Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Editorial Ass's Top 3 Historical Novels about Japan by White American People

1) MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden
The story of the life of a Kyoto geisha through the Depression, World War II, and the American Occupation. Yeah, it was a bestseller for 10 years or something like that. Yes, it was made into an unfortunately not quite perfect movie by Rob Marshall. But it is such a rich, careful, and subtle story that it's one of the few books I feel safe recommending to anyone. The pace is quick and the plot hugely appealing, so fans of literary AND commercial fiction both tend to like it, and it is a Japanophile's jealous dream (unlimited entry into a sacredly closed set, kind of symbolic of how most "westerners" think about Japan). You don't have to love this book but you can't help but like it.

2) THE TEAHOUSE FIRE, by Ellis Avery
The story of a 9-year-old French-American girl who is stranded alone in Kyoto when her uncle's Jesuit mission burns down in 1860, and who ends up becoming a servant in a famous tea ceremony academt. Another careful, subtle recreation, this time through a foreigner's eyes, so a little more honest and a little less exoticized. Another Japanophile dream, but this one is a little more literary than commercial.

3) THE PEARL DIVER, by Jeff Talarigo
The story of an Occupation-era sea village girl (a pearl diver) who is diagnosed with mild leprosy and is committed to an institution. A quick and pretty read on an unusual topic.

Runner-up: THE TOKAIDO ROAD, by Lucia St. Clair Robson
An epic thoroughly rooted in Japanese literary tradition. The fallen daughter of a feudal lord who was forced to commit suicide sets out on a quest to avenge her father that takes her along the ancient and adventure-steeped Tokaido highway. Despite the appeal based on the premise, the book is a little too long and doesn't suck you up in the way the above three do. There are also some plausibility issues. But it is a good read, especially for fans of samurai lore.

Ps I've ordered all the books you guys suggested in the previous post. So don't be surprised if there's a follow-up.


Ok, we're starting an "Editorial Ass's Top 3 XXXXX" tradition, ok? I'll post my arbitrary top 3 favorites of a certain kind of book, and everybody else can rip apart my choices and offer their own--that's the editorial process ;) .

Also, everyone else should suggest topics. I have one really good idea that I'm going to use up right now, and then I'm going to need all the help I can get.

Trick or treat, darlings.

can you believe the Rockettes

didn't admit any dancers of color until 1987?

It's one thing to know your country has a history of institutional racism. It's another thing to see evidence of it within popular [read: my own] memory.

google searches that have brought people to Editorial Ass recently

have all gotten too dirty for me to put up here in good faith. To give you a taster, one involves a gerbil, one involves 10+ inch stilletos, and one involves a happy endings massage parlor.

All involve asses. Should I change my blog name? Does it deter readers with refined sensibilities? See, my sensibilities are SO unrefined that I can't even tell.

Robert the Publisher's Email of the Day

(which was illicitly forwarded to me but was too too great to pass up; please keep in mind this was addressed to our marketing manager, not to, say, an IT department or anything)


Can you do me a personal service today or tomorrow? It will probably take you 15 minutes to show me (and then write down what I have to do when I'm gone) how to turn on my television set downstairs [at his house]. I have not mastered this, but I know it's within my range of competence if I am instructed. Sometimes I just hit 8 million buttons and sometimes it works.

There are too many buttons on our machines and remotes. Someday somebody--maybe you--will make a fortune by inventing a remote that has on/off, channel up/down, volume up/down and perhaps Mute. I don't think 99% of the people in America require more.

Do you know that to operate my car radio, I have to lie down on the ground and put my glasses on since no one can read the buttons from the driver's seat (even with the glasses on) because instead of printing black on white, they print grey on darker grey, something that is very nice in the world of design but makes it impossible to sit upright.


Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"There are only so many keys on the keyboard and the best editors in respect of running the business of their books know which keys to play and which pedals to push. If you play by ear, you get a different tune each time. Play less by ear and more by the inner logic of the piece."

Re: bidding on audio splits

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I talked about nonfiction yesterday and the very valid question came up--what can I do about platform, though? My agent/writing advisor has been telling me I'm not qualified to write nonfiction. Was s/he lying?

No, those weren't lies. You do need a platform to get published, but the platform you need to make a book work varies from book to book. And fiction authors need platforms, too. So sticking to fiction doesn't get you off the hook.

But the most important thing about your nonfiction book--more important than your platform by far (although we editors tend to hush this up) is the hook. Do you have an outrageously wonderful hook? Because that's enough to make a go of it.

But if a book has a hook, someone's going to pick it up. Check out THE YEAR OF YES by Maria Dahvana Headly--she had no platform to speak of when she got her book deal, but she did have a great hook. (Also check it out because it's just tons of fun to read.) How about ANGELA'S ASHES? Frank McCourt had no platform at all when he won the Pulitzer. It's bad of me here to be encouraging memoirs, which are actually probably just as tough to sell (or tougher) than novels. So BOOKSELLER OF KABUL--the author had a story to tell and she told it well, although she had no platform outside of her own experience (although I've since read on Afghanistan-related blogs that she wasn't fair, but the point is she sold well). In all these cases, what these authors do and who they are became their platforms.

But back to the point, a good platform is desirable and achievable. So we'll talk about that.

So what platforms are best for what books? The ideal author platform consists of all the below points, but in the real world we rarely work with ideals, and in most cases we can make do with a combination of some platform elements.

Passion and knowledge about a subject. Since it's nonfiction we're taliking, you have to be willing to do good research and to write evocatively/provocatively about your topic. If you're a really great writer, you have the good book author trifecta (knowledge, passion, talent!). All the best books have the trifecta but some of the best books don't actually have other platform (although that's harder, I'll admit).

Academic qualifications. This is crucial for any prescriptive books--that is, if you're giving health, self-help, or relationship advice, you really should have a doctorate in the applicable subject--an MD is absolutely essential for most health books; a psychology degree is better for self-help. A social work degree or spiritual counselor training (for example, a priesthood or rabbinical degree) helps a lot for self-help and relationship books. Josephine made a good point about this--a couple extra classes in a topic go miles toward establishing you as an expert. Not everyone has the time and money, but if you have academic qualifications already, consider capitalizing. (What did you major in in college? And who cares that you haven't dabbled in that topic since? Could you pick it up again now, with maybe a little work?)

Writing creds. If you've published before, you're more likely to get published again (in fiction and nonfiction). So dabble in things like articles. Everyone needs informative copy in their publications; master a small topic, write an article about it, become an expert that people start consulting, and next thing you know you've been published in NEWSWEEK and that looks great in your author bio. From this standpoint especially nonfiction is the route to fiction. Publishing an article on homeopathy in LADIES HOME JOURNAL actually looks better to people on my end than publishing a short story in a literary magazine--even though you're submitting a novel. Think of Mark Kurlansky and his topical history projects. He was an article writer for 30 years before making a killing with COD and SALT.

Connections. Do you know Oprah? Are you best friends with the NYT Book Review editor? Did Natalie Portman or Jerome Groopman or J.M. Coetzee promise to endorse your book because you used to date each other's sister/brother? TELL US. Because those kinds of things become platform. Hence Seinfeld's wife. Whose real name no one (myself included) seems to know.

I am reminded of why I got into publishing.

Author events.

Last night many people congregated in a nice Village bar for a reading/film screening/calamari eating/gin drinking occasion. My author was wonderful (she should have been a performance artist) and the party didn't wrap up until 1.

It is difficult to say entirely what transpired in between the beginning and the end, but suffice it to say for some reason unknown to myself or anyone else for that matter I left the bartender a $59.11 tip (the bill was over $400 for the party). On my credit card. And the change didn't add up to an even dollar value or anything. I can only hope that if that bartender reads this he will accept my most sincere apologies.

For those of you who miss New York (or think you do): at the end of the evening I splurged and took a cab home. The cab bill came to $21.50. I gave the cabby $30. "Thank you," he said. I waited. I waited. I waited. Finally I said, "Can I have some change, please?" and he said, "Oh. You want CHANGE?" like I was being unreasonable. Such cheek.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A-Rod the A-Hole leaves!!

Maybe I'll start liking the Yankees now. Maybe I'll stick with the rally monkey and the Mets.

NYT UNouts Dumbledore!!

Believe it or not (for those of you who wondered why Dumbledore's sexuality matters!) New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein declares that perhaps JK Rowling didn't know her own character that well, and that maybe he's NOT gay. Here's the Galleycat for those who can't wait to hear more.

Why Nonfiction?

Last week, a couple of people asked me to tell more about why I always beg agents and authors to submit nonfiction. So a brief overview.

Publishing is a very narrow profit margin industry--I've heard the number 4% tossed around, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was even lower. To the best of my knowledge, every single publishing company in the world has a significant number of years in its history in which it ended in the red, and so general strategy is to try to do a little better than next year (but no one holds their breath).

Nonfiction is the savior of these terrible margins (or at least, lets us drag out the pain for one more year). Most publishers try to sponsor their fiction with nonfiction (in a 1:1 ratio or so) and increasingly companies and imprints are turning toward entirely nonfiction lists. Why?

Libraries!! There are libraries all over the country who subscribe to library journals that tell them what new books are available from publishers each week. Depending on a particular library's clientele, a novel may or may not be of interest to them. Most don't buy much fiction unless there is significant buzz or an established track record. However, a core number of libraries (between 1,500 and 2,500, depending on the subject of the book) will definitely buy a copy of any serious nonfiction book published.

1,500 guaranteed sales just about pays for the cost of printing your book. That means barring strange and unfortunate disaster your nonfiction book will pay for itself (although upside is no guarantee). This means that your publisher is filling a publication slot with something it can be pretty sure won't COST it money in the long run.

Similarly, nonfiction has a stronger sales track in brick and mortars. Most books purchased by consumers are nonfiction. Most people are surprised by this, because most people think of their own predominantly fiction reading habits, but diet books, cookbooks, disease handbooks, parenting guides, topical histories, and celebrity-endorsed projects sell HUGE numbers. And don't forget the huge and constant appeal of anything history related--many consumers, predominantly men, feel more secure buying and reading history than fiction because they convince themselves it is less indulgent. Which maybe it is, who knows.

Nonfiction also tends to backlist better than fiction, since there will ALWAYS be an audience who needs to know the 5 steps to take when you are diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and there will always be people who want to know how Alexander made it all the way to Persepolis and whether he was really bi or just interested in men, etc.

Fiction, meanwhile, is not a safe bet. Obviously, the libraries don't NEED to pick you up at all, and many of them won't WANT to pick you up until you've distinguished yourself elsewhere. But even the bookstores aren't a safe bet. Just because your editor liked your book at the time of acquisition doesn't necessarily mean it's going to resonate with the subject Buyer at an account or at an independent bookstore. So there is not a single copy that is a guaranteed sale on a novel, especially a debut novel. This means that your publisher may actually not be able to afford to print. Of course, publishers [almost] always print when they have committed to a book, but they will be reaching into their own pockets to do so if the initial orders are bad, and this can negatively affect the retail price of your book and the marketing attention it gets at your house (if you're hemorrhaging cash, you have to cut losses at some point).

Also, there is much stiffer competition in fiction. There are more authors who want to write fiction, and there are more publishers who are trying to humor them. That means that of the novels published at major trade houses each year there are still going to be books that never make it onto bookstore shelves. (This is why getting a book deal alone isn't enough, and why authors need to be super proactive about promoting, buzzing, and making themselves available.)

You're a writer with good style and execution (not to mention discipline). Why not use those talents on a nonfiction topic? Step back, research something for awhile, and make it sound good. Editors are tired of dealing with qualified nonfiction authors who are lousy writers but get book deals anyway.

Also, your successful nonfiction platform will make you a more attractive candidate to publishers when you switch over to fiction.

Also, you're much more likely to make more money with your book if you publish in nonfiction. Nonfiction bestsellers are made in hardcover, not paperback, so tons more royalties for you; also, with some notable exceptions (ahem KITE RUNNER and DA VINCI) nonfiction bestsellers sell more copies than fiction bestsellers. Most books purchased, after all, are nonfiction books.

Hope this helps. Let me know if I can elaborate.

MoD status update

I edited all weekend, and perhaps it was simply my state of delirium late on Sunday night that causes me to feel this way, but I daresay I've become rather fond of the old beaast.

I've cut it from 125,000 to 105,000 words, plus I've made it "nice" (I hope).

I'll manage a real post after I get my brain together.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Angelle and I are such angels

We are at a cafe today and she is working on studying for her GREs and I am working on the MoD.

We're both supposed to be writing novels but you know.

Friday, October 26, 2007

good day good day

To make up for yesterday...

My "baby" is featured in a MAJOR industry online venue today!!! I'm so very very happy.


a last word about bad authors

Then I'll leave this alone for awhile.

The last time I talked about MoD I, you rightfully asked for advice on what made a GOOD author. (Something to aspire to be, as opposed to a list of things not to do... I'm glad you're all so positively-minded. You should all be elementary school teachers; my friend Melanie, who is now teaching 9th graders, had to come up with a set of "positive" classroom rules. 10 points to whoever figures out how to say "No hitting" without using a negative!!)

Anyway, I just want to explain that MoD I is so particularly daunting because the author represents the trifecta of Bad Author:

1) The author is unavailable and unhelpful. During rounds of edits, the author took a long time and did the lightest possible work per my queries (sometimes not doing any work at all, and simply countering with another query). So despite pulling teeth, the manuscript is really in much the same state as it was in the beginning.

2) The author is hyper-conservative about his original text. Where I cut something that was wrong or didn't make sense, he reinstated. Any suggestions I made for making the text more lively, up-to-date, or enjoyable were nixed--and harshly. The author actually yelled at me in a mean, mean way for even suggesting.

3) The author is a not a super strong writer. Although the idea for the book is good and there is lots of strong research, because of the weak writing the information is often unreliable. Sometimes I'm not even sure of the intent because his language isn't precise.

Seriously--any combination of two of the above would be semi-manageable. But all three together...

And yes, it's true--you can say, it'll be his fault when his book sucks and doesn't sell any copies. So he'll see with time. Yes, it's true, we had only modest expectations so it's not like huge hopes are going to be dashed.

But my sad problem is that I hate to see my name associated with something I'm less than proud of. That's all. Otherwise I could let it die.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Someone in my office is humming

and I can't figure out who but when I do they are going to DIE.

re: unsolicited pitches (follow-up)

Lots of interesting and humorous commentary on the previous post--thanks, all, for lively participation.

I want to take this post to react to some of your reactions. Since it's my blog, I can do it in a new post instead of just on the comments section. Nyuk nyuk. Power trip.

First: networking: as you brought up, everyone encourages authors to network. Networking is an unqualified good thing. It is. The trouble only comes when and editor feels cornered by your networking--this never leads to good things, because even if your manuscript rocks they are likely to feel unfavorably toward it if for some reason they felt pressured into reading it.

A foolproof plan? You've happened upon an editor at some venue and you're having a drink/snack together. Ask about the editor's interests first, or about recent acquisitions/publications they are excited about. If it seems like a fit to you, go ahead and say something like, the book I'm working on is also about tulips (or whatever). DON'T GO FURTHER. If the editor is interested, trust me, he or she will leap to the opportunity and ask you to go ahead and send it along.

If the editor isn't clear about whether or not your project is of interest, but the comfortable conversation continues between you, at an opportune moment you can ask if he/she knows any friends/colleagues at other houses or agencies who are interested in tulips--you really appreciate his/her advice. This is another opportunity for the editor to say hey, actually, I'm the right person. If the editor passes up both opportunities, don't hound further; they are being obtuse so as to spare you both an awkward moment. Also, this conversation demonstrates that you're serious and social but not desperate.

But networking is always good, because knowing people almost always leads to only good things and no bad things. It's especially good if an editor or agent remembers you as a nice and/or fun person, regardless of whether or not you actually end up working together. Those fond memories ferment and turn into recommendations to others.

Second: I'm going to make this plea again--to those of you who are fiction writers, please, please, PLEASE consider getting an agent. The agent won't only help you on the submissions end---there are things an agent brings to the table that you can't even imagine. I promise. There are ways you WILL be taken advantage of if you don't have an agent, and there are questions that even a lawyer does not know to ask that an agent does. Don't do yourself the disservice of closing the doors of all the major houses by submitting without an agent. It's worth the extra time that it takes and the 15% you'll end up losing. Trust me. I really, really promise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Not okay.

A couple of weeks ago, some members of my company attended a book fair. We set up a modest booth and hand-sold a bunch of copies of various books to well-meaning and genuinely interested attendees. All in all, an excellent day. Except.

It was not a coincidence, I've learned, that all the other editors were super-busy that day and unable to lend a hand. Alas people always came up to the booth and asked to speak to an editor--and I was the only one there. They had this great project, you see, and it was perfect for our house because of this particular book they saw on our table, and would I just give them my business card so they could pop me their proposal?

This is the thing about that. I (and, I assume, every other possible editor) cringes at the whole encounter. Naturally, even if the book rocked, I would remember that someone pitched it to me off my business hours in a way that seemed like it was taking advantage of my goodwill by coming to the bookfair to represent my company.

Also, and I apologize in advance for saying this, but it's true--to me there is always a vaguely sleazy feeling about being sidled up to directly by an unagented author. An agent contributes SO much to the publishing process and to making sure a book is in good shape, and the idea of working without an agent (ie, directly with an author with no one to fall back on in times of crisis) is really daunting. Furthermore, when I meet an author who doesn't have an agent, I can't help but wonder why they have been unable to secure an agent. The idea of having to waste my really, really precious time (not because I'm so special, just because I have SO many commitments to the people who I'm actually already working with! and because editors these days are really in up over their necks with what they are expected to achieve in a year) on something that no agent was willing to consider. The implication is that the raw material itself isn't workable--after all, most agents pride themselves in polishing.

I know this isn't true for all unagented authors, but I do want you to know my thought process as an editor. Even if you rock and are the best writer ever, I can't help but lump you in with all the crazies and delusionals who send me unagented stuff everyday.

So anyway, I think I got about 11 proposals over the course of the book fair. (I also--different story--got "talked to" by an author whose proposal I had rejected back in May, via his agent--apparently he had stalked me to the fair to give me a piece of his mind; that was a little scary, I'm not gonna lie.)

One of these unagented proposals was from a woman who was proposing a mystery series. At first, she told me she had an agent, but she was submitting herself. I replied that I only accepted agented submissions through agents, as a show of good faith that everyone was onboard, but I told her she should feel free to have her agent contact me. Well, she admitted, she was actually represented by a law firm, and they didn't have any publishing experience, so it was better if she submitted herself.


Cringing, I told her to feel free to send it in. She felt the need to linger at our table for a long time, telling me about the mystery, how it was the beginning of a series, how she envisioned it in Harlequin-style format, how she was writing a companion musical and could enclose the music recording with each copy of the book.

I answered that I didn't really like mystery and don't acquire it, that we only do hardcover originals and do not publish in the mass market format, and that multimedia packages were something we'd certainly never do, so it sounds like we're probably not a good fit for her proposal, but if she'd really like to she can feel free to submit anyway, just as long as she knew the caveats.

Predictably she submitted. Predictably, the writing was very poor and the story very trite. I decided not to contact her (my rejection MO is to wait for someone to follow up with me--thus avoiding awkward conversations unless the submitter actually cares enough about their project to follow up).

The author followed up yesterday. I wrote a peaceful rejection in which I described the issues (again): the format was wrong, I don't acquire mystery, we are not interested in her proposed multimedia venture. I wished her the best of luck in finding a house that was a better fit. (I refrained from telling her why I didn't like her writing because under a certain level I don't feel the submitter deserves this kind of attention--and often, under a certain level, I don't think the submitter can TAKE it if you do tell them.)

This morning, she wrote back. Thanks for your consideration, she said. Please suggest other editors at other houses that would be more appropriate.

I can't tell you how annoyed I was to get this email. SO annoyed. I. Ugh. Even just retyping it here makes my stomach turn over. How bad does she want this book published? Does she even know what publishing is? What does she think I do all day, sit around and help slush authors give business to other houses?

An overreaction? Maybe. But please consider my position here. I found it both distateful and offensive.

I considered ignoring her entirely but then I realized she would just keep writing.

I wrote back a rather curt one-line in which I suggested she secure the services of an agent who could help her target the right editors at the right houses.

Perhaps rather predictably, she wrote back to me and asked me to give her the names and contact information for agents who would be good for her.

I wrote back another one-liner in which I said that unfortunately this research is highly personal and she needed to determine what was right for herself. I wished her the very best of luck.

Have I lost touch with reality? In all probability, she was a perfectly nice lady and didn't mean me to take her entire onslaught as personally as I did. But it is really frustrating when people get so starry-eyed about their own project that they think it's acceptable to behave like this. After all, you wouldn't waltz into Goldman-Sachs and ask one of the traders to put together a suggested investment portfolio for you free of charge, would you?


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

To Crash Or Not to Crash?

I know it is a constant frustration of authors to wait and wait for months or even years for their publishing companies to issue their books while their editors sit and seemingly twiddle their thumbs.

These are questions I don't really blame you for asking: Why is the process so "glacial" (I borrow the word from a reader comment)? Why does it take those lazy editors so long to get around to looking at my book? And then, after the lazy editor finally looks, why does it take between nine months and a year to finally see my book in print? Seriously, don't they realize they're losing money for themselves (and for me!!) by not getting my book out more quickly while the market is hot?

Alas, I wish getting a book out quickly were such an easy problem to solve. The fact is, I turn around most manuscripts within two weeks of receiving them from the authors (some notable exceptions aside). But my rushing through the editing, copy editing, and design process doesn't actually make the book hit the printer any faster--and even if it did, that wouldn't make the book sell any better.

In fact, "crashing" a book (or publishing a book on a rush schedule, usually less than 6 months) can seriously affect sales track--negatively. I wish this was something it was easier to explain to authors. Unfortunately, I have to backtrack a bunch.

All books are catalogued in a season. Seasons differ at various publishing companies--mine, for example, has a Spring, a Summer, and a Fall, but no Winter--but each season always consitutes one catalog for a company. The catalog is more than a pretty list of books--it is the tool with which sales reps go to Buyers (Buyers with a big B in my blog always means buying reps at various bookstores and other outlets) across the country to pitch the titles. Sales reps get one shot--and only one--to sit down with each Buyer each season.

Let's backtrack a little more. So let's say you're publishing a book on knitting Halloween decorations. The best time to publish your book is going to be in the fall, ideally in early September--that guarantees books will be shipped to stores and out of pallets by the time people are getting interested in Halloween merchandise.

So your book is going to be catalogued with the Fall list at your company. Your company is putting together the catalog--and the accompanying sales materials--about 8 months in advance, because that's when sell-in starts. While a Buyer may revisit the number of copies of a given book they want to take closer to the pub date of the book, they must make an initial forecast well in advance (6 months, give or take) so they know how much budget they have left for their fiscal years, etc. So you're pubbing in September; your sales rep is taking your book (and all the other Fall books) in to sell to the various chains etc in either February or March of the year it is published (and some companies, depending on arrangements of seasons, end up falling even earlier than this).

Your company has a good reason for wanting a finished manuscript--finished meaning edited, copyedited, AND designed--before the rep goes in to sell the book to the accounts. If your rep can take a galley in with her, and the Buyer can see the awesome cover you've planned, the great text layout you have, and the excellent copy you've written (or even, on rare occasions, if the Buyer can get really excited and actually READ the galley), you've just guaranteed yourself a MUCH higher sell-in number than if your Buyer were operating on faith alone.

Why does sell-in matter so much? (Sell-in is the number of copies that bookstores commit to stocking before your pub date--it doesn't actually mean the number of copies purchased by consumers; that's called sell-through or sometimes sell-out.) A couple of reasons.

1) The higher the number of books sold in, the more initial capital your company it going to make off your book at the onset. This positive cash flow is great for them (and for you) because it allows them to commit to things like special effects on your book (foil on the jacket, embossed text, spot lamination on cover images, ragged pages, colored or printed endpapers, things like that). The better package could very well help you sell more books. It also helps them affirm that they want to devote as much energy as possible to your book--affirmation is always a good thing, at any point in the journey.

2) If a bookstore (especially a chain) has committed to carrying more than one copy of your book per store, there is a MUCH higher chance that random consumers are going to take notice of your book and buy it. How much more likely are you to pick up a book off a floor stack or a face-out than you are if you only see the spine? SO much more likely. So in fact better sell-in leads to better sell-through (in most cases). A general rule: selling lots of books => selling even more books. It's the same way wealth generates wealth and buzz generates buzz.

So the lifetime of your entire book--whether it will break out, whether people will take it seriously, whether it will ever have a chance to get noticed--is often determined by the sell-in. So it is really, really important that you and your editor be able to arm your sales rep as thoroughly as possible for the battle. This means the finished manuscript (edited, designed, etc) needs to be available at least six months before pub date.

Keep in mind the editing process takes at least two months--and that's pretty much a crash right there. Copy editors like to have at least two months with a project (although God bless all the copy editors I work with--I usually call them around 7 in the evening on a Tuesday and ask me if they can't just fit this one thing in before Friday? Just this once? Pretty please? and they stifle their sighs and turn stuff around and I owe them really, really big in brownie points). And even before copy edit, your editor will want you to see what she's done with your work, and will probably want you to go over it again.

Unless a book publication is yoked to a particular event or time of year, publishers resist cataloging it until the manuscript--fully edited, edits approved--is back from the author and safely on its way to copy edit. There's too much that can go wrong during the editorial process if you let optimism rule your judgments (I learned the hard way with Manuscript of Doom I--by the time I finally managed to get the author to cooperate and send along another draft of edits, we were running so late on galleys that we were compromised on a number of fronts).

I know it's frustrating, and the trustworthy hardworking authors who are really eager to cooperate and be responsive hopefully don't get the wrong end of the stick too often. It's especially frustrating when an issue IS timely and then by the time the book is in print the interest has inevitably begun to ebb. However, we (collectively, as an industry) have yet to figure out a better or more workable system for getting books into stores, especially on short notice.

Just a mini-expose, from my heart to yours.

Monday, October 22, 2007

barely alive

I had an AWESOME weekend during which my 5 best friends from junior high came from their various places of adult residence and we ran around town nonstop for about 36 hours.

I could barely get out of bed this morning (notice how late I'm clocking in this morning?). However, I shall have my memories of the weekend to sustain me through Manuscript O Doom.

Is anyone else as pleased as I am to learn that Dumbledore is gay?

Friday, October 19, 2007

I hate the Amazon search funtion.

Go ahead... try something. You're looking for a specific book. Or you want to browse. Whatever. Amazon doesn't give you what you want--it gives you bestsellers!! Over and over!!

Why, for example, is the first book that comes up if you're browsing Japanese history...



Why?!? PLEASE someone explain.

Also, try browsing short stories. Why is it that the first two pages of entries are audiobooks?!?!

UGH. See, this would NEVER happen in a REAL bookstore. Perhaps Amazon offers unlimited choice, but how the hell do I find the book I actually want?!?!

Ok, sorry for the rant. Grr.

Kill Your Darling

I want to thank the ladies at The Writers' Group, who are constantly putting up thoughtful reflections on writing and honing craft. There are a lot of great writer forums on the Web (I know, because I make a point of dropping by all the blogs of people who visit here to see why they're interested in my blog--so thanks to eveyrone who amuses me, helps other writers, gushes about great books to read, or any combination of those three) but I have to highlight The Writers' Group today because Lynne posted this article about being ready and willing to kill your prose darlings when they aren't advancing your plot or characters a couple of days ago, and the article coincided with a particularly frustrating experience here on my end.

Let me tell you about an author of mine. He is a very nice man and a rather ingenious writer. He has done 4 previous books with my company--all before my time--and reviewers at the biggest print review venues (no, seriously--think of the 5 very biggest reviews you can imagine) likened his monumental works to those of...well... think of the 5 biggest male American writers since 1972. There are so many quotable quotables about his books that if we needed to we could put together a 15-page press release.

We don't need to, though, and here's why--his 4 previous books have sold a combined total of about 70 copies for us. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but the numbers ain't pretty. There are a variety of reasons why good publicity and review coverage don't necessarily lead to sales success, but in his case there is one fairly obvious sticking point--his books are too long. Lit fiction that runs (on average) between 1,200 and 1,500 pages.

And you know what? It's not my "inexpert" opinion here, either--each of those aforementioned glowing reviews has at least one line that says "it's only too bad the editor was not more jucidious about slicing away unnecessary prose before publication" or "too long by half--at least!" or something like that. So the pros agree. And as we all know, commercial audiences are extremely deterred by length. (Myself included... who wants a book that will take them 4 months to finish and will give them carpal tunnel?)

So I met with the author a couple of weeks ago. He was just lovely to talk to, and he totally dispelled my trepidations on working on this book with him after the veritable tanks that his other books became. His already-delivered manuscript is, after all, 300,000 words long.

We talked it through, and he was totally reasonable about it. We'd each take a crack at cutting, and he understood all those very good reasons for needing to cut, and he was so excited to work with me. He really appreciated my enthusiasm and willingness to take a hands-on approach, which his previous editors had lacked.

Yay. Warm fuzzies.

Alas. Over the next week, I get a trail of emails from him. First, they are stalling emails--it's not ready yet; my computer crashed; maybe Monday I'll send it; maybe Thursday. Finally, the culmination email--he was feeling so terribly depressed, he wrote to me. Because you see the thing is, there is really not a single word in the entire book that doesn't absolutely need to be there. There is really no way he or I could cut a single word without ruining the whole project.

I can't tell you my exasperation, although I didn't tell him (instead, I did the right thing and looped in the agent). But here's why--I believe in author relations. Technically, under my contract, if I need to, I, the editor, can put my foot down and make the change. But I don't like to abuse that power at all--the author is an artist and should be happy with the outcome of his or her printed work. I really do everything I can to make the author happy about every facet of their final project.

That's why authors like this guy put me in a really awkward position. I want to do right by him--I really really do. But we bought this book against any financial odds and with foresight--part of our publishing deal includes a clause that limits the maximum word length, and trust me, contracts at many companies have been dissolved for less of a deviation in delivered manuscript--and the author knew the sour history for us. We really put ourselves out on a limb to work with this author again--the least he could do would be to cooperate with his dedicated editor so we're able to sell enough copies to even be able to afford to print.

His problem is that he is unwilling to kill his darlings--not even a one of his 300,000. This is an ultimate frustration for me, and many authors, even the best, will reinstitute text you cut during an edit because they are so proud of a darling or two. This is not to say you shouldn't let your editor know if you are unhappy about a cut--we look at a lot of text each day, and admittedly some of it we cut on a whim because it doesn't appeal to us when we look at it, but in most cases it's not a willy-nilly cut, and in all cases we're happy to hear arguments (after all, maybe you have a rewording you can suggest to get your content across better). And as an author, you need to come forward for what you believe in. The dialogue helps everyone grow--you as an author, your editor as an editor.

But please do keep an open mind about your editor's instinct. A mentor editor once told me something really wise: if something you come across during your editing seems like it might bother you a little, cut it--if it bothers you a little, that means there are people out there who will be extremely bothered by it.

It's good advice. And your editor (among other valuable uses!!) functions as a great outside pair of eyes--someone who doesn't know the intricacies of your person, your personal voice, your history or predilictions (which your commercial readership won't know, either). So please, please do try to keep an open mind. We all want the best for each other; it's not of any interest to me to create a bad book for an author. I promise.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

JK Rowling comes clean about Christian undertones in HP series

Here's the article from MTV. There are spoilers, so don't click unless you've already read DEATHLY HALLOWS.

I didn't actually recognize a couple of quotations in DEATHLY HALLOWS as being from Corinthians and Matthew, but Christian imagery is, um, fairly manifest on certain occasions in the book.

Anyway. Interesting for several reasons.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Manuscript of Doom has hit a serious wall

It comes to my attention that the author did not, in fact, intend the notes to be unnumbered (I wondered why there were no footnotes after the long and plentiful quoted passages..).

No, no. The author intended to publish without any kind of citation. Which is exactly how his British publisher has handled all his books. Why should the American edition be any different?

I. Can't. Believe. It.

My moral fiber is sorely tried.

End of day report: we're on page 72!!!!! Not 125 at all!!!!!

Sometimes I just want to pack up and move to Asia. Argh.

Manuscript of Doom Update

We're currently on page 59 of 224. (Although another goal is for it to be considerably shorter than 224, which I've made single-spaced to give myself a greater feeling of accomplishment over insurmountable obstacles.)

The goal for today: edit through page 150.

Oo, that's a little ambitious. Ok, well, better get off my blog.

some quick morning news

mostly via Gawker.

First, one of JK Rowling's boobs escaped her dress during an interview.

Second, some Manhattan lawyer is suing the florist who handled her wedding for $400,000 in "extreme disappointment, distress, and embarrassment" damages because the hydrangeas on her banquet tables were pastel pink and green, not RUST and green like she had chosen. The entire florist's bill was ["only"] $27,435.14 [approximately $25,435.14 more than my wedding is going to cost] but the rest of money is in psychological trauma damages.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

favorite Chinglish of the day

my two favorite car names

The Honda Life Dunk

The Honda That's

Incidentally, both distributed only in Japan.

For more on car names, check out the write-up. Other winners include the Light Dump, the Naked, the Mysterious Utility, the Toyopet, the Deliboy, and the Thing.

Write to Write

A short inspirational story for anyone who writes.

I'm reading LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, but despite the fact that it's an Oprah book, not because. Anyway. All that aside, I just wanted to share/remind you of this passage (which starts on page 193 in my edition):

Florentino Ariza enters a poetry contest, 100% sure he is going to win the grand prize, a golden orchid. But when the names of the prizewinning poet is called, it turns out to be a Chinese immigrant ("the Chinese," as Marquez calls him). The announcer can't even pronounce the winner's name, and when he reads out his own poem no one can understand his accent.

Of course everyone gets angry, since "that unheard-of decision threw doubts on the seriousness of the competition," but the judges stick by their decision, maintaining that the prize-winning poem is in fact perfect. When the poem is read again by the announcer, everyone realizes the poem IS perfect--so further uproar!! How could a Chinese immigrant express himself so perfectly in Spanish?! Clearly there was cheating!

"The Chinese" takes his hurt pride to the grave, where he is buried with his golden orchid. All he wanted in the world, writes Marquez, was recognition for his poetic talent. But he died knowing no one believed he had written his own poem.

One generation later, the poem is revisited by younger poets, who find it so gaudy and bad that they determine no one but the Chinese could have written it.

The moral to this story is two-fold:

1) There's no accounting for public opinion, which is both cruel and fickle, so try not to take it to seriously.
2) Have pride in your art and do it because you love it. Let other motivations be secondary.

Monday, October 15, 2007

why American independents are struggling

Critical Mass, the subscription-worth blog of the National Book Critics Circle, posted this interesting column from Frankfurt. Their discovery: German independent stores are flourishing, and despite a small number of national franchises, independent bookstores far outnumber them. Why?

In Germany, there is a price fix law--if a book costs E25.00 on its cover, that's what you pay for it in the store. Whereas here, what with free trade and all, the ONLY place you are ever possibly required to pay full price for a book is in an independent store.

Not that we can do anything about free trade or Americonsumerism, but it's worth thinking about. Most of us who work in publishing--whether we edit, right, produce, publicize, buy, or sell--don't have oodles of money to throw away, so I bet most of us don't pay full price for all our books. But how much are we willing to sacrifice, and how much to we care about independents?

Do you have a book-buying strategy? I'm not going to tell you mine until I hear everyone else's first. Where do you buy what, and how much of whether or not you determine to buy a book is based on its price?

right or left brain?

Also, Angelle found this. It's a Daily Telepgraph article that gives you a simple test to show whether you're more of a right-brain or left-brain thinker.

Now someone please explain to me what I can do with that knowledge.

living green

Check out this awesome blog at Green As a Thistle. The author has a "My Green Year" project that started in January--basically, she's made one earth-friendly lifestyle change each day this year, and has kept ALL of them up.

Her research is great because not only does she give you tons of ideas for little things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, she's really candid about which things have been easiest and hardest for her, why, and whether their net value was really worth her sacrifice. For example, she quit chewing gum, that was super-simple, and she's had no problem keeping that up--while it significantly reduces carbon footprint. Organic shampoo, however, has been the bane of her existence, since she still hasn't found one (since March) that cleans her hair.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

adventures in housecleaning

Oh, so you think you want to live in New York? I'll help you reconcile yourself with wherever you live now. Keep reading.

So you'll all remember our various Filipino adventures and the fact of some exciting extended family members with some unusual, erm, quirks.

Anyway, suffice it to say there is an Event in my apartment tomorrow that will include the reconciliation of two sisters who have not spoken in 7 years!! Also present will be various in-laws, fiances, baby daddies, babies, and closet homosexuals (although they were comfortable enough to give us this lamp, but not comfortable enough to admit they are not just roommates? Oh it is a difficult world at times.).

Aforementioned lamp:

The rally monkey informs me that "baby daddies" is not a socially accurate term for these people who are coming over and that instead I should say "domestic partners" but honestly I feel this is MY blog and I can misrepresent things as I choose. Moving on.

Here is the rally monkey being a total dictator.

So there was some major cleaning that was tyrannically forced upon me by the rally monkey, who is a big geek and took before and after pictures of all the rooms.

An example, the "library" before and after:

Just so you get an idea.

Alas, while I was cleaning out my closet (in aforementioned library) which now, by the way, looks like this

I began to sniff. Hmm, thought I to myself, what could be that absolutely appalling smell coming from my closet? Yes, we all know I have laundry problems, but this was a profound stench that I wasn't QUITE sure I could make from my own smelly feet. So I rooted around, elbow-deep in the closet, looking for the culprit, when I came forth with this:

I TOUCHED it with my HAND.

So for anyone who REALLY misses city life. Fnn. I think I need a cat.

google searches that brought people here today

"fascinating female asses ass" [2nd hit in google here]

"'how dumb do you think i am' book" [my guide for getting into publishing is the #1 hit!]

during the course of making breakfast

I managed to set off the fire alarm two (2) times.

Friday, October 12, 2007

weekend approacheth on little cat feet

(everything approacheth on little cat feet with me)

And since it's weekend those of us who write should be writing. Right, folks? Ok, well, I'm going to try, especially because my good friend Will has been harassing me a lot. (Will, are you reading this? I'm glad for the harassment, if you are--don't give me any breaks, please, because then I get lazy.)

So I'm going to leave a little thought that someone (I think it was Lisa...was it you, Lisa?) sent me long, long ago: Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules for fiction writing. I shamelessly reproduce them here because they make a lot of sense. I, for example, really want a glass of water.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

-- Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), 9-10.

following the reorganization of my office and the movement of my desk

from under the old desk's deep recesses did emerge four (4) pairs of three-inch heels--one pair of patent leather black kitten heels that I accidentally bought on the Champs-Elysees; a pair of $12 beige felt close-toed stilettos (these might actually be 4 inches), a pair of open-toed fuschia Steve Maddens I bought to go to the ballet with Melanie, and a pair of black leather Mia zip-up pirate boots with silver buckles. Anyway.

Now all those shoes are living in the newly opened corner of my office in front of the bookcases.

The contracts manager, an extremely small and excitable woman, walked by yesterday afternoon. "Oh, I love all your shoes!!" she said.

"Thanks," said I.

"You know what it looks like?" she said. "Like you used to be... what do they call it? A streetwalker! Like you used to be a streetwalker and then gave it all up to become an editor, but now you leave your shoes there on display to remind you of your roots!"

I don't remember how I responded to this.

Rose, Rose, Rose

Rose ROCKS because she bought a friend a book for Buy a Friend a Book Week. She ROCKS even more becaues *I* was the friend.

She is EVIL and HORRIBLE because she has bought me a copy of ATLAS SHRUGGED which is 1200 PAGES LONG.

The editorial assistant assures me that I'm going to love it regardless of the length, and that it's the kind of books that you get totally caught up with and can't put down. I'm going to love "the awesome female protagonist" who "gets shit done." She's read it twice.

Ok, Rose, so thank you for the book, expect a report on it shortly, and remember that revenge is sweet (and long).

google searches that brought people here today

Because this is still funny.

"guy gets gerbil stuck in his ass" [nb i was the first hit on this one for some reason]
"jonathan safran foer circumcision"

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I finished reading a book, and it made me sad, and now I can't go to sleep.

This is why it's important to read only when you don't have time to reflect on the book afterwards.


All about Books

Lisa tagged me in a meme. Normally I don't play meme but she's right; I liked this one a lot.

I'm not tagging anyone specifically but I think everyone should do it. Don't make me name names.

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?

Paperback, because they're lighter in your bag, easier to fit in your purse, and less likely to cause you carpal tunnel if you try to hold them open with one hand on the train (since your other hand is busy clinging to the balance rail).

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it...
Happy Endings. Wait, that's what I'm calling my massage parlor. Sorry, sorry, just kidding. I don't know. I'll have to think about this. Probably some insufferable Shakespeare reference that may or may not make sense. Like These Fatal Loins. I like that, although it seems a little irrelevant. Oo, or The Abortive Rooting Hog. Again, a little irrelevant. Perhaps The Tale Told by the Idiot. Or The Ethiop's Ear. I think I've been cooped up too long at my desk.

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is...

There are many close seconds, including:

"Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."
--CONFESSIONS, St. Augustine

I might come back later and fill in other second favorites, but I need the help of my notebooks at home.

But my very very favorite...If anyone has ever scrolled down to the absolute bottom of my blog, it's there.

"Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German addage, might as well not have happened at all."

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be...

Umm. I was trying to come up with something creative, but alas I think the answer is still Shakespeare.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…

This version of the Tale of Genji that you can get at Kinokuniya. It has the modern Japanese on one side of the page and the classical Japanese on the other. The neat this is sometimes the modern Japanese helps you distill the classical Japanese grammar, which is really tricky; on the other hand, sometimes the classical Japanese is much closer to the way we would say the phrase in English, and it helps you learn more about modern Japanese. It would be best suited for the desert island scenario because it would keep me busy for years. Any other book you could just read. Which would eventually get boring. This book would make me cry (albeit with frustration) no matter how many times I read (or tried to read) it.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…

Holds your book open (and turns the pages for you) when you're on the subway and only have one hand because you're desperately clinging to a rail with the other hand. Cf above.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…
An old book. Mmmmm.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be...
Shana in THE ELVENBANE, or Nynaeve in THE WHEEL OF TIME, or any other magical power-wielding dragon-consorting wild-haired fiery-tempered hourglass-shaped chanteuse from a fantasy saga. Not not including Hermione Granger. Why would anyone pick anything BUT a fantasy novel here?!

9. The most overestimated book of all time is…

ULYSSES. Or anything else by the insufferable Mr. Joyce. Cf side column. Any author who TELLS his audience they are too stupid to understand him doesn't deserve to be published. He should have just kept a diary instead. Then his audience would have been elite enough for him.

10. I hate it when a book...

turns out to have been a total waste of time. I HATE it.

glorious delete button

There's a new Manuscript of Doom now (what excellent timing...). Everyone knows how much I love my delete button, and today it has serviced me well--3,000 words down in 3 short hours!! That's an excellent batting average. At that rate, in only 128 short hours I can do away with the entire thing!!

Just kidding. Sort of.

I'm going to celebrate my extreme industriousness, as well as the fact that I can't go home because it is POURING cats and dogs and all those other cliches, I'm going to do the meme Lisa tagged me for this morning. Because it's about books, which makes it special.

want to make lots and lots of money in publishing?

Write nonfiction. Even crappy nonfiction.

Here's the latest bestseller, courtesy Gawker (who doesn't hesitate to say mean and uncharitable things about the author and her qualifications).

I know, I know--it doesn't fulfil your inner need to WRITE. But creativity aside, there's your golden door.

Manuscript of Doom Update

I know we've all been holding our breath.

It's back from the designer and it looks FABULOUS. Like a real book.

I know it's been SO TERRIBLE to work on this book but some how that has made it even more rewarding to see it work out.

I have moved my desk.

Now it is against the wall instead of in the middle of my office.

Suddenly, my office is huge--a veritable ballroom! I have an extra chair with which to receive guests. I have essentially promoted myself to Empress Editor.

Also, I threw out all the agented proposals that no one has followed up on (predating May 1st--the others might still get back to me). I don't think any agents read this, but if they did, I would like to tell them, the odds of my bidding on your manuscript go up EXPONENTIALLY if you follow up with me.

I usually look at submissions right away when I get them, but my policy is not to contact an agent about a book (with some tiny exceptions). My logic: I work for a small house, and I can't afford to get in a bidding war over a book. If some other huge house is going to step in and buy it, I would rather not get attached. A lot of agents submit to small house editors like me just to introduce a price floor in the bidding--that way, if I really like it and bid on it, they can go to larger houses with bigger money and say, "Well, we already have an offer on the table..." which doesn't help ME at all. But if an agent follows up with me, I have a better chance of being able to get a feel for the competition--many agents, bless their hearts, are honest about the the landscape and are nice enough not to get me involved if I really don't have a chance. I have some favorite agents I wish I could name here but obviously I can't--these guys are real class acts who understand me, my limitations, what I'm looking for, and when it's best to just tell me the truth. And they still make great money. No reason you have to be a cutthroat lyings snakeoil salesman to be an agent.

But then there are all these agents who send me stuff and never even call about it. That's the worst slap in the face--they only sent ME the stuff because it failed everywhere else, but they don't even have the basic courtesy to pretend they take me seriously. At the same time, they expect me to spend my valuable time reading their unsalable trash. THESE are the kinds of things that have now gone into the garbage.

Ok, my little morning thoughts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

drinking with my colleagues to commence shortly.

I leave you with this parting thought, courtesy Rose.

It is a reading cave in which you can hide from the world, only built into a bookcase, which surely you need anyway (and by "you" I mean "I").

what is wrong with people?

Very, very upsetting.

National Book Award Nominees

Everyone else has already posted this, so sorry if you're bored of it already. This is for the rest of us who are a little slow about the news.

Mischa Berlinski, Fieldwork (FSG)
Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance (FSG)
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End (Little, Brown)
Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (FSG)
Jim Shepard, Like You'd Understand, Anyway (Knopf)

Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying (Knopf)
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great (Twelve)
Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (Hill and Wang/FSG)
Arnold Rampersad, Ralph Ellison: A Biography (Knopf)
Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Doubleday)

Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin)
Robert Hass, Time and Materials (Ecco/HarperCollins)
David Kirby, The House on Boulevard St. (Louisiana State University Press)
Stanley Plumly, Old Heart (W.W. Norton)
Ellen Bryant Voigt, Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (W.W. Norton)

Young People's Literature
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown)
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One (Atheneum)
M. Sindy Felin, Touching Snow (Atheneum)
Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic)
Sara Zarr, Story of a Girl (Little, Brown)

I confess I haven't read any of the nominees--not even one. I loved Sherman Alexie's LONE RANGER and I've heard great things about ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY, and Angelle swears by Edwidge Danticat.

Your thoughts? Anything you wish had made it?

plot or style? follow-up

So democratic vote indicates that while most people ideally want a book with great plot AND writing, if they have to do without one or the other a small majority would rather the plot was good.

My point of view, which I realize now I never wrote HERE, is that it depends entirely on what you're looking for when you read. For me, reading is escapism, and I absolutely need to be 100% immersed in the book or I won't enjoy it. I'm a really slow reader, so if the writing isn't absolutely enthralling I get bored. Almost immediately. And then reading becomes work. That's why to me, at least, writing is more important than plot.

Thanks for all the interesting opinions, guys. I think it's important for editors to remember that there is taste, and taste varies. Different books fly on different merits, and different readers are looking for different charms.

Angelle and I were having a "discussion" yesterday about another fine narrative point. She likes books with dual narrators when the author succeeds in creating two different and believable voices; she likes the way multiple narrators offer complexity and varying perspectives to the story. I, again the slow reader, really dislike multiple narrators. This, again, is because of my escapism quest--the jarring from one narrator's voice to another is an ongoing reminder that what I'm hauling through is a work of fiction.

Sometimes I'll really enjoy a book told from multiple perspectives, but because the experience is slightly cheapened for me by my own relationship with reality (alas), these books will never quite make my top tier. Some examples of books I really enjoyed but wouldn't die for? THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE--great complex plot; jarring alternating perspective. THE THIRTEENTH TALE--awesome heart-pounding story; jarring alternating perspective.

So another poll, if you can be bothered--do you like multiple narrators? Do you care how a book is narrated?

my designer is pissy this morning.

"I'm calling to ask about the cover of the basketball book," I said. Silence. "Do you happen to know where it is?"

"No," he said mulishly.


"No. I lost it. The definition of losing something is not knowing where it is."

"Barry!" I moaned. "All the materials were do to the printer last Friday. I really need you to look for it now."

"We'll see if I feel like getting around to it." And he hung up.

Seriously. It's not that his emotions are not legitimate, but maybe someone should messenger him some Midol. Or that tiara.

google searches that brought people here yesterday

"live in New York once"
"Ass Betty"
"books on homosexuals in Iran"

Welcome, all.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

plot or style?

This discussion came up on TheBookBook and I'm poaching it here.

The ideal book is amazingly written and has a great plot. But say you can only have one or the other--which would you have? Are you more likely to give up on a book if the writing sucks or if the the plot isn't interesting?

An informal poll.

my babies

No time to write a post at the moment... So some pictures of my babies for your inevitable viewing pleasure.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Aunda

pictured here in her grape terrace clutching a Sicilian zucchini.

Buy a Friend a Book Week follow-up

Sorry I forgot to check back in on Friday as promised, guys. So here goes.

I bought my mom a copy of THE SPANISH BOW by Andromeda Romano-Lax (I was reminded by my own previous post).

I used BAFAB to further my own inexplicable personal crusade for this awesome debut writer.

Anyone else end up buying a friend a book?

more on women and fiction

Another shout out for Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, who seems to have personally taken up the cause of getting women's fiction more publicity. I agree with what Ron says in his blurb here--talking about why more women's books aren't recognized doesn't do any damage. If you just want to read to read, power to you. Read. But. I'm going to have this conversation anyway.

I was especially pleased with Ron because one of the underrecognized women's debuts he mentioned was my current favorite book, THE SPANISH BOW, by Andromeda Romano-Lax. I was really sad this morning to see on Bookscan that the book has only sold a little over 1,000 copies since its pub date in early September. Why, guys? Why? This is such a great book and would have been a no-brainer of an Oprah pick--great story, good writing, the right length, beautiful package done by Harcourt, historical and cultural appeal as well as literary, smart story that is nonetheless extremely readable... Why does it not get as much buzz as it deserves?

It's been a man's world for a really, really long time, and most of our "classics" are by men. That is just how it is. But now that that's not how things go anymore a little affirmative action won't hurt anyone.

And it's not just for women I'm saying this. The person who first turned me on to the issue of underrecognition in contemporary women's fiction was my twelfth grade English teacher, Dr. Bob. I'm especially grateful to men like Ron, Dr. Bob, and my dad who don't need to but notice the discrepancy anyway.

live in New York City once in your life, but leave before it makes you hard...

in the famous words of Baz...

At the dog park on Saturday afternoon, I was sitting with my mother on one of the benches while the dogs ran around our feet in circles (as one does).

This guy, newly arrived to the park with his German shepherd, walked by us. He looked at me, nodded cordially, and said, "Hello." I did what I always do in these situations--hurriedly averted my eyes and turned my head away.

Then, of course, I felt terrible--that is NOT the correct response to behavior like that in Connecticut. While my default has been reprogrammed to assume that any stranger who says hi to me is either a creepy molester or a bum who wants money or an evangelical freak, in Connecticut it is antisocial, rude, and even creepy NOT to say hello to someone who comes within 15 feet of you.

Humm. This makes me sad.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

my mom is a tyrant.

You all remember Momrat. She, like Robert, is not fictional. Please ask people who have met her for eye-witness testimony. From forth her fatal loins did I emerge etc.

But anyway. She hath inflicted cruel punishments upon my modest soul. These are the things she did today:

-dragged me out of bed at 7:47 am
-made me drink a whole cup of coffee with only a drop of milk in it
-mocked me mercilessly when I sneakily ADDED milk to my second cup
-schlepped me to the country fair
-made me eat a snowcone--turns out, she pressed it upon me because she thought I wanted it; I agreed to share it with her because I thought SHE wanted it. You know how these things go.
-dragged me to five (5) tag sales
-brainwashed me into purchase for four (4) bucks 4 teflon pans (it's possible that her will simply temporarily took possession of my body)(is that how you spell teflon?)
-packed me a 50s-style picnic lunch with a P&P loaf ciabatta sandwich
-took me to the dog park with the Babies and then made me run around with them because they were too scared (dumb dogs) to leave her side the whole time and then made me pick up their poo
-turned on the hose and made me give above-mentioned dogs an outdoor bath. A good time was had by all. Except me. And the dogs. And definitely definitely not the hose.
-sneakily folded all my clean socks (yeah, I took laundry home... it's a long story... yeah, I know I'm not a college kid)
-got me drunk on a bottle of wine

Next step probably involves ice cream.

I wish we never ever had to grow up.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Words to Be Banished from American Publishing Forever

Robert the Publisher suggests "wit."

I could die happy if I never had to read any of the following in jacket or catalog copy again:

tightly woven
any other -ing adjective, really

Anyone else want to nominate any banishees?

report card for yesterday

!) XXXX---spent $10.05. Isn't that MISERABLE? A sandiwich was $8.30 and I thought I was in the clear but belatedly I realized there was a $1.75 ATM fee required to purchase the sandwich. Boo. Boo!
2) OOOO---I did exercise. Sort of. I ran from my house all the way to the train station in the morning. It wasn't 20 minutes but it hurt like hell so I'm giving myself the benefit of the doubt.
3) XXXX---no guitar. Fell straight asleep after coming home from 14 hours in the office.
4) XXXX---only read about 20 pages

Score: 1/4

what to take away from a rejection

I got this question from a reader recently:

Hi Moonrat,

I received this rejection via email this morning (not quite verbatim...I edited it for a few spelling errors):


Thank you for the submission XXXXXX, it is a very well received manuscript, thought provoking and very well written. However, at this time, we will not be accepting this submission. Please do know the submission is excellent. We do not have a suitable place for it at this time.

Thank you whole heartedly,


I am just wondering...aside from "no," what else should I take away from this rejection? Is it something editors just say when they feel like they should say something? Or is this an issue that actually comes up (not having open slots in a particular genre, etc.)?

Anyway, just wondering if I could get your take.

A reader

This is a great question, and I know exactly how frustrating it is to receive rejections in general, never mind vague rejections like this one.

While this letter is not particularly specific and thereby not particularly helpful, whoever wrote it seems to be genuinely fond of your manuscript. There is no need in a rejection letter to say that a book was "thought provoking," "well written," or "excellent." Common wisdom holds that it's a bad idea to puff an author up if you didn't like their submission, because it is crueler in the long run, and my traditional rejection letter for unsolicted manuscripts looks like this:

Dear author, [that's right, I make it as impersonal as possible]

Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately we are not going to be making an offer to publish. We wish you the best of luck at another house.

The editorial team

So I think it's safe to say that someone did like your manuscript and was fighting for it at that house. Unfortunately, that someone lost.

There is an indication that you were not responded to by an editor here--it was, in fact, probably an assistant or an unpaid intern who read and evaluated your manuscript. Not only is the rejection letter itself not helpful, but it is poorly written and apparently was plagued with spelling errors. These aren't mistakes editors make (I hope!!!!), especially in official correspondence.

I know it's frustrating to think that only unpaid interns are reading your manuscripts, but I can promise you that is the situation at almost every publishing company. I only have time to read agented submissions (unless I specifically seek an author out)--after all, I work a 60-hr week, if you count the reading, editing, and work I do at home...even if you subtract the time I spend blogging. Sometimes, I have my very capable editorial assistant vet an agented project if it came in without my requesting it from an agent I don't know, and she gives me an idea about whether or not the book fits our publishing scheme here. This means, unfortunately, that the person evaluating your manuscript was not a professional and may or may not have looked at it with the right criteria in mind.

I feel a need now (sorry for the digression, but) to make a blanket statement about selling fiction. It's a tough world for fiction--really, really tough. It gets harder every day as more people take classes, hone their craft, and write fantastic novels. Robert the Publisher asked one of my fellow editors at the ed meeting yesterday, "Can I say no to this just because it's fiction?" He was kind of joking, but not really. All the money in the world is in nonfiction, and yet all the submissions we get are in fiction. Even the books that come from our good friends who are agents are usually rejected. Never mind the novels from agents we don't prioritize. Really, really never mind the unsolicited novels that come in directly to us.

I don't mean this to be demoralizing--you should feel glad that your book got the level of attention it did at this company. Someone there really liked it. But you've done yourself a service by getting interest from this company--you can use that as material to woo an agent who can help get you in the door.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of helpful advice to distill from this particular letter. I do think there is a very generous amount of encouragement, however, as much as there can be in a rejection letter.

Hope this helped.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

just a short mid-afternoon note to say

Crikey but I have a s***ton of work. Yeep.

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"I really relished writing cover copy for all the bodice rippers back in my day. Jim plumbed Nancy's depths and whatnot. I destroyed the minds and bodies of an entire generation."

report card for yesterday

1) OOOO---$8.50 spent ($1.50 on water at the gym, $7 on Chinese lunch)
2) OOOO---went to gym; see above
3) OOOO---cf this post
4) XXXX---only read about 20 pages

belatedly, in response to Kaytie's comment on serial

Kaytie (whose extremely adorable dog you will see if you click that link) commented on my serialization post that she doesn't upload any of her own unpublished writing because she's afraid of what will happen if older versions are still circulating of something that has become more polished.

Such a good point... which reminds me of a favorite quote of mine by some famous author I can't remember that goes something like this:

Publishing a novel is like meticulously packing a single suitcase for a long trip with all your most precious and sacred personal belongings, then dragging the suitcase into the middle of a busy road, unzipping it, and walking away.

(If anyone can fill in source or verbatim quote, I will be very grateful to you for making me an honest woman.)

Such a good point. We're self-sacrificing exhibitionists, we are.

another early one

I have abut an hour and a half to get everything ready for ed meeting. Rather a challenge, since we haven't had one in about a month. SO much junk that builds up in a month. Plus then you have lots of agitated people who've been waiting for a response for a long time, and you have to magically placate their agitation. Junk plus interest.

Worse news, I have no breakfast. I tried to stop by Jamba Juice before I got on the train and at that time I couldn't commit to a Jamba (oh whimsy of pre-coffee early morning shopping!) and now of course it's too late. Boo. If only my office neighborhood weren't a barren wasteland with only a taco truck.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Joyful Joy!!!!

I have found this site, which has guitar tabs AND lyrics for all my favorite jpop songs!!!!

If this whole editorial thing doesn't work out, I'm moving to Japan and becoming a pop star.

really long day at work.

I'm eating brownies out of the pan with a fork.

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"This book has everything going for it! A love story, Nazis, and all the other things that make life worthwhile!"

Dry Serial

PW's foreword article this week is called "Who Killed the Six-Figure Serial?" and it brought up some interesting points.

First, we gerbils in the industry know the difference between first and second serial, but I wouldn't expect most people to. So:

First serial--these are passages excerpted from a book before publication. These are often a bigger deal because in many cases venues will turn down books for serialization if they have been excerpted elsewhere (has a chapter from your book already been printed in a college literary mag? in 1985? Doesn't matter--make sure your publisher knows when they go out for serial, or this can cause trouble). These are good for drumming up pre-book buzz.

Second serial--these are passages excerpted after publication. Harder to get, because it's really pure advertising for the book (since the venue isn't breaking any new information with this reprinting!). However, this is really really good for publicity, since the book will already be available to consumers.

As the PW article points out, rights for serializations of new books used to sell for TONS of money. Now, as magazines and newspapers become less and less profitable, their budget for generating material drops.

Also, there are so many more books published nowadays that there is a lot more competition for serial placement. That drives the price down further.

Plus, why should they pay the big bucks for serial rights to a book when they're doing the publisher a huge publicity favor?

There is some reprieve, though--the internet it a wonderful world for advance publicity and for serialized excerpts. Of course, there are all kinds of copyright pitfalls that people in my very very conservative industry shy away from, but the internet offers some real advantages to any print media at all. First of all, it's only a couple of key clicks between reading the article about the book and adding the book to your Amazon queue (whereas reading an article in real life entails another few steps--clipping the article, putting it in your purse, losing it for a couple of months, rooting it out again, driving down to Borders, finding the book, ordering a copy if they don't have it, standing in line, etc--that can easily cause potential buyers to drop off).

Although publishers and agents still haggle madly over serial rights, they really do become meaningless--I was taught by my first editor boss that serial was simply for publicity, and any cash value was just a perk. Excerpts often go to really major publications for really really minor fees (the PW article references Alan Greenspan's new book, which NYT excerpted for...count it...$1).

So basically you should let the serial rights for your book go to the group that is actually more equipped to place a serial somewhere (because finding magazines and newspapers to take serial on a book these days is a lot of work). If your agent has an awesome serial department (some agencies, like David Black/Black Inc, are well known for this) your agent should keep those serial rights for you no matter what. If you have a small-time agent (and small-time agents rock in a lot of ways, so this is no bad news on them) you should let your publish have serial rights as a concession, since their teams will a) have more people, and b) be directly contacted by magazines that happen to be interested.

So yes, there's less money in serial these days, but it still makes so much sense to make small amounts of your book available to the general public.

I'm personally very, very interested in targeted internet marketing. Any thoughts on this? I know at least some of you do publish passages or whole excerpts from your works in progress on your blogs. Do you find this gets good feedback? Does it help drum up readership on your blog? Do you think blogging is something I should encourage my authors to do? (I do already, but.)

new lifestyle plan

Sorry about this; the only reason I'm posting this here is because my blog is really the only thing I check in with EVERYday.

Based on my various recent purchase decisions, I have constructed a new set of life plan daily goals. I've tried to make the goals small and manageable.

1) Spend $10 or under a day (there can be rollover money, though. Just like with Cingular.)

2) Exercise for 20 minutes.

3) Practice guitar for 15 minutes.

4) Read 50 pages of not work things.

Ok, so I hope this doesn't bother y'all too much, but I'm going to post a mini report card each day of the day before. Yesterday's looks like this:

1) OOOO $0 spent (+10)
2) XXXX no exercise, alas
3) OOOO practiced for 15 minutes
4) XXXX read about 20 pages

Score: 2/4

this morning I called my great aunt

(or "the Aunda" as she is commonly known). She asked me why I hadn't called in so long, and asked if she had done something wrong.

Yipes. I explained that I've been working too much and when I get home at 10 it's too late or I'm too tired. She said 10 is not too late, that even if I wake her up it's ok, because she gets up every hour to "make-a pee pee" anyway, as this is what happens to you when you're old. I can call her at 10, or 12, or 1, or 2, or 4 if I want too.

Whatever claim the Jewish mothers lay to the art form, I think it it was the Italian aunts who perfected the guilt trip.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Calling Unpublished Authors!!!

Thanks, Ello, for the heads-up here--

Amazon and Borders are each taking submissions of unpublished English language manuscripts in searches to publish undiscovered authors. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel prize is $25,000 and includes a publishing contract with Penguin, while the Borders prize is in cooperation with Court TV and Simon & Schuster and is looking for the Next Great Crime Novel.

Ello makes a lot of interesting points esp. re: the Sobel prize etc so instead of retyping them I'm just directing you, again, to her blog.

Finally, the resource we've all been desperate for!

How to Quit Facebook

my authors rock.

I love them so much. I hope they all know that.

What the heck is wrong with Britney Spears?

It's so upsetting to watch. That's all.

What Is an Illustration Program?

Lisa makes a good point--I've talked about illustration programs a couple of times now, but for those blessed amongst you who have never had to deal with them, you might not know why I find these little buggers so daunting.

Whenever you see an illustrated book (or a book with pictures of any kind throughout the text), you can be sure that somewhere an editor (or, in many cases, and editorial assistant) has spent hours on a "program" to communicate the raw art you, the author, have turned in to the design team, who lay out the text (this is a reason you want to thank your editor's assistant in your acknowledgments if you get a chance to--odds are s/he has slaved away on the book about the same amount as your editor has).

The easier version of the illo program happens when a book has an insert. That's still a lot of packaging and copying, but since all the pictures come in a separately designed clump in the middle of the book their placement doesn't affect, for example, text design or page widows.

However, many books have photos throughout the text (and let's face it--while they won't be as glossy as they would be in an insert, they will be a lot more useful to the reader). In those cases, these are the things that need to be turned in to the design team:

1) two hard copies of the manuscript with illustration call-outs
---a "call-out" is a demarcation in the text that indicates where a particular photo goes

2) the illustrations themselves, either in hard copy or digitally, carefully labeled so that one image clearly corresponds to one call-number

3) two hard copies of print-outs (or photocopies) of each image, clearly labeled, so so the design team knows exactly what they're supposed to be looking for (these should be assembled into two packets)

4) an illustration checklist, usually done in some form of spreadsheet, that indicates for each image: 1) the call-out number; 2) the image name; 3) the kind of image it is (hard copy? JPEG? TIFF? pick-up art from a previous book by the author?); 4) the size it should appear on the page; 5) the caption; 6) the credit; 7) the status of the image (is it ready right now during the transmittal? is it TK (that stands for "to come" in Publishese--yeah, we can't spell; it's pretty funny)

The bulk of the time spent on the illustrations is pre-program creation. The reasons are these:

1) Authors frequently don't know copyright laws and photo usage permission guidelines, and you can't blame them--this is really not a terribly intuitive process, and unless the author also happens to be a lawyer odds are they have not done everything they could to protect themselves legally before securing an image. The editorial assistant spends much of her time hounding the authors and book contributors for signed photo release forms, as well as (occasionally) processing mini-contracts for particular printing licenses. Although getting these materials together is almost 100% of the time the contractual responsibility of the author, there are inevitable confusions in the process.

That said, your editor (and her assistant) will love you FORever if you can do what you can to investigate permissions before turning in an image. If you guys are interested, I can do a separate post about copyright.

2) Authors frequently turn in a load of pictures but either don't have a plan for where they should go in the manuscript or are too shy to suggest things like that to their editor. If you're in the latter camp, DON'T BE!!! Any suggestions you have for your editor are invaluable, since you're so familiar with the manuscript material. Your suggestions will save hours, since your editor won't have to spend a bunch of time digitally searching through the book for keywords.

A good time for you to get involved at this level is after you've seen your editor's first-round edits, so that you'll know whether or not any big chunks of text are going to get moved around before you set suggested call-outs yourself. That will save you pain and agony later.

If you do take this project upon yourself, try to keep a couple of things in mind:

1) There should be a good balance of text between images. If all the photos have call-outs in Chapters 8 and 9, Chapters 1-7 are going to be pretty boring.

2) A good way to number photos that will give your editor some leeway to make changes is to use a system like 7A, 7B, and 7C for the first, second, and third photos in Chapter 7, respectively. That way, if your editor wants to swap some photos or take one out she only has to renumber one chapter's photos instead of ALL of them.

3) Make sure you mark your hard copy images or digital images with their designated call-out number REALLY clearly. It saves hours and lives, I promise. The first book I ever did was an exercise book with 174 workout photos, with 2 or 3 photos per exercise, and the photographer turned in a disk where everything had a number like 1873672 or 187683. Fabulous. Especially for a girl who really doesn't know the difference between a bicep curl or a tricep extension.

Moral of this story: be kind to your editor and write a straight text book. (Just kidding... Illustrated books are magnificent. But you know.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Some small confessions

1) I paid $200 for a guitar and case. I can't really justify that.
2) I can't play the guitar (at all).
3) I spent $15 on a manicure yesterday. That makes it impossible for me to even TRY to play the guitar.
4) I got up at 5:30 this morning and went to the new gym on my block. I went on the rowing machine (for the first time since June 2004). After ten minutes my hands were covered in blistering callouses. Manicure+callous. Yum.
5) I bought four (4) boxes of Ghiradelli brownie mix.
6) I've eaten three (3) already (in one week).
7) We're at dire straits with laundry again.
8) We're not going to be DOING laundry until next Monday at the earliest (which really means, like, November 1st).
9) I have a book on my Fall 08 list that everyone (sales, marketing, publicity, publisher) thinks has an illustration program...but it doesn't. This is my fault because the proposal said there would be a 16-page b&w illo program and then I wasn't vigilant about making sure the illustration clause was put in the contract, so now the author has no incentive to go out and get any rights (and trust me, this is not the kind of go-getter author who would, well, go and get them on his own). Now I either have to confess to everyone in my company (and that AIN'T gonna be pretty...yikes) or magically come up with an illustration program myself. For free. Pray for me.
10) I've been trying to read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA for days now (I'm trying to read it before the movie comes out) but I CAN'T get into it because I'm just too busy with work. Which is tragic.
11) I went to karaoke twice this week and I still haven't satisfied myself.
12) Rent is due again. Boo.
13) I love to have my head scratched. Like a dog. For hours. I wish I had a full-time head scratcher. Maybe also a back rubber.