Tuesday, September 30, 2008

what?!?! ANOTHER one for the Mischief?!?!

I know, it's been, like, a week, right? The time was ripe!

Guadalupe McCall, better known here as long-time Ed Ass reader ggwritespoetry, has sold her debut YA novel, A MESQUITE IN THE ROSE GARDEN, to Lee and Low Books for publication in Fall 2010, to be edited by Emily Hazel.

Woohoo!!

*Sorry this took me so long to post, GG. The notice languished in my junk mail for some reason!

Mischief Raffle to Fight Cancer

The Mischief Fights Cancer

Dear Beloved Blogging Fellows,

Recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma. She is only 28 and is fighting back hard, but her valor is frustrated by the fact that she has no insurance. Medicaid will be kicking in for her in about a month, but in the meantime there are some hurdles that nothing will help her get over but money.

Of course, there are lots of benefits and pots for me to throw money in. Alas... I work in publishing and have no money. I was bemoaning this to my darling Ello, and she thought of this fantastic idea: I should raffle off my editorial services. So that's what we're going to try here.

Raffle for editorial services!!

Prizes available:

-One winner: A full manuscript evaluation (up to 120,000 words)*
-One winner: A partial manuscript evaluation (up to 50 page)*
-One winner: A query letter and revised query letter critique*
-Five winners: A choice from select titles in Moonrat's library, which will be mailed with a love letter from Moonrat, who enjoys writing love letters

I've started this new, temporary blog to host a raffle for my friend. You can buy tickets, check the log, and see how much progress has been made on each of the raffled lots here.

*please note: these are critiques with an eye toward editorial suggestions, and will in no way be considered submissions to me or my company

General Guidelines (and my very best attempts to make the whole process honest and transparent)

-The raffle will run between now, Tuesday, September 30th, and 8 pm on Tuesday, October 7th, when lots will be drawn.

-Winners will be announced (or their anonymous IDs, if they prefer) on Editorial Ass no later than 11:59 pm on Tuesday, October 7th.

-Prizes have no expiration date--you can ask for your prize redemption anytime between now and, well, I guess 2020.

-Turnaround time for prize redemption is 2 weeks (i.e. if you send me your manuscript on the 1st of November, I'll need until the 15th to get you my comments).

-All prizes are transferable. If you do not have a query letter that needs critiquing but you have a friend who does, you can gift your winning prize on your friend.

-On top of the instant confirmation email from PayPal, you will receive a confirmation email from me by midnight on the calendar day on which you purchased your raffle ticket. My email to you will include your lot number(s).

-On my end, lot numbers will be written on highly scientific bits of paper, which will be dropped into one of four of the rally monkey's highly scientific baseball hats. Lots will be drawn from each hat at 8 pm on Tuesday, October 7.

-You will have the option to purchase raffle tickets under your real name or an anonymous ID. You may specify a code name or number upon receiving my confirmation email.

-I've opened a PayPal account, which will allow you and me both to maintain our identities. PayPal is free for you and only charges me $.30 and 3% off each transaction.

-All raffle ticket purchases will be fully and publicly disclosed for accountability purposes. At midnight each day the raffle is active, the lot numbers of all the people who purchased raffle tickets for a particular lot will be listed in separate recorded posts. When you buy a raffle ticket, please check the name roster the next day to make sure your name is up. If it's not, email me ASAP at moonratty@gmail.com and we'll straighten it out.

I hope I haven't forgotten anything. If I have left any stones unturned, please drop me a note or comment and I will amend this record ASAP.

I will leave this post floating at the top of my blog for the next week. New posts will appear below it. All regularly scheduled publication will carry on as it always does!

Please, please tell your friends.

The Mischief Fights Cancer

Monday, September 29, 2008

dying words contest winner!

Thanks to everyone who submitted a dying word story! Read all the entries here.

Here's who participated, in order of submission:

Kristi
KathyG
pilot
tracymarchini
Caitlyn
slhastings
Cat
revalkorn
Daniel W. Powell
sheila
Precie
Kate Barnes

Thanks, everyone! I sure had fun--hope you did, too!!

And the winner, drawn totally at random (literally, there was a hat involved), Cat!!

Cat, send me your mailing coordinates (moonratty@gmail.com) and a copy of THE SPANISH BOW will be coming your way!

what constitutes good sales for a literary novel?

I got the following note a couple days ago.

Dear Moonrat,

A couple of months ago, my literary novel was published by a major trade publisher. I have a rough idea of how many copies I've sold, but not how that compares to my publisher's expectations. What constitutes good sales for a literary novel? No one will give me a straight answer.

Thanks.


Ah yes. I will give you a straight answer, because I'm a sucker, but I'm sure others will argue with me.

The opening line to this discussion is probably (of course) "It depends," but I won't insult you with that. I'll give you a number.

7,000.

If you sold 7,000 or more copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you're a star. (Some people sell much more, but 7,000 is a serious threshold. Who knows why.)

If you've sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you did a damned good job. You're what they call a "strong seller." You're also in a good position to place your second novel well, with your current publisher or elsewhere.

If you sold between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of your literary novel, you sold pretty strongly. You're still in a good position to have your publisher want to take on your second project, or to comfortably find a home elsewhere.

If you sold below 1,500 copies, your publisher is probably disappointed, although they will never tell you that. Instead, they will tell you that debuts are hard, and literary fiction is nearly impossible. Both these things are true.

These numbers are specific to literary fiction--"commercial" fiction is going to have slightly higher expectations behind it. Your publisher might also be happier or sadder with your numbers depending on how much they paid for your novel, but odds are, if it is in fact literary fiction, they bid with these kinds of specs in mind. But regardless of how your publisher feels, if you break the threshold, you'll still look good to other publishers.

These numbers are, of course, my opinions. I'd be interested to hear other industry professional opinions, and also reader's opinions--are you surprised? Did you imagine that fewer or more copies constituted success? (Sometimes, stuck in my ivory tower, I lose perspective.)

JS Mill fans

For those of us who took part in the Parallel Lives discussion back in August, I thought you might like this New Yorker piece about John Stuart Mill by Adam Gopnik. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times; but the point--that Mill was always, indefatigably right--hits home. (I love Mill, dearly.) Did you know he loudly advocated universally available contraception, teaching Arabic when it wasn't fashionable, and due process for detainees accused of terrorism? A man for *our* times, never mind his own.

Anyway. "Victorian Low-Simmering Hot Plate," as Gopnik puts it. I [heart] you, Mr. Mill.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

wanna be an editor? steps to take now

I got this email recently.

Hi, Moonrat. I am in need of some advice. This is my situation. I'm in grade 12, and in a few months I am picking my university and the path to my future career. And the future career that I want is something that has to do with books. I've always been an avid reader so I would like my career to reflect that. I've researched the career path of editors and agents but haven't found anything that has actually helped me with finding the steps to take.

If you can spare the time to email me back, that would be awesome.

Thank you!


But of course! I had a lot of help and advice getting to where I am, and I like to pay those kinds of favors forward.

First, I love people who love books. There are a lot of us, and you have a number of options for working with books. I posted at length about this before, so for my long-winded advice and for a breakdown of some of the professions you could consider in a publishing house, check out this post I did last year--you'll see there are lots of choices, depending on your interests and flexibility.

The short answer to getting a foot in the door I'll copy and paste here, because it bears repeating:

1) GET AN INTERNSHIP
2) SIGN UP FOR PUBLUNCH
3) CONSIDER ALL THE FIELDS
4) WORK IN A BOOKSTORE


You will have to do free labor (that is, an internship) at some point--it's literally necessary for getting an entry-level job (unless you're magical and really lucky). But working in a bookstore is another really, really helpful think you can do during college (or after) to prepare yourself and understand book marketing and sales better. The perspective is amazing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Contest! and Book Club reminders

Hi guys,

Just a quick holding note in case you lost the link--

Entries for the Dying Words Resuscitation Contest (DWRC) are due Monday at 5 pm EST. Check out the rules etc here!

Also, stop by if you can on October 1 for the Book Club intro to/discussion of THE SPANISH BOW. Author Andromeda Romano-Lax has subjected herself to the infamous Ed Ass interview, so it should be good.

If anyone needs a little indie rock pick-up this rainy morning, here's a little linkie for you, Rachael Yamagata's "Worn Me Down." I know I've linked to it before, but it always puts me in the bestest moods.

Love and Sushi,

Moonrat

Thursday, September 25, 2008

yet ANOTHER one for the Mischief!!!!

I don't think we've had an Editorial Mischief announcement in... well, a couple of days, so I guess we were ripe for a book sale!! Or even a two-book deal!!

Congratulations, Christy, long-time Ed Ass visitor! I couldn't be happier.
Christy Raedeke’s PROPHECY OF DAYS, pitched as a YA Da Vinci Code relating to the Mayan calendar which mysteriously ends in 2012, in which a teen, with the help of a gorgeous Scottish lad, must figure out her role in a cryptic prophecy while trying to outwit a secret society that will stop at nothing to control her, to Andrew Karre at Flux, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2010, by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).

You crazy kids, with all your mischief lately. Keep 'em coming!!

know your imprints!

I got via Jonathan Lyons this awesome series of posts by Sarah Weinman over at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. Sarah has basically gone and done all the research on all the major houses and put forth descriptions of all their imprints and what they do.

Call this your agent cheat sheet.

Part I: Macmillan
Part II: S&S
Part III: Hachette
Part IV: HarperCollins
Part V: Penguin Group
Part VI: Random House

(Be forewarned: this isn't everyone. There are a couple of huge houses missing, and this doesn't even try to cover distribution systems or unaffiliated indies. But this is a great intro to how we, in publishing, kind of see ourselves, and also, in Sarah's unsparing words, to just how ridiculous some of our interior systems are. Definitely worth reading, since knowing the biggies is a jumping-off point to understanding the whole thing. If anyone actually does.)

Before you thoroughly study these lists, though, try a little experiment (this, I think, is especially helpful for people who either want to be published or work in publishing). Ready?

1) Go to your bookshelf.

2) Pick out your 10 or 20 favorite books and put them in a rough order.

3) Turn them all spine out.

4) Notice any themes? Is there a particular imprint that occurs again and again?

I know there's a theme to my bookshelf. It's very funny. I realized by turning my books spine-out what three of my dream jobs would be... and also three of my dream imprints to have publish my book (you know, when I get around to writing one, har har).

Tell me! What are your top three?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

dying words?!?!? (CONTEST!!)

The Times announced this week that Collins doesn't have enough room in its dictionary anymore, what with all the new words being invented each year, and that some of its current entries are going to be eliminated.

English words at risk of extinction (albeit only in one venue)!! My heart begins to palpitate.

So go to the Times link above and vote for your favorite endangered word. But here at Ed Ass we're going to go a step above and beyond! We're going to re-integrate endangered words into internet authenticity. So! A contest.

Contest!! Write a short story of up to (but not more than) 250 words, featuring as many of the endangered words as you like/can gracefully fit.

Post that story a) on your blog, if you have one, and b) in the comments section of this contest post. This will mean a DOUBLE GOOGLE SEARCH hit for the words you choose to use.

Entries are due at 10 pm EST on Monday, September 29th. A winner will be chosen at random from the submissions. The prize will be a copy of THE SPANISH BOW, our October Book Club Pick.


I know there are at least some of you that can't say no. :)

Here are some of the dying words (although check out the full list link, since the ones below are probably the most likely to get saved):

Abstergent Cleansing or scouring

Agrestic Rural; rustic; unpolished; uncouth

Apodeictic
Unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration

Caducity Perishableness; senility

Caliginosity Dimness; darkness

Compossible Possible in coexistence with something else

Embrangle To confuse or entangle

Exuviate To shed (a skin or similar outer covering)

Fatidical Prophetic

Fubsy Short and stout; squat

Griseous Streaked or mixed with grey; somewhat grey

Malison A curse

Mansuetude
Gentleness or mildness

Muliebrity The condition of being a woman

Niddering Cowardly

Nitid Bright; glistening

Olid Foul-smelling

Oppugnant Combative, antagonistic or contrary

Periapt
A charm or amulet

Recrement Waste matter; refuse; dross

Roborant Tending to fortify or increase strength

Skirr A whirring or grating sound, as of the wings of birds in flight

Vaticinate To foretell; prophesy

Vilipend
To treat or regard with contempt

something better to do than play Minesweeper

Bored at the office? Watch this.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Max Perkins, alive and well (in spirit)

Several people sent me the link to this piece Richard Curtis wrote over at The Writer's Edge. The title: "Are Editors Necessary?" Everyone wanted to know what I thought.

First, I want to thank Richard for a wise and nicely worded article. Please read the entire thing; it's wonderful. He talks about the supposed demise of "great editors" like Maxwell Perkins--you know, those genius editors who found those genius authors and worked with them painstakingly on manuscript development and personality management.

Actually, the reason I love Richard Curtis the most is because he talks about how unfair it is to say there are no great editors left. As he points out, the industry has changed massively, and if you're not sensitive to the huge pressures editors are up against, you might misunderstand how much work they're actually doing for you.

One of my personal favorite lines:

Editing is a highly complex set of functions, and no single individual is capable of exercising them with equal aplomb. The editor who wines and dines agents and charms authors may be a clumsy negotiator; the dynamic deal-maker may have no patience for the tedious and demanding word-by-word task of copyediting; the copyeditor who brilliantly brings a book to life word by word, line by line, may be completely at sixes and sevens when it comes to handling authors.


Amen.

So. What is a good editor?

I don't want to bore people who've hung around these parts for a long time, so I'll refer you to this earlier piece on things I hope you can expect from your editor. If you're in the process of having your agent submit a novel, print it out and use it as a check list.

It's true, we can't all be masters of everything. And in fact almost all of us are really only masters of one of those three things, and perhaps a bit awkward in the other two.

But the fact is, there are things you deserve in an editor for your book. One of them is an editor who can at least hold their own in each of Richard's three mentioned categories. You deserve someone with good taste and judgment. You deserve someone who can hold their own socially to the point that they'll be able to express why your book is great to other people. And you deserve someone whose reading of your text will make it better than you could have made it on your own.

And yeah, we exist. We do. I'm that person (she says oh-so-modestly). No, but seriously, I am. I'm not a genius at any of the three areas, but I know I need to do my very best regardless. And I hold my own.

And so do a bunch of other friends and colleagues. Really, we exist.

The people who think Max Perkins's spirit is dead are the same ones who think the publishing industry is also dead. They're the ones who can't cope with fresh ideas to counter fresh challenges. Which is sad for them, not me.

But we're here. Really, we are.

Friday, September 19, 2008

are you a real foodie?

My friend Rose sent me this list of "the Omnivore's 100" (which I'm plagiarizing here wholesale). How many can you check off? (Me=72)

The DC Omnivore’s 100

Below is a list of 100 things that every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Thursday, September 18, 2008

adventures in Little Italy

The Aunda* has fallen down some stairs and sprained her ankle. This is vexing for her, since she is an incurable busybody who likes to work like a machine from 4:30 in the morning until 10 at night on things like her garden and stewing tomatoes and baking 60,000 angel wing cookies for someone's grandaughter's sister-in-law's baby shower. You know. This is also vexing for everyone else, because now that she can't do those things she calls everyone on the phone and repeats dirty and unflattering gossip.

Momrat went over to pay a call last night, but apparently failed to be more interesting than the phone call the Aunda was already on.

"No, Viola," the Aunda was saying into the phone. "Angie's granddaughter no pay. Her father buy whole house for Angie e la boyfu-rend."

Viola's voice was so loud my mother could hear her like she was in the room. "I don't know, though. Why she hafta live con la boyfriend? Why she no can get married?"

"It no work like that, Viola," lectured the Aunda. "La girl today, si la pistola** no work, she go get new one. Si la pistola no good enough, she want better."

(Progress! This from the woman who, two years ago, told me and my sister that it's perfectly fine to date and have boyfriends, as long as we hang onto la rosetta.)

My mother, once she got a handle, called me immediately. She suggested I call the Aunda and say, "So what is this about la pistola? What do you mean, if it doesn't work? What exactly should it do?"

*my 87-year-old great aunt
**"the pistol"

...how do we feel about this?

So. HarperCollins's YA division acquired rights to at least two books by Candace Bushnell (the Sex and the City author) about Carrie Bradshaw's teenage years. Here's the article, via Bookninja.

There are mixed blog reactions thus far. Normally I know exactly how I think about these kinds of things, but I'll admit I myself am a little confused by this. It seems like a solid money-maker either way, and basically will probably be a very strong seller. This means Bushnell has an excellent opportunity with these books to do a classy, smart YA book about an ambitious young woman who suddenly gets herself into a position of privilege and realizes her dream.

However, from my current perspective, there seems to be some considerable risk that the book falls short, or in fact plays into some of the truly malicious themes and trends in YA literature these days (my least favorite by far is all the sexualized back-stabbing in books that are so popular with teenage readers--why do female YA authors all seem to want to write about girls tearing out one another's eyes and betraying one another over boys? Aren't there other topics that are far more interesting, never mind more feminist?).

How will you play it, Candace? Which way will you go?

I'll admit, for the most part, I love Sex and the City. The movie was pretty appalling for about 1500 reasons, but the show was sharp, incisive, and often shaving-the-bone true. I think it was frequently misunderstood as a catalog of rich bitches who were also sluts--I know my father, for one, thought of the show that way for a long time. But as any devotees know there was a lot more to it than that.

But a YA version?

Ok, so we're getting comfortable with the idea that adults have sex, and that there are issues to talk about--pros, cons, mistakes to avoid, healing mechanisms to study, real life that gets in the way of what we want. Fine for an adult tv show, mostly. But what about a teen book that feeds into the adult tv show? Are young readers smart enough to pull the wisdom out of it all? Or--as some bloggers seem to worry about this book--are they going to be blinded by the bling and the sex, and will this just be another spoke in the wheel of trash that keeps going around and around the YA section these days?

There's a lot on ya, Candace.

GalleyCat readers might remember some conversations from a couple of weeks ago about a morality clause Random House has for its children's and YA books. (Here's the article that started it, "Are You Pure Enought to Write YA?") The clause:

"If you act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children, and consequently the market for or value of the work is seriously diminished, and [sic] we may (at our option) take any of the following actions: Delay publication / Renegotiate advance / Terminate the agreement."


You'll notice this conversation deals with an author's behavior, not the book's content. There are a lot of points to be made about whether or not it's fair for a publishing company to judge an author's (so, essentially, a freelance employee's) behavior, and also about what standards they might use to judge. But I really think the more important conversation by far with YA books is the content.

As I've talked about before, I am not a prude, and believe that young adults (and children) will seek out books about sex (umm, at least, if they're anything like I was). The trend that bothers me in YA fiction these days isn't sex--sex sells, we get it already. It's irresponsible sex, especially antifeminist sex in books that are directly marketed (almost exclusively) to young girls. It's sex that glorifies casual, unsatisfying encounters and implies that girls need to rely on their looks and bodies to be worthwhile or appreciated. It's also sex that tells girls repeatedly that their female friends are only ever going to let them down, and that they need to lock themselves a man.

So anyway. I'm waiting on you, Candace. Let's see what you come up with.

What do you think, my blogging friends?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

rats who blog together get agents together!! (one more for the mischief!)

Our dear and darling Ello, long-time trafficker of these here parts, has just secured agent representation for her debut novel! Ello's book, a YA historical fantasy set in feudal Korea, will be represented by Bill Contardi at Brandt & Hochman.

Run off, everyone, and congratulate her!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

the Editing Cycle (a confession)

I'm in Stage 3. The deepest, the darkest of editorial stages.

I wake up in the morning and the pall of editorial doom settles over my eyes before I can even open them all the way. [Fill in here current manuscript I am working on] will never, ever be what I wanted it to be, it's obvious.

In the middle of the night I'll wake up with the shakes about my own mediocrity and inability to improve your manuscript enough. I hate your manuscript and I hate myself for acquiring it (even though I still love you, the author).

It's a bad, bad time.

I wasn't going to blog about this because I thought it was silly, and maybe disheartening, and also that it reflects poorly upon me (no other editors can possibly feel this way!). But then I went out for dinner with an editor at another company the other evening, and we ended up laughing about how similar our editing neuroses were. Apparently, I'm not the only one who suffers the Editing Cycle.

[Warning: the following is an intimate confession of the strange psychologies of an editor's mind, and your editor will not be happy to know I've let out our secret. Also, as is the case with any mental illness, prefectionism must be taken with a grain of salt and perspective.]


The Editing Cycle [gateway into an editor's muddled mind]
Stage I:
[point of acquisition] This manuscript has awesome potential. I can see it. It needs some work, but this book could literally be the best thing that ever happened to literature. Here's my detailed analysis of the changes it needs.

Stage 2: [point of receipt of edited manuscript back from author] This manuscript needs more work than I originally imagined. Also, the author listened to all my revision instructions, but it's not EXACTLY what I had in mind. What, can't s/he read my mind and make the book come out exactly like that?! Yikes. I hope I can get this up to readable in my next round of edits.

Stage 3: [point of receipt of second round of edits from author] Dear Lord. How did I not realize how much work this book needs? I've already done two rounds of edits. There's no way I can salvage this and make it the book I thought it would be in my head. My reputation is at stake; it will clearly flop in stores; I'll be fired and have to start peddaling my used library on street corners in order to buy myself sushi. Dread. Who would have thought at the beginning? Why did I trust my initial instinct? ::weep:: I'll try to clean up the loose threads at least and just send it off to the copy editor. I can't cope with thinking about this anymore.

Stage 4: [point of receipt of glowing pre-publication reviews, kudos from colleagues and friends, and/or laudatory blog posts] Huhn. Is everyone else in the world dumb? Does no one else see the glaring flaws I failed to fix? Or maybe is everyone lying to me to be nice? I mean, Kirkus and PW give pity reviews all the time, right? Hmm, that doesn't sound right. Or am I the delusional one? Is this book actually...good?


You already know I love my authors and my books, and that I'm devastatingly proud of every single one of them. And yet--I swear to high heaven on the illustrious soul of Max Perkins--I go through this same dumb thought process on every single project I work on. Every...single...one. Including the ones with starred PW reviews, excerpts in the New York Times, and selections for major book clubs and awards. Seriously.

It's kind of like cold feet, you could say, because sending something to the copy editor is rather like walking down the aisle. Once you've gone that far, you can't undo something without financial and legal troubles and without to some degree upsetting Church and State.

It's still hard for me to cope with the idea of my opinion on anything being an actual valid one, or that any other "experts" might agree with me about what rocks. After all, my own opinion isn't even good enough for myself!! But shhhh, don't tell anyone else, please. Particularly my beloved authors, who deserve to be spared my neuroses (since I'm sure they have their own to worry about!).

This all rather reminds me of Libba Bray's post on how writing a novel follows the same stages as a love affair. Maybe we all go through it. Is perfectionism a bad thing, though?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

One Story!

The Brooklyn Book Fair was awesome. Everyone should come next year, everyone who ever read a book or wanted to publish anything at all. But anyway.

My favorite find in a day of awesome finds was One Story, a non-profit group that publishes a short periodical every three weeks. Each issue contains one story--that's it. The point is that it's "a literary magazine you'll actually read." A subscription for an entire year is only $21 for an entire year, 18 issues! It's a perfect gift price. Go! Subscribe!

One Story's hope is to revive the art of short story, which we all know isn't really supported by mainstream publishing and book-buying. And they're doing it pretty well--they've been around since 2002, have been celebrated by such high-nosed publications as the New York Times, and their most recent issue was an O. Henry pick.

In case anyone needs a reminder about why they want to support The Short Story:

1) They're a hard sell now, but they're immortal (think of what you remember most of Salinger's, Hemingway's, Fitzgerald's, Joyce's, to name a few of the old boys--I, at least, remember the short stories)

2) Short stories rock. They're often sharper and more affecting than novels. But they're nearly impossible to sell in a bookstore because we publishers can't afford to produce single-volume short stories for a price you're willing to pay

3) Every great novelist (at least in recent times) who has ever struggled to make it produced a bunch of stellar short stories to submit and get people's attention... and then locked them up in a drawer for most of their career. How sad for the world.

Also, everyone at the booth was really, really nice. (Incidentally, the editor is Hannah Tinti, the author of that book The Good Thief you've been hearing so much about lately.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Festival Grows in Brooklyn

According to GalleyCat, "Everyone and their brother" will be at the Brookyln Book Festival tomorrow.

That pretty much cheers my heart, since last year it was a quiet, indie affair, with lots of friendly publishers but not a whole lot of civilian turnout. But there are tons of cheap, classy books (and freebies) at every booth, and I wish cheap, classy books on "everyone and their brother." Not to mention all the tasty brunch places in Brookyln Heights.

So drop on by if you're in the neighborhood. Dawn to dusk, rain or shine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

reflections on the rat roast

Yesterday, at the Book Roast, I got roasted. Well, honestly, I got to tell you guys, you're not the greatest of roasters--I don't think anyone said anything except the nicest things all day long. Not that I'm complaining!!

Thanks to everyone who participated. You've all given me fodder for about fifteen blog posts, which hopefully I will eventually find the time to write.

Anyway, Chris had the clever idea of a t-shirt slogan contest. The results were so awesome I had to print some of the finalists here. (Sorry I was too lazy to link to everyone... It's terribly negligent of me, but you know. Check out the actual posters here.)

kiersten: [front] QUERRIBLE! [back] QUERRIFIC!

Ello: Got Moonrat?

[also] Full Moonie

[also] Every time a book goes unread, a kitten dies.

[also] If you can read this, you're too close to my tatas.

[Ello was on a roll]

Whirlochre: Psychopaths Anonymous Straightjacket Eating Champion 1978

mlh: Shoot for the Moon, baby! [mouse's butt on the back]

Jaye Wells: Writers do it with a climax

Charles Gramlich: Reading: it's not just for the bathroom anymore

Janet Reid: When the Cat in the Hat needs an editor: Moonrat!

Cindy: the OTHER mrs. michael chabon

Chumplet: Smile! Right now, someone at the gym is pulling a hamstring.

[also] [front] Agents and authors, in answer to your query... [back] No.

[Chumplet was also on a roll] May contain traces of nuts

Bernita: Buy a book or I'll Moon you

Precie: [front] got into some mischief [back: list of the Editorial Mischief]

Susan Adrian: Be careful, or you'll end up in my novel

Brian Jay Jones: Karaoke. One American Can't Be Wrong.


Thanks, everybody. It was a good time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I <3 Firemen

It's September 11th, and firemen everywhere in the city. A pod of them rode on the train with me for a long time this morning. They were 8 incredibly jolly, good-natured, clean-spoken buddies. The youngest looked about 18, the oldest about 60, and most of the time they teased one another about how lost they were in life without their wives.

I've passed even more on the street, all in full blues. I'm sure there are memorials everywhere. "What would happen if there was a fire today?" a friend asked me. "We'd be great," I said. "Everyone's on duty!"

I <3 you, brave fire people of New York. I cry for you and the friends you lost a little every single time I walk by one of your firehouses and the red door is rolled up so I can see your commemoration plaques, murals, or wall paintings. But I'm also so glad for you that at least your families don't have to sit down to dinner without you tonight.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rat Roast

Guess who's getting roasted? That's right, YT is getting roasted! Join all your friends in grilling me alive at The Book Roast tomorrow, and a crispy rat I'll be!

Mmm, editor-kebab.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

really entertaining way of dealing with too many fans

One of my colleagues forwarded this very funny article about Robert Heinlein, the sci-fi/fantasy author, and his "very nerdy" solution for dealing with all his fan mail. He got too much to respond to personally, but felt bad about not responding. So he and his wife generated this awesome form letter in which he could simply check the boxes that applied.

You can get a larger version of the letter on the article I've linked to.

My colleague proposes editors develop a form rejection letter inspired by Robert and his wisdom.

Friday, September 05, 2008

one more for the Editorial Mischief!


Today, Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Spanish Bow hits stores in paperback. I've got my fingers crossed that the paperback edition will inspire basically everyone in America to see how awesome this book is.

Andromeda is going to be stopping by for the 10/01 Book Club when we feature The Spanish Bow, and I'll surely be grilling her about her fairytale debut novelist manuscript-to agent-to book experience.

Congratulations!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

why you should never submit unagented to publishing companies

I know I've talked about it before, but I have to repeat it now. I still see people--some of them friends--stumbling through the whole process of book submissions and somehow arriving at the conclusion that, in their case, at least, unagented submissions are a way to go.

They are wrong. All authors seeking publication should work with agents on their projects. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. But even the exceptions are ill-advised.

I am not conceeding anything on this. Sorry. I'm not posting this to be mean, or contrarian, or pig-headed; I'm posting this because I'm looking out for your interests.

Here are the reasons you want an agent.
-Agents target the editors who are best suited to your work, and thereby more likely to a) not reject it, and b) have the mechanisms in place to publish it well. This is a more complicated task than it sounds like. You may notice if you surf publisher websites that editors often have no profile at all, not even a name mention, never mind a list of what we like and/or acquire. Unlike agents, editors do not have much incentive to disclose these details to the world, since it would get us burdened with slush and spam. But the agent has special magical information and will do all that grub work for you.

-Frankly, editors rely on agents to cull out what's good. We editors simply don't have time to read everything in the world AND do our jobs. (Sorry.) If you have no agent--particularly if you are a fiction author--editors/publishers are going to assume you *couldn't get* an agent. This instantly knocks you to the sludgy, fetid, barnacle-encrusted bottom of the submissions barrel. Does your book deserve to be there?

-Yes, it's true, editors and agents build relationships, and yes, we like to populate our publication lists with projects that our friends or respected acquaintances represent. We only get to publish a limited number of titles each year, so it's nice to make them count in as many respects as possible.

-Editors are wary of the post-acquisition editorial process with an unagented author. Agents exist as a go-between, and as we all know, edits can get taken very, very personally. We really like agents to provide a cool head and some middle ground so we don't tear each other's eyes out as we try to make your book better. Also, unagented authors don't have as much guidance on publishing protocol, and might do something innocent but very, very, very stupid, like, for example, helping a college buddy out by "giving" them an excerpt of your book to print in their church newsletter, not realizing that Time will then have to rescind its offer to serialize part of your book because it has been previously published! Yeah, editors would like to avoid situations like that.

-If you submit to houses now, you will negatively impact your chances of ever finding an agent, ever. If you manage to get an agent somehow later, your poor agent will find his or her work daunting. As discussed above, you'll probably get categorically rejected without an agent, anyway, so now your new agent has to somehow combat the rejections you've already racked up. Most houses do not want to see the same proposal twice, even if it has an agent the second time. So those submissions amount to bridges burned.

-Without an agent, even if you manage to somehow secure a book deal, you will get nickled and dimed to death by your own beloved publishing company. It's not that we're bad people at publishing houses--it's just that we make so little money off books anyway that we go into a contract asking for what we construe as *our* best-case scenario. If you don't know the specific questions to ask and breaks to haggle for, you'll seriously come out of it with nothing. Oh, also, you don't have nearly as much negotiating leverage without an agent behind you, so you can't ask for as much.


So a short FAQ, for those of you who think you might be exceptions.

Q. I don't want to waste 15% of my earnings on an agent, who won't do anything but sit on their thumbs after book publication, anyway. Besides, I bought myself a book on contracts and I'm pretty sure I understand all these clauses and how to protect myself. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. UGH. This is the WORST kind of wrong. Because if you have an agent representing you, I PROMISE you SOLEMNLY that you will absolutely without any question make at least 15% more than you would have without that agent (but, more likely, much, much more than 15%). I promise, categorically, absolutely no exceptions, you will. Now is not the time to be cheap. I'm going to just ignore the rest of your faulty logic, because it's so secondary.

Q. I'm having a lot of trouble finding an agent for my book--it seems everyone's lists are full. I understand that in an ideal situation I would want to work with an agent, but I think I just have to submit myself because I haven't found representation. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. You are exactly the kind of person editors are afraid to find in their slush pile. We editors really rely on agent recommendations (see above), and yet you think you can sidestep that whole process and that we will still take you at all seriously? I know it's hard, but if you're in this situation, you need to step back and ask yourself if your book is ready to be published. If everyone is rejecting you, it's very possible that the answer is no.

Q. I met a publisher/editor at a conference/social function, and that editor solicited my manuscript. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. You should absolutely submit your manuscript to the editor who requested it, but don't think this whole promising situation precludes your need for an agent. The editor reviews the manuscript, but not with any great urgency, since you don't have an agent. After that, this scenario goes one of two ways:
1) you get rejected, possibly in part because you aren't bringing an agent relation to the table, or because editors are almost universally wary of unagented authors (see above).
2) you get offered a book deal, and you get whimsically taken advantage of on the contract negotiations (cf above point re: nickle and diming).

Q. A publisher approached me as an expert and offered me a book deal to write on a certain topic. Since the whole deal is already nailed down, an agent would be taking a commission after I've done all the hard work. I'm an exception, right?

A. WRONG. Please refer back to my earlier point about how the publisher, as much as they love you, will try to nickle and dime you in ways you can't even anticipate. A good agent will earn their commission on the contract negotiation alone. Plus, the author-agent relationship should be nurtured over time, and will hopefully point you in the direction of many other book or article deals. Oh, by the way, since you have a book deal in hand, you're pretty much guaranteed your dream agent, so you might as well aim high.

Are there still any unbelievers?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Book Club: THE END OF THE EAST, by Jen Sookfong Lee



Welcome to the Ed Ass Monthly Book Club! September's Book Club book is The End of the East, by Jen Sookfong Lee.

The End of the East tells the story of three generations of Chan family in Vancouver, Canada. The first generation begins when Seid Quan, the patriarch, comes to Vancouver as a teenager in 1913 under the aegis of his impoverished home village, who have pulled together enough money to cover his fare and his visa so that he can someday pay them back. So begins Seid Quan's lonely life in Vancouver's Chinatown, working day and night, first as a cleaner, then as a barber, in an effort to save up enough money to pay back his village and pull his family together.

Over the next forty years, Seid Quan witnesses some of the darkest facets of immigrant--and, more specifically, Chinese immigrant--persecutions. During that time, he manages to return to his home village three times, to marry and father his three children, none of whom he will see grow up. With the arrival in Canada of his youngest, his son, Pon Man, already a teenager, the second Canadian generation of the Chan family begins, and with it the unbridgable fissures that interrupt every family's history: sacrifice; shame; death; unacknowledged love; disappointment; misunderstanding.

I chose The End of the East as the September Book Club selection for a number of reasons. Everyone knows I'm a big proponent of the debut novel, and here we have a glowingly reviewed one. But I also found that although the book is manifestly "Chinese"--in that it is the history of a Chinese-Canadian family and takes place almost entirely in Vancouver's Chinatown--the theme is, more centrally, the immigrant experience, something that all Americans (as well as Canadians) have in our own family histories (and often in our recent family histories).

In the character of Seid Quan, I very clearly saw my grandfather, who similarly came to the US when he was only 14 and worked abysmal jobs to squirrel away money to pay for the home that would shelter the many ungrateful children who would do anything they could to dissociate from his cultural legacy and pass themselves off as American. The degree of correspondence surprised me when I first read the book, and became one of the reasons I recommend this title so ardently to just about anyone I meet. I think a lot of us struggle to reconcile our own cultural identities with that of our "ethnic" forefathers and -mothers, and also with the uninterest in those cultural identities we often see among our parents, the generations in between the advent and the rediscovery.

I came up with a bunch of discussion questions, but then I was actually a big self-serving grub and conned Jen Sookfong Lee herself into answering them all. Thanks, Jen.

MR: How did you first come to work with your agent?
JSL: I was very lucky. I didn't do any research into agents at all, and just sent Carolyn Swayze a package because she was one agent I had heard of. In a way, it's a miracle she took me on since I really knew nothing about the agent submission process. If an aspiring writer were to ask me now how to find an agent, I would say research online and see who represents books that are similar to yours. Everything I didn't do, in other words.

MR: Wow! Sounds like you had an enviably easy time with the agent search! It must have been meant to be. What was the sale of your book--first to Knopf Canada--like?

JSL: From my perspective, it seemed quite easy because, of course, my agent did all the hard work. I was never sure if The End of East was going to sell or not, and I managed to convince myself that, if it didn't, I would be okay with that. After all, it was my first book and we all know that most writers have unpublished manuscripts stowed away in drawers somewhere. When my agent phoned with the news of the offer, it was seven in the morning here on the West Coast, I was barely awake and it all seemed like one fancy dream. As soon as I wrote down the offer on a piece of paper and passed it to my husband while I was still on the phone, he immediately picked up the front paws of our dog and danced with her around the kitchen, which is why, at Knopf, he's known as Dances with Dogs. Because there was no way I could keep that to myself! Still can't, apparently.

The sale to Thomas Dunne Books in the US just seemed like icing to me. I think my husband and dog danced for that too.

MR: THE END OF THE EAST reads, to me at least, as intensely memoiristic. How much of the novel would you say is inspired by your own family history, and how much is fictionalized?
JSL: What I always say is that The End of East is based on my family but isn't about my family. I used the structure of my family's history, but the drama and scenes are entirely fiction. So, while my grandfather was a barber and my parents did have an arranged marriage, I really didn't know anything about what my parents and grandparents actually did or felt. And I didn't ask my mother, because I wanted to keep that sense of mystery and discovery. And, really, I'm not someone who is interested in facts or truth. There's a reason I'm not a journalist!

MR: It seems to me that a family history has so many rich and fascinating details that it must be nearly impossible to choose NOT to use some. So how would you say you went about choosing which aspects of your family story you would use?
JSL: I don't think I ever actually decided what to use or what not to. I just wrote what I wrote. It helped that I didn't know much about my grandparents' lives, or much about my parents' marriage in the early stages. I was then forced to make stuff up (my favourite past time). What I did consciously include was the historical aspect of my family's lives, meaning how things like immigration policies and war shaped how my family lived together or lived apart. It was important to me to show how global events or laws or even a city can affect people in the most personal of ways.

MR: THE END OF THE EAST has five main characters: Seid Quan, the grandfather, Shew Lin, the grandmother, Pon Man, the father, Siu Sang, the mother, and Sammy, the young narrator. To me, though, the entire book is really about Seid Quan, whose thwarted desire to reach out to his son is a theme from the very beginning. Does this--the fact that at least one reader latched on preferentially to one character!--make you happy or sad?
JSL: Neither, it just amuses me! Seid Quan is an easy character to love, and a lot of people really connect with him and I'm glad they do, because he really is the hero of the story in the best sense of the word. He bookends the novel. He was the very first character I started writing and he was by far the easiest one to write. I was never at a loss for what he might say or do, I just always knew. I think the reason for part of this is because he's based very much on my own grandfather, or at least the idea of my grandfather that I have in my mind. He died when I was quite young, so I didn't know him very well. It wasn't until I was about 16 that I realized he had lived through some of the worst times for Chinese Canadians in Vancouver. So, when I started writing The End of East, it was as if I trying to explain to myself his motivations for coming to Canada and staying. I have a copy of his entry document, dated 1913, hanging on the wall in my office and whenever I feel like the writing life is too hard, I just look up and remember that all my grandfather's hard work is what enabled me to do what it is I'm doing and that I should stop whining!

As you can see, Seid Quan is really special to me as well, but I would never say he's my favourite character, just the most heroic and principled. I like salty Shew Lin too! Really, I like all of them.

MR: I'm not Chinese, but much of the novel was resonant for me because of stories I've heard from my grandparents and parents about their immigration and assimilation experiences. I think this is one of the reasons I responded so powerfully to the book--I see in the characters a lot of my own relatives. Have other people responded in a similar way?
JSL: I think so. I like to think that this really isn't a Chinese story, but an immigrant story and, beyond that, simply a family story. Many people of various backgrounds have said to me that they really felt the novel spoke to their family experiences. I mean, after all, we've all cried through generational conflict and ill-chosen love affairs and loneliness. My goal was not to bring readers something exotic, but rather to show them that every family weathers the same crises and makes the same mistakes, no matter the cultural context.

Thanks a bunch, Jen!! I'm so glad you could join us for our second-ever monthly book club. It was a pleasure to have you. Can't wait to see what you'll come out with next!