Friday, February 29, 2008

Prince Harry in Afghanistan

This sucks.

The poor guy is trying to do something with his life--and is even putting himself at considerable risk--and the press chooses to make it into a gossip stunt that puts him in greater danger and really undermines the whole point of things.

If you're going to throw money around in Afghanistan, why not put it toward a rehabilitation organization to help seriously suffering Afghans (of whom I have a hunch there is probably more than one) instead of toward stalking the poor prince?

Thanks, HomeInKabul, for the link.


Saw this on and now my life will NEVER BE COMPLETE until I get it.

Update: Rats. Yes, Precie, this is even better.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reader Question: What's the ideal length of a submission?

A reader wrote to me with this great question a couple of weeks ago. I have so much to say about it that I've been stalling on replying. I hope this reader doesn't feel unloved, since it really is a good question (and a chance for me to get on my soapbox).

Hey there, Moonrat (it feels a bit odd writing that, I have to say) [fair enough, dear reader],

That said, I have a couple of questions on length of submission. I write horror/supernatural suspense and my agent is currently shopping my first project(90,000 words).

My work-in-progress is going to check in at around 75,000 or 80,000 words maximum. I read widely in my genre and I've noticed a lot of debut novels coming in around 190-220 pages in trade paperback format. That seems pretty short to me, but I can't tell how many words that might be. I enjoyed Joe Schreiber's Eat the Dark (edited by Keith Clayton), which came in at 193 pages and had over fifty chapters.

My questions concern the nuts and bolts on something like this. Do editors acquire texts with fifty-plus three and four-page chapters? Does this affect the marketability/desirability of a project? I appreciate any insight you can offer on this topic.


So many interesting points here for me to talk about (ratty field day). Let me start with a caveat--although I have worked in genre fiction (and do work on some now), it's not my specialty. I'm going to have to skirt around your very genre-specific questions just a little.

First of all, you've noticed the trend toward shorter books in publishing--even genre publishing, which has historically been a safe haven for Tomes with a capital T. Maybe TV is ruining society and attention spans are getting shorter, maybe publishers are just trying to make their print margins work in an age of inflation (shorter books are much cheaper to produce).

Either way, I have to admit my personal taste is toward shorter books. I really like submissions between 60 and 80k words. I'm relatively open-minded, but anything shorter than 60,000 words usually proves to be a little half-baked. (This is not always true, of course, but often it just comes up short--a good novel needs cohesive structure and enough development to pull a reader in, and often this can't be accomplished in fewer than 60,000 words.) I also cringe whenever an agent tells me she's sending me a 200,000-word debut novel. I think the upper limit of my patience for books I edit--even genre books--is about 120,000 words. I like all my books to cast off under 400 pages when they are typeset (and I like pretty spacious font so my readers don't have to develop glaucoma over my titles).

My personal reading preferences aside, I also have some professional pressure to either acquire shorter books or edit books down to manageable lengths. There is the basic margin--book prices don't escalate relative to inflation, and it becomes harder and harder to make our numbers work at all on the book production end.

There's also the famous sell-in problem. National chains like shorter books. More shorter books fit on the same shelves as fewer longer books, but the shelf full of more shorter books has a much higher cumulative retail value. Bookstores buy more copies of shorter books. Therefore, a shorter book has a slightly higher chance of becoming a bestseller (quality of actual book not taken into account).

So I know this all seems very superficial, but from a commercial standpoint manuscript length is a factor.

That doesn't answer any of your questions directly; it's mostly me on a soapbox. To get back to your situation, it sounds to me like you're in a very healthy length range. In terms of format, I don't think you should worry about it. Write your book organically in the format that's working for you. Although gimmicks in formatting get old quickly, we (editors and publishers) are always looking for innovative structures. And sometimes the gimmicks really work (look at Chabon's GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD next time you're in a bookstore--his gimmick is illustrations and artsy two-color chapter openers). I would say don't tailor your book's structure to anyone else's ideas unless that helps you write it more effectively.

Hope this helped. Let me know where I've left holes in my argument (I am blogging on a non-work day so my brain is a little non-working).

build some vocab on a Saturday morning

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What's Your Schtick Lit

This on Elegant Variation--new genres to branch out into.

Some of my favorites include

Schtick Lit - Footnotes, characters named for colors, and other look-at-me machinations. (See Special Topics in Calamity Physics and, again, Infinite Jest.)

Mick Lit - The literature of Ireland. (See Banville, John and Ruland, Jim.)

Let's think of our own ;)

How about

Flick Lit--for people obsessed with movies (The Star Machine or Choking on Marlon Brando)

Private Dick Lit--novels about detectives (as opposed to mystery novels) (Yiddish Policemen's Union)

Bic Lit--books that were (or that might have been) scribbled by hand in emo cafes (The Bell Jar, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

first page mayhem

Bernita blogged today about the ongoing "controversy" that has arisen from first page contests and the fact that they seem to favor books that begin with a "bang" as opposed to a quiet beginning (and you can imagine all the implications therein about our need for sensationalism and lack of attention span, etc).

I have two things to say about this from my personal manuscript evaluation experience:

1) 9 out of 10 times I'll know whether I want to bid on a book after reading the first page.

2) Whether or not I want to bid on a book has nothing to do with what the first page was about.

Bernita makes the point that the real purpose of the first page is to engage the reader--and really, that's all it needs to do. I personally am more susceptible to good writing than to action. I would venture to say that I'm actually less likely to enjoy a book that starts out with a high-paced action sequence, but if it's really well written then it doesn't matter.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Mother Has a Condition

That is going to be the name of my first book. Just so everybody knows. When a book by that name comes out, you'll know who I am.

Space Alien and I have been thinking about perhaps writing it together.

But yes, I promised to tell you about my mother's condition.

For many years, my mother, who is a teacher, has had what she calls "a bad throat." Her voice gets scratchy and dry, particularly in chalk dust, but even switching to dry erase boards hasn't protected her from something strange in her throat that wells up and causes her to not be able to speak at all on occasion. Her throat isn't sore, it's just full of things. She thinks she might need surgery to get the things out. It will all be very taxing.

Doctor after doctor has looked in her throat and shook his or her head. There's nothing there to take out, they say. Really.

Nonsense!! cries my mother, who after these appointments would storm off to nap in agonized frustration. What is wrong with all the doctors? Or what is wrong with her? Maybe she's dying.

Finally, there is a breakthrough. My mother unfortunately has shingles that come back in times of stress, and one of her bouts (or possibly the medication she has to take for it) causes her to have insomnia. The insomnia causes her to hear random beeping noises around her. They sound like alarm clocks, only friendlier. She hears these beeps both when she's supposed to be sleeping and during the full light of day. No one else hears them. The doctor prescribes some pills (sleep aids). Alas my mother can't swallow them--the things in her throat get in the way.

Eureka! The doctor has figured it out.

"I have a condition," Momrat tells me when she gets home from the doctor.

"Really?!" I say, shocked. Is it systemic? Will there be unendurable sessions at clinics, operations, strange medications with side effects? Poor Momrat--all this time no one took her seriously! "What is it?"

"It's called Globus Hystericus," she says. I hesitate to affix the adverb "proudly" to the previous dialog tag but not to do so seems dishonest.

I search all the Latin roots I remember from SAT prep a million years ago. "You have... imaginary balls?"

"Yes," she says. "In my throat, like a bunch of marbles sitting there. The balls are what's keeping me from swallowing the pills and they roll around and that's what makes me hear the beeping."

"But they're... imaginary."

"No, they're real, only only in my head, so they can't be removed, unfortunately."

"Right." Seems pretty straightforward. "Ma," I say. "You realize this means you have an imaginary condition."

"Of course," she says. "But it's a real imaginary condition."

"Is there, um. Anything you can do for it?"

"Yes, the doctor's given me this bottle of placebos. They help a lot--I've never slept this well. And I think the balls are much smaller."

"Ma." I struggle with this for a moment. "You realize that the doctor has given you imaginary medicine for an imaginary condition."

"Duh," she says, rolling her eyes. "He couldn't give me real medicine for an imaginary condition. Geez, Moonrat. Sometimes I wonder about you."

By the way, my mother has cautioned against writing about her in my blog. Not because she's shy or anything--it's a genetic case of exhibitionism we have. No, she just warns me that someone ELSE might steal her stories and write a book about her before we can.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

things the rally monkey says

YT: I didn't want to be friends with you, but then you took me to Ihop and bought me pancakes.

RM: Staples called. They said that was easy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I know you've been missing some Momrat

My sister (Space Alien) went home for the weekend. This is her story. Names have been changed to protect the ridiculous.

S.A. is walking out of the upstairs bathroom and hears Momrat calling her from the master bedroom (which is on the other side of the house). "Can you bring me my glasses case?!" calls Momrat.

The glasses case is, of course, on a nightstand about 2 feet from where Momrat is reading in bed and about 25 feet away from Spacey, but ya know.

So SA brings Momrat the glasses case, which Momrat proceeds to open. The case creaks as it opens. Momrat snaps it shut. "Did you hear that?" she says.

"Hear what?" says Space Alien.

"This." Momrat opens the case again, and the case creaks again. "That noise. That's the camera."

"What camera?" says Space Alien.

"The CIA bugged my glasses case," says Momrat, without a trace of irony. She creaks it open again and points to a screw that's pointing out. "There's a miniature camera in that screw, and every time I open the case you can here the camera come on."

My mother is two things (besides crazy):

1) A schoolteacher (who I'm sure the CIA have lots of reasons to stalk)
2) Too young to have Alzheimer's or any other degenerative paranoia disease type thingies

Next post, when I have more stamina, I'll tell you about her "condition." That's a good one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rose sent me a clipping from THE WEEK magazine

called "Garfunkel's book fetish"

Book geeks, rejoice! We have among us a pop icon:

"Art Garfunkel is a compulsive reader, says Nick Paumgarten in The New Yorker. Since June 1968, Garfunkel has read a grand total of 1,023 of the greatest works of literature. He knows this because he has compulsively been keeping track--chronologically listing each title, first on sheets of loose-leaf paper and then, beginning several years ago, on his Web site. Averaging more than two books a month over the past 40 years, Garfunkel has tackled an eclectic cross section of novels, poetry, and philosophy."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

when it snows at night in New York

all the light from the street lamps gets caught in the overcast and the entire world turns soft yellow.

It's not for everyone, but when I look outside my window on nights like tonight I know I couldn't live anywhere else.

power failure

We've had electric problems in our building all week so I'm having a diminished web presence problem. Sorry, folks.

However, I leave you with this sonnet from Dave P, who gets special points because he wrote it for fun long after the contest was over. Thanks, Dave!

Sonnet by Dave P

I like you, I really, really like you!
I usually disregard the 'osphere
But for something that catches the eye
and offers something funny, often wry,
and with the indefinable hint
that "this will be of use to me"
when I'm a writer, all grown up,
as the works of Snark and her little pup.

From the mud wherein I live
it's a thrill to see a spark
of intellect, fire, and spirit
making a bold mark
and even illuminating NYC
with letters light on background dark.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

waiting to hear back from your agent on submissions

I posted on this a couple of weeks ago here. I wanted to draw attention to the post again, because there's a live discussion going on there and a couple of agented writers have been chipping in their words of wisdom. I think this is a hugely helpful discussion--thank you all--and I have to admit that I'm happy to take advantage of this opportunity to get my two cents in on this.

I'm going to answer a couple of questions that have appeared in the comments section. But first, my caveat--I only speak for myself and my personal business practices here. However, I will say that although I can't say ALL editors work like this, I can certainly say that some (and perhaps most) editors do.

I really need the nudge to look at your manuscript. I do. I need to hear from your agent. If I'm flaky on the phone, it's because I haven't looked yet and I'm stalling. I don't mean this as a personal affront against your manuscript--I just get more than 100 solicited agented proposals a month and I have (you know) my editing to do to.

To further flesh out my editorial thought process, and why I need your agent to budge me... Many agents work on a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks principle, some of them for all of their books, but most of them for books that they took on and love and yet haven't been able to sell. On my end, I naturally don't know what the agent has already been shopping, or what round of pitches I'm part of when I receive your proposal. (At least, I HOPE your agent doesn't let me know that XX other editors have rejected it!!) That's why if your agent doesn't follow up with me--and repeatedly--I'm going to end up assuming this is one of those not-hot projects and that I'm under absolutely no pressure to read it. On top of that, there's a good possibility I'm not going to be able to bid on the project, either, since if the agent's this passive about it s/he has probably given up on it, too (or so it looks like from my end).

One of your good questions: "How do I bring this up with my agent?" I'll admit, this is a tough one to me. I'm rather bad with confrontation (however friendly). If anyone else has recommendations for conversation openers that have worked, please chip in here.

First, a friendly nudge might help. When an agent nudges me about foreign sales, I nudge the rights manager, she nudges the scouts, they nidge the foreign editors, and sometimes we end up with a new deal. Your agent might be busy and with good intentions. Try the nudge.

If your agent flat-out tells you no, they won't follow up yet, and that you need to chill out, ask if you can talk it through. Agents are there to help shepherd new authors through unfamiliar and often hostile waters. I like Church Lady's line from the previous post--"I still have to much to learn about the whole process..." Make them lay out their plan for you. "Can you give me an idea of time frame?" If you pin someone by having them confess to a date, this gives you another opening to bring up conversation again at that point. This will hopefully also give you peace of mind--you'll know what your agent's plan is, how you fit into it, and what reasonable expectations are.

Most agents are good agents. Most WILL want to put your mind at ease, etc. And most have a plan. But remember that you're entitled to know (and to ask) about the plan. It's your book. So have the conversation.

If you're worried about your agent's plan for your book, I think it is ok to talk to your agent about this. Of course, your agent is a professional agent, and neither you nor I are (alas). I wish I had an agent to jump in here and give me their take on this--I think some dialogue would be helpful. Perhaps I will try to solicit some agent attention.

Another good question you asked: "Is asking an agent to check in once a month too pushy?" No. I think once a month is just right. It shows your agent continues to take the project seriously. It's also enough time for an editor to be reminded of the project, look at it, and decide if they like it. If they like it, it's enough time to bring it up at ed meeting. A month, in fact, is my ideal interval between phone calls. Honestly, when they come more often, I start to dread them.

Those are my thoughts.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

another sonnet by Paula

Thanks for this sonnet, Paula. I laughed a lot when I read it, although I then did rather wish I had a case of gin, too.


My muse went out to get a pack of smokes

This hasn’t helped me peck out artful verse

If muses are a myth or just a hoax

Then why’s my writing getting worse and worse?

Bad news for you, poor literary guard

‘Cuz you’re the one who has to read this shit

I never was and ne’er shall be the Bard

And sucketh doth the sonnet I submit

The only way this piece of crap will win

Is if I send the judge a case of gin.

planning ahead=totally underrated

YT had approximately 9 contracts whose delivery dates landed between December 15th, 2007 and January 15th, 2008.

YT apparently also had 9 extremely diligent writers, not a one of whom slacked off and missed their delivery date.

YT now has 7 (that's all but the two I've gotten to) well-meaningly anxious authors knocking politely at her door, window, phone, and email accounts, looking for affirmation that I haven't decided to drop their projects. It's kind of amazing how so many good writers worry about the quality of their stuff so much.

I really feel for all my authors--I really do!! I would hate to send a baby off and then have to wait more than 5 weeks for a thoughtful response. Poor things. I feel bad.

Woe is YT, who should have planned better when she was drafting the contracts. Woe, woe.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

It's the year of the Rat, as you probably know, and I think that is most auspicious for myself and all my ratty brethren and cohorts.

May our words flow eloquently, may we have bestsellers in our near future, and may we be surrounded by delicious foodstuffs!

Celebrations to ensue anon.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


One of my authors was briefly heartbroken for the last two weeks because her pride and joy--her book, which, obviously, I believe in very thoroughly--had been rejected and rejected again by everyone we approached to blurb it. It's an important book on an important topic, and my author began to question--was it her content? Did she mess up? Did she not write well enough? Was the topic less important than she imagined? Why did everyone, from top to bottom, say no, even the people she knew must believe in her message?

The story ends happily, because this morning we got in two very nice blurbs from two extremely nice sources, but let me tell you, most stories don't end that happily. Blurb quests are time consuming, expensive, and really depressing most of the time. It's really sad.

My author says she's learned something from all of this--despite her full plate, her writing commitments, her full-time job, and her family obligations, she will do her best to say yes to any author, especially any debut author, who asks her to consider their manuscript for endorsement. I'm really glad that that was the message she chose to take from this, instead of a negative one about how much it sucks that successful published authors are so frequently unwilling to pay forward the favor that helped their book take off.

My author also passed along this article to me, which she said helped her come to terms with the issue. It's by a journalist who got upset when he saw a very famous published author's statement in the WSJ that he never provided blurbs, just simply said no to everyone. The author of the article provices a list of rules for blurbees and blurbers that I think are well worth thinking about.

It's true, authors, particularly famous ones, are extremely busy. We're all busy. And many authors will have to say no to most blurb requesters. But I do think it's worth remembering what you went through when you were first published, and trying to pay forward some of that goodwill.

Monday, February 04, 2008

reading, writing

I know I've been lapse on posting in thebookbook--but I have now posted two new reviews!! And yes, this is kind of an ad--I know I have some new readership recently, so if any of you are interested in thebookbook, I hope you'll stop by and let me know if you want to participate.

I know it was hard for me to get back into reading as we all got back to work after New Year etc, but I feel really good now that I have. I've decided that I really strongly believe that reading all the time has made me a better writer. I once had an English teacher who suggested that you have a "writing" mode and a "reading" mode and you shouldn't push yourself hard in one direction when you're naturally inclined in the other. But for me, this isn't true (she says after approximately 9 years of reflection). My vocabulary is better when I'm reading all the time, my thoughts are sharper and more succinct than they would be if I weren't forcing myself to think about other people's ideas. I know there's a widely voiced concern that reading other people's writing can affect your style, but for me, at least, that's not the case. I'm more conscious of my own style when I've recently been focusing on someone else's.

Just some random thoughts.

blog author tours

Your thoughts, please. Should I encourage my authors to try these? Any pros and cons you can share from past experiences? What kinds of things do people talk about?

Any insight is helpful.

Moonrat Complains about Capitalism

I've just learned from my inventory supervisor that Barnes & Noble is closing their 6th Avenue & 21st Street (Chelsea) store (and this just after the death of my favorite store at Astor Place, a really beautiful wood-floored cozy BNN that was one of my deciding factors in moving to New York). Why?! I protested. It's a great store, great stock, great layout, and they must make pretty comfortable profit. Also, we all know BNN had a good year last year--it's not like they're in need of downsizing their company.

It's the rent, he guessed. Have you noticed that Manhattan real estate owners seem to prefer to kick out their tenants and keep their buildings empty for a long time, even years, in the hopes that they'll be able to lock in their higher rents?

It's true--Manhattan is turning into a wasteland of luxury apartments, box banks that close at 5 pm, and empty buildings that no one can afford to rent. I HATE it. I've watched it change with shock and horror (and I've only been here 7 years--I can only imagine how horrified REAL New Yorkers are).

But seriously--what can you replace a bookstore with? WHAT?

still sick.

The editorial gods and goddasses (gods must have assistants, right?) are clearly punishing me for the number of hours I've spent working on "Dolores" recently. And possibly also for staying out at Jake Ivory's until 2 in the morning on Saturday and belting out Billy Joel along with the dueling pianos although I had lately been abed with some horrible bacterial infestation. Jake Ivory's is a good time, though, folks. If you're in the Boston area I would highly recommend it.

So some Monday thoughts:

1) Catalog copy, blech.
2) Please, blurbers. Please respond! Please stop flaking out on me when I've already delayed the print date for you!
3) I would like a bowl of pho.

4) Also, in late news, I love my publicity director. Gosh, this guy pulls miracles out of his hat.

Friday, February 01, 2008

sonnet by Merry

Another awesome one... Thanks, Merry.

Ode To Moonrat

Moonrat's a blogger that propels my muse
Though non-writers will think me quite perverse
For that sparkly tee shirt that I can use
And bloggy glory makes me pen this verse.

Manuscript of Doom made her spit and swear
But her work day lightened with Robert's gems
From her time as ASS readers grew to care
Search engine phrasing made us need 'Depends'.

No tolerance for booze that is her blight
She'll munch some drunky crispies just for flair
But wading through those prose she has the sight
Commitment to her scribe beyond compare.

First an Ass now Ed, Momrat's pride doth swell
Anonymous and yet we know her well.

being sick sucks

Being sick at works sucks, because all your colleagues secretly hate you because they're afraid you're infecting them. Being sick at home sucks, because all you can do is wallow in bed and drink NyQuill and feel sorry for yourself. It's very hard to edit efficiently when you're feeling sorry for yourself.

These are my current thoughts.