Wednesday, April 30, 2008

bestseller lists

We'll come back to author blogging shortly, but in the meantime I had to post a link to this article on the tradition of the bestseller list (thanks, Maud Newton). This is a fascinating and rather tongue-in-cheek Times history of the bestseller list in England. I'm excerpting my favorite paragraph here:

On April 21, 1974, the UK’s first definitive weekly national bestseller list was published.Keeping a finger on the nation’s reading pulse in this way had been routine in America since the 1890s. Americans loved their bestseller lists. Why? Because US society is organised around winners and losers. The UK loathed bestseller lists. Why? Because they were unEnglish. Books, we believed, did not compete against each other. Paying attention to a book not for its quality but for the quantity it sold was Yankee philistinism.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

author blogging: syndicating your novel

I got some interesting questions on my last post and thought instead of listing my thoughts in the comments section that I'd open up a new forum here. It turns out (as I was writing) I actually have a lot to say on some of these, so I'm going to post questions one at a time.

First, Kalynne Pudner asked about #6 on this list of author blogging tips. I'll quote it here:

Free is your friend. Make your work available in its entirety. If someone is willing to read your 400 page novel on screen, you have found a fan for life.

I'm glad you asked, Kalynne, because this is the one item on that list I have mixed thoughts about.

It's great to syndicate some content on your blog as a teaser--this will help build attention. Also, some bloggers have online blog novels. Here's a great example--Lisa has been blogging a new novel, THE FOUNDING WHEEL, since December. Lisa and other bloggers are creating internet-syndicated blog novels with Dickensian themes. In my mind, this is an exercise in craft and themed writing as well as in group workshopping (albeit virtual group workshopping). We all need writing practice to hone our craft, and in Lisa's case, blogging provides that as well as an external audience that can reinforce the deadlines she sets for herself.

Lisa's example is a little unusual because of her project and intent. For other less specific projects, it's important to know while you're syndicating a) your personal writing type and method and b) your audience, and use this information to temper your syndication. There are some authors who have a very well-developed e-following (certain kinds of books appeal to the kinds of people who tend to use blogs, and other kinds of books less so). Up until the point that those authors have secured agency representation, any content they syndicate on their blogs will have great promotional value. At the point of securing representation, however, I would recommend taking all but a sample down.

My reasons?

1) Blogging is a form of publishing, and there will be an e-book clause in your contract with a publishing house. You want to be able to sell your first serial and e-book rights, so it's important that your final edited manuscript not already have been e-published. The time frame might seem a bit gray here, but I've chosen agency representation as a marker because that's where other professionals besides yourself (the author) come to work on your manuscript and when it starts evolving into its final stages. At any point after that, make sure you have verified with your editor what your house believes is acceptable pre-pub internet syndication to make sure you're not violating any contracts.

2) You don't know everyone on the internet. Most of us are nice but there are some people who might steal your material, offer you malicious feedback, or misunderstand or misquote you. The risk of something untoward happening grows in direct proportion to how much internet traffic you get (trust me, I know from experience). If your blog traffic starts to get pretty high, it's important to be more careful about what you're syndicating. The good news is by this point you will probably already know who at least some of your good trustworthy e-friends are, and if you want their feedback you can always communicate via email, etc. Doors don't have to close, but fame should make you a little cautious.

I hope this answers your question. I know I've been a bit ambiguous, but it's an ambiguous problem. The internet is truly a marketing tool as well as a place a lot of us come for entertainment, but it is, obviously, not without its pitfalls. So we all need to know our own situations well and exercise some caution.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

author blogging

I had lunch with one of my favorite authors today (okay, you got me... I have 25 favorite authors. Maybe 35.). We talked about some of the marketing plans for her book and she asked what my thoughts were about blogging. Should she set up a web page and start a blog? She wasn't sure what she would say, for example. What interest would people have in her?

I'm not a scientist, but I do have some thought about this from my experience. Coincidentally, I got back from lunch to find this post on Joe Wikert's blog, which links back to this post about 14 rules for an author blog/web site. Both good posts that I fundamentally agree with. Here are my personal further thoughts.

Of course, most people who are reading this are bloggers already. But maybe this will be some incentive to keep blogging even as writing and other things take over your life.

My author's excellent questions and my answers, in a nifty and informative Q&A format:

Should an author get a web page?
Yes. No question. People will google you, and it's better if the first hit is your web page than, say, an Amazon page with your book on it (since you can't control that content).

Should an author blog?
Yes! It's like an author tour that never ends. It's free publicity.

When should s/he get the blog up and running (ideally)?
If you can, start about a year before your pub date (for those of you who are ahead of that, congratulations! You'll have a nice strong backlist and even more friends.). Basically, get it up and running asap.

How often should an author post?
I think once a week is a great guideline. This doesn't have to be every Monday at 2 pm; I just mean that there should be fairly regular posts so there is new, fresh content periodically to keep people checking in. You don't have to let your blog run your life (as some of us, erm, them have been known to do). If you want to post more (google seems to think my post average is 17.7 a week!! That can't be right, can it?), go for it. Blogging shouldn't be daunting.

What kinds of stuff can an author write about on a blog?
You name it. Obviously, your publishing and writing experience are interesting to wannabe authors, and posts about your book content are interesting to your book fans (once you're published) and any specialty market that might be related. Posts about your kids are interesting to other people with kids, and posts about Ello's kids are interesting to everyone in the entire world (as, incidentally, are fart jokes, apparently). People who come to my supposedly industry-relevant blog tend to be interested in my mother and her conditions. You'll find your comfort zone and what you're good at talking about.

That said, remember to only say things you can believe in and stand by, and try to be as nice as possible. Things that are released on the internet are potentially available for ever--web publishing is, after all, a form of publishing. What you say on the internet becomes part of your author platform. Just, generally, you make more friends (and fewer enemies) if you keep it nice.

Would people be interested?
Well, yeah. As an author with an agent and/or a book contract (or one who will have one shortly), your experience and trajectory are naturally interesting to all the people who want to be authors some day. They'll come for advice and for inspiration.

Also, I'm not even an author with ANY kind of book deal, and, let's face it, a lot of the crap I post here is totally uninformative. And yet people keep reading.

How can an author drive traffic and make e-friends?
Again, this is a no-brainer to most people who traffic blogs, but in case a neophyte stumbles across this list... I remember those (not so distant) days that I was trying desperately to drive traffic (because I like attention and for no other productive reason). It was pretty easy to find people who might be interested in me--I did google searches for related blogs and set up subscriptions and started commenting on them. I set up google search subscriptions on certain keywords to see when other people posted on those topics and what they had to say. That way, I had a better chance of finding people on the internet who'd be interested in what I had to say. I made myself an expert on my topic (in theory). Then people started linking to me.

I like to think my personal experience is applicable. Although I haven't written a book, I like to believe that if I had (and you knew who I was) a lot of you would be more likely to buy it than you would if, say, we'd never e-met. ;) I know I've bought a lot of books by or recommended by people I've met on the internet.

My humble thoughts.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

things you should be able to expect of your editor

I had a mini-crisis with one of my manuscripts which was due into production this last week. I won't go into details, but I will say it was 0% the fault of the author, who has done a fantastic job helping me make up for lost time. I also want to say I hope God blames me and not my author for the fact that I made my author work over Passover weekend (I swear, if I had put two and two together when he mentioned a "holiday weekend" I wouldn't have set such a hard deadline!! Sincere apologies to both God and my author about this.).

As a result of this mini-crisis and other unavoidable deadlines that are, inevitably, part and parcel of this whole editorial/publishing gig I seem to have become involved in, I have (as some of you have noticed) not had many interesting things to say recently. I want to take a short break from the deep line edit that has taken over my weekend and post something that I hope is interesting (and is partially inspired by my hard-working author and what I think he and all other hard-working authors deserve).

We have, in posts past, addressed topics such as a) horrible things authors do; b) stupid things authors do; c) things I wish authors would do; d) horrible things agents do; e) stupid things agents do; and f) things I wish agents would do. I look at this list of topics and feel a sense of poor karma. I spend much time judging others. I'd like to take a break from that now, and offer you what I think is a fair rubric by which you should be able to judge me ("me" both specifically, if you know me, and metaphorically, as I might stand in for other editors).

We all have our foibles, and we are all part of a creative industry, which of course means you're going to get rather a lot of personality from anyone you work with (authors, editors, agents, jacket designers, copy editors, publicists, you name it). But there are things you SHOULD be able to expect of your editor.

To my fellow editors who might be reading this: I hope you don't hate me for posting this. The list looks a little daunting, doesn't it? However, I really do believe in the points I make, and I hope you do, too. Our industry and our products come under more detailed scrutiny every day, and I believe that the better effort we make to observe these points, the less we leave ourselves open to impeachability and censure. Even if we can't promise to keep all of those promises, I hope we can challenge ourselves to try.

Note for the nitpickers: I use female pronouns because I'm a girl. No deeper meaning there.

Things you should be able to expect of your editor:

-She edits your book. No, seriously. I do actually have to write this.

How can it be that an editor does not edit a book?! I hope you are flabbergastedly asking. Well, unfortunately, it's not only possible, it happens. At most publishing companies, editors are incentivized to acquire books, not to edit them. The editing is considered unmentionable (because it's the obvious thing an editor does...right?) and since editing doesn't in the short term directly equate to income earned, it's easier to measure a person's financial worth to a company based on the value and number of projects acquired.

Of course, this is obviously a very short-term mindset. After all, a higher quality product will (in theory) do better and last longer in the market place than a rougher less polished product. But your editor has a lot of other things to think about. It's really rather easy for her to have her assistant edit it, or to not edit it at all. Particularly if it's a novel--often, it has to have passed a certain number of approvals at the time of acquisition, and if she's up to her ears in other projects she might decide that's enough approval and put the book into production as it is. And, let's face it--a book often sinks or swims in exactly NO relation to how great a piece of literature it is. So sometimes it's easiest to prioritize and cut losses. You sympathize, right?

I don't. I, for one, am of the very strong opinion that this is unacceptable behavior, regardless of how finished a project might have been when it came in or how many other projects that need more work an editor has. I hope that you, the author, do not want your baby going into production without any critical guidance or revision--no matter how artistic you are convinced your baby is, you MUST admit that no one, not even you, is perfect. Editors were invented because a second set of eyes is never, ever a bad thing.

You have a right to be edited. Talk this over with your agent. Make sure your agent knows that you feel strongly about this, and make sure your agent keeps his or her wits sharp about placing your book. A very busy famous editor at a large prestigious imprint might be the best thing in the world to happen to your book. But only if she's actually editing it.

-She champions your book in her house. Might seem like another no-brainer, but it's not. Different people have different energy levels. Try your best to get an editor with a high energy level. You'll be counting on her constant reminders and in-house cheerleading to get attention for your book in ways you can never imagine (thank goodness we've managed to keep certain secrets). You'd rather be with an editor who loves you and your book than you would with an editor who's bought your book to fill a quota. Yes, that goes without saying. But it's just something to keep in mind.

-She reads (published) books. Yes, she has to read all day at work, and sometimes when she gets home she wants to sit in front of her TV with a pint of Ben and Jerry's and watch Law & Order until 1 in the morning and not have to think about anything at all!!! But she also knows it's her job to try to read some things sometimes, to help her keep abreast of what else is being published, as well as to make sure she is constantly reminding herself of what good literature and good writing is. She might not get through many books outside work, but she remembers that she got into the industry because she likes to read, and being in the industry--despite the grind--has not changed that about her.

-She takes your opinions on her edits into serious consideration. You are the author and the creator, and if you have a strong objection to a change she made in your manuscript, she will hear you out and do her best to arrive at a compromise with you so that you can both be comfortable.

It's important that both you and your editor remember your roles. On your end, this means remembering that your editor edits professionally and that she might have her eyes open to arcana you might not be aware of (for example, that using more than a single line of poetry in quotation is outside the boundaries of fair usage, that the expression "a good rule of thumb" makes a lot of readers angry because of the historical association of the phrase with domestic violence, or that although your analogy comparing your main character to a weeping willow might be very moving there is still a lack of agreement between your subject and your subordinate clause so the the precious language just has to come out). She is also hyper-aware of things like word repetition and structural redundancy--something even the best authors often doesn't see about their own writing. So keep in mind that she hasn't made changes frivolously, and that it's very much in her interest to make the book into the best piece of literature it can possibly be. That said, if you are really uncomfortable with an edit for whatever reason, you SHOULD be comfortable mentioning it to your editor.

-She works nights and weekends on your manuscript if she needs to. Obviously, it is not her first choice to have a 24/7 job. But she won't let a publicity or publication date slip because she has fallen behind or made a mistake. I made a bad judgment this week about when particular materials were going to be ready for one of my books. As a result, my author and I have had to rush to catch up with stuff and I've spent all weekend at my computer. Despite the beautiful weather outside, there's no way I'd let my author down by not getting this safely accomplished. Yes, the book is important to me, too (otherwise I wouldn't have acquired it!). But also I don't want to let my author down--of course I know that my author has more personal investment in the book than I do, being the author and all.

(I will admit that I lose track of this sometimes, which I think is a charming quirk of my personality (don't you think it's charming, too?). For example, there was the time I went into a Borders and cooed so hard over one of my books that the bookseller asked me if I would sign it. That was when I had to embarrassedly explain that although I had referred to it as "my" book I had not, in fact, written it. But it was ok, since apparently the Borders Man had met editors before.)

-She responds to your communiques in a semi-timely fashion. Ok, this is a toughy. We are all swamped, we all lose track of time (it's a syndrome of the species), and we all spend a lot of our week ducking from agent follow-ups and huddling under our desks in order to avoid the production managers who come to harass us about approaching and/or missed deadlines. Just kidding. (...) But as long as you're forgiving and open-minded in your approach, she should be able to give you an honest statement about when she thinks she'll have been able to review your manuscript. Please do go gently, though.

There are two things you absolutely have a right to be informed of, and they are as follows:

-When, approximately, work will be expected of you. You have the right to be able to plan ahead.
-When your book is probably going to be published. This is, of course, subject to natural and outside forces (including but not limited to your own timeliness in turning around the edited manuscript). But we all need a goal to aim for.

NB your editor will probably be slightly optimistic in her response to these questions. For example, "Oh, I'll definitely get back to you by the end of next week" should probably be interpreted as "I'll do my best to be in touch with you by the end of next week, but let's face it, I could really use the weekend to do a good job. And this is all depending on this transmittal I'm working on right now and how quickly they turn around the catalog copy, because I might have some surprise emergencies next week. But let's go ahead and say end of next week so that there's a fire under my butt."

-She'll take you out to lunch, coffee, or drinks at least once (provided you are at some point in the same geographical area). Yes, she's busy and has a really stupid number of meetings during the day, but personal interface will help you relate to and understand each other. Plus, keep in mind that she doesn't make very much money and taking you out to lunch is a way for her to get a nice meal without having to pay for it.

Those are my true and honest thoughts. I am open to your editorial opinions on revisions, deletions, and additions (c.f.#4).



Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cakespy says: Eat Your Veggies

Cakespy, our favorite resident experimental baker, has done a posting on veggie spins on carrot cake. The sweet pea cupcakes sound awesome.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Further Adventures of Momrat

You'll all probably guess the twist in this story about 1/3 of the way into it. But Momrat, our hapless heroine, did not see it coming.

Late, late Wednesday night (for Momrat, that means anytime after 8 pm, and this was 10!) Momrat absolutely needed to call me to tell me that she'd been up all night reading one of my books. Not "up all night" in a good way--she really didn't like it and kept trying to get through more until finally, about 75 pages into it, she said it started picking up.

"So you're calling me to tell me you don't like my book," I said. We can always count on an honest review from Momrat. Everyone else tells us they're so happy for us and squeals.

"It's ok, I guess," she said. Then she proceeded to enumerate a number of typos and adjective agreement problems she had found. You have to admit, when the woman has a project, she tackles it to the ground.

The trouble is my phone number, like about 50% of New York City area cell phone numbers, begins with the digits 917. Momrat, in her state of late-night agitation, misdialed and hung up twice before she actually got through to me.

So 15 minutes after she hung up with me (having detailed all the parts of my baby book she didn't like), she got a phone call. At 10:15!! Scandalously late. She assumed it must me YT calling her back to tell her I hated her or some such.

It was not YT. It was the police dispatcher.

"What's the emergency?" said the dispatcher.

"What emergency?" said my mother. "You called me. Is there an emergency?"

"Ma'am, someone from this residence dialed 911 twice and hung up."

"What?" said Momrat. "That's impossible! It's just me and my husband here!"

"Well, ma'am, I'm afraid that two 911 calls came through from this address. There are two squad cars sitting in your driveway."

The bells begin to ring for my mother. That Moonrat's darn 917 area code!! "We're already in bed," she told the dispatcher. "We've put the dogs away! We've turned out all the lights!"

"Well, ma'am, it would be nice if someone could go downstairs and explain to the squad what's going on."

Naturally, "someone" turned out to be poor long-suffering Dadrat. Who, by the way, does not have difficulty dialing the telephone.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jhumpa Lahiri debuts at #1 of NYT bestsellers this week

Here's the Papercuts article.

This is why this matters, and why I care.

1) As the article mentions, this is the first time a piece of serious hardcover fiction has debuted at #1 in a reeeeeally long time.

2) This is a short story collection! Not just a short story collection--a SECOND short story collection. And modern wisdom runs that no one buys short story collections (not just modern wisdom--also modern sales figures. Trust me, I promise.).

I am doubly gratified. First, I'm glad to see "serious literature" can also be popular literature. I really do think there are a lot of readers who really do want to think. There are. Go us.

Also, it's nice to hope for a rising trend in short story compilations--perhaps they will become less difficult to publish. As just about any aspiring, struggling, wannabe, or soon-to-be writer who reads this blog (or anyone else who reads this blog who has at one time been one of those writers!) knows, most published authors spend grueling years honing their craft on short stories and trying to get them published in journals and magazines before they can attract a book deal of any kind. It's sad that these stories--among them often many true gems--never see the light of day (or not much of it, anyway). The short story is an art form and I would love to see it appreciated.

I haven't read the new one yet, but I loved INTERPRETER OF MALADIES and I liked THE NAMESAKE a whole lot. I found, furthermore, with the NAMESAKE that the impression it made on me has grown (as opposed to eroded) with time (I was actually pretty lukewarm on the book when I first read it). I remember plot details and, especially, themes very clearly. I think that is testimony to the fact that it was a very powerfully executed book.

this is why I miss England so much.

Teacake set to cost 3.5 million pounds [BBC]

The Uk Treasure is facing a 3.5m pound bill because of Value Added Tax wrongly imposed on a Marks and Spencer teacake for 20 years, the European Court of Justice (ECJ has ruled.

gem of the day

[This one ain't Robert's. It's courtesy a fellow editor.]

"An option clause on future projects is like a comforting hug. It makes you feel better, but it doesn't change anything about the situation at hand."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

mouths of babes

My dear friend Melanie is a high school teacher and asked me if I wouldn't mind spending an hour at a career fair.

"Just try to speak slowly," she said. I am known to talk so fast that even (and especially) my mother can't understand me. "Keep their attention by asking lots of questions."

I decided I'd also keep their attention by bringing door prizes. "I'm incentivizing you to listen to my speech," I told them at the beginning. "Whoever can answer my questions can come up at the end and pick up a book of their choice."

I started out by asking if anyone loved to read. No one loved to read. Not one person. "Come on," I said. One boy finally raised his hand. "Thank you," I said. "Everyone else is just being shy."

[Later, in the hallway, the boy who was supposed to take me from one class to another confessed that he, too, liked Harry Potter. "Six was my favorite," he said. "It answered a lot of my questions." "Oh, I liked Book Four," I said. "It had dragons." Now he has moved on to TWILIGHT. I was pleased and impressed--he, like many of Melanie's students, is ESL--and didn't betray my feelings about that book and its colorful dialog tags.]

I told the class I was an editor at a publishing company and asked them if they had any idea what editors do. All was still, and then suddenly one kid shot his hand up in the air. "You cut stuff," he said.

"That's right!" I said, utterly thrilled that this 12th grader understood what several of my professional authors do not.

I told them about editorial, publicity, sales, and rights (all in four sentences or less) and then quizzed them on what I said. The ones who knew the answers got to come up and pick out books. Even though I did rights last, no one remembered the rights department either time I gave my speech. Bummer.

Then we talked a little bit about getting a job in publishing. I advised them to think about getting a summer job in a bookstore or library if they were interested, or checking out the wealth of summer internship opportunities. I urged them to consider it--they are luckier than 98% of America (in terms of getting into publishing) because they already live in New York.

No one had any questions for me. Bummer again. Maybe I was really, really boring. My assistant suggests perhaps I was just so very lucid and coherent (the only purely lucid and coherent 10 minutes of my life!) that they didn't need to ask any questions.

At the end, one kid called out, "Miss! You made me want to start to read more!"

"Good," I told her. Maybe she meant it; maybe not.

Also, I was given a banana muffin and a slice of avocado for breakfast. Unexpected but not unappreciated.

That was my little 2-hour foray out of my cave for this week. Hopefully not too many lives were ruined. It was certainly more exciting and delicious than catalog copy. (Seriously--did we not just do a catalog?!)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Congratulations, Cyn!!

I know I'm late with the news, but our own beloved Cyn has got herself an agent!!

Further evidence that I am privileged to be e-hanging around with a disproportionately talented crowd. (Not to mention a darn nice one.)

Congratulations, again and again!

Monday, April 07, 2008

email exchange with my assistant this morning

YT: Sorry, Jess. I wanted to give you a heads up that I've had another one of my little one-click episodes on Amazon. So when the packages start coming in please just call me and I'll take care of them. Don't even bother unwrapping or anything--just leave them on the floor.

Jess: You are out of control. I might have to stage an intervention.

YT: Haha. Editor rehab? They cut off your bun and smash your glasses. And you are absolutely totally and completely cut off from coffee.

Jess: I'm putting together a series pitch. Hollywood won't be able to resist.

[C.f. my Friday post--went into BNN to buy THE BOOK THEIF on your horrible, awful recommendations. Came out with FIVE BOOKS. FIVE. This on top of the three I bought earlier last week that I still have to get through. And not even taking into account my magical Amazon one-click problem.]

[I know I probably need a new thread of conversation. My addiction memoir is probably getting pretty boring in a marketplace already saturated with riveting addiction memoirs. I'll have something good for you tomorrow. After I've finished this one book.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

exercise in will power

Yargh! I am mighty and focused! I am NOT buying anymore books, ever. At least until I finish the two I bought on Monday night. And the one that "magically" arrived in the mail yesterday (don't even remember ordering it, but it's totally on a subject I would read, so, you know).

Anyone want to test my will power so you can see how strong and resolved I am? Tell me the last book you read, the book you're currently reading, and the next book you're looking forward to. I bet you a Wonder bread sandwich I don't buy any of them.

I'll go first:

Last book: EMPRESS by Shan Sa (ehn)

Current book: BEST FRIENDS by Martha Moody

Next book: CROSSED by Nicole Galland (it's about the Fourth Crusade!) (Now you see why I was forced to buy it.)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

things the rally monkey and I don't have in common

Things I ate for dinner:
-a chocolate covered chocolate chunk cookie from Cafe Metro

Things the rally monkey ate for dinner:
-a "sandwich" made of two pieces of Wonder bread, three inch-thick orange slabs carved off an industrial block of Velveeta, and approximately three tablespoons of mayo

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Juhmpa Lahiri event tonight

Hey, New Yorkers... Head down to the Union Square Barnes and Noble if you love Jhumpa Lahiri as much as, say, I do. The event starts at 7 but having been to these kinds of things before I would recommend you get there early.

I won't be there, unfortunately, having a work commitment myself. But I will post this link about interview questions Lahiri is often asked, via Ron over at GalleyCat.


I have been convicted of what the rally monkey terms a BBWI (buying books while intoxicated).

I'm supposed to be on a budget but I figured one little happy hour margarita, clocking in at $3.50, would be totally harmless. Alas that darn monkey was right; that margarita ended up costing me about $36.50 because there was a Borders right across the street from the Mexican restaurant and one thing we DON'T need is me in a book store with reduced inhibitions.

Perhaps most tragically, I can't even remember the titles of either of the books I bought.

Am I the only person this happens to?!?!