OK, but our priorities, not to mention hormones, were different from yours).
And everyone else has such a fascinating life. P J even made the blogger’s equivalent of writer’s block sound warm and witty and interesting; that takes real talent.
Then again, maybe I’m just feeling a bit sorry for myself because I’ve got one of those low-level viruses that makes you want to curl up in a chair with a pile of undemanding books and maybe the video of last night’s Mistresses (there was football on another channel, not my choice, but apparently essential viewing) but doesn’t really make you feel bad enough to justify time off work. It’s not as if I have the excuse that I might pass my bugs around everyone else in the office; Crème’s everyone elses are at the other end of the phone or e-mail in-box, all except my other half who valiantly does the numbers work, and I caught the damn virus from him in the first place.
I keep telling myself that at least I don’t have to go to the gym. Apart from the minor point that a stuffed-up nose and raw throat makes any physical activity more strenuous than lifting a coffee mug inadvisable, that really would be anti-social – breathing my bugs into their air-conditioning to be re-breathed by all those previously healthy people.
So here I am, at my desk as usual, but with brain set on Slow and to-do list not getting any shorter. Fortunately there’s plenty of routine stuff on the list, which doesn’t require too much in the way of coherent thought.
I was going to meander on about the power of advertising, and whether the ten percent that works makes it worth paying for the ninety percent that doesn’t. But if you don’t mind, I lack the mental agility to make any sense of that, or anything much at all, today. Maybe next week.
In fact, I think I’ll shut up and let you all get on with your lives. They have to be more interesting than mine. Today at least.
Something is afoot over here on the 7th floor of 27 W. 24th St. and it is making me as giddy as a weredingo on her first moonlight jaunt.
(Yes, they have them loping about in Australia. Yes. They do. You know, “A weredingo ate my baby” and whatnot.)
Okay. Let me set the scene for you:
About 3 weeks ago, a note appeared in the women’s bathroom on the 7th floor. I am paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was something to the effect of:
Whoever is throwing their toilet paper all over the bathroom, please clean up after yourself.
It was probably the size of a small recipe card and copies were on the inside door of all stalls, placed at eye level when, uh, seated. When I first saw it, I thought, “Huh, never really noticed toilet paper strewn about, but whatevs. Nice enough little note.”
This little post stayed put for a solid ten days before it was removed- whether by the author or the tee-pee queen, I don’t know. But it was gone. So, some days go by, I sell some books, watch some BSG, eat some deviled eggs and then today I come into work and in the bathroom there is a new note. I am again paraphrasing but:
Woman who is throwing her toilet paper around. ENOUGH! This is not a Starbucks bathroom or a bathroom in a bus station. Other women use this! This is not your house! Nobody wants to see your toilet paper and your unflushed business. THROW YOUR TOILET PAPER AWAY.
I was so happy to see this I practically barked.
There are so very many fabulous things about this latest note, least of all being the clear emotional escalation towards total meltdown regarding an issue that as far as I can tell, isn’t really happening. I mean, let’s break this down into two possibilities:
1.) There are anywhere from 12-20 women using this bathroom on a given day, not including visitors. Maybe one overspools the t.p. a bit, and the remainder floats gently to the ground. Perhaps this happens more than once. Perhaps followed hours later by a flush mishap. All perpetrated by different passersby and all within normal bathroom (mal)functions.
2.) There is a nefarious ill-bred female on the seventh floor intent on desecrating our bathroom the same way she attacks the commode after a venti mocha latte or a weekend greyhound trip to Poughkeepsie.
Regardless, I love these notes so much. I am desperately trying not to provoke the situation. But, it is very difficult. I actually brought a pen with me into the bathroom in order to jot a little note on her note that says:
Your pleas fall on deaf ears- this is MY toitey now, wench!
Because O.M.G, right? How a-MA-zing would THAT be? It would be so very fantastic. I seriously clicked my pen and was ready to do it. But then I thought, “Wait, I think I might be a grown up.” And I didn’t.
But to draw the most ridiculous metaphor ever, this is sort of like publishing. No, it is. Just follow me down into this weredingo den and I’ll explain:
So, there is a book. Let’s call it…Swirly. So Swirly is a comedic commercial fiction, a veritable ROMP if you will, and it comes out in hard cover in May and sells 894 copies.
Well, I am going to want to put my little sign up on the door and say, Whoever is responsible for not selling enough copies of Swirly, I am tipping dangerously close to insanity and blaming you for it.
But here’s the thing: there are a lot of components to why Swirly didn’t knock it out of the park. It wasn’t just some pants-around-her-ankles idiot all jacked up on the power of public urination who stood in the way of Swirly’s success. In fact, I bet if we all really thought about it, we each may have been a bit responsible for the stinky turn out. Starting with in house excitement and moving right through execution and pub date, did Team Swirly do everything possible for the success of this book- did they? Did Team Swirly don their jerseys and burst onto the field with everyone healthy and focused on the big win? Did Team Swirly stay hydrated?
I think what we forget is that a book’s success is dependent on so many moving parts, and thus, accordingly, so is its failure. (I also think the only difference between my education and a Harvard one is that I don’t use the word “thus” as much as those dudes do, thus I will be saying it more.)
I am marinating on this because I am about to have a very yummy book come out and I feel like everyone has been doing everything possible to make sure it hits the scene like a four ton whale stuffed with dynamite. I mean it. I want this book smashing cars. I want this book to make people stagger around as if covered in whale juice while murmuring, glassy eyed, “That book was just so good.” And I feel like we all chipped in to make that possible. I will OF COURSE be pimping it out on this site hard core as we get closer, so never fear, but as for now, I just wanted to say that I am very proud how hard the author, the editor, the marketing team, the publisher and I have worked on this, and I feel that no matter what happens, we all gave 110%.
Good. Now I must go. I am off to throw some toilet paper around the bathroom…
This past week at Bleak House, I had a few things to do:
1. A first read of a new ms.
2. Working with our cover designers to come up with 6-7 options for the front cover of a spring title, then sharing the comps with Ben and the author to decide which direction we'd like to go.
3. Collecting/creating the elements the designers will need to make the front cover a full cover (flap copy, author bio, author picture, blurbs, bar codes, etc.)
4. Checking in with the printer to be sure that the title we have with them now is in production and on schedule.
5. Double checking the suggested proof changes for two mss, communicating with the authors about questionable suggestions, compiling the authors' changes with the proofreaders' changes, and packaging everything for our interior designer so she can input the changes.
6. Rereading two mss that have come back from the authors with revisions, and approving them as final and sending them on to interior design.
7. Ensuring that galley mailings are going out on time and to the right lists of people for a few titles. (This mostly just means keeping the interns motivated and happy, which is easy with coffee and candy and the Beyonce Pandora radio station.)
8. Keeping up on emails with my authors and colleagues.
9. Making sure that the productions schedule I created is disseminated to everyone involved, so the deadlines are clear and easy to find (Yay, google calendars!).
10. Incessantly checking facebook, twitter, and several blogs -- in theory, to keep up with current events, but mostly because it's a good distraction when I can't focus.
11. Dreaming about owning my very own Kindle, and attempting to justify using my tax return to purchase it.
I did some other, non-Bleak House things this week, too. Roller derby meetings and practices, drinks with friends (Happy Birthday, Punch!), keeping myself fed and clean, spending time with my cats -- you know, life stuff.
And this weekend, today in particular, I have no pressing deadlines, no social engagements, no obligations or invitations or ANYTHING! I mean, I guess I could be reading partials, or reading friends' books, or attempting some kind of work productivity ...
... But I'm not going to. I'm nearly finished with my Slinky Tree Bark Rib Tunic (found in the awesomely awesome Loop-d-Loop by Teva Durham), and instead of attempting any kind of multitasking, I'm going to single-mindedly focus on this one thing until it's done. Knit 2, Purl 2, Knit 2, Purl 2. There's a real joy in doing one thing until it's complete. In book publishing, if you're publishing more than two titles a year, it's impossible to focus on only one at a time. You've got to keep several the titles in the air at once, all in different parts of production.
It's nice to a have a respite every once in awhile. :)
Today when I got to work, cursing the biting wind and blowing snow flurries, I hauled out our big plastic "sale" sign and bungee corded it to a handy tree. Every February we have a sale on all our new books - people look forward to it - and this year we added a big table of slightly older hardbacks for $3. They've been selling like crazy and have cleared some much needed shelf space.
My first call was from a woman looking for encyclopedias, specifically the "D" volume of Encyclopedia Britannica. As we talked it came out that she was looking for it to use as a prop on a movie set - Michigan has offered all kinds of tax breaks to movie companies and now all kinds of movies are made here. I explained that we don't carry encyclopedias but directed her to the PTO thrift store. She sounded young and not too sure what exactly the PTO was but I think I got her there.
As the day progressed I made all sorts of small sales, all adding up. One woman was looking only for books published by International Polygonics, a vanished small press that re-printed books that were a bit on the odd or obscure side. Happily for her she found quite a few. Another woman brought in her daughter, whose name, it turned out, was Ellery. While her mother browsed the true crime section, Ellery was amazed to find some of the (many, many) old copies of Ellery Queen Magazine we have around and I gave her a freebie. Maybe one of the stories will spark a new interest for her.
One of my first customers asked me if I'd heard of Dorothy Sayers? Trying not to cough rudely I took her to our well pawed over used Sayers shelf. It turned out she only wanted the ones about Harriet, and she'd read them all, but neither had she read any of Sayers' contemporaries. She left with one each of Margery Alingham, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey - lucky girl.
Set up an event with writer(s) Michael Stanley. I heard half of the team talk about elephants in Botswana at Bouchercon and can't wait for the book club to get a load of him. He's totally charming.
Fielded questions about, and sold books by, Peter Robinson, who will be here next Tuesday. Even though it's a lunch time event, people are beyond excited, some even taking the day off so they can come and meet him. One of my book club laidies bought his new book and THEN asked "Does he write other books?" We tried in vain to get her to start at the beginning.
One of our book festival board members stopped by so we could review the programming we've done so far for our September event. This year our theme is "Culinary Arts" and it's taken over. We have other panel topics, including culinary mysteries, a panel that's proving difficult to flesh out but I have three lovely ladies signed up. We take a bit of a zen approach to programming - we see what interests us & then sees who's available. It usually works great - we're almost full for next September already.
And how was your week?
Ask my family. They’ll tell you speechless is not a word that ever really applies to me. I have answers for questions that are only anticipated. No. I have answers to questions that haven’t even been asked.
I’m reasonably good at what I do, and usually confident that I can handle anything unexpected that comes up in any area of my experience or expertise. I comfortably field phone calls about all sorts of things, and am equally fine when it’s time to say, “You know, I don’t really know the answer to that.”
I’m fine speaking in small groups or to large crowds, and the only reason I really need notes is to keep myself from wandering too far off the main topic or going too long. I have no qualms about a spontaneous Q & A session.
As for the written word, I’ve written more articles over the years than I can count. The same is true for research papers. I’ve tried my hand at short stories and have more finished manuscripts, both fiction and non-fiction, than I’m going to admit to here.
I write bios and promo pages that make budding authors look like geniuses and experts (maybe not as good as Jeff, but still…). I write press releases that provoke journalists to call me for a change.
So why is it, do you think, that when it’s time to blog and I see that blank page, I suddenly lock up and seem to have nothing of intelligence to say? I’m thankful you can’t see stuttering on the written page.
It happens a lot, even though it may seem the blog itself is evidence to the contrary. You just can’t see how much effort it might have taken to get here. Some are worse than others, of course, and probably none are as bad as it seems. I remember one night I woke in the wee hours with an idea, grabbed my Blackberry off my nightstand and proceeded to text it to myself in hopes that I’d be inspired to continue the train of thought the next day. I think it worked.
Some of you make it seem so easy. I love reading your blogs. And often know that’s why you’re such a great author (and many of you my clients – how lucky can I be??). But then I realize, I’m a fairly good writer myself, all things considered. So what’s up with that?
The only thing I can figure is that maybe I need the two way. Maybe I need feedback, even if it’s a little delayed. Or maybe I just have some rare, yet to be diagnosed, blog-itis or something.
In any case, I’ve managed to come up with 454 words so far. Not so bad, eh? Ok, so it’s not professional, or even brilliant, but hey. I’ve had workmen in the house all day, a barfy dog (we don’t know what she ate, but apparently she didn’t like it much), and a severe chocolate shortage. We won’t even TALK about menopause so don’t ask.
I’ll try to be brilliant next week.
I bought a glossy magazine on Monday – and promptly felt guilty. I know I can confess it here amongst friends, but I'm a magazineaholic. Must be the smell of the paper and the perfume samples that niff like loo cleaner and the moment when you rip the usually tacky free gift from the front cover . . . Ooh, lovely, another umbrella that'll turn inside out in a faint breeze, and look, more mascara that I'll never wear, and oh goodie, another chicklit book that I'll hide in a pile somewhere round the house and never read.
In the past I've spent the gross national debt of Columbia on magazines. Yes, I do need them for work, no, I can't claim them back on expenses, so yes, they are rather an indulgence. Music, sport, women's, cult TV, current affairs … I can't resist the blighters.
I'd decided, though, that they were an indulgence too far when money was tight in a credit crunch. And I was very proud of myself last time I went into Border's in Bristol, which is the magazine emporium of the western world, as I walked out without a single one.
I might not be the only one as well. Recent circulation figures for UK magazines show a mixed story, both with advertising and sales of the magazines, particularly in the house porn market. Presumably people don't want to dribble over homes and posh furnishings that they don't have a cat in hell's chance of affording at the moment. Interestingly, though, Conde Nast are planning to launch two titles over the next couple of months, so they obviously have faith in people wanting their glossy monthly treat.
It's not only my magazine addiction that's had to be cut back. I'm lucky enough to get review copies, but I still buy a lot of non-crime fiction books. Increasingly, I'm costing out whether it's cheaper to buy them from AmazonMarketplace than through the main site. And yes, I know any authors reading this will be on my back for this. Sorry guys, I've got a bank manager on my tail. But those 'three for the price of two' deals in High Street bookshops or heavily-discounted titles in supermarkets look increasingly attractive. When I do buy, though, it's not hardbacks.
I'm buying far fewer CDs as well – and when I do it's usually by an old favourite, or where I'm confident of liking the album. There's no more 'take a chance' buying just in case I might like it. And yay for iTunes, where it makes economic sense to download a track and try before you buy . . .
People still want treats in a recession. They might be cutting back on overseas holidays, or deciding that the aging sofa is going to have to last another year. But paperback books, chocolate and takeaways (a couple of the takeaway chains announced this week their figures were up) are feel-good extras when everything around you is hideously gloomy.
First, foremost and most important of all: happy birthday, Mrs Cohen.
You don’t know me at all, and I only know it’s your birthday today because your son happened to mention it on Monday. He was right – it wasn’t marked on my calendar. But any mother of Jeff’s is a friend of mine, especially when the birthday is one of those big significant ones with a zero at the end. I had one of those myself last year, and it seems to me you need all the happy birthdays you can get when they come around. I hope you have a lovely day.
Given that a blog is a kind of on-line diary that anyone can read (that’s right, isn’t it?) I figure my topic for the week should be whatever is closest to the top of my mind at the time. That's what you put in a diary, after all. Last week it was press release printing and envelope stuffing. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write about.
This week, in the absence of any little exciting moments which have distracted my attention from the daily round, the topic of the moment would seem to be editing. I’m in mid-edit of a third-in-series by one of our established authors, Linda Regan; it comes out in the UK in June, probably towards the end of the year in the US, it’s called Dead Like Her, and Marilyn Monroe features strongly but elliptically.
Last autumn, or summer if you go by the weather rather than the date, at a very pleasant lunch in Baltimore, someone asked me what exactly an editor was supposed to do.
The someone was an eminent scientist who just happens to be my cousin, and I kind of got the feeling he’d suffered at the hands of editors who had carved up prose which he considered to be peerless. I could sympathise to some extent, but I also felt it was up to me to fight the editor’s corner in what could have turned into a lively debate. (It didn’t, but that’s a different story.)
Fortunately the waiter arrived to take our order at exactly the right moment, so I had time to consider my response.
I ordered my crabcakes, then I said, “An editor’s job is to make sure the finished book is the one the author thought he (or she) wrote.”
Authors don’t have bad habits. They know the correct way to use apostrophes, and where to place commas so that the sentence balances and the emphasis is thrown exactly where they want it. They don’t show and tell in the same sentence, or repeat significant words four times in two paragraphs unless it’s a deliberate stylistic device. Their hero’s cobalt blue eyes never change to the colour of black coffee after a hundred pages or so. They recognise their self-indulgent darlings, and kill them without compunction. And they always, always, always triple-check every single historical fact and background detail.
Editing is a process, of course, and two or three drafts can pass between the author and me before we're ready for that final nit-picking attention to tiny details. But when I send the final, copy-edited version back for approval, I always recommend very strongly that the author simply read it, without referring back to any earlier versions. And if it’s one I haven’t edited myself, I do the same when the final version arrives on my desk. In these cases, the only other version I’ve read is the first draft the author submitted, often months earlier. The difference between that first draft and the final one is often hard to pin down, but I always know I’m reading a better book: tighter, more focused, more polished.
The book the author thought s/he’d written, in fact.
There’s a popular impression that large publishing houses no longer do much editing. It’s a time-consuming process (don’t I know it!) and maybe it’s not regarded as cost-effective any more.
To me, and to every author I’ve ever worked with, getting it right is a matter of pride, so those hours are well spent.
Which book would you prefer to see on the shelf? The one with the misplaced commas and the hero who has eyes of two colours? Or the one you thought you’d written?
By Barbara Poelle
We’ve all heard the old adage “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes,” and I gotta say I am feeling like the seventh dog when it comes to my in-box. Right now I have about 109 unread requested partials and fulls and another couple dozen unsolicited queries to review. I have about as much chance of getting through these in the next month as Stinky Pete has of coming up with a new come-on line. (Stinky Pete is the “residence challenged” gentleman who hisses the same delightful vulgarity at me maybe once every other week as I head to the train at night after work. Because I am a LADY, I won’t be able to tell you exactly what he says, but suffice to say, I usually come back with a high quality zinger. I really think we’d have a chance at our own sitcom, Pete and I, if only I was a little more connected and if only he was a little more, oh how shall I say this, sane.)
The thing is, this whole thing is a numbers game, and despite being told there would be no math after 10th grade, let me break this down for you: I am generally good for about 80 pages an hour. If I request a partial I am usually getting 35-40 pages. A full generally is good for about 350-400 pages. Now I don’t have my abacus handy, but let’s see, carry the one, and x=the circumference of, and if train B is traveling at …mmmhmm, okay, yes… then that basically boils down to, well, the technical mathematical term as defined by Pythagoras is actually:
A butt load.
And the view never changes.
I really, really want to be reading those partials and fulls. I really do. Today’s partials become tomorrow’s fulls which become Thrursday’s clients and Friday’s child is full of grace or whatever, so I NEED to be reading them. The thing is, everyday is just such a grab bag of madcap adventures where wackiness is ALWAYS ensuing that I just can’t seem to get to more than two or three a day. (And Janet Reid if you DARE to comment on what your turn around time is, I am falling on my sword. And when I say my sword I mean an extra large pizza with mushrooms and onions. And when I say falling I mean eating.)
Furthermore, to add insult to injury, apparently I have been very good at publically touting how my turn around time is six to eight weeks. Six to eight weeks. Have I been drinking Stinky Pete’s thinkin’ sauce?!?!?
Sure, six to eight weeks…ON MERCURY. (it would have been so much more fitting with my seventh dog analogy here if I could have said, six to eight weeks ON URANUS. But a day on Uranus is only like 10 hours or something and my mom is FOR SURE already going to call and say “Oh, Barbie honey, you’re such a pretty girl, do you have to be so crass?” I think that’s actually on our family seal or something.)
I promise, I WANT to read the work. I am DYING to read the work. I used to be totally FINE turning around work within six weeks. I also used to run a 5K in 24 minutes and comfortably digest cheese. These times they are a changin’.
I guess what this might be, however, is another adage in itself along with the great ones. Something to the effect of: You are never “truly finished”.
It’s all about “the journey”.
There ain’t no party like “a west coast party”.
These are the valuable life lessons that have brought me this far, and so perhaps this is just another one masquerading as the virtual e-pile of work I have looming before me.
In the end, I know what Pythagoras would tell me: do the math. Mathematically speaking, there is a sparkly jewel somewhere in that 109. Maybe, dare I say, two or three. The only way to truly tell is to read them. So I am off, to read.
Hmmm, I wonder if Stinky Pete would be interested in an internship this summer? He clearly has a penchant for romance….
Recently, I've been having some bizarre, intense, and sometimes upsetting dreams.
Nothing to keep me from sleeping (oh, how I love sleeping), but vivid enough that some of the images and, for lack of a better term, plotlines, are sticking with me when I wake up.
In one, I was swimming in the ocean with a group of friends. We were in the water between two large boats. I noticed that one of my friends was being attacked by a great white shark (Barbara, was that you?). I could tell that the shark was very big, and it seemed, from my vantage point in the water, to be moving slowly. I decided that I could help my friend, swim her to safety, if I vaulted over the shark (using its back like a pommel horse) to get to her. I tried out my strategy, and as I reached out to connect with the shark's body, it spun quickly around in the water, leaped out, and bit off both my hands.
The next night, I dreamed that I was late (scroll down on that page) to a roller derby bout, and that I had hardly any time to throw on my gear and get out to the track before the first whistle. By the time I was in the locker room, I'd missed the team pep talk, and all my teammates were down by the bench, preparing for our entrance. I quickly laced up my skates and headed out, but was thwarted by a bunch of staircases and hallways that took a lot of time to navigate. (In the waking world, our dressing rooms are really close to the main floor, and there's not a step to be seen.) Once I finally got to the bench and told my team I was ready, Kill Billie pointed out that I had my skates on, but no other gear -- no knee pads, elbow pads, or wrist guards. So I had to rush back through the twisting halls and daunting staircases, and when I got to the locker room, my gear was gone. I had a sense that someone had stolen it, so I went skating towards our opposing team's locker room to check. Of course, this whole time, I could hear the roar of the crowd and bits of action from the announcers -- I was missing the first half of our game. I found my gear (I may have had to fight for it a bit -- the dream memory gets kinda hazy during this part) and put it on quickly. It was hard to do, since I already had my skates on. The style of knee pad I wear pulls up to the knee from the bottom, so I had to take my skates off to put them on ... only I then discovred that I had both elbow pads, both wrist guards, but only the righ knee pad. And in waking life, my left knee is the one that needs the pad -- it tends to be swollen and bursitis-rific.
Last night, I dreamed I was back in school. College, but in dream world college looked a lot like my old high school. It was my first day, and I'd only arrived the night before, so I felt unsettled and un-unpacked and unready. I was wandering around, getting my bearings, and it struck me that I didn't have a class schedule. Convinced that I had already missed some classes (it was around one or so, I'd already had lunch), I started to panic that I was missing English class. After furiously searching my email on the computers in the library, (nothing!) I rushed to the office to see if they could print out a schedule for me. The two women working behind the desk were an odd pair -- clearly they needed the other in order to function. And they were too busy playing a word game to help me. One woman had a list of words she'd created by changing one letter at a time, and the other woman would add a single line to a drawing she was working on, between the rounds of the word game. She aslo had some big master list of words she was crossing out as the other woman created them.
I can't say for sure where in the world these dream images originated -- although I did just watch the 11001001 episode of Star Trek last nIght, so maybe those ladies were borne of the Bynars. And I'm not certain what meaning I should glean from each of these dreams.
But I do seem a tad anxious of late ... maybe instead of scifi before bed, I should try a few yoga poses?
(And in the spirit of any good post about dreams, I'll leave you with a little Annie Lennox.)
This week, the Ann Arbor News ran a front page story about a local bookstore that's having trouble. This isn't news, everyone on the planet is having a rough time. The bookstore in question, Shaman Drum, is an independent that specializes in poetry, literature, and academic writing. They also in the past have sold lots of textbooks - they perch on the edge of the University of Michigan campus. But like everything else, the textbook buisness seems to be changing. Kids can find out ahead of time on line what books they need and then they can go on line and find used copies. This has hurt the Shaman Drum, a store that's on one of the busier and more expensive streets in town, and takes up not one floor, but two. They also have done very well over the years with textbooks and a captive audience.
The owner had decided last year that as a "gift to the community" he was going to turn his store into a "literary center". He applied for non profit status and is apparently still waiting. I'm not sure how that would work - I guess the store would be run by a board and they would attempt to obtain grants and investors. I know that one as I work with a local book festival that's a non profit (but we're a one day a year special event). But more to the point, would this store then continue to compete with other stores, only they wouldn't have to worry about rent, payroll, and the electric bill? To me, something about that seems not quite right. I guess it's moot as apparently the store is close to out of money as they wait on government paperwork.
Then as the cherry on the cupcake the Ann Arbor News yesterday ran an editorial about how some small businesses are more "special" than others (the Shaman Drum being the "special" business in question) because they offer us such worthy writers at their frequent book signings.
This cheesed me off since we also host frequent book signings, are a locally owned independent, and when we are having to cut back we just order fewer books. We are also on a less busy side street, pay less rent and have fewer employees. But even more I wondered about the value judgement the Ann Arbor News was making. Are then other stores - Aunt Agatha's and Nicola's being the other two independents in town who host frequent book signings - less worthy? Less special? I'm often envious of the authors Nicola's hosts, never (or very rarely) of the ones at Shaman Drum.
That very day S.J. Rozan had been to the store to talk about her new book, The Shanghai Moon, which is about Jewish refugees fleeing the holocaust. 20,000 of them ended up in Shanghai because the port of Shanghai was open to them, one of only two on the planet. Rozan gave a wonderful, interesting talk on this slice of unknown history as well as a talk about the characters in her wonderful new novel (I recommend it highly), Even though it was noon, we were packed. That seems like a worthy and special thing to host, in my opinion.
Sometimes the marketplace is harsh. This very week we've had some awful days, they just happened to be balanced by other, good ones, The Shaman Drum, as far as I know, exists in the same harsh marketplace that we all do, and are subject to the same rules. They aren't special, nor should they, or anyone else in the marketplace, be. What cheeses me is their attempt to get around the rules.
Remember that show, Designing Women? I still love to catch it in rerun when it shows up. I was wondering what to write that might be appropriate to Valentine’s Day weekend and thought that Valentine’s Day is about dreams. Dreams come true, maybe. I remembered an episode of DW in which Charlene had a lifelong dream of becoming a country western singer. Course, in a thirty minute episode, with commercials, dreams either come true or crash and burn in record time on television. Hers was the latter.
My mind wandered, as it often does, and this time it took me back to my earliest dreams. The first one I remember (I suspect I’m only writing this because it’s after 1 am, my day started at 7ish and I’ve had very little chocolate) is when I was really young, not yet in school. I wanted desperately to be a boy so I could run around the neighborhood without my shirt on like my friends from down the street. I actually tried it once. Nearly threw my mother into a fit of hysteria and my dad into a rage that I suspect was something like his platoon saw when he was an instructor in the Marines. That dream, needless to say, was shortlived.
Then there was the time my neighbor Billy and I were inspired by our history teacher when we first heard about Lewis and Clark. Or was it Louis? Anyway. We plotted and planned, then on the next Saturday morning, we got an early start to the nearest river (it was really Polecat Creek and barely deep enough that time of year to make a splash in, much less swim), determined it would lead us to some yet undiscovered and magical new land. We’d become rich and famous and have our names written in books given to everyone in school everywhere. Lofty dreams.
It was a lot of fun at first and we were certain we were on the right track when we found a cleared place of hardpacked dirt on the banks of the Polecat under a tree. We sat down and ate our carefully packed peanut butter sandwiches and shared a lukewarm bottle of Chocolate Soldier, then packed up our things (no littering explorers, we) and moved on. But as the day grew longer, the creek bed repetitive and the sun hotter, we grew less enthused and our dream seemed a little more unreachable than it had when we started. Finally, we decided the smart thing to do would be to turn back. Our stomachs were growling again and one of us, I don’t recall which, figured out that if it got dark and we couldn’t find our way back, we’d be in big trouble on a number of levels.
So, when we hit a clearing we veered from the creek and headed off into a pasture, thinking we were going the right direction. About halfway across, a half-crazed bull spotted us and began thundering toward us at breakneck speed with horns sharpened and pointed in exactly the right place to impale us both at the exact same time and then with a mighty thrust of its powerful head, throw us sailing into the nearby trees where we’d fall crashing, lifeless to the cold, hard ground!
Actually, it was a bull, probably not that crazed. Maybe slightly curious. And it wasn’t so much thundering as sauntering casually in our general direction hoping for a handout, but you know how it goes. Whether it was what we really saw or what we imagined, it motivated us highly to run fast to the nearby fence where we collected a number of scrapes squeezing between the barbed wire. Whew.
I hardly recall the rest of the trip home, but it was reasonably uneventful and our parents acted like they hardly knew we were gone. What did we learn from that? Mostly that the planning and anticipation of the dream, along with the telling of it after the fact, are a lot more fun than the actual living of it. I’m sure I had no clue at the time, but it was a pattern that still proves true today.
Then there was the time in 2nd grade, shortly after the Beatles made their infamous appearance on Ed Sullivan, that I announced that I would marry Paul McCartney. I was certain of it. He was my dream. Of course, my base of comparison at that time was Elvis (he had too many girls already) and Luther in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (too strange, but funny). You couldn’t count the Incredible Mr. Limpett because, after all, he was really a cartoon.
I've since decided that while a man of my dreams might be exciting, a man of my reality is a much more practical and useful being. I've had one now for nearly 35 years and he's just about broken in right.
A year or so after that, I was sure I’d grow up to be Julie in The Mod Squad. See? I was a detective at heart even then. I couldn't wait for a new episode each week. I'd watch with rapt attention, then hurry outside or to my room to practice, trying desperately to make my younger brother and sister fit their roles (didn't happen).
What, you might ask, does all this have to do with mystery? Some days, the mystery is how the heck I survived all that! But I like to think it has to do with expectations, experience, learning, adjustments and just life in general – all of which have everything to do with mystery. Because the best mysteries are those that ring true to life as we know it. How dull would life be if we could answer every question and solve every riddle without even trying?
Dreams are what give us impetus to keep going. To keep hoping when life is a little dark (and when isn't it, really?). To keep trying even when we’ve failed. Again. But as Solomon said, ”hope deferred makes the heart sick.” If all of our dreams are unrealistic and unattainable, it gets increasingly hard to keep dreaming. If I could’ve been honest with myself back then, I’d have known I’d never be Julie. Peggy Lipton wasn’t me and no matter how hard I tried, she never would be.
So somehow, over the years, I surrendered my dreams of being part of The Mod Squad or marrying Paul. But I never surrendered dreaming. I just adjusted my dreams according to knowledge. I’ll likely never be found in a history text that’s distributed to school children worldwide, but I have had my name on many articles in a variety of national markets through the years, and can realistically dream of having one of my mysteries published some day.
And while I don’t dream of being Julie anymore, I came across Julia Sugarbaker in later years and she became my new hero of sorts. I know I’ll never be her (actually I know she’s really a figment of someone’s imagination), but I can realistically enjoy sharing some of her traits and qualities, can’t I?
I used to dream of being a doctor one day, too, and made it to pre-med before I decided to marry and give it up. Later, I went back to school and started down a new path, but I’ll finish my PhD in another year or two and will indeed be a doctor then. So see? Dreams can come true. As long as you learn to abandon the ones that can’t work and reach for the ones that can.
Happy Valentine’s Day – till next time,
Some people seem to take delight in being disgusted and offended. You know the ones, who sit through television drama and then phone up the TV channel to complain about the bad language/filth in it. Presumably their hand was frozen solid on the remote control . . .
I'm a firm believer in the "if you don't like something, don't read/watch it" mantra. And I dislike those who are given ample warnings, and then whine later. My eyes rolled at a scary speed a while back when someone won a gay crime novel in an RTE draw and then proceeded to complain that it had men snogging in it and that she was going to throw it on the fire. She was unable to explain why she'd entered a competition to win a book that was well-labelled when it came to content.
Having said that, I'm not a fan of warnings up the wazoo. I'm in an online writing group, and there seems to be an ethos of giving too much away at the top of the story when people post stuff they're working on. I don't want my reading spoilt by unnecessary hand-holding.
I admit I do read the summaries (not the reviews!) at Amazon and the back cover when I'm in a bookshop before buying the book. And I'm as susceptible to a good sales pitch as anyone – even if I often do wonder later if the person who wrote the blurb had actually even read the book or realised that they'd given away a humungous chunk of the plot.
This way, though, I get to avoid religious books or talking cats and dogs or little green men science fiction. After all, there's a limit to how much a woman has a right to moan!
Now and again people ask, in a caring sort of way of course, how – or if – the economic situation is affecting us. So far it’s hard to tell. December and January were better than previous Decembers and Januarys; February is so far looking like a pretty typical February. But that’s just existing titles; the real crunch time will come when we send new ones out there to seek their (or our) fortune.
But one little hurdle we’ve had to negotiate has been the effect of lurching currency exchange rates. Last year for the first time we used a printer outside the UK – but a few weeks ago, just when we thought it was all cut and dried, the right quality and quantity at the right unit price, the relationship between the euro and the pound sterling became somewhat strained and we found ourselves in the middle of a complete rethink.
We soon discovered a rethink isn’t always a bad thing. It can open up opportunities which maybe weren’t available when the original thinking was, um, thought. Technology is moving forward all the time. Yeah, I know, me and technology don’t mix, but when I can leave the actual using of it to someone who knows what they’re doing, I can be as technophile as the next Luddite. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow – especially when things become possible which were simply unworkable under prevailing conditions a year or two ago.
Until now there have been two options: a reprint consisting of almost as many copies as the first print run – which invariably meant too many – at a sensible price per copy; or a print-on-demand reprint of as few as we liked, but at a price per copy which made my eyes water.
But printing technology has not so much moved forward as taken a flying leap, at least for one company we’ve been talking to. For the past month or so e-mails and attachments have been flying to and fro, and suddenly reprints are possible in small quantities, and I’m not reaching for the Kleenex.
So if you’re one of the hundreds (who knows, maybe even thousands – I can dream, can’t I?) of people who lost out because supplies of one of our titles ran out before you got yours, don’t despair. The follow-up or next in series may be due out this year, but you’ll still be able to read them in the right order.
Sometimes technology and I get along just fine.
So I was in Chicago for the Love is Murder conference (a BLAST, by the way, awesome) and I did almost three hours of pitches from authors – exhausting, but each had their own individual style and I had such a quality group of interesting pitches, so my hopes are VERY high.
(When I am being pitched to like that I always picture everyone is my mom or my cousin or my uncle, because generally they are someone’s mom, cousin, uncle and I would go sooo medieval on someone who was rude to my mom. I mean it. I would remove their pancreas with a melon baller.)
But you know what? Pitching for writing is kind of like swimming for quilting. Or tennis for vasectomies. No, hang with me here. It makes about as much sense to tell me about your writing as it does for me to swim about a quilt. I have yet to discover the clear correlation between a great verbal pitch and a perfect narrative execution. In fact, I have actually discovered the opposite is true. I have this author who shall remain nameless, unless I accidentally trip and type Graham Brown’s debut Black Rain, Random House 2010- an exhilarating must read where Indiana Jones meets The Ruins, which I am not going to do because I am not as shameless as that. Anyway, this nameless author, let’s call him Shlam Shlown, pitched to me at a conference and it was sort of like watching a tree sloth run for its life. At one point I might have dozed off. I know I cried a little. (This is the part where Shlam Shlown yells out, “Hey! I was tired! I JUST got in on the red eye and hadn’t slept!” so go ahead and insert that here). Anyway, I worked with Shlam on his pitch to get it a bit more refined and then I said, “Great work! That makes MUCH more sense. I’d like to see the first ten pages of that, Shlam.”
Eventually those pages arrived, so I opened them, most likely humming a jaunty tune and thinking about maybe getting a tuna salad from the deli downstairs. I glanced over the query letter (a pilot AND a lawyer…huh) and flipped to the first page and started reading.
At the end of the first paragraph, I was thinking of topping my tuna salad with caviar as I had in my hands SOLID GOLD WRITING. In fact, when the deli delivery guy came, I simply gave him page one and said, “Keep the change”. He wept with gratitude and I think he now owns Bulgaria.
Let me tell you, brothers and sisters, there is NO WAY I knew what he had when he was talking to me. I mean, sure, a nice hook, but still. NO WAY. If however, he would have sent the pages through normal channels or brought them with him, I would have taken a look earlier and maybe been able to talk my husband into letting me get that Prada messenger bag that I soooo need to own but will now look like a jackhole buying it in this economy when according to him we need these nonsensical items such as “health insurance” and “food”.
But I get it. Pitching for writing makes sense for authors as they have legitimate excitement in getting some quality face time with someone in the industry, and it’s a nice draw for a conference. For me, the excitement comes in the same shades of that “first chat on-line with a match.com pick” kind of way, where in a few brief minutes they have said all the stuff you have been longing to hear and promise to hand it all to you with a smile and a rose. Then sometimes, when you actually get the manuscript, it is the equivalent of quickly discovering your dream date has a penchant for bathtub gin and animal tranqs, and gets all amped up and wants you to throw bologna at him and call him Nancy. Everyone can make their manuscript SOUND like the next Shlam Shlown, but the real proof is in the pudding- er, I guess the bologna- when I actually get to take a look at the narrative execution.
On the flip side, however, it is very easy to tell when a pitch is NOT what I am looking for, and it has nothing to do with the pitcher and has everything to do with what I am currently looking for to fill my list. Anything from genre to word count can come into play and there is no way that I am out to hurt anyone’s feelings (there are no feelings in publishing), but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time including my own. So, generally, I will simply tell the truth, “That doesn’t really sound like what I am looking for right now, but thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your work.” See? Now THAT’S a melon baller friendly kind of statement if I ever heard one.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that pitches aren’t my favorite but don’t ever sweat it if you decide to verbally pitch your work to me, because even if you fall down, or I cry a little, as long as you can get a sentence out and it sounds like something I would REMOTELY be interested in, I’m gonna ask to see some of it.
Then you too could be the next Shlam Shlown.
I’m a words girl. Words > Numbers, in my opinion. Which is not to say that I dislike numbers—I’m just better with words.
But I thought that I’d use today’s blog post as an excuse to break down some Bleak House books, tossing out story and character and plot to focus solely on the words. Then I thought it might be fun to translate some of those words into numbers. I love to occasionally fire up the “find” feature in Word to count usages. And I can try to remember my long division skillz to perform a rough statistical analysis of word frequency with regard to word count.
Below are the numbers, not in handy chart form, but instead in less handy list form. (Sorry, but I didn’t want to take the time to try to format everything. I’m currently at a writing conference, Love is Murder, and I want to get back to hanging out with all the fun folks—including this blog’s very own Barbara Poelle, who I was delighted to meet in person and who does a great Phil Donahue impression. Seriously.)
Every time I do this kinda numbers stuff, the results are surprising—in three different Bleak House manuscripts, some form of “puff” is used. In total, 17 times! In terms of word count, that’s 0.007%! For puff! A great word, sure, but I never would have guessed it was used so often (relatively speaking).
Obviously, some words are the building blocks of language, and are necessarily repeated when telling a story: “and,” “the,” “or.” Stuff like that. The character’s name, if you’re writing in third person. Or “I,” if you’re writing in first. Think of it this way: in the sampled manuscripts, these words made up between 8 and 12 percent of the total word count. So after these basic building blocks, if you’re writing a manuscript of your own, you’ve really only got to come up with the other 88 to 92 percent. Simple!
And then there are words that are easy to use to describe and characterize. Not necessarily the best word choices, but fall-back, go-to words: “always,” “never,” “nearly,” “almost,” “sometimes.” When describing a character, it’s easy to say, “Callie always wore black. She was a Goth.” It might be better to say, “The chain on Callie’s favorite filigreed cross broke that morning, so instead she wore a smaller, sterling silver substitute.” In both descriptions, the reader understands that Callie has a certain style of dress—but using “always” can be a shortcut around true depth, and can tread the dangerous line of telling, not showing. As an editor, I try to watch for overuse of these words, and I do it by feel. So it’s interesting for me to go back and actually count.
I threw in some fun words at the end, just for kicks. Turns out no one at Bleak House writes about kumquats. (Which is probably ok, because to tell the truth I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one!) One of the counted manuscripts included some serious mojito drinking, but it didn’t trend across all titles. (Though mojitos are delicious, and I’d support that trend.)
And only one Bleak House author included mention of a unicorn. I’ll send a free book to the first blog commenter who correctly guesses which author it was. (And yes, the unicorn made it into the final book.)
99,199 word ms, third person
character name: 1458
(These words comprise 8.7% of the book.)
(So, one of these words in every 458 words.)
87,713 word ms, first person
(These words comprise 9.98% of the book.)
(One in every 469.)
unicorn: 1 (!)
78,400 word ms, third person
character name (two main characters): 1239/1106
(These words comprise 11.7% of the book.)
(One in every 339.393939, wow!)
50,037 word ms, first person
(These words comprise 12.2% of the book.)
(One in every 431.)
I've decided life is too tough and I'm dropping out to become a skating bum. Recently I and two girlfriends - bigger skating freaks than I am - got into my car and drove to Cleveland (a mere 3 hours away) to attend the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals. Thanks to the way NBC is choosing to broadcast the sport, we were able to see finals in pairs, ice dance and ladies. I always say you've gotta love a sport where the penultimate event is the "ladies" championship (never mind that most of the ladies in question are 15 or 16 years old. The winner this year was actually an aged 21). Anyway we checked in to our hotel, a mere two blocks from the rink (which we could see from our hotel window) and were drawn there immediately as though by magnectic force, even though the tickets we were holding weren't valid for two more hours.
We ate lunch in view of the rink - delaying our arrival somewhat. The waitress asked if we were some of those "skating people", which we happily agreed we were. Finishing lunch, we practically ran over there. Sadly figure skating isn't as popular as it used to be - lots of people date it as BK and AK - Before Kwan and After Kwan, but happily this meant the seats I was able to get were excellent, only about 15 rows back from the ice itself.
Everyone in the skating commnity goes to Nationals - I mean EVERYONE. In the audience were people like Brian Boitano, Paul Wylie, Dick Button, Vera Wang (she used to skate, and she designed all of Michelle Kwan's later costumes), Dorothy Hamill, Kristie Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton. I saw the last three up close - they were giving interviews during the breaks out on the concourse area. I almost had a heart attack when I saw Dorothy Hamill - as did the woman next to me. The great thing was when I told her I could now die happy she totally knew what I was talking about! She was clutching a t shirt Dorothy had autographed for her.
But of course the really great thing was the skating itself. Being so close to the rink that you can hear the blades on the ice, see the sequins (one of the many reasons I love this sport), and feel a little of both the chill and the skater's excitement when they are warming up really can't be beat. The other great part is sitting around people who love skating as much as you do. We had seats for pairs and ice dance in one section, and moved to a different section for the ladies final, where sadly we were unable to see the "kiss and cry" area (where the skaters await their scores) but were still close to the ice and even better were sitting in front of a group of girls who skated themselves and so were able to fill us in when we had a technical question (as we elders were able to fill them in on skating history, we've all been watching for 25 years or so).
Highlights: seeing just how far in the air the female half of a pairs team is thrown up in the air or across the ice; seeing the beautiful precision of gold medal ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis; sitting in fron of the ice dancing silver medalist's grandpa who was cheering his head off; and seeing Alissa Czisny, a skayer I've loved for years, take the national title. It was a really exciting competition and ended with Alissa getting a standing ovation from an enthusiastic crowd.
We finally peeled ourselves away around midnight when the last medals had been awarded and the last skater circled the ice with an American flag. In a pre-Olympic year the Olympics are on everyone's minds and it made this competition even more fun. We all hated to leave the next day but we had to get home - the men's final was being broadcast in the afternoon & we all wanted to see it.
Next up: Worlds. They're in Canada this year, not a bad drive...
What a week! I've abruptly, but temporarily, become part of a one vehicle family (not an easy task with 5 kids!). Two of those work in nearby towns and need transportation as they're currently saving for drives of their own. A third has been having health issues that are not life-threatening but require regular trips to the doc or hospital for testing. A fourth has recently moved back home and is expecting my first grandchild - morning sickness and all, and the fifth is a ninth-grader with an active social agenda. In the midst of all that, my hubby was tapped to be a speaker this week at an out of state men's retreat so I'm at the helm of this ship. Frightening, I tell you!
Consequently, I've logged many a mile in my Texas truck, thankful for the UConnect so I can stay on the phone (which is, after all, vital for any publicist) without being totally disrupted in my driving (which I do actually enjoy - can you say Hemi?). But I can't blog much while driving so I've opted to reprint an article I did a couple of years ago that I've had requests for occasionally. Hope you enjoy!
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors
I’ve been perusing Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for the nth time and wondering how best an author and/or publicist might apply those principles effectively. Since most of those who read this are authors and not publicists, I’ll go that route here. Remember that habits have to be done repeatedly, not just occasionally.
Habit One – Be Proactive
Translation: do something! Don’t just think about it or talk about it, or wait for someone else to start it, do it. What to do? Start networking and researching in earnest. Make it a thorough effort and don’t get all your information from any single source. Join writers lists online and writers organizations offline. Read books. Not just books about promotion. Read books that are like yours and books that aren’t. Fiction and nonfiction. I understand time crunch, but if you’re going to make a successful career of writing, you have to know the industry and the market. You need to know what others say about it, and what others sell in it.
Observe how other authors promote their books. Learn not only from their wisdom, but from their mistakes. Take good notes and keep an open mind. Your own book launch should never be the first book signing event you’ve attended.
Habit Two – Begin with the end in mind
This one falls under the category of due diligence. For many authors, the primary goal they pursue for so long is getting published. Once that’s assured, they may not fully recognize the need for drafting a new goal to achieve, yet it’s more important in today’s industry than ever. If you’ve been active in Habit One, you’ll start to formulate a plan of what will and what won’t work for you. Purpose not to do anything just because everyone else does it – find out why everyone else does it, then decide if it’s something that will help you achieve your goal. You might be surprised. Determine what you ultimately want your efforts to do for you. Long term. You should have career goals that go well beyond a sell-through on your current release. Once you’ve got those established, start breaking them down into smaller parcels and put them in chronological order. Where do you want to be in one year? Five? Ten?
Habit Three – Put first things first
Probably David Skibbins could add a word or two here, but let me just say that I’m not just talking about promotions. I’m talking about how your promotional efforts fit into the rest of your life. Like Covey said, if a person has a regret on his deathbed, it’s not wishing he’d spent more time at work. Make a good career plan, but be sure you allow time for yourself and the ones you love. Life is short and you don’t want to sacrifice things that are most important just because something else seems more urgent at the time.
Habit Four – Think win/win
Attitude colors everything. It’s the old “glass is half full” or “glass is half empty” dilemma. But over the years, the most frequent and consistent complaints I’ve had from booksellers and publishers always center around authors’ attitudes. Understand that attitude goes beyond acting. If you’re just acting professional, any time you let your guard down, what’s underneath the act comes out. You want to achieve the state of being a professional. Think: Everybody wants to be Hank Williams, but nobody wants to die.
The process of becoming anything can be challenging and seem never-ending, but those who rise to the top in this and any industry are the ones who’ve taken the time to determine what sets one apart from another, and to cultivate the traits that make the difference. Even the Bible supports the theory: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” So in developing Habit Four, don’t just think of you and what you need, think of the book buyers and book sellers and TV hosts, and book reviewers – what do they need? How can you help them achieve their goals?
What does a bookseller want to do? Sell books. What do you want to do? Sell your books. Ok. So approach them with an idea that shows how you in your effort to sell your books, you can help bring customers into their store who will buy their books. Too many approach with just the attitude of what the store can do for them and not the other way around. TV and radio hosts don’t really care about selling your book, they care about capturing and keeping their audience. They care about what you can bring to their program that will help them do that. You already understand your own goals; once you identify theirs, you should be able to match at least of some of them with your own. Then you can suggest an approach that will be good for both of you. That’s win/win.
Habit Five – Seek first to understand, then to be understood
This is a little more detail on Habit Four, really. And I believe it’s what helps the cream to rise to the top. It’d be nice if pure talent was the deal maker, but that’s not the case. Really good writing has gone unnoticed by publishers and by readers all because the presentation lacked something. And mediocre work has been published and sold because the presentation was great. You all have seen instances of that. Is it fair? No. But like I’ve told my kids all their lives, there is no fair. Stop holding out for fair – it’s a waste of your time. Successful people meet the needs of other people. It’s as simple as that.
Habit Six – Synergize: The principles of creative cooperation
You’d have to go and read Covey’s book to get the full gist of this habit, but essentially, it’s the cumulative effect of the previous habits evolving into a synergy that sometimes seems to take on a life of its own, creating new alternatives when suitable alternatives don’t exist. It’s most like the old “if the door’s shut, look for a window” approach. Or like an old quartet my dad used to listen to when I was small. Wendy Bagwell and his group were singing in an old church somewhere in the south and people were getting excited about the music when he saw one of them start pulling snakes out of boxes. He leaned over to his partner and asked, “Where’s the back door?” The guy shook his head and shrugged. “Well,” Wendy said, “reckon where do they want one?” Necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Not everything we plan turns out the way we’d like. Not everything that should work always works. But authors who are studied and determined are the ones who make the proverbial lemonade and find new and creative ways of getting sales for their books. They don’t take “no” for an answer, they just find another way. They don’t look at any event as a failure, just a learning experience.
Habit Seven – Sharpen the Saw: The principles of balanced self-renewal
Last but not least, the authors that rise to the top are the ones who are not resistant to change. The industry has changed dramatically even in the last ten years. Promotional campaigns that worked in 1995 don’t work the same way today. Certainly those that worked in the 70s and 80s won’t, because too much has changed. That’s why it’s so important to keep abreast of what’s happening in the industry and particularly in your chosen genre(s). Even if this is your 2nd or 3rd or 10th or 20th book, to stay at the top of your game and achieve your goals, you need to stay sharp. Go to conferences. You may have been there and done that, but there’s always something more to learn if you stay open. There’s always another germ of an idea waiting to strike you with inspiration.
The same way you strive to keep your writing fresh, you must keep your promotional approaches fresh and never reject an idea out of hand just because it’s been done before or because it hasn’t. Most people wait for someone to follow. Be the one they’re waiting for and break some new ground. Make it fun and make it right for you. You wouldn’t be in this business if you weren’t creative. So create a career for yourself that’s even better than your book. Happy writing!
Till next time…
Some years ago I remember rolling around the floor laughing when a music writer drew readers' attention to the Slapheaded Chanteuse Act. This made it illegal for any Irish band to release a record without Sinead O'Connor warbling over the top of it.
I am now wondering if someone has drawn up legislation which forbids any northern cop show from taking place without Warren Clarke's wonderfully craggy features gracing the screen -- and no, this doesn't back up my friend Joey's theory that there are only 12 actors on British TV. I told her she should watch Aussie shows – they've only got six, and Jim from Neighbours appears to have decamped to the US.
Let's face it, Clarke was born to play Dalziel in the TV versions of Reginald Hill's series. And he's one of those actors who immediately adds backbone to any drama. Apparently he's a Lancashire lad, but his Birmingham accent (a hard one to nail without sounding like you're taking the piss) was inch-perfect in the dramatisation of David Lodge's Nice Work (why do they never repeat classy dramas like that?) So doing Yorkshire must be a doddle.
Clarke is on-board for Channel 4's forthcoming Red Riding, which promises to be a big 'un. It's based on David Peace's dark 'Years' series which looks at policing in Yorkshire in the 1970s and 1980s (think the miners' strike, the Yorkshire Ripper . . .) And there's a cracking cast to back up Clarke, including David Morrissey, Mark Addy, Jim Carter and Lesley Sharp (let's gloss over Sean Bean, Sheffield's answer to Sean 'why would I bother to change my accent to suit my role' Connery. Ah well, at least it won't matter this time around!) Nip over here if you want a preview (of the drama, not SB's 'it's grim oop norf' routine).
Peace, who's got to be one of the most versatile writers around (his most recent series is set in Japan) also has another of his books being dramatised. This one, The Damned United, is all about soccer and the controversial manager Brian Clough and his short stay at Leeds Utd – and is in my top ten favourite books of all time. Michael Sheen, who captured Tony Blair to perfection in The Queen, and is also David Frost in the new Frost/Nixon film, looks like he's got Cloughie off to a T as well. You can get a sneak preview of it here.
Elsewhere in TV cop land, you might want to keep an eye open for Whitechapel, the latest offering from ITV. The first episode aired on Monday night and while it didn't offer anything drastically new (posh cop with OCD, common as muck DS, gormless, crotch-scratching DCs, and the Jack the Ripper tale for good measure), it was suitably creepy and delivered with panache.
It was scheduled up against BBC1's Moses Jones, featuring a black cop in London and his young sidekick (played by Matt Smith, the new Dr Who). The reviews of this were considerably less enthusiastic than those for Whitechapel, muttering about it being confusing, although the incidental music was apparently the star of the show. It's written by playwright Joe Penhall, who adapted Jake Arnott's The Long Firm for TV. And for that reason alone it sounds like it might be worth a look on the BBC's 'watch again' site.
I’m looking out of my office window on to a snowy landscape: pretty white garlands on the fence, a thick frosting on the trees and roofs. My car has disappeared under a blanket of the white stuff, and the kids along the street built a snowman earlier in the week when school closed for a day.
Snow always takes us by surprise. There’s no reason it should; as the TV forecasters keep pointing out, it’s winter. It’s not even as if we get the really serious stuff over here; ten or twelve inches is generally as bad as it gets, even up in the mountains; here in the the lowlands three inches is enough to stop traffic. I’ve visited Yellowstone in May and driven between twenty-foot grey-white walls thrown to the side of the road by snowploughs a month or so earlier. Actually, I’ve failed to visit Yellowstone the week before Memorial Day because snow had closed all the access roads. Now, that’s disruption!
So far the snowy disruption to my life has amounted to no visits to the gym (shame!) and one cancelled evening event. It may be a different story towards the weekend; more snow is forecast, and since I’m far too much of a wimp to drive on anything resembling ice, the Friday morning stock-up on fresh food might be at risk.
Times like this, I don’t know whether to be glad or sorry that I work close to home. People all over the country have been getting unscheduled days off, as trains and buses ground to a halt and roads became impassable at exactly the wrong time of day. I just opened the door and walked a little way – carefully, and wearing two extra sweaters, but never in any doubt that I’d arrive safely and in good time.
Actually I do know whether to be glad or sorry. At the moment I can’t afford sorry. Somehow I seem to find myself with one book to edit, another to proofread and three more rapidly arriving at a stage which requires input from me. I’m also trying to organise our biggest promotion campaign yet, ahead of Criminal Tendencies, our charity anthology. All this, and we still haven’t finalised who will do our printing this year, and whether or not to reprint a couple of titles that did better than we expected; and we’re trying to instal a whole new system on our website. I don’t really have time to eat and sleep, much less take days off to build snowmen and go sledging.
Maybe as the rest of the world slows down a little, I’ll be able to play catch-up.
I knew there was something good about the snow…
In my youth I made a few minor errors in judgment. You know, like for example when I thought I could jump a retaining wall on my roller blades, or when I convinced myself I was a bee whisperer, or like, say, all of 1998.
Regardless of my oh-so-minor errors in judgment my father would appear with the appropriate empathy/antiseptic/bail money and he would always tell me, “You get to make every mistake in the world- just only make it once.” And I have done my best to stick by that motto..except when it comes to one issue, I am still a sucker every time:
THE MAYBE MANUSCRIPT.
The MAYBE MANUSCRIPT is as elusive to identify as a Cylon. For those of you who are not Battlestar Gallactica fans it means that a MAYBE MANUSCRIPT looks and sounds like a YES! MANUSCRIPT, but there is something intrinsically, illusively wrong about its construct that leaves you subconsciously uncertain about its overall value to the current market. (Counselors, approach the bench: just because I watch BSG does not mean I like sci-fi. It means I like looking at Lee Adama. Don’t send me your sci-fi.) The MAYBE MANUSCRIPT will convince you that you should represent it despite that nagging feeling that it may be detrimental to the safety and sanity of the rest of the crew because your total inability to place it after signing will lead to weeping at the weekly meetings and to eating your feelings at night by consuming more than two Boca Burgers with extra mustard in one sitting.
Do you see the danger here? But like Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football, I still occasionally go barreling at that MAYBE MANUSCRIPT yelling, “This time will be different!” and then well well, whaddya know! I am laying on my back covered in dirt and mustard.
All agents and editors have their own Achilles for the MAYBE’s, but speaking for myself, The MAYBE MANSCRIPT, that saucy siren, will disguise itself as a YES! MANUSCRIPT in three ways:
This occurs when MAYBE is query number 37 on a day where all submissions seem to have been sent by very angry people who are certain that I am personally keeping their steampunk-thriller-featuring-a-coming-of-age-story-about-a-young-girl-and-her-shape shifting-horse from the Times List. MAYBE 37 sidles up to the screen and has an interesting idea backed by competent writing and a solid impression of where it belongs market place. MAYBE 37 will hypnotize you with its lovely turns of phrase, as beige narrative becomes magenta when cushioned by the previous 36 that came before it. This is a book that is totally and unabashedly whelming. (Hey, you were warned looong ago about ept and gruntled.) MAYBE 37 gets in because I am not thriving on billable hours; I have to leap into the trenches to create THE ONE if need be. And so I sign MAYBE 37 and I nurture it and care for it and then eat three Bocas when 19 houses turn it down because although competent, it wasn’t ever going to be a true stand out in the genre.
(MAYBE 37 also has a fraternal twin known as MAYBE I HAVE HAD TOO MUCH COFFEE when a manuscript comes in that does something so original it is almost offensive and I think I am going to create a whole new audience, nay, a whole new GENRE!
Uh, I’m not. )
This is an entertaining non-fiction book but do we really need this in the world? For example, MAYBE HILTON could be on a certain subject matter, and the author could have a nice reach into an esoteric circle of readers but how does this seriously apply to the greater reading world at large? What can I tell an editor about the reading public’s likeliness that they too will want to check out a hilarious memoir about a Canadian mail carrier who dreams of being a hockey star? Every once in a while I will work and work on the platform with MAYBE HILTON’s author and I will knock on doors until my knuckles bleed in order for someone to see the joys of such a unique take on Zamboni drivers, but sometimes, it just can’t happen. Ugh, I am such a sucker for the humorous MAYBE HILTON that if it is funny, I can’t help but take a run at it. And then?
Dirt and mustard.
MAYBE YOU CAN NEVER LOOK ME IN THE FACE AGAIN
MAYBE Y.C.N.L.M.I.T.F.A. occurs when your best friend/aunt/favorite pizza counter dude asks you to take a look at their manuscript. And there is that terrible moment when you are reading and the husband has just shot the dog and husband is spelled with a Z when a tiny voice says, “Mayyybe I can make this work out.”
No, I can’t.
But I also can’t go back to Aunt Mildred and say, “Were you drunk? This is mule puke.” So MAYBE Y.C.N.L.M.I.T.F.A comes with a ball and chain caveat- although I would NEVER take something on out of guilt, I will always read it and go elbows deep into explaining why a 225K word novel written in second person just ain’t commercially viable. Because if I don’t? It’s going to be a cold, pizza-less Christmas.
I know better. I do. I know when a YES! MANUSCRIPT comes by…I always say it’s just like listening to that Orff piece Carmen Burana. (Counselors, approach the bench: just because I listen to classical music does not mean I am classy. It means I married a man who is. Don’t send me classy things.) With a YES! MANUSCRIPT, there is this bubbling, driving swell of angst and excitement as I read which leads me to think that calling someone from my home at 9 p.m. on a Saturday to sign them is the right thing to do. That’s not to say I can sell every YES!MANUSCRIPT I sign, ( I don’t want to TALK about that historical fiction. Ever.) but I for sure, 100%, cannot sell a MAYBE.
I am me, after all.
Sometime soon, I won’t be able to help myself.
I will approach the hive and whisper soothingly to the bees:
“This time will be different.”
Yeah, yeah: groundhog, shadow, six weeks of winter, Bill Murray. Whatever. Let's move on:
Alright, a couple disclaimers:
1. This is not mystery related.
2. This is a love letter to a fictional character.
3. That fictional character is a member of the crew of Battlestar Galactica
4. There will be many spoilers below. If you're not current on your BSG (and that includes the new 4.5 season), beware.
5. I know, I know, you probably hate scifi. Fine, we can still be friends. But just *try* this show. Just try it. It's so wonderful.
6. I admit that I'm crazy ... crazy in love!
You are the living, breathing, beating heart of Battlestar Galactica. On your muscular, muscular shoulders, you hold the weight of the goodness of mankind. In your jutting, fine-edged chin, you carry the determination to live, and behind your searing (sometimes squinty) eyes, you possess the understanding that there is a difference between living and surviving.
It seems, sometimes, that your capacity for feeling -- for compassion -- sets you apart from your crewmates. Certainly the love you have for Athena would not have held constant in someone else's heart, upon the revelation that she's a fracking toaster. But you ... noble, steadfast you ... you believed in what you felt. You didn't retract your love because the recepient wasn't who you thought she was. Your love is not conditional, and that, sir, is a state of being to which I aspire.
In Season Three, when the opportunity to dessimate the cylons with (essentially) biological weapons presented itself, your lone protests -- uttered with clear, powerful, pefectly-toned perfection -- may not have convinced the President that you were correct. But your reasoning was sound, your convictions true, and your loyalty to humanity -- to what it means to be human -- was astounding. Your insubordination was the only course of action, and was justified. [And for nerds like me,"A Measure of Salvation" is a wonderful companion piece to "I, Borg".]
I could go on and on about each time you've let your heart, your compassion, your humanity, guide your actions. (Remember when you saved all those Saggitarions from the doctor who was killing them, despite the XO's objections? Remember when you rescued Athena (then Sharon) from the unspeakable tortures ordered by Admiral Cain (kudos in that episode to Tyrol, too, who sometimes gives you a run for your money in the realm of my affections)? I mean, heck, remember when you gave up your seat on your own Raptor to Baltar, because though it meant staying on a planet which was being nuked, you felt that he'd be more essential to the continued survival of the human race?!) You, sir, need no cricket to tell you right from wrong. You trust in yourself, and I trust in you.
And now, Helo, you're being held in the brig. I swear to gods if they hurt you in any of these last seven episodes, I'm going to break up with BSG. Humanity needs you. If you die, so dies the heart of the human race. Roslin provided hope, Adama provided capability, Lee provided democracy and Kara provided the crazy. You, sir, provide the answer to the question that Athena (then Sharon) posed to Admiral Adama: Does the human race deserve to live? Yes, Helo. You prove that we do.
p.s. Thanks, Dead Guy readers, for indulging my fictional-boy-craziness. And Tahmoh Penikett, if you're reading this ... um, want to get a coffee sometime or something?
p.p.s. I'm off to play in a bout this afternoon against the Chicago Outfit -- let's hope I don't get ejected this time!