Thursday, January 31, 2008

everyone already knows how I feel about brownies, I presume.

Cakespy has gone ahead and done this very thorough research on unusual "surprise" ingredients to try in your next batch of brownies. Successful experiments included saltines, Sour Patch Kids, and bacon. Must be seen to be believed.

Cakespy, I commend you again on your ongoing commitment to the furthering of science through art.


Rats, as they say.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Print on Demand

I got a really interesting author question about print on demand, and I've been looking forward to having the time to address it. Here's the reader's note:

Dear Moonie,

I illustrated a picture book that went out of print a year ago. My agent contacted the publisher to ask that rights revert to the author and myself. She was told that the book was being reissued as a paperback. Good news, I thought, until I discovered that the picture book was reissued as print-on-demand. Very Bad News. Now the book is priced at $11.95 and takes 4-6 weeks to deliver. No bookstore will carry this book.

I asked my agent about the situation and she dug up the clause in the contract:

"The existence of an individual print-on-demand edition shall not consitute the book being in print unless there are reported sales of 100 copies per year or more."

This is a stalling tactic on the part of the publisher. It appears that I have to wait a year to see if 100 copies sell as p-o-d and then another year before rights can evert.

My agent tells me that this reflects the 'new' thinking. Is that true? I recognize that publishing is a risky business and that the publisher is trying to hedge their bets but why not put some muscle and money behind the book instead of this wishy washy holding on.

What is your experience with this type of situation. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from this on my next contract?


Thanks for sending me this question, because POD is something I think most authors don't really stop to think about until their book is at the far end of the publication road--if your book isn't out of print already, you're rarely trying to revert rights.

For people who aren't familiar, print on demand is when a publishing company fails to get significant orders for a particular title to afford an actual reprint (the lowest affordable reprinit in most situations is 1,500 copies, but for tax and storage issues you can't do a 1,500-copy reprint if you can't believe that you'll be able to sell through that many copies in two years). POD is basically a glorified Kinkos situation, where a per-copy price (usually relatively high, making the book high priced and unprofitable) is arranged (only with a real book printer, not from Kinkos). However, it allows the publisher and author to continue to claim that a book is in print--it is.

Most contracts have a print on demand clause--I've stumbled across a couple that for some reason don't, but my guess is most people will have to deal with this issue at some point. All contracts will have reversion clauses. Reversion is when rights to publish a book are formally returned to the author, making the contract effectively void. Understandably, publishers don't like to revert rights, and print on demand is an executable way for us to keep rights and keep a book in print without having to commit to a full-scale reprint.

This querying reader couldn't have put it better--claiming right to print on demand a stalling tactic on the part of the publisher. If you ask for rights reversion, you should be aware that you're going to stir up the pot over at your publishing house. The knee-jerk reaction is "no! Ours!!" The secondary reaction is "what's the recent rate of sale? If it's really selling all that poorly, should we maybe just revert rights?"

But the third reaction is "wait a minute--why does the author/agent want rights back, anyway? Just to sit at home with their little 'Your rights have been formally reverted' letter? That seems unlikely. So they must have some kind of plans for the book--are they going to try to resell? They can't possibly resell to another company on the rate of sale that we've had of late; no one would buy rights! Unless they know something we don't! Is there a movie coming out? Has the author survived some kind of hostage situation and is suddenly all over the news? What don't we know about this whole story?" So that's the complicated thought process that happens in our little minds whenever you ask for a reversion.

Print on demand is not always a bad thing--in some cases (say, where there is a steady market of about 200 copies of the book a year, through maybe universities or author events) it's a convenient way for the book to go on being available to readers who want and need it, the author makes incidental royalties, the publisher makes some small change. Everyone's happy. Of course, this works better for authors who appeal to certain markets. In the querying reader's situation, POD is, I'll admit, not ideal. She wants rights to her artwork back, but because of the nature of children's book distribution and sales there is little chance her book will be adequately represented in most stores.

I will admit that POD is frustrating for us, too. Yes, we like to have your rights, but we also like to make money from them instead of just spending time arguing about who has them now. We make almost no money off of this POD stuff.

You know what we REALLY like, though? New stuff. Instead of a reprint or a reversion, try discussing a reissue--that means the book is re-catalogued, re-sold in, and re-packaged. The only trick is that in order to get the chains to carry a reissued book we need to be able to offer them never-before-available material.

Here's a plan to make your editor happy AND get your rights back:

You as a backlist author come back to your editor and say, you know, I noticed my masterpiece on the history of kittens has fallen into POD status. I know it's a little dated now, and you're unlikely to reprint as it is. But I was thinking, I would really like to take another stab at Chapter 4 and Chapter 9--I think with some updating the book will be really sharp and current.

Your publisher, who will naturally want to nurture author relations, will almost certainly be willing to discuss revision opportunities with you (unless your book sold just abysmally, in which case it probably won't be in POD, since there will be stock from the first printing left over).

For fiction authors, it's a little trickier, but there are other things you can bring to the table. Is there an upcoming anniversary of some kind that can be a publicity window because it corresponds to your subject matter? Have you recently become best friends with Donna Tartt and has she told you she'd be willing to write you a forward? Was an episode of HOUSE loosely based on your premise? Did you make a Hollywood friend who mentioned being interested in optioning it? All these things SEEM unlikely strung together like this, but you'd be surprised how people can make these things happen.

As for protecting yourself in future contracts, I would venture to say the POD clause is not going to be negotiable. However, you WILL be able to negotiate the number of copies that constitute "in print" on your particular contract. For example, in this reader's contract, the annual number is 100 copies. You can probably drive this number up at least a little, although it will vary from publisher to publisher. But at least that way there has to be considerable POD interest to sustain the book in print.

I hope this helped. Please let me know if I can clear anything up.

Also, thanks to the reader who queried, who really went above and beyond by enclosing these two links, if you're interested in reading more about this:

Last year's Simon & Schuster scandal re: POD status in contracts (PW)

More on S&S "rights grab"

sonnet by Paula

Paula wrote two very excellent sonnets for me. I'm putting up this one first, because it's about pee, and is, I think, precisely what we need on a Wednesday morning. Bonus points for making a rhyme out of "ass."

Ode to a Commode

She asks for prose that makes her crow and squirt

She thumbs her nose at toilet and bidet

The one who makes her tinkle gets a shirt

So who the heck is Robert anyway?

To put a lady’s bladder to the test

Is something I find freakish, coarse, and crass

But still I’m gonna do my mortal best

To drench good Moonrat’s literary ass

The measure of this task is if it sends

One pee-soaked Moonrat out for some Depends

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

free hugs campaign

Umm, I'm probably the last person in the world to see this, approximately, because it has over 23 million youtube views, but if you haven't seen it either, give it a minute or two.

May it make your morning happy :)




[during middle of big fight about foreign rights]

Robert the Publisher: You really are a ruthless and undefatigable nag when it comes to your authors and your books.

YT: I know, I know, and you want to kill me.

Robert the Publisher: Not at all, Moonrat. I admire you. I really do. I admire you.


sonnet by Ello

Kudos to Ello for not only mimicking Shakespeare but managing to quote heftily from Robert in the process!

Sonnet by Ello
Based in part off of Shakespeare's Sonnet 100

Ode from Robert

Where art thou, Moonrat, that thou forget'st so long

The random author shenanigans that

Creates this worthless song.

Remember, I was supposed to touch trees

Express feelings of low testosterone

But sucking up to women's lib

Makes a man dry as a bone.

Return, oh forgetful Muse and straight redeem

By providing a personal service

Like operating my car radio and winning back my esteem

Fair Moonrat, pro-active though you may be

An advocate does not in fact sell books

And our energies spent elsewhere would set us free

For a great publishing business is not built out of serendipity,

Because God smiles only very infrequently - at me.

Conduit's winning jacket copy

Here's Conduit's jacket copy, very short and sweet. I liked Conduit's because he also hit his target audience in a really good voice. My critique follows.

Jacket copy:

Former Belfast hit man Gerry Fegan is haunted by his victims, twelve souls who follow him through every waking day and scream through every drunken night. Just as he reaches the edge of sanity they reveal their desire: vengeance on those who engineered their deaths. From the greedy politicians to the corrupt security forces, the street thugs to the complacent bystanders who let it happen, no one is safe.

When Fegan’s vendetta threatens to topple Northern Ireland’s fledgling government, old comrades and enemies alike want him gone. David Campbell, a double agent lost between the forces of law and terror, takes the job. But he has his own reasons for eliminating Fegan; the secrets of a dirty war should stay buried, even if its ghosts do not.

FOLLOWERS is a dark thriller that blurs the distinction between the paranormal and psychological. Set against the backdrop of a post-conflict Northern Ireland struggling with its past, it takes the reader from the back streets of Belfast, where violence and politics go hand-in-hand, to the country's darkest heart. Often brutal, sometimes tender, the journey will see one man find his humanity while the other loses his. One question will remain until the bloody climax: are Fegan's ghosts really echoes of the dead or just pieces of a broken mind?


Sooner or later, everybody pays - and the dead will set the price…


Stuart Neville has been a musician, a composer, a teacher, a salesman, a film extra, a baker and a hand double for a well known Irish comedian, but is currently a partner in a successful multimedia design business in the wilds of Northern Ireland.

My notes:

First, really good headline, again. Quick and enticing.

Second, as with Josephine's, it's a little tough to tell who the protagonist is--you set the stage for Fegan's story, but I'm guessing that Campbell is in fact the narrator. I might rework this so you can introduce Fegan's story within the framework of Campbell's investigation, instead of the other way around. Your language is good, though, so I would try to rework it without taking away any of the strength or suspense.

Third, the open question you leave at the end is very nice. Rhetorical questions are often cheesy sounding, but this one isn't. Well done. I have to admit, I'm not crazy about the word "remain" because it's such an inactive verb. I also don't think you need to mention the climax--an agent needs to know you've remembered to include a climax in the book, but a consumer/reader just assumes you have.

Again, very nicely done overall.

Josephine's winning jacket copy

Here's Josephine Damian's cover copy, one of the two winning entries. I really liked JD's copy because her voice really succeeded in addressing the target audience. In the many excellent examples of jacket copy I got, I found this was something that even some very extraordinary writers struggle with. It's really interesting to me how telling the same story to two slightly different audiences can change the shape of the story so much! That's why this is a fun exercise, I think.

I'm putting JD's copy here, with some critique notes below.

A STUDY IN FEAR: a novel by Josephine Damian


“Because evil is there, at the gates, against the skin.” [quote from frontispiece]

When criminal profiler Dr. Rhys Garrison receives death threats from a diabolical psycho, the FBI calls in Caroline Armstrong to investigate, but this time the criminal has met his match for Caroline is not what she seems; she understands evil in ways this killer can just suppose.

Jacket flap: Everyone believes criminal profiler Caroline Armstrong is a European woman with the quintessential American name. She’s afraid her ex-lover, forensic psychologist Rhys Garrison, will find out she’s really Nina Gorić, a Bosnian war crimes victim turned assassin who killed so her unborn child could survive. When the two profilers reunite to catch a diabolical serial killer, old flames rekindle along with new fears when Rhys suspects Caroline’s violent past and secret identity.

Author bio:
Former graphic artist and noted botanist, Josephine Damian is now a book reviewer, busy blogger, and writer of psychological suspense thrillers (novels, short stories, screenplays) and crime-related non-fiction. She’s also a graduate student currently enrolled at a Florida university, and in December 2008 she will earn a master's degree in Criminal Forensics Studies: Behavioral Analysis. Her previous employment includes working at the medical examiner’s office where her primary responsibility was to cook the corpse. In 2007, Josephine’s short story SAFE IN THE HOUSE appeared in Thug Works e-zine, and in 2006, a forensics trade magazine published her piece on footwear impression evidence.

Back cover: A fraternity hazing turns twisted when a killer manipulates the incident’s inherent violence as a cover for murder. He assumes his victim’s identity and joins a group of elite forensic psychology students. His goal: to infiltrate the domain of his enemy, a university professor and criminal profiler. The killer delivers to Dr. Rhys Garrison a cryptic note - a puzzle once solved, it reveals the location of body buried on campus, in a garden secreted behind a serpentine wall. When a second note hidden inside the corpse suggests the professor is next to die, the FBI calls in Rhys’s ex- lover and protégé to investigate the crime and assess his objectivity. At first, she’s reluctant to get involved. She’s got troubles of her own. Her past is about to catch up to her.

No one suspects that criminal profiler Caroline Armstrong is really Nina Gorić, a Bosnian war crimes victim turned assassin who killed so her unborn child could survive. The memories that poison her soul are the very experiences that provide insight into to a murderer’s psyche. That she committed worse evil than the American serial killers she pursues is a matter for another day; that along with the fact Interpol plans to arrest her. The last thing Caroline needs is what she’s got right now: the scrutiny of a high profile FBI case. When the two ex-lovers reunite to catch a killer, old flames rekindle along with new fears for Rhys suspects that Caroline harbors a criminal past. If he discovers the truth, will he turn her over to authorities?

Eager to work their first big case and protect their beloved mentor, Dr. Garrison’s current crop of forensic psychology students joins Caroline to help piece together the clues. They receive word from a fraternity brother who believes he can put a name to the killer’s face – but before they can follow up the lead, the murderer gets to the witness before they do. A third message left at the grizzly crime scene taunts Caroline and makes her suspect that the guilty party is one of Rhys’s six students.

But which one?

From the hallowed halls of a prestigious American university to the killing fields of Bosnia, A STUDY IN FEAR takes you on a dark journey that explores how often evil disguises itself behind the mask of innocence.

My notes:

First, purely topical--JD, darling, what you have here as "flap copy" and "back copy" I would switch. Flap tends to be wordier and more descriptive; back tends to be short and often non-informational (just something pretty to look at!!). So good for you for drafting both, anyway.

Second, I really like your headline--the structure is very strong. This is another tricky point of copy that we all struggle with (I write copy all the time, and it's still a challenge--what IS your one-line why-to-buy?). I would, however, break it into shorter sentences and then bridge the concepts a little, perhaps to look like this:

“Because evil is there, at the gates, against the skin.” [quote from frontispiece]

When criminal profiler Dr. Rhys Garrison receives death threats from a diabolical psycho, the FBI calls in Caroline Armstrong to investigate. This time, the criminal has met his match, for Caroline is not what she seems. She understands evil in ways this killer can only imagine.

Third, you're a little slow to introduce Caroline/Nina, who doesn't come into the book description on your "back" cover until after a very long expository first paragraph. From your set-up, it's a little unclear if the protagonist is Rhys, Caroline, or alternating. If their narratives are equally important, I might try to start off the first paragraph in a way that introduces them both immediately.

Finally, some of the language can be tightened a little. For example, "The killer delivers to Dr. Rhys Garrison a cryptic note" is a little awkard for copy, which usually doesn't deviate from very conventional language structures. These are all kind of topical.

Overall, nicely done first draft.

Sonnet by Precie

Good morning!! Start it off with this fabulous sonnet by Precie. Bonus points awarded for Shakespearian mimicry.

Shakespeare's Sister Moon
by Precie

Shall I compare you to a city street?

You are more lively, vibrant, brilliant.

Shall I compare you to a piece of meat?

Your words are far more filling masticant.

Shall I compare you to the sun so bright?

Your wisdom glows and glitters beyond age,

Dazzling and inspiring, day and night.

How deft your fingers dance across each page.

From humble youth your reputation grows,

Despite pub trials, graphic and gory.

Nor shall Rob-Publisher sink you in woes

Without compensation to your glory.

So long as blogosphere exists and thrives,

So long shall none compare to your cool jives.

Monday, January 28, 2008

you know what makes me REALLY MAD???



the winning sonnet (by Froog)

Days spent in wrangling reams of turgid text,

The lovely Moonrat wastes her youthful bloom,

Quite lost in penniless, unlaundered gloom;

By boss’s obscure whims she’s sore perplexed,

By obstinate designer cruelly vexed,

Entombed in her untidy little room

To grapple with the Manuscript of Doom;

So ill-paid, unregarded, undersexed.

And yet her colleagues aren’t entirely mad;

The work gets done, the books turn out not bad;

Reviews soon have Robert feeling funky;

And Moonie’s thrilled, she brags to Mom and Dad;

Then home at last, so late and tired, but glad –

To snuggle up to dear Rally Monkey.

Contest winners!!

I'm really sorry--I haven't meant to keep everyone waiting. I've been a little crazed today and kept thinking I would find a moment to post winners etc and then kept not finding it. I'm afraid entries with critiques will have to come over the rest of the week.

I was so very pleased with all the entries that I'm glad most of you have given me the ok to share--I have really happy things to say about each entry, and I HATE that I had to pick. (Downside of contests.)

I will not keep you waiting any longer for results, though!

Copy Contest Winners (yeah, I'm sorry, guys, it was too hard and I just had to pick two):

Josephine Damain--JD's copy was very tight and on top of that she was the first to submit AND she wrote back and flap copy AND she also shared her copy on her blog, which is very much in line with Moonrat's philosophy of sharing our battles.

Conduit--Conduit wrote some really stellar copy. Almost as though he is a copywriter. Come clean, Mr. Conduit.

Sonnet Contest Winner:

Froog--among the many gems submitted, Froog wins for the most elaborate rhyme scheme and most faithful adherence to iambic pentameter. However, there was not a single non pee-worthy entry, and they will all be posted in good time (perhaps today, since it's Monday and we could all use a little fun at my expense!).

Contest winners, please email me a mailing address and a Gem, t-shirt size, and color of your choice, and a t-shirt will be along as soon as I find a silk-screener.

Thank you everyone for your submissions--this was so much fun and I was really excited to see the kinds of WIPs everyone is working on.

Shortly, for your reading pleasure, the winning sonnet.

Friday, January 25, 2008

waiting for responses to your submissions?

I know you're all working hard on the contest entries, but I'm going to distract you with an interesting reader query I got recently. The reader had a really good question. Here was the email (edited for anonymity):

Hey, Moonrat,

I could use some guidance, if you have a moment. Here's my situation:

My book went out in a rolling submission to a good group of editors in October. I received one non-specific rejection in November and since then, nothing.

My agent says we are still within the realm of normal, that anything can still happen, that editors are damn busy with other things that keep them from debut novel submissions. He says I need to be patient. But...

My agented writer friends say this is too long to have waited, even given the holiday season. They believe something is amiss. My writer friends certainly received their rejections faster, but they are still as unpublished as I am.

To me, it feels weird that it has taken this long to even get a no from so many editors, but what do I know? Only what I see on the Internet, a very dangerous place to get information. What do you think?


This was a really interesting question to me, and thanks to this reader for letting me post about this. I imagine a lot of first-time writers feel a little lost waiting on the end of their phone line for things to happen. So here's my take (and I would love to hear if others disagree or have had other experiences--this is just how I operate).

I have to admit that (except in certain very special cases) I never even look at a proposal until an agent has followed up, and I know from having worked with other editors from other houses that I'm not the only editor who functions like that. We have so much to do that we really waffle on acquisitions a lot, and tend to put off looking at manuscripts until we feel some pressure to. I'm honestly not a huge fan of agents who start pestering you three days or a week after they've submitted, but a month is a very fair pester-window. In this case, it sounds to me like the agent is being a little sleepy.

If I were one of the editors who had received this novel, I probably would not have looked at it yet, and I almost certainly wouldn't have been in touch with the agent. I never send out-of-the-blue rejections. Never. It just creates bad feelings and awkward conversations. However, I usually don't make out-of-the-blue offers, either, since it drives the property price up (the agent can then take that offer, shuffle off to other houses, and shop it around--my offer would make the project more valuable elsewhere) so most editors avoid that like the plague. Meanwhile, while the agent isn't in touch with editors, the property price goes down--if it gets to be 6 months after submission and there are no bids, any editor you follow up with will say, "Hmm, s/he hasn't sold this in 6 months. There must be a problem with it." (Even if there's not.)

Of course, different agents and different editors have different systems locked into place, and the things I say here might not be the MO of certain agents or the editors they tend to work with. I just know that with the amount of work on my desk (don't even get me started!) it's really hard for me to make myself read a proposal unless I feel a little pressure.

As far as the possibility of getting rejections, I think rejections are better than non-responses. There will always be other editors to query in another round, if that's in the cards, and rejections might give insight from an editorial standpoint about what isn't quite working. They might give an author the boost or polish s/he needs to lock it in during the next round. I would say that if you're at the point where you're getting some rejections (even if the book sells!) ask your agent if s/he can squeeze some critiques out of editors. It will be hard--we're a cagey bunch--but not impossible.

Any other thoughts on this?

my designer, very funny

YT: (answering phone) Hello, this is Moonrat.

My Designer: Hello, is this AAA AA?

YT: Sorry?

MD: Cuz you're the woman who's driving me to drink.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

take me HERE

Food and booze all in one?!?! PLEASE! How early can I get out tonight?!

Bestest News Ever

In our latest installment of Bestest News Ever--Jaye has sold her three-book fantasy series at auction to Orbit US! Congratulations, Jaye!!

Can I take this opportunity to point out (again) how freakishly disporportionately talented the writers in this blog circle are? I think there's also something to be said for all the good karma you generate by sharing your wealth of experiences and wisdoms about writing and the industry with one another.

Congratulations again, Jaye. I can't WAIT to hold a hard copy. Give us more details when they're available.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger

i am SO SAD

first advances

Also, please check out this blog post, a survey of first advances more than 100 debut published authors received (thanks, Writtenwyrdd, for the link).

It's cool, and, I think, pretty accurate. (Further arguments for getting an agent...)

why it's so very important you roll out the big guns with your first book

Please read this post by Gawker. It talks about something I know I always harp on--doing everything you possibly can for your book post-pub, because if your book doesn't do as well as you hope, no one will want to work with you again--but it seems like they've actually put research into it or something.

If you're an author, do put together a marketing plan for yourself. If you're unlucky, you'll end up with a publishing company that lets you sink or swim on their midlist. That's why you need to have outreach, fanbase, and tons and tons of energy. Just another reminder.

For anyone reading this, you're probably 10 steps ahead because you have a blog. Good for you. If anyone has had positive experiences with authors who did good self-publicity that they want to share here for inspiration, please do. I just can't emphasize this magical teamwork enough.

Oh Happy Day!!!

My baby is here!! Fresh off the press, jacket glittering with gold foil stamp, beautiful cream-colored pages just BURSTING with that new book smell!!

"Emily" is my "first baby"--the first book I acquired at my new job to make it to press. How long I have desired to cradle her in my arms and fondly turn her nicely guttered pages and feast my eyes on her demure running heads and admire her graceful dingbats!! How rewarding to hear others coo over your baby and tell you how beautiful she is!! Because she is!! She's THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY in the world!!!

Incidentally, MOD came off the press today, too, and doesn't look half bad.

Also, don't forget the contest, please.

Monday, January 21, 2008

phone call from Momrat

YT: Hi, Mom. Are you home already?

Momrat: No, I'm on the way to Grandma's, but I just wanted to call and say one quick thing first. Well, first, it was very nice to see you yesterday.

YT: Yes, thanks for brunch--

Momrat: Yes, well, the other thing is that, and I don't know if you realize this, or if you do it on purpose, or what, so don't take offense to it, but I need for you to think about it, OK? Is that every time I go to hug you, you're as stiff as a board! And I think to myself, geez, she must really not want to hug me, or something! So if it's all right with you, from now on I'll just kiss you on the cheek.

YT: ...Am... I a... bad hugger...?

Momrat: Like an IRONING board!! I don't know, maybe you're warm and affectionate with other people, and it's just with me, but I just don't want to have to do that anymore! We have to figure out some other way. Ok, that's all. Have a nice day!!

[Sorry for the contest distraction... I just had a classic Momrat moment and had to post about it.]

cover copy breakdown

I know everyone's busily preparing for the contest over their holiday weekend (right? Americans, at least?) so in honor of Dr. King I'm going to help you attain your dream of a Robert the Publisher t-shirt with the promised breakdown of cover copy on some successful debut hardcovers.

First, though, I've decided not to include the back cover copy component of the contest anymore--too much work for everyone. If you've already done it, send it along for bonus points. I've amended the rules accordingly. So now the format looks like this:

[headline--why to buy]

[front flap copy--book description]

[back flap copy--author bio]

I've chosen Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, in part because I'm not exactly "stealing"copy here since it's all available on Amazon with the search inside function (here). I've also offered THE SAFFRON KITCHEN copy for further elaboration (available online here). They're two very different and equally acceptable approaches to flap copy.

So here's a copy map; I've put my commentary in polite brackets {}. Jonathan Strange first:

[front flap]


{think of the headline as a brief why-to-buy"}

"Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me..."

{I think this is a pretty good headline. I think well-chosen excerpts of a line or two can really say the right enticing thing about the book. This is also a really leading line--two magicians? What could that mean? Who is "me"? The opaqueness is the exact degree you need to force a reader on into the copy with curiosity.}

[front flap copy]

{JS&MN} The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and it is hundreds of years since practical magic faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious industry suddenly discover that one practicing magician still remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey. Challenged to demonstrate his powers, Norrell causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and sing, and sends a thrill through the country. The magician proceeds to London, trailed by excited rumors, where he raises a beautiful young woman from the dead and finally enters war, summoning an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French.

Yet Norrell is soon challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome, and daring, Strange is the very opposite of cautious, fussy Norrell. Still, Norrell agrees to take Strange as his pupil, and the young magician joins England's cause, enduring the rigors of Wellington's campaign in Portugal to lend the army his supernatural skill on the battlefield.

But as Strange's powers grow, so do his ambitions. He becomes obsessed with the founder of English magic, a shadowy twelfth-century figure known as the Raven King. In his increasingly restless pursuit of the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, Strange risks sacrificing not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything else that he holds dear.

Elegant, witty, and flawlessly detailed, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a magisterial first novel that draws readers into Susanna Clarke's fantastic and utterly convincing vision of a past world.

{This novel is a difficult and complicated book, and I think the flap copy did a good job of isolating the moments from the plot that would require the least amount of explanation to offer a taster of the exploits the reader will find within. I do think that there is a bit much in this copy, though--it's a little meandering; the words crowd on the page, and Jonathan Strange, the first title character, isn't even mentioned until the second paragraph. Overall, though, I think it's pretty good copy, with a lot of fascinating elements that sound like nothing I've ever read before. There's also a good hint at the plot with a particularly leading second-to-last paragraph, with not too much flowery language or overblown descriptive adjectives. What do you think? Would you buy this book? I think I would.}

[back flap copy]

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959, the eldest daughter of a Methodist minister. She was educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of nonfiction publishing. In 1990 she left London to teach English in Turin and Bilbao. She returned to England in 1992 and spend the rest of that year in County Durham, where she began work on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

From 1993 to 2003 Susanna Clarke was an editor at Simon and Schuster's Cambridge office, where she worked on their cookbook list. She has published a number of short stories and novellas in American anthologies, including "Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower," which was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.

Susanna lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.

{Frankly, this is much too long for an author bio. I know that certain details were left in to authenticate her story (for example, part of the book takes place in Portugal) but I don't think the lengthy author bio was terribly helpful here. Also, there is one minor but nonetheless egregious grammatical error; anyone else catch it?

Elements that go into a successful author bio are here, though. Your author bio should do a couple of things: 1) illustrate your platform (have you published elsewhere? received awards? gotten degrees you're proud of?), and 2) supply some personal information (readers will see it and go, oh! he grew up in a Toronto suburb, just like me! I should support him! etc). Try to strike a happy medium.}


Now for The Saffron Kitchen.

[front flap]


A passionate and beguiling novel about mothers and daughters, roots and exile, from the remote mountains and riotous streets of Iran to the rain-soaked suburbs of London.

{This is the "buzzword" approach to a headline. The idea here is to throw forth the concepts that will be most resonant with the reader. EVERYONE (and her mother) loves a mother-daughter book; most Americans, at least, have some story of exile and foreign roots in their family trees; Iran is, in the words of Mugatu, "so hot right now." Notice how this headline doesn't even have a verb in it. Verbs are not necessary, unless you want them.}

[front flap copy]

In this powerful debut, Yasmin Crowther paints a stirring portrait of a family shaken by events from decades ago and a world away. On a blustery day in London, the dark secrets and troubled past of Maryam Mazar surface violently, with tragic consequences for her daughter, Sara, and her newly orphaned nephew Saeed. Consumed with guilt, Maryam leaves the safe comfort of her suburban home and mild English husband to return to Mazareh, the remote village on Iran's northeast border where her own story began. There she must face her past and the memories of a life she was forced to leave behind, in the days when she was young, headstrong, and beautiful.

Back in England, Sara, who has never felt a strong tie to Maryam's birthplace, tries to understand what could have compelled her mother to leave. Together with Saeed and her distraught father, she begins to unearth Maryam's story from amid her memory of opium poppies, family lore and fragments of conversation, photographs and a few lines of poetry. In her quest to piece their life back together, Sara follows her mother to Iran to discover the roots of her unhappiness and to try to bring her home. Far from the streets of London, in a land of minarets, among the snow-capped mountains and dusty plains that have haunted her mother's dreams for half a century, Sara finally learns the terrible price Maryam once had to pay for her freedom, and of the love she left behind.

A rich and haunting narrative, The Saffron Kitchen tells of betrayal and retribution, of secrets that can lie undisturbed for decades, of the pain of exile, and of the bittersweet joy of homecoming.

{First, I wish they hadn't used the words "haunted" and "haunting" in quick succession; but what are you gonna do. Otherwise, I think this is pretty strong copy. Notice how this one, unlike JONATHAN STRANGE, leads with a reference to the author and the fact that this is a debut. I have mixed feelings about this, although some publishers have very strong beliefs about leading with a placer like this, particularly in debut and literary novels. My feeling is that it doesn't attract consumers--no average reader in Borders cares that this is a debut, and in fact, that might be a negative in some people's minds--but it does make the book of greater interest to writers and reviewers. Anyway, this is a style thing that varies from house to house, but you should decide what you think. In the cases of certain books and certain stories, it helps to lead with something to place the book.}

[back cover copy]

Yasmin Crowther was born to an Iranian mother and a British father. This is her first novel.

{Wow, ok. Now here's an author bio that's way too short. We know nothing--nothing!!--about pretty Yasmin except that perhaps she's not very creative, since she wrote a novel that might just be her life story. She didn't even give herself the credit of letting us know that she went to school or anything. I don't think this author bio helped at all, since it didn't open up interest in the book beyond what the plot description already had.}


Ok, I'm all done for now. Hope this helps!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

cover copy v synopsis

I know everybody is going to be entering my contest so for those of you who don't want to write the sonnet I'm going to talk a little bit about cover copy (hope this helps, and let me know if you have any questions...).

I know you have probably had to hone perfect synopses for the seeking of agents, etc, but writing cover copy is a little different. Unlike a synopsis, cover copy a) must be heart-poundingly enticing (this is where you can let your inner pulp writer out), and b) cannot give away all the structural elements of the plot. Synopsis copy is designed to tell about; cover copy needs to leave a reader hanging.

What's really important about cover copy is the "pitch." There has to be a nutshell concept in a line or two that is so compelling readers can't imagine not buying the book and will leave the store with some regret and wistfulness if they don't end up purchasing. Writing cover copy will help you distill the one (or possibly two) super-memorable points about your novel that will be its inalienable tagline. I know it hurts writers to have to reduce complex masterpieces to a line, but in a way, it hurts less than a synopsis--no one is making you pretend you're coving everything.

Now this exercise is a little artificial, because when your book is under contract, your house will provide the cover copy--they might have a copy team, or your editor (or her assistant) might end up writing the copy. But doing this is helpful for an author, for a couple of reasons:

-you can solidify in your mind what the one-line "pitch" is (as opposed to the story)
-you become a better talker about your book (personal marketing)
-your agent is in a better position to sell your book (editors don't have any craft and care more about the buzz words, since that's what they're going to have to be selling to their accounts, etc)
-you are prepared when your house send you your cover copy and it's rather bad and you have to make changes (be very wary of any copy about your book, since most people who write about your book haven't actually read the whole thing)

When you write cover copy, do do everything you can to keep an outsider's eagle-eye view. It is even more important that you not have any extraneous or lackluster sentences--consumers are ruthless and if you lose their attention or confuse them with language that is too artistic they're not going to care about your platform/agent connections/Pulitzer prize and they'll just put it down. Seriously, break out your inner pulp.

This is a rather high-level piece of advice, since publishers fall into this trap all the time, but bonus points if you manage to not use any of the extremely tired "copy" words that keep turning up. Just for added mental gymnastics.

Alas, I need to go out to brunch with Momrat (curses! not mimosas again!) so I've run myself out of time but tomorrow, I'll do a breakdown of an extremely successful debut novel whose cover copy follows all the rules (I'm going to use the hardcover to help illuminate all the pieces I asked for as part of the submission). I hope this is enough for today to help get the wheels spinning.

Friday, January 18, 2008


We're finally going to have a contest!!! First, the most important part:

Prize: One (1) "I [Heart] Robert the Publisher" t-shirt, in gem, size, color, and fit of winner's choice (within reason and pending the sizes, colors, and fits available at the silkscreener's).

A total of two (2) prizes will be awarded for this particular contest, one (1) for the winner of the contest, one (1) for the winner of the ancillary contest.

Participants may enter one or both contests. However, two different winners will be picked.

The contest:

Write Moonrat jacket copy for your next novel. Jacket copy should be between 250 and 400 words for flap, not including headlines, and 30 to 100 words for author bio.

This is an exercise Moonrat makes all her under-contract authors do. It helps them differentiate the craft-oriented synopsis they send an agent (when they are seeking an agent) and the plot- and theme-oriented copy that would inspire a consumer to pick up their book.

Entries will be graded on unputdownability.

The ancillary contest (for people who don't give a hoot about publishing and just want a t-shirt):

Write Moonrat a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Any subject is fine but sonnets are graded on their ability to make Moonrat pee her pants laughing.

Deadline for all entries: Friday, January 25th, 11:59 pm EST.

Copy and/or sonnets should be emailed to, either in the body of an email or as a Word attachment (Moonrat cannot open Word Perfect, Works for Windows, or Notepad files, sorry). Please specify in your email whether or not it is ok for Moonrat to put your entry up on Editorial Ass if you win (she hopes it will be ok, but will not disqualify you if it is not). Winners will be announced on Monday, January 28th, when Moonrat gets around to it.

Go forth, my loves!! Tell all your friends. I'm really excited, because now I'll get to make a bunch of tshirts and maybe have a bunch of contests.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

a song for you

The Bogmen sing Englewood. I hope you love it as much as I do.

If you're like me and this made you cry like a baby or a Beatles fan, come to South Paw in Park Slope tomorrow night at 9. Billy Campion, the Bogmen lead singer, is performing. Plus I'll be there. You'll know me; I'll be the only 5'9'' rodent. That I know of.

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

"It's just money. It's sort of boring. But we need it."


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

things the rally monkey says

[on witnessing the Manhattan White Pages sitting on the doorstep]

"Just what we need. Another white dispenser of useless information to sit in the living room and do nothing."

in FURTHER bad news

When will the hits stop coming today?!

RENT is closing. Booo. Who's going to see it with me before June 10th?

10 bonus points and a special invisible prize to the first person who correctly tells me what the opposite of war is.

Brad Renfro is dead

Thank you, Gawker, for stealing away my generation's childhood crush this morning. Brad died of what is speculated to have been a drug overdose, although they're not saying yet.

Remember Tom & Huck, the movie that changed your life back in 1995?


Top 10 Drunk American Authors

Thanks for this excellent list, whoever posted this so it popped up in my Google reader. You've made my path clear to me in two simple steps:

1) get a sex change;
2) nurture my drinking habit (which alas has fallen into disrepair)

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

reading efficiently

Froog has proposed a controversial set of 7 Habits of Highly Efficient Readership. I steal them here wholesale:

1) Read books in bookshops without buying them.

2) Browse, rather than reading whole books.

3) Make snap judgments about the quality of the writing by skimming a single page at random (and never read anything badly-written).

4) Have several books on the go at once.

5) Don't worry about not finishing books.

6) Always carry a book in your pocket.

7) Always buy one book - but only one - whenever you visit a bookshop.

Froog has asked me for my thoughts on his rules. I've been prevaricating because in commenting on his rules, I have to come back to the horrible confession that "editor" reading is very different from "reader" reading.

The truth is, if you took out "books" and replaced everything with "proposals," you've basically set your finger on the editor code here.

So it's absolutely true that in 90% of cases, I know whether or not I'm going to offer on a book proposal based on the first page of the sample writing. I receive literally hundreds of proposals, and reviewing proposals is only one of my major tasks at my job. As an editor, Froog, I live by your rules.

As a reader, I don't. It's true that your rules are extremely efficient, but having left higher education well and thoroughly behind, I don't feel a need to be efficient while reading. I read purely for enjoyment, which means that (if the book is good) I tend to linger and plod through things rather inefficiently.

I love to read--I average a book a week outside of work (I try to stay strong on that even during times like last week, when I was at work... a lot. I'm reluctant to sit back and try to calculate how many hours I worked because I think it would be a little demoralizing). I think it's really important for editors to make sure to read as much as they can, and remind themselves regularly what a "good" book is--we spend all day at our jobs reading not-ready-to-be-published stuff (and a lot of really crappy proposals), meaning it's a good idea to keep our brains from dropping our literary appreciation bar. I know it's hard to read while you're in a writing phase--there are various fears about letting another author's style intrude on your own, etc. But writers need to read for the same reason editors do--we should all be continually reminding ourselves what's good. We should take opportunities to increase our vocabularies and verbal dexterity.

Sorry, looks like a little rant escaped right there. Back to task. I also like to finish books, because there have been a number of books I've really HATED reading throughout but which really redeemed themselves with their conclusions. Also, if I don't finish a book, I feel bad about reviewing it in thebookbook, which is, after all, one of the driving joys of my life. I think responsible reviewers should have read the whole book they're reviewing. Otherwise, no one ever would have finished, say, LIFE OF PI.

Since I can't shake off the editor in me about certain things, let me applaud him on number 7 (taking or leaving the "but only one" part). Everyone should buy books all the time. Thank you. Let me also deplore his #1, which obviously would lead toward fewer book sales (since we've left the "but only one" part in #7).

{I finally posted, Froog!! Be extremely grateful.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Subrights--to sell or not to sell? (an editor has to add her two cents)

A lot of author and agent bloggers have been posting recently (and probably forever) about subrights, splits, advances, etc. This whole discussion can be pretty intimidating because after a little while the royalties start to look like "calculus," as Aprilynne so charmingly put it in this post.

I'm not going to focus on the math here (alas, my math skills peaked in 10th grade when on some miscommunication among various faculties I accidentally got invited to join the math team; invitation was promptly rescinded within 12 months of issue). You can read Aprilynne's for a comprehensive breakdown. I do, however, want to talk about the contract end of things, which is something editors (and agents) have to think about, but that authors SHOULD know more about. If you're an author on a verge of a contract, please think carefully about these things--a lot of them never crossed your mind when you were working on your baby, and I don't blame you. Some of them are totally counterintuitive.

Think of your book, published. You're probably picturing a number of pages (divisible by 16, of course) between some kind of cover with an image on the front and your name on the spine. YOU (and your friends) see that as your book; your editor and agent, however, see an indefinable chunk of intellectual capital that is loosely represented by the 8-16 pages of your contract as your book. To expound:

Your English-language American hardcover has a variety of "subrights" associated with it--trade paperback, mass market paperback, ebook formats; film, dramatic, theatrical renditions; non-dramatic audio recordings, both abridged and unabridged, both in the US and in the UK and elsewhere (these rights are often sold separately in territory contracts); Great British, Canadian, Australian, and Braille English language publication; Estonian, Hebrew, Swahili, Galician, Indonesian, and simplified AND classical Chinese translation; serialization of passages in periodicals before AND after publication (two different rights there); the syndication of material for use on desk calendars, action figures, plush toys, wallpaper, scholastic bulletin boards, and promotional materials; large print versions, book clubs, abridgments, antholigizations, reprints, and publications in formats yet unknown to contract drafters (contracts from the 80s usually won't have ebook clauses, but count on that last clause to cover ebooks these days). By the way, I'm only listing SOME of the rights your intellectual property can be licensed to cover. Basically, your book is more than you ever imagined when you were writing it.

Generally, sales of subsidiary rights are not what your agent or your editor (or you) thinks about the most--they're probably most focused on the successful publication in traditional format of your book, since if everything takes off, people will come to you wanting to buy your rights. However, there are some pretty pennies to be made on rights sales. Although most advances are modest (often modest in the extreme), rights are sold with royalty percentages, just like books are, and authors can often earn considerable pocket change off of rights sales (all while increasing their personal global influence).

The important thing to remember? Rights sales can make you money and get you famous, but they take tireless advocacy. You HAVE to be your own advocate here, regardless of whether you have retained or sold rights to your home-country publishing house (you and your agent both). You have to follow up with your agent and your agent has to follow up with your editor. Your editor follows up with the company's rights department, who follow up with the foreign scouts and agents, who follow up with editors at foreign publishing companies. With such a long chain of communicants, there is a lot of harassment involved in any successful execution of business. I'll admit it to you--I get a little irritated when I see another agent email asking for follow-up on recent rights sales news, but I quash my irritation immediately--rights sales are good for my company AND for my author, although they are an awful lot of work.

Always keep in mind that there is less incentive for your editor/agent to sell subrights than there is for them to, say, work on editorial sides of things, or work on marketing the book in the most mainstream of channels. Your editor, especially, loves you and wants rights sold and buzz created, but please harass her nicely. Friendly reminders are the best things possible.

You can also do some footwork for yourself to help the editor help the foreign scouts WANT to help you. You've written a novel about cats, and for some reason there have been two extremely successful novels about cats in Germany in the last three years. Tell your editor! Go on to, find the books, and pass along the authors, titles, and publishing companies to your editor. Those are the German houses to target for successful rights sales! Do you have a British friend who published a novel with a British house and who is friendly with her editor there? Get her to tell her editor about you and your book! If that editor can't help you, s/he might know someone who can. There are little things you can do to kick-start the process.

There is also a truism that rights sales beget rights sales (lots of things beget themselves in publishing; it's great and frustrating all at the same time). So if you can help your editor/agent seal the deal on a sale or two, the likelihood that sales 3, 4, and 5 will happen becomes ever so much higher. Notice how the backs of books never say "translated into 3 languages"? That's because either no one picked them up for translation, because there were no successful rights sales, or 21 companies in 21 countries picked them up for translation, because they saw everyone else doing it. Magical. So help get yourself over the big first hump if you can.

But with all this mess of different kinds of rights and zillions of people involved, how can you decide which right you even want to sell or keep at the time of contract negotiation? How can you decide how much certain rights are worth to you? All you wanted was to see your book on bookstore shelves!! This is probably the trickiest thing you will ever do in your entire time in publishing, but you must must MUST read and understand your contract and the subrights you're being promised, and you MUST come to terms with your house's capabilities, your agent's capabilities, and your own.

Every writer is in a very different position regarding rights, who wants them, and how much they'll pay for them. First of all, be honest with yourself about the capabilities of the house that's bidding on your book and the capabilities of your agents. Selling rights successfully involves having a lot of foreign contacts. This is where the size of your house and agent and your position on the food chain matter. Some examples:

One of my babies, "Emily," is a big book on my list represented by an excellent agent who has had four of her writers make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. She's a brilliant example of a successful boutique agent. She works out of her house, though, and has an agency staff of one (herself). Because she was realistic about her abilities to sell foreign rights, her own contact list, and my company's relative capabilities, she advised the author (I believe wisely) to sell me World rights. The upside for the author? My rights department has already sold several languages, large print, book club, audio, and ebook licenses--all of which her agent would most likely not have been able to sell on her own. The downside for the author? She has to share the profits from her sales with my company, as we need to pay our Rights department. But she's still getting a better deal than if she had retained her rights and counted solely on her agents, who is an excellent businesswoman, negotiated good royalty splits, and is a tireless author advocate.

From the editor's point of view, "Emily" was good for my company, too, since she has a lot of commercial potential and she gave us something to be really proud of at various international rights sales venues in the past year. Having "Emily" on our "Available Rights" list helped draw attention to the other smaller properties we had on the list, too, meaning some incidental sales that increased our house prestige. Not that you, the author, really care about that end, but just so you understand why companies fight for the subrights the way they do. It looks much better when we have stuff to offer.

On the flip side: another one of my babies, "Tamar," is a less commercial debut novel represented by a very large agency with its own rights department and its own audio sales department (in other words, more people than work at a lot of small companies). Because the agent (and I) were both realistic about our respective capabilities, the agent was only willing to sell me North American English rights. As an editor, I'm supposed to tell you that the author should have sold rights to me, but honestly the author and agent did the right thing from the author's point of view. If the agent sells those subsidiary rights, the author won't have to give me and mine a significant cut of the rights advances. The downside? If the agent is unable to sell those rights, it will mean that the book is never available to certain markets, whereas if we had World rights, at least the author's friends in Franistan would be able to buy a copy when it came out (as is, we don't have the right to ship anything to Franistan).

So things to consider when you're realistically evaluating your book's subright potential:

-How much outreach does your agent have? Actually? Be realistic. There is nothing wrong with having a small agent, and by all means, don't judge an agency by size--as I mentioned, "Emily" has an agent who, although all on her own, has had four different authors on the NYT bestsellers, two of them more than once. Also, going with a really big agency might end in your book getting lost or eaten by the big fish the agency already has. But DO be straight with your agent about their rights sales capabilities, because that's a whole different set of issues.

-How much outreach does your publishing company have? Do they have their own Rights people, or do they rely on already overburdened scouts and co-agents to a greater degree than you'd like? Also, are they a huge whopping company with a billion titles? This can be a pro or a con--there are often very strong midlist sales on unexpected books by big companies; at the same time, you will never have any kind of personal clout via your agent via your editor via the Rights director to encourage movement on your book at a large company, so if you ARE a midlist title, your fate is left entirely up to chance. Make sure you're being compensated for your uncertainty if you end up selling rights--the more rights you give up, the more money you should get as an advance. But there is push-pull in contract negotiation, so make sure you know which rights you'd rather give up than keep (ie, where your house's sales strengths lie). This will make everyone--you, your agent, your editor, and foreign companies--blissfully happy, because everyone will perceive that they are getting what they have paid for.

-Does the topic of your book have exportable potential? If you've written a history book about Native Americans, it's possible there is going to be significantly less interest in England than there will be in the United States. As a result, it might make it impossible for your agent to sell UK rights independently. In your particular case, you might want to give up UK rights without a fight to your house (of course, make them pay more for them). Then, at least your house can "run on"--print the number of copies they think they'll be able to sell in the UK, say, 500--a number way too small to make a separate rights sale profitable to any UK company, but a number that will end in significant pocket change for you. If your agent keeps those rights, that's money you forfeit and a whole group of people that can't read your book.

Keep in mind that there must be a minimum print run--usually, the smallest print runs at even the smallest companies are over 2,000--to make the book worth publishing on any level. If a market is going to be unable to absorb at least 2,000 copies or the book, it might be in your interest to sell those rights to your house for the run-on. This is why you'll see most sales clump "North America" together. Canada tends to take a nice chunk of, oh, 500 copies of a good US book; on those specs, it is very difficult to sell rights to a Canadian company to publish on their own, and it makes more sense to everyone to keep those books batched and printed together.

There's a lot to think about here, and I've just committed a public thought-dump. Please let me know if there are any things I can flesh out for you here. I needed to get my side of it in, though--there are things like print runs, shipping potentials, and negotiation points that I don't think a lot of authors, especially first-time authors, would know to think of. But subsidiary rights have the potential to make everyone happy (as opposed to making everyone upset and angry, which can definitely happen when lines are crossed or contract negotiations are not prioritized).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Friday, January 11, 2008

misuse of an apostrophe ends only in disappointment

My blog is #10 on google under "100 best girls ass's" which, I can only imagine, could only have been a little disappointing for the browser.

Not that, you know, I'm NOT among the 100 best girl Asses, but there aren't any pictures.

Now if the browser had punctuated properly--"100 best girls' asses"--I wouldn't have come up at all.

Let's hope my visitor happened upon this page during his/her browse.

here doth lie thy social life

7:11 on Friday evening, after two consecutive work weeks (that is, there was no discernable weekend in between them, in that I spent the whole weekend hunched over my desk blearily reading undersized copy and semi-judiciously employing my red pen). I've finally sent the text file out to the designer and, my rattling breathing echoing through the hollow corridors of my abandoned office, I think to myself, what the hey! Maybe I'll finish this bibliography tomorrow! (oh naughty girl) and go, you know, hang out with, like, what's the word?... oh yeah, friends. Hang out with friends.

Open flips the cellphone. Down I page through the numbers in the address book.

"Plans tonight?" I ask them.

"Yeah, sorry."

"I have a date; you knew that already."

"I'm hanging out with someone you don't like."

"I would, but I'm out of town."

"If only this weren't such last-minute notice."

"Wait, who is this?"

"I'm going to a movie with my sister; sorry."

[Ok, yes, you caught me--this dialogue is slightly exaggerated as I don't even know this many people. But the last one was real. Yes, I actually called my designer to see what he was doing tonight. Sigh.]

I think there might be a lesson in this story. Perhaps it is "do not alienate your friends by cutting them off for four months while rendering yourself blind in a locked room staring at a screen" or perhaps it is simply "do not go into editorial."

So... I guess I'm going back to the bibliography now.

best new publishing blog discovery

Writer Beware has a blog... If you haven't checked out their Web site, do. But the blog posts are well thought out and not too frequent.

Law & Order Actors Support Writer's Strike

A number of actors from all your favorite Law & Order shows put together this clip, "Murder Unscripted," to give you a taste of what life will be like if the strike doesn't end soon.

Kudos to all the actors who put themselves out there for this. (B.D. Wong, you're my man! You actually have an uptown fan club.)

Please go watch this video if you're a Law & Order fan. It's pretty awesome.

[this is what happens when one potters around on the internet BEFORE work! one finds cool things.]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

has anyone read A PALE VIEW OF HILLS by Kazuo Ishiguro?

I'm desperate to talk about it with someone who's read it but can't find anyone... If you have, I opened a discussion on The Book Book here (there's also a review here) and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Silent War

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times ran this article about the Silent War in Laos--the Vietnam companion war that Americans never heard about because it was masterminded by the CIA and was fought by local mercenaries who were promised various things by the US government. (Things, of course, that never happened.)

The article talks about the lives of the surviving mercenaries and their descendents, who have to live on the run and in hiding from the government they betrayed in order to help the US (and which they were never freed from). It's amazing to me that 30 years have gone by and not only has the US never coughed up what they promised (shocker) but the political situation in Laos has STILL not changed at all.

A really smart book about this that I read recently and that will probably change your life if you read it--THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, by Anne Fadiman. Fadiman talks about the Hmong refugee community in Southern California and the Silent War they were escaping (the book is actually about an epileptic baby and intercultural medical politics around treating her--the book is rich in things to think about and is a really wonderful read, to boot).

On slightly different but related subjects, I also recently read Amy Tan's SAVING FISH FROM DROWINING, which is about the very similar government persecution of minorty groups in Burma. Although poor Amy Tan's book disappoints pplot-wise, the beginning is a really nicely done reflection on Burmese ethnic politics and I would say it is worth reading for that reason alone.

I think it's really easy for Americans to forget the unmitigated damage our government did in Southeast Asia. Of course we're not responsible for this, but we do suffer the stigma of the sins our government has committed, and we are stuck with the legacy of hatred that will follow us through many parts of the world. So it's worth reading up on.

Incidentally, I wanted to do an Editorial Ass's Top 3 on books about minority people in Southeast Asia, but I've only read two. Can someone offer a third?

why I love my job #6987650 and #6987651

Brushes with celebrities!!

Today, I have a phone date with one of my lifelong heroes. I am going to be begging her for a blurb for one of my books. I fully expect her to say no, she is too busy, and possibly to tell me where I can stick it for bothering her at such a busy time, which I would totally deserve for my gumption (this would be out of character for her but I'm preparing myself just in case). But I will get to talk to her on the phone!! Which would just make my life complete. Keep your fingers crossed.

I also have an afternoon meeting with one of my authors. I think I told this story before, but I can't find it at the moment, so I'm going to retell it, because it's so cool. The reason I'm even working on her book is because I read her first book, which I Loved with a capital L. I thumbed through the back matter, found the acknowledgments section, called up her agent, and said, "That book was cool. I wanted to introduce myself and see what other cool stuff you have." And the agent said, "How about her next book?" That's how that happened.

So I do think this is the "glamour" aspect of being an editor, the one that every Ass quietly dreams of as she slaves away for minimum wage for untold years.

Now maybe I can get Michael Chabon's agent on the phone. (Just kidding.)

More specifically, I have to say I love working for Robert the Publisher, who is a) generally very supportive of projects I fall in love with, and b) an incurable social butterfly with friends [literally] everywhere.

But speaking of being a slave, these are the OTHER things I have to do today:

1) finish editing a 300 page manuscript (I'm 140 pages in, and it's a light edit)
2) write up ed memo for that author
3) create 3 more pieces of catalog copy (the easy ones, alas, I already did... these are clearly going to have to be pulled from, um, posterior nether regions, as they say)
4) clean my office!!!! RtP is on my case about that in a serious way
5) work through "Dolores" and her new typesetting, which I'm due to be receiving this afternoon and which needs to go out for galleys asap

Monday, January 07, 2008

let's talk about success, baby

I can't help it, I have to come back to this again. Sorry, guys. It just never ceases to fascinate me, and I feel like I need to explain why I've been in such a tizzy these last few weeks.

To preface: I got one of my babies--let's call her "Dolores"--off to copy editing yesterday. That's right! She's off my hands. I'm not entirely done with her--the upcoming weeks will be filled with mad revisions; coordinating corrections from the author, copy editor, and typesetter; writing and circing jacket copy and layouts; trying to solicit blurbs from famous people; general other last-touch mayhem.

See "Dolores" is a big deal. She's the project I mentioned a couple of weeks ago--the one that is getting so much buzz that I'm worried about the pressure of having a book take off. For various reasons, she's on a crash schedule, which is unfortunate because it means that neither I nor the author will have the time to go back and forth that we'd really like. Fortunately, the author approaches the platonic ideal of Dream Author and has just been wonderful through this whole grueling process.

Don't get me wrong--I'm so, so, very happy that Dolores is getting the attention she deserves (so many good books don't). And I do of course wish this for all my books. And all of your books. But I just want you to see the musing roads my mind is forced down by all this excitement.

I think I've probably blathered enough about sell-in and sell-through, so I won't bore you with that again. But.

Let's take two examples from my backlist. Two other babies.

The first one--let's call him "Stanley"--was the first book I got to work on in my current job. Stanley was already late in the production phase when I arrived, but I got to handle the little remaining things--copy, author liaising, event organizing, etc. "Stanley" is a terrific book--a real rarity, on an interesting subject, and the author wrote just laugh-out-loud prose, page after page after page.

Reviewers agreed about Stanley. A certain big women's interest magazine ran a full page review that came out two months before the book came out (the timing was unfortunate, we felt at the time, but it was in a "best of summer" full-color spread, and we sure could excerpt the review). Then, a couple of weeks later, a big-lolly print digest with which I am sure you are familiar also ran a full-page extremely laudatory extremely excerptable review. Other smaller venues followed. Our publicity director managed to set up a whole satellite radio tour for the major stations in several major cities, and there was even talk of a certain major late-night TV male personality inviting the author onto his show.

Half a year after the release date, the total number of Stanleys sold through major trade channels? Around 300. Particularly unfortunate given the high print run (which was set in order to accommodate orders from the accounts--this is where that sell-in sell-through equation really burns).

What went wrong? All the stars in the entire world were alligned for Stanley! There have been many theories, and I'll offer a few here to try to explain. I think, honestly, it is some complex combination of the below, but I think you'll have to agree there's also an element of mysticism about all these proceedings.

First, the reviews came a little early. We wouldn't be able to complain--we got major reviews! Major print venues gave us precious space!!--but at the same time, the reveiws didn't help us pull anything together, either. Just bad luck here--we're not sure why stuff landed just a couple of weeks off.

But this was further exacerbated by a printer error. All the materials were submitted on time to the printer, and everything was happy-go-lucky... until, for some reason no one has figured out, the books got shipped to the wrong warehouse, where they languished for two weeks. As a result, the book didn't even hit the stores on time. So the gap between when the reviews ran and when the books hit stores got even larger.

Ok, fine. But who even reads reviews? No one!! Well, not a lot of consumers. So what did it?

Perhaps the subtitle wasn't quite right, and appealed to the wrong audience (or, rather, didn't appeal to the right audience). Perhaps the cover image was too high-concept (or, maybe, too low-brow; you could feasibly complain in either direction about a lot of cover images). Perhaps this is the kind of book that people tend to buy in paperback, but don't really want in hardcover. Perhaps the author generated bad karma for cancelling half the radio tour? Maybe the topic, although interesting and potentially of mainstream appeal, was sabotaged by the fact that it didn't fit neatly into any particular shelf at the major accounts, and thus got lost in half-related shelves?

At any rate, an example that even the best of everything can't be made foolproof.

But on the flip side, let's talk about "Scott," a book that Robert the Publisher bought and which I'm acting as editor for. Scott is a rather comprehensive Tome (with a capital T) on a very small subject. Last spring, Robert acquired rights to Scott. "I fear this book will only sell 100 copies," he said, "but it's too good a book to be bound by those market restrictions. I'm afraid I just can't not publish this book." (Robert is very good about championing things he believes in.)

Furthermore, since Scott wouldn't be supporting himself on trade sales, Robert had to set a very high price point. "Hopefully the libraries will buy a few copies," he reasoned. Of course this destroyed any minimally surviving trade potential.


Nope. Scott, the high-priced, tiny-topiced, doorstop tome has sold through his comfy first print run. Sure, he got a nice review that ran in a couple of small scholarly journals, but again, who reads reviews? And that doesn't explain why people in bookstores want to break ALL their buying rules and shell out for him. Bizarre.

But you know what? We did our best by Scott. We gave him a good solid cover and we dutifully sent him out to the various channels. We gave him a catalog page and tooted his praises on our little horns. We tried. I guess trying worked.

What's my point...? I don't know. I guess it's just that we can't ever count our chickens, and that we must do our utmost in every case for every project... just in case. There's no such thing as surefire success, but maybe that extra hour of editing will make it that 2% better it needs to push it over some threshold or another. (Or so says the workaholic in me.) Hence the sleepless paper-pushing weekend.

It was worth it. Just in case.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

praises be

I'm done editing!!! At only 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoon. I even slept 3.5 hours last night.

Now I'm all ready to... go to work tomorrow...?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What's Does an Editor Mean by an Author Query?

Thanks, Xarissa, for flagging that in my previous post, since when an editor or a copy editor says "author query" they don't mean the same thing an author or an agent means when they say it.

The short-winded answer is that during a line edit, when an editor sees a point in a manuscript that requires clarification, citation, or expansion, s/he will flag it for the author in the manuscript. This way, when the author gets the manuscript to look at, s/he will be able to address these points efficiently. We put these queries in brackets (and often in boldface and/or capital letters, especially if we're typing) so it's clear to everyone who looks at them that a) the author didn't generate them, b) they're not to be typeset.

The long-winded answer (which, if you know me by now, you'll know I find utterly irresistible) involves breaking down the whole editorial process. These are the steps that usually happen after an author sends a baby into editing. We're going to assume that the manuscript is in an average state of repair/disrepair, which involves two rounds of edits (some books take many more than two rounds of edits, some take only one).

First, your editor will read your manuscript with an eye for large structural changes and write you an editorial memo. These include things like major thematic problems, plot holes, voice, etc. Things like "It's not really clear what Sandra's motivation for going to the store is in Chapter 5. Can you flesh that thought process out?" or "I wish you could work in more description of Bob's trailer throughout the book" or (this is a least favorite but a most frequent among authors) "As I think you know already, the ending really isn't working right now..." For nonfiction, we address argument inconsistencies, content organization, tone, and approach to target audience. The biggest problem in nonfiction is usually content organization--sometimes, it takes the author's tackling of the entire book for you both to realize that a different approach to organizing chapters and information is ideal. Fortunately, the hardest work is getting it down the first time.

You probably won't receive any author queries in this round, since in many cases, the editor won't touch the manuscript at all. No sense in polishing the silver if you're taking it back and exchanging it for a new set. But you will get a (hopefully very pleasant and sensitively worded) ed memo from your editor, and then usually you'll have a panicked phone call with your editor, and then she'll calm you down and encourage you and say repeatedly that it's really not as much work as it looks like in the memo. Then the two of you will agree on a redelivery date.

When you redeliver, you've done such an awesome job that no further "overhaul" is needed and your editor can address the smaller polishing points in a line edit. When editors line edit, they usually delete text, make small (line, sentence, or paragraph) moves, tweak grammar (although often they leave this for the copy editor), or add, at most, a new word or small phrase. It's important that a book be an author's, so this is where the querying comes in. Most of my queries run along the lines of "Can you please add a sentence or two here to explain what a peptide is?" or "Can you please add a sentence or two to explain why Linda just got promoted?"

The copy editor makes queries of a different nature, since s/he is plugged into fact checking and data integrity, while your editor was reading with an eye for art (or so we tell ourselves). Your copy editor will make queries like [AU: FIRST RECORDED USE OF BULLHORN WAS 1917. NEED A DIFFERENT WAY FOR COLONEL SMITH TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE OTHER SQUADRON?]. ("AU" points to something the author must address; they'll usually use the editor's initials or name for points the editor needs to address.)

During the editorial process, everyone has a different colored pencil (or a different "track changes" color in Word!). In some companies, that means the editor is green, the author is blue, the copy editor is red, the production editor is brown, the managing editor is purple (or whatever colors people chose). Your manuscript looks kind of cool at the end of that. We don't have production or managing editors so our manuscripts look slightly less cool, with only three colors.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Momrat's Tragic Crisis

Momrat and Dadrat have, of late, taken up ballroom dancing (or have tried to, at least), in the way that empty nesting rats are known to do. They have a Wednesday night dance class with their Austrian instructor, Tony, which results in frequent minor injuries and major indignities. Yet they persevere.

This Wednesday night, Dadrat drove into the driveway just in time to pick up Momrat for their lesson. Wednesday was bitterly cold in Ratville, so Dadrat didn't bother disembarking and Momrat truckled up to the car.

Momrat, who has never been, shall we say, mechanically inclined, was unable to open her door. She pulled and banged and slapped peevishly on the window (it was pretty cold). Dadrat tried the automatic lock a couple of times, but no go. "I think the door's frozen shut!!" he shouted over the rumbling engine.

Momrat, feeling cold and a little cross, flapped her arms and scooted to the other side of the car. She tried to open the door behind the driver's seat. She pushed and pulled etc, and Dadrat tried the automatic locks etc, but no go. Finally, Dadrat got out of the car to help her try to open the door. Together they pushed and pulled etc. Dadrat decided the door was definitely locked. He went to open the driver's door again and try the automatic lock when he realized he had locked himself out of the car.

With the engine running.

Dadrat began to fumble around for the spare keys. But Momrat, with her ever-observant rodent eye, spied them on the floor of the backseat of said car.

AAA was called to come and decompress the situation, but since Ratville is a strange, far-removed place sheltered from the world by trees and bears and other things of that nature, it took them more than an hour to get there. At least Ma & Pa were at home, so they could sit on the couch in the living room and watch the car chug itself out of gas in the driveway. But the dance lesson was squarely missed.

The funniest part of this whole story? (I know you've been waiting for the punchline.)

It's not the first time this happened. The first time was back in 1978, when Dadrat was bringing Momrat, his new fiancee, home to meet his parents. Dadrat and his mother drove to the airport in heat-stricken July in the southern California desert to pick my mother up. After they collected her baggage, they made their way out to the parking lot. As they approached the car, Momrat recollects thinking, "What's that noise? It sounds like an engine is running." Dadrat (and his normally very level-headed mother) were apparently so excited to be fetching my mother that they abandoned the car--locked, of course--with the keys in the ignition and the engine puttering away.

Umm. "Awwww," or something.

Why I Love My Job #6987649

I've LITERALLY been editing since 8 am yesterday (there was a four-hour break at some part of the night that started sometime around 1:30). So although I SHOULD probably be panicking about my deadline, I'm instead rewarding myself at a chapter end with a little blogging break. Mainly because Momrat called and told me a ridiculous story I have to share.

But before I get there, why I love my job: editing is such a RUSH. When you realize something is missing and make a REALLY AWESOME author query, it's like the ground undulates beneath you and the heavens and earth sigh in contentment. It's what Moses must have felt like when he parted the Red Sea. Well, pretty close, anyway.

And yet another reason: some authors leave the NICEST acknowledgment notes for their editors. Hopefully we manage to conceal this from you guys, but this kind of behavior may result in spontaneous and contagious good moods. It is also known to trigger rapturous glowing and much prancing of the office for up to 4 consecutive hours.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Is JK breaking down and considering writing an 8th Potter?

Keep hope alive!!!

Michael Chabon Rocks My World & Keeps Me Up All Night


The man is 44 years old and he rules the world!!!! Every sentence I read by him sends me into paroxyms of adulations.

Forthcoming post on The Book Book for KAVALIER AND CLAY, but I need to do it justice.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

further fun with Google

[thanks again, Sitemeter]

I am the NUMBER ONE hit under "aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah" (not sure if you need that exact number of As, but I copied and pasted just in case)!!!!

women in best of lists

Maud Newton talks really intelligently on NPR about how women got overlooked on 2007 (and many many other) best of lists.

getting off the train at 7:30

Commuting was pretty quiet today--no one about. Except the AM New York guy.

"Start your new year right!" he sang, extremely melodically, "with AM New York, in, your, life!"

I took one.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A New Year's Resolution Request

Dear all my online buddies,

I hope everyone had a safe and fabulous New Year's Eve (and hopefully a little less wine and next-day Advil than YT) and is off to a rollicking start. Thanks, Cyn, for pointing out that 2008 is the year of the Rat in the Chinese Zodiac--lunar rat year? seems like it should be promising for us ;)

I for one have made a string of resolutions (actually, they're more like goals, which seems more proactive) and I'm sure all you diligent folks have your own, as well. But I have a proposal for one more resolution that I'm making and that I hope you, specifically the writers and publishing folk among you (which is basically everyone who reads this in some way, since blogging is a very powerful means of dissemination), might think about to. It's this: write/edit/publish with agenda.

The longer I work in publishing and the more projects I see pass over my desk or those of my colleagues and competitors, the more this matters to me. I know that working is supposed to make you jaded and mercenary, not more passionate about what you do. But the more I understand the industry and think about things like the impact of literacy, reading material, corporate censorship, education, and formula fiction, the clearer the truth becomes. Written word is an intensely provocative medium that for thousands of years was used primarily to convey ideas. Reading is an extremely personal and often life-affecting activity. An author should recognize that he or she can't imagine which device or thread of their work might echo in a child's (or an adult's) head and change their attitudes or behaviors. And so an author should be responsible for every sentence and make sure that he or she is creating thoughtfully.

So the goal: think about what you stand for, and when you can, make your readership think about what you stand for. I know this isn't a new idea, but it's gotten so very lost that we really need to think about it seriously. Having a message and being responsible for it is so very much more crucial at this juncture than it ever has been in history--people produce, absorb, distribute, and purchase media in volumes impossible until very recently, and at the same time retailers and investors are becoming increasingly narrow-minded, profit-conscious, and homogenized. I'm not striking out at them here--corporations can't help corporate structure and I do believe they do their best, mostly, to be responsible about stocking selections; however, it should be clear that this situation only amplifies the need for responsible authorship and publication so that the selection available to them to pick from is something that will contribute to the positive shaping of society, and not the negative. There has never been a time like this very moment when writing with agenda was more important.

I know what I stand for (literally, I sat down, thought about it for a really long time, and wrote a bunch of bullet points on an index card that is now pinned by my desk). So I hereby solemnly resolve that in 2008 and in all years going forward I will, to the absolute best of my ability, not acquire, edit, or endorse books that go against my beliefs, not for profit, not for glory, not for fun. I will remember how powerful words can be and remember, in the immortal words of Spiderman's Uncle Ben, that with great power comes great responsibility. This is something I will (and do) think about everyday.

I sincerely hope everyone will join me.

Happy 2008, everyone!!

Ratty love,