Thursday, July 31, 2008

book reviewing on blogs

My name is Moonrat, and I'm a blogger. [Hi, Moonrat.] Today is my [quick attempt at calulations] 635th day blogging. [Congratulations, Moonrat.]

My time blogging has been SO very educational. It has been a period of geometric brain growth as I grappled with and struggled to understand the internet (woops, that should probably be in the present tense, since the battle is hardly over).

For example, this morning I read Lissa Warren's HuffPo article about why blog reviews have, as of yet, failed to replace print book reviews. Seeing as I write about books, I wanted to think deeply about this.

A couple points Lissa makes:
1) Most blog book coverage isn't an article per se; it's a link to another article, or a review elsewhere (umm, kind of like this blog post is)
2) A lot of reviews that do appear on blogs are quick, dashed-off thoughts that focus on personal feelings about the book instead of what Lissa calls "judgments" (ie what a print book reviewer would have been forced to make)

Now I like quickly dashing off my personal feelings about books. It's kind of the reason I started blogging. But as an editor, boy do I feel the grind as "real" (that is, print) book review venues fold. And boy do I wish there were more reliable online review venues. Boy do I.

I've struggled with both these issues (personal feelings and judgments) over my time blogging here and on thebookbook. For example.

I like to read, and I like to write about what I read. That's a basic platform that's pretty personal. Also, will the people--mostly my friends, at least up until recently--who read my review care more about detached analysis of literature, or what my *personal* reactions were? I would have said the latter. But if I focus on the personal, perhaps I'm alienating all those imaginary people who might someday look up my review on google (?).

I used to review everything, negative and positive... until I started getting some significant traffic here, and then I realized I didn't want to be responsible for any meanness on the internet. The power of internet traffic scares me, and what I don't want to do is to be labled an angry or ranting blogger. But then I begin to question if even an honestly tempered account of something I read and liked and disliked is ok. What if the topic was interesting but I only liked and didn't love it? Should I mislead my blog readers by not talking about the negative aspects?

Rats, rats, rats, as they say.

I'm solidifying my own opinion here, but naturally I can't even make up my mind without some measure of approval-seeking. So, on this matter of book reviewing on blogs, what do you think? What would you rather read personally, online? Are there any online review venues you trust in particular? Do you care about reviews at all, or would you care more if they were done a certain way?

Reminder: Book Club tomorrow!!

There will be at least three of us!!

PARALLEL LIVES by Phyllis Rose

Just do it. All the cool kids are doing it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

production meeting

Production Manager: The printer's been sitting on these files for two months. Any idea when the contributor will finally approve them?

Editor: September. They say it will be September.

Production Manager: They say that falling in love is wonderful.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Olympic athlete gender tests?

So I read this article in the NYT today.

The article asks at the end whether or not you think gender tests are appropriate. I have one question: what kind of person would be so consumed with the idea of winning an Olympic medal that they would a) cheat enormously and b) totally obscure their true identity in order to gain everlasting glory for a person that doesn't actually exist? Who do you share your gold medal with if you don't really know anyone because you've had to make up an alter-identity to become a gold medal-winning athlete?

I dunno. Just seems really far-fetched to me that this would actually be relevant at all. I feel like the number of people who are transgender and also Olympic-caliber athletes would be pretty small, considering that both those groups are tiny fractions of the population. Which means that for the most part these tests are totally superfluous. But who knows. Maybe I'm wrong?

happy Monday!

I've finally nailed down a book deal I really had my heart set on. I'm deliriously happy! This author is such a peach, and I just can't wait for us to start working together. If things hadn't worked out and I'd lost this book I would have cried.

Here's to everyone's having a great week!

50 outstanding literary translations of the last 50 years

The Times (London) put together this list, which has made me very happy because I've read a number of books on it--and by that I mean 8. Which Chinese people would tell you is a highly auspicious number!

I've turned this into a snobby meme by boldfacing the ones I've read. (I love literature in translation, although I know it's not for everyone). Feel free to play if you like translations, too!

1. Raymond Queneau – Exercises in Style (Barbara Wright, 1958)
2. Primo Levi – If This is a Man (Stuart Woolf, 1959)
3. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – The Leopard (Archibald Colquhoun, 1961)
4. Günter Grass – The Tin Drum (Ralph Manheim, 1962)
5. Jorge Luis Borges – Labyrinths (Donald Yates, James Irby, 1962)
6. Leonardo Sciascia – Day of the Owl (Archibald Colquhoun, 1963)
7. Alexander Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Ralph Parker, 1963)
8. Yukio Mishima – Death in Midsummer (Seidensticker, Keene, Morris, Sargent, 1965)
9. Heinrich Böll – The Clown (Leila Vennewitz, 1965)
10. Octavio Paz – Labyrinth of Solitude (Lysander Kemp, 1967)
11. Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita (Michael Glenny, 1969)
12. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 100 Years of Solitude (Gregory Rabassa, 1970)
13. Walter Benjamin – Illuminations (Harry Zohn, 1970)
14. Paul Celan – Poems (Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, 1972)
15. Bertolt Brecht – Poems (John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried, et al 1976)
16. Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish (Alan Sheridan, 1977)
17. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie - Montaillou (Barbara Bray, 1978)
18. Italo Calvino – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (William Weaver, 1981)
19. Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida (Richard Howard, 1981)
20. Christa Wolf – A Model Childhood (Ursule Molinaro, Hedwig Rappolt, 1982)
21. Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose (William Weaver, 1983)
22. Mario Vargas Llosa – Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Helen R. Lane, 1983)
23. Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Michael Henry Heim, 1984)
24. Marguerite Duras – The Lover (Barbara Bray, 1985)
25. Josef Skvorecky – The Engineer of Human Souls (Paul Wilson, 1985)
26. Per Olov Enquist – The March of the Musicians (Joan Tate, 1985)
27. Patrick Süskind – Perfume (John E. Woods, 1986)
28. Isabel Allende – The House of the Spirits (Magda Bodin, 1986)
29. Georges Perec – Life A User’s Manual (David Bellos, 1987)
30. Thomas Bernhard – Cutting Timber (Ewald Osers, 1988)
31. Czeslaw Milosz – Poems (Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Hass, 1988)
32. José Saramago – Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (Giovanni Pontiero, 1992)
33. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (Terence Kilmartin, 1992)
34. Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (Tim Parks, 1993)
35. Naguib Mahfouz – Cairo Trilogy (Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, Angela Botros Samaan, 1991-3)
36. Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen, 1993)
37. Bao Ninh – The Sorrow of War (Frank Palmos, Phan Thanh Hao, 1994)
38. Victor Klemperer – I Shall Bear Witness (Martin Chalmers, 1998)
39. Beowulf (Seamus Heaney, 1999)

40. Josef Brodsky – Collected Poems (Anthony Hecht et al, 2000)
41. Xingjian Gao – Soul Mountain (Mabel Lee, 2001)
42. Tahar Ben Jelloun – This Blinding Absence of Light (Linda Coverdale, 2002)
43. W.G. Sebald – Austerlitz (Anthea Bell, 2002)
44. Orhan Pamuk – Snow (Maureen Freely, 2004)
45. Amos Oz – A Tale of Love and Darkness (Nicholas de Lange, 2004)
46. Per Petterson – Out Stealing Horses (Ann Born, 2005)
47. Irène Némirovsky – Suite Française (Sandra Smith, 2006)
48. Vassily Grossman – Life and Fate (Robert Chandler, 2006)
49. Alaa Al Aswany – The Yacoubian Building (Humphrey Davies, 2007)
50. Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace (Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky, 2007)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Club Meeting reminder!

Hi everyone! I wanted to remind you that our first monthly book club is meeting on Friday, August 1st. This month's book is PARALLEL LIVES, by Phyllis Rose.

PARALLEL LIVES: FIVE VICTORIAN MARRIAGES is a nonfiction look at five high-profile Victorian marriages: those of George Eliot and George Henry Lewes, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh, and John Ruskin and Effie Gray. As I mentioned, the book is easily divided and dipped into and out of, so if you're short for time and one of those famous authors interests you in particular, I would highly recommend you give it a shot even in part. If you have more time to put down to the book, there are some really fascinating conclusions about marriage in general and Victorian marriages in all their particular splendor. I hope you'll stop by during the day on Friday (or after) if you've read the book, read part of the book, or are interested in the topic of the book. I, for one, had a lot of fun with my reading.

This is how the meeting is going to work. Since I might be the only one who's read the book, I'm going to write a short synopsis, my thoughts, and some discussion questions (which will be heavily biased toward things that interest me).

Anyone who has read the book is welcome to critique my take, and anyone who hasn't read the book is encouraged to read and participate as they see fit. I'm only featuring books that I already know I like for some reason, so you can consider any book club meeting an Ass-inine recommendation.

Also, I'm ready now to announce some of our future book club picks so people can plan ahead! First, I had a little fangirl moment on Friday when I saw that Andromeda Romano-Lax, the author of my FAVORITE BOOK OF 2007 BY FAR, had left a comment on my blog post!! That book, by the way, is THE SPANISH BOW, a fantastic debut novel about a Catalan boy born at the turn of the 20th century and his very eventful life traveling around Spain as a concert cellist. Which means she apparently visited my blog! So, to celebrate Andromeda and the fact that the paperback of THE SPANISH BOW is apparently being released on September 5, it will be our October 1 Book Club selection. I'm looking forward to rereading it.

This leaves the September 1 selection (and future selections) yet to be determined. Actually, to be honest, I have a couple of ideas already, but my point here is please email me if you have suggestions. There aren't any rules to my whims and fancies, but generally: Books I'll tend to like and go for will usually be literary fiction or nonfiction, and I love historical and/or cultural elements. I also like to support debut authors (like Andromeda) or overlooked or forgotten masterpieces (like PARALLEL LIVES, which was published in the early 80s). So yeah, shoot me some suggestions. I know you all have them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

someone hasn't blogged in a week

Wow. How time escapes us when we edit. The joys of doing something you love for a living.

My roommate sent me this awesome link. It's an essay from The New Yorker about crazy wine collectors, and the madcap story about the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction. It will make you happy.

I've been reading a lot lately, though. Check out some reviews at thebookbook. If anyone else wants to post about their summer reading I'll be really excited.

I'll write more tomorrow, or something.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

recent google searches that have brought people here (a selection)

"My boss is falling in love with me" [ did that bring someone HERE?]

"Crazy dump"

"What an ass"

"Crazy dump" [again]

"Crazy dump" [again]

This is all this morning. Hmm. Were three different people googling "crazy dump" this morning? Or was one person disappointed three times?

Perhaps we should be more carefully monitoring our content? Or word choice?

Don't Hate.

"Don't Hate; Miscegenate"
slogan (c) Koba
art (c) Melanie

Friday, July 18, 2008

it's my blog and I'll do what I want to

Hi there. So. A couple of announcements!

1) I've decided to have a reading club, in that I'm going to read a book and I'm going to talk about it here, and if you've also read the book, you can talk about it too. This will happen like once a month, or something, depending on what I feel like.

The first book club "meeting" will be on August 1st, and the book will be PARALLEL LIVES, by Phyllis Rose. I'm halfway through right now, and it's awesome. It's a (nonfiction) account of five high-profile Victorian marriages: Thomas Carlyle and Jane Welsh, John Ruskin and Effie Gray, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth, and George Eliot and George Henry Lewes. Anyone who has read it in the past or wants to read it between now and August 1st is welcome to join up! If you're particularly interested in any one of those writers, you can also just read a single section--it works nicely as a (fascinating) stand-alone.

I might put some kind of announcement up in my sidebar. Hmm.

2) Some people have expressed a desire for a second writing deadline. However, since I don't have time to write right now, and this is my blog, I'm declaring the end of July to be Editorial Development Period!! For those who want to participate, the goal is to have a beta read on what you've done for August 1st, and then to think seriously about the suggestions. But, being an editor etc, I have to be a big proponent of editorial development.

We'll make another writing/revision deadline for September 1st.

That's all that I can think of at the moment. It's Friday afternoon, and as everyone knows, Friday afternoon is Sacred Karaoke Time (SKT). So I have to be going now.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

writing a novel: : falling in love

You must read Libba Bray's Writing a novel, a love story.

Oh my frickin' gosh it's awesome. Although it made me laugh so hard I have coffee up my nose.

Thanks for the link, Precie.

it is not the severity of the punishment but rather the certainty of it*

I did not wash my dishes on Sunday or Monday night, but instead left them in the sink.

Last night, guess what else was in my sink besides the dishes.

Two days + no dishes=1 roach.

But, as a corollary, as everyone knows,

1 roach=5 roaches.


Some things I don't like about New York. Can anyone recommend a place for me where laziness is rewarded? Alternatively, a live-in dishwashing monkey who's looking for a place to stay (and maybe some bugs to snack on)?

*paraphrased from Dadrat's take on capital punishment

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008


To believe, or not to believe?

Do you believe in Shakespeare? (Does it matter?)

I refuse to take a side. I was, for a period, convinced De Vere was the real Shakespeare. Then I went to Stratford and was whacked over the head by the Believers there. I don't know. I don't like to think about it to much. But I like to talk about it. (I am what's wrong with America--too much talking and not enough thinking.)

Well, as they say, that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.

Or would it?

much of the New Yorker is too smart for me.

This, however, I found very funny.

14 Passive-Aggressive Appetizers

Thursday, July 10, 2008

crazy link dump!

Sorry, guys, I've been REALLY crazed this week. Normally I'd address each of these in my usual verbose way. Sorry for lack of proper treatment. (You're probably rejoicing that you only have to waddle through 500 words of my blather instead of the customary 4,000 before getting to the point. Yet you keep coming back. Hmm.)

Some interesting things I have caught on my feeder today and yesterday.

Eric Luper, an FSG author, blogs about the "moral compass" in fiction and whether and how an author is obliged to reflect the morality of his/her time. An interesting topic that I think requires a lot of thought. Literature is a persuasive medium--should authors espouse what they believe in? What if they believe in something against the grain? Or what if they are inadvertently espousing a belief society has told them is correct but that they haven't questioned (whether by accident or on purpose)? Rich topic. You already know what my opinion on irresponsible media is, but the next question I have for myself is should my opinion of what is "irresponsible" be worth anything? Is there a black and white wrong and right?

Nicola Griffith blogs about Hugo and Nebula awards, and their historical discrepancies between how many awards are given to male and female writers. I've had myself a good rant about this awards issue in the past, namely this one from the end of awards season 2007. And a reminder that here's Maud Newton on NPR talking about this phenomenon. Other smart people have talked about this, like Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, but my link to his article isn't good anymore. Please, if anyone knows of any other takes on why women don't get "real" (read: mainstream) awards, please refer me to them.

Here is a well-put reminder for all us writers out there. We know it already, but we never stop needing to hear it. It's not about "finding time" to write, it's about making time. Someone please kick me.

Speaking of kicking, a lot of people claimed the July 1 writing goal helped them last month. Should we do something like that again? Or now that everyone's written things, maybe we should organize some kind of editing or beta reading goal?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

why does Amazon not have a humor category?

Just asking.

Although after all this time, to still bother questioning Amazon...

The Isle of Man

I was toodling around on Wikipedia because of a project I'm working on, and I ended up having to look up the Isle of Man, where they speak a surviving Celtic language called Manx.

I'd heard of Man before, but I'd never thought it through properly. This place is a tiny island off the coast of England with a population of 80,000 and it's a country of its own!! It's got what some people say is the world's oldest continuing parliament (the Tynwald, in operation since 979!) and its culture is a special fusion of Nordic and Celtic elements.

Has anyone ever been there? Now I'm dying to go. I guess I'll have to put this on my List of Crazy Islands to Visit for Random Reasons. (Not a short list.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Violence Is Sexy! (Don't You Agree? If You Don't You Must Be Ugly So Don't Buy Our Product!)

Melanie and I were chatting online last night about some reading she's done regarding the use of violence and "sexy violence" in advertising and pop culture. There's a lot of insidiousness that we all see and become inured to each day, and for some reason a lot of advertisers (and TV producers and video game producers) are using violence (and sexual violence) the way they used to use sex--to market a product and attract viewership.

She got to emailing me some links to some recent advertisements. The common theme among them was "sexy violence."I'm going to link to them here, although I won't go as far as to post the images on my blog (why, after all, should I be doing D&G the favor of giving them ad space when I disagree so strongly with their campaign?). I'll warn you that I, at least, find some of these images in particular disturbing, but a) I think it's important to talk about them, and b) you've probably already seen most of them, since unfortunately to a large degree we are no longer free to choose what we are exposed to.

Start with this link, and look at the top image (before scrolling down and reviewing a lot of other examples, which are interesting for other reasons). In the top image, D&G offers us what is basically a highly sexualized (glittering pecs, arched stilettos) gang rape. I and others who have seen this ad can't imagine any other possible way to interpret it.

D&G ran this ad in spring of 2007. When the campaign ran, the Spanish government criticized the photo as "illegal and humiliating to women," and D&G pulled the entire campaign in Spain. Most interesting to me was D&G's response when they chose to pull the ad. "We will only withdraw this photo from the Spanish market," said a D&G spokesperson. "They are a bit behind the times."

Behind the times, you say? (And to think, all this time I was thinking gang rape was becoming *less* acceptible with time. Silly me.)

Dolce & Gabbana defended the campaign as art in comments reported by La Vanguardia. "What has an artistic photo got to do with a real act?" the paper quoted the firm as saying. "You would have to burn museums like the Louvre or the paintings of Caravaggio."

(Check out a full article here.)

The equation of the ad photo to art gets my goat in yet another way--now D&G is criticizing you if you don't find sexual violence beautiful. Why are we being taught to sexualize sexual violence? Why? I believe in free speech and the beauty of art and expression, but for me there is a line that can be and has been crossed.

To be totally fair to D&G, though, they don't just promote sexual violence against women. Here was their follow-up ad campaign for Fall 2007, in which a series of images picture male models (with no clothes they can possibly be advertising) being subjected to various sexual humiliations at the hands of clothed female models.

Here is another example, from a controversial ad campaign by Cesare Paciotti. In this picture, a dress is modeled by a date rape scenario. And here's another by the same house, in which the violence is not quite as explicit but for me, at least, still comes through strongly (an all but naked woman is positioned extremely suggestively on a stationary bike).

When I talked to Melanie about this last one, I said, "I just don't understand--it's not like it's successful advertising." (Thinking to myself, it's a fashion house and this model isn't wearing any clothes.)

"That's the thing," Melanie said. "It's actually advertising exactly what they're selling." Ie debasement of the human body. You are nothing; your body is not sacred. Spend money on our expensive clothes and then at least you'll have that much.

I took a very narrow sampling here to illustrate a point; almost all the links/images I'm posting are specifically from fashion advertising, and most of them were put together by Dolce & Gabbana. I'm not pretending to make a cohesive thesis about an industry with these; I only offer them up as talking points. This (mis)use of the human body is by no means a phenomenon in advertising. Much of visual advertising is designed around making us feel bad so we think we won't be good enough without the product in question. But we do need to step back and give ourselves a shake about this, notice the images we are being fed, and remind ourselves that some of the messages seeping into our brains are not okay.

I'm blogging about this for two reasons.

1) It makes me really effin' mad.
2) It's a good (if corporatized) example of the power of media, and how we all need to be conscious of the messages we're disseminating.

Fashion advertising is not a far stretch from book publishing. Media is media, and being involved in media in any capacity makes you responsible (at least in part) for ideas, images, and words that you endorse with your involvement. There is plenty of sexualized violence and condoned sexual violence in print culture. I do think it is slightly less harmful than print images and advertising, since the audience is more directed (anyone who walks by a poster sees it and is affected by the image, whereas someone has to purposefully read a book). And adults have a right to read what they want to. But I believe strongly that authors--particularly children's and YA authors--need to be aware of the messages they are dissemenating, and need to be sure that everything they are standing for they stand for deliberately. I talk about that a lot in this post from way back, if you want to know more about my position.

Most people I've talked to about these images have said something along the lines of, "I wonder what jerk approved this." The fact is, many higher-ups--probably whole roomfuls of them--at various companies approved these images and campaigns. Committees of people thought these images were a good idea, much the way they have greenlit video games marketed to teenagers and pre-teens filled with murder, rape, and torture themes and images. The trouble with all these higher ups who are not, in D&G's terms, "behind the times" is that not only are these images potentially dangerous--life imitating art, anyone? that never happens, does it?--but in a world of high-speed internet connections and ubiquitous mass media, they are more accessible by more people of all ages than anything has ever been before. So as it becomes less acceptible to admit to being scandalized by these kinds of things and therefore the number of these media being produced goes up, so does the likelihood that these images fall into the hands of people who might be traumatized, scarred, or irresponsibly inspired by them. Do you really want your five-year-old seeing any of these images hanging in the subway? But by criticizing you for your prudishness, D&G gets away with taking away your choice.

As dissemenators of media (which we all are, all us bloggers, writers, editors, publicists) and consumers of media (which we all are, whether we want to be or not), we need to be hyperaware of what we're saying and what we're hearing. We need to say what is good and true and what we believe in, and we need to be able to step back and remember that everything we see and read is not right or ok.

Take a stand, if you can. Don't let people get away with telling you and showing you things you don't believe in. We all have the power to be part of the solution.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

there have been some changes.

A very kind and generous friend gave me a hand as a one-time special favor.

I'll give you a moment to acclimate.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't

Melanie and I decided to spend tonight sitting on her couch and watching movies (an excellent decision on all counts). So far, we have watched STOP-LOSS and FIRST KNIGHT. (Also excellent decisions. Although should Jerry Zuker be reading this, we would like to point out to him that the crossbow was introduced in Europe during the Hundred Years' War, and the first recorded incidence of the windmill in England was in the twelfth century, so it is possible that neither was quite appropriate to his conception of 7th century Camelot, but we are highly forgiving.) But now I want to take out a couple of moments to celebrate Melanie's bathroom.

Melanie has decorating the walls of her bathroom a number of posters she had to make for in fifth grade for her English class for a project about how not to write. They are in multi-colored magic marker and each one contains an example of a bad simile or metaphor. This is why whenever I pee at her house it takes me an unusually long time--I have to read each and every one of them.

Some of my favorites:

The small boat glided gently across the pond, exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds that had also never met.

His thoughts tumbled around in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without any Cling Free.

He was as tall as a six foot three inch tree.

Her eyes were like big brown circles with little black circles in the middle.

His vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

White on Black

Alas, the issue of my typeface has been raised again.

As Robert the Publisher would tell you, Gutenberg's Bible was printed black ink on white paper, and that wasn't merely a happy accident. Why mess with something that's so good? Typeface is designed primarily to convey meaning, not to look interesting. As it should be.

Yesterday, I got three emails about my typeface. They were all nicely worded, and because I'm a people pleaser I agree with their points and want to make everyone happy. I personally do not like to read white on black, since it makes my eyes hurt. However, I never have to read my own blog, so this is not a problem.

However, those of you who have been around these parts for awhile will remember the Typeface Change Scandal of late 2007. Basically, no matter what other color scheme I chose, people got cranky. Also, the black background reflects the darkness of my soul in a way that beige and green don't quite.

To solve the problem, I syndicated my entire posts a couple of months ago. This way, you can read the whole thing without even logging onto my blog. But I also appreciate not everyone wants to subscribe to my blog--I, personally, don't understand why ANYone wants to hear about my life all the time, but exhibitionist that I am, I am very happy that [checks google stats] approximately 89 people do. Yay! But still. That does not help the other people who stop by from abroad.

So I open the floor for discussion again. Should I change my typeface? We will do a little vote. Anonymous votes will not be counted. Also, I must warn you that if this whole maneuver goes farther than the vote, the democratic process will be dissolved and I will pick my own color scheme, and it will be a boring blogspot template because I don't have any internet skills or funds to hire someone who does.

Opinions, please.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

How Important Is Your Book, or, Top Ten Ways to Blow a Book Deal #4

Forgive me if this post comes off a little bitter. Part of me feels that my afternoon as been squandered. In order to make my time have been well spent, therefore, I must take a few moments to use it as a moralizing tale for everyone on the internet.

Today, I went out to lunch with a prospective author whose proposal I was thinking really seriously about (his agent came too). The proposal as I had received it wasn't quite right for me, but I had some clear-cut editorial suggestions that I had run by the agent, who thought they were very interesting and that we might all be very happy going forward together.

About 3/4 of the way through the meal, after we had discussed my ideas for development--the author seemed to get really excited about them, and all signs were good--he asked what my boss, Robert the Publisher, had thought of his sample chapters--about 200 pages of material on his original concept. I was honest with him.

"Robert hasn't read the sample," I admitted. "But obviously I've read it and I've discussed the concept of the book and my vision with him and my colleagues. That's why we're so excited about it."

"Oh, well make sure you have him read it right away," the author told me. "We shouldn't talk any further until I hear his thoughts about it. I'd really like his specific guidance about the manuscript and how he thinks he'd like me to develop it."

I was silent for a moment, thinking about how to reply. "Of course I've made the sample available to Robert," I told the author. "But he has piles and piles of reading to do and since it's not a final sample anyway I can't guarantee I can convince him to prioritize it. I'm also worried that if we commit to not moving forward until he's read it that you will probably never hear from me again," I said truthfully.

"Just run it by him," the author told me. "I know it will be up his ally. It's really his type of book. I think he'll get it in a way you might not be able to."

Let me step back here to say that what the author knows about Robert the Publisher is as follows: 1) he's a man, 2) he's more important than me. That's the sum total. From this, the author must have extrapolated what "up Robert's ally" and "Robert's type of book" were. Which is just plain psychic!

The agent and I exchanged glances at this point, and the agent piped up, "I was actually the one who suggested lunch today, [Author's Name], so that you could meet Moonrat. She's a very proactive and creative editor, which you can tell from the ideas she put together for us."

"I'm very glad you did suggest lunch," the author said. "It's been very interesting. Next time, when we have more time, we should have lunch up by you so that Robert can join us."

The message to me was pretty clear--he felt he was too high-profile to be working with someone as junior as I am. He deserved someone more important.

To be honest and objective about this, I cannot fault him for his thought process--it's true in certain (many) cases that the more important the agent/editor you're working with, the more attention your book ends up getting. The trouble, of course, with the most important people is that they have no time for anyone (time and importance are inversely proportional). People at Robert's level rarely edit anything at all, and certainly don't have time to even read every single book published under their aegis (that, hopefully, is what your editor is doing).

So it's a toss-up: work with someone really important who won't have any developmental time for you, or work with one of the working editors who is hoping to make your book something fantastic to enhance their career. I'm not going to be a pig about this: I see the clear arguments for either (if I were an author, which way would I pick? I'm not even sure I can answer). HOWEVER. The fact is, in my mind, regardless of what the author thought about my position, it was really pretty rude of him to make himself that clear to me.

After all, I had taken out the time to take him out to lunch and to provide thoughtful feedback on his proposal. Feedback, incidentally, that his very classy agent had thought worthwhile. Robert had been involved in none of that; Robert, in fact, has so many things to keep track of and think about that he will not waste any brain space on an unacquired project until he has the input of the editorial board AND it looks like we're reasonably close to closing in. Did this author honestly think that I would be really happy about championing his book to Robert when he didn't respect me that much and saw himself working better with someone far more important than I am?

I don't want you to think I am overly judgmental. There were several other things that happened and were said during the lunch to make me realize that our working personalities were not going to be compatible, which I won't go into here. But this one conversation point was the one that upset me the most.

It actually reminds me vividly of something I witnessed during my earliest days in the industry. I was a lowly unpaid intern at a literary agency where one of the agents in particular has a kind of celebrity status. My "boss" was Charlene, a junior agent who became a dear friend. I worked very closely with her for about a year, over the course of which she was originating a number of projects as well as coordinating all the administrative aspects of the agency--big job.

Charlene had plucked one proposal out of the slush pile (through which she actually dug at the end of each day, often until 9 at night when the agents had gone home). The author had an original idea but needed some work on the execution. Charlene sent her a detailed editorial letter, and the author worked on it for awhile before sending edits back. The manuscript, when it came back, still had some issues that took some heavy going through, and Charlene worked away on it (and everything else) for about two weeks before the problem came along.

The author, who from corresponding with Charlene now knew the agency's email format, decided to send an email to "Charlene's boss," the very famous agent I mentioned earlier. The email said that the author had done all this hard work on the proposal, but two weeks had passed and Charlene hadn't responded with further feedback or a plan about submitting the project to editors yet. It was clear to the author that Charlene wasn't as dedicated to proactive agenting as it might be hoped, and the author thought she'd probably be in better hands with her boss, the famous agent.

Needless to say, that was the end of that book deal. I put the author's materials through the shredder myself. But Charlene was heartbroken--she had put a lot of energy and thought into working up feedback for the author. That is time straight down the drain when you realize that the person you are working with does not respect you. But my question--what was that author thinking? That colleagues in one company happily backstab each other for clients? That her book is so very extraordinary that people would be willing to erode working relationships to compete for it? That seems to me like a pretty extraordinary assumption for anyone to make in any case. And yet. This is far from an isolated incident.

Of course every author wants the best for their book. Like I said, I wouldn't blame anyone for secretly hoping that they could work with a more important editor than I am. I don't even blame that crazy lady for wanting to work with a more important agent than Charlene. But two quick notes about this:

1) It's important to hedge your bets. What is actually better for you? What is your best case scenario? Really, really, totally objectively, in your situation with your book, are you better off with the less famous person who has the time to work with you? Are you as great as you think you are, that you can afford to blow that person off for someone more important? Was that more junior person just a foot in the door for you into the publishing industry, or was that person your actual door into the publishing industry? Different people are in different positions. Try to be really honest with yourself about your project and platform and, like I said, hedge your bets.

2) It is UNFORGIVABLE to ever tell someone (or their boss) that you're too important to be working with them, or to imply the same. I'm sorry. Even if it's true. Those are bridges burned. I feel like I shouldn't even have to say that here, but clearly this is something that actually does happen, and not infrequently.

Publishing is a funny industry, since there is so much (fairly artificial) prestige attached to so many facets of the business. Meanwhile, it's also a creative industry, in which everyone involved, from author to agent to editor to cover designer to marketer, has invested energy and intellectual capital. Everything is subjective and not easily quantified with dollar signs, which means we measure our successes on softer, less tangible indexes. Pride and egos, therefore, are at stake in a way they are not elsewhere. We all should tread with a light step.