Friday, January 30, 2009

well, you can't

Production Manager: We got the nicest note today from the author of BIG ART BOOK. He says it just looks beautiful.

Robert the Publisher: Wait, I haven't seen BIG ART BOOK yet. I didn't realize it was off the press!

Production Manager: Well, apparently it is; the author got his comp copies. Apparently our shipment went astray.

Robert the Publisher: Yes, but it's my book! I published it! How can I have a nice note from the author but not have a copy of the book to know what he's talking about?

Production Manager: Well, you can't have everything.

editorial bat cave

Nose is firmly pressed to grindstone, I promise.

But! For those of you who have read A PALE VIEW OF HILLS, by Kazuo Ishiguro, our book club will be up and running from the wee hours of Sunday morning (February 1st). I'll warn you, this might be a book club meeting you want to skip if you haven't read the book--I anticipate tons of spoilers because of the nature of the narrative. I think we'll have a good discussion, though--several people (me, Angelle, Ann Victor, that I know of off the top of my head) have already posted reviews, and I know about of other people are reading.

For those shooting for the 3/1 book club meeting, a reminder that the pick was EDINBURGH, by Alexander Chee.

In the meantime, I'm working on SPECIAL TOPICS OF CALAMITY PHYSICS, by Marisha Pessl, and then plan to move on to HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, which I've heard about, like, everywhere.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Much has been said already about the passing of the print version of Waashington Post Book World, and I'm afraid I don't have much intelligent to add.

But I did want to say... I love you, Book World. I love you on a personal basis--you've done me the favor of many nice reviews--and I love you as a source for book news. Thank you for everything over these many years, and here's hoping whatever new form your reviews take, they are good for both you (reviewers) and us (readers) and us (publishers).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

Marketing Director: We really did everything we could for that book. We're not sure where it went wrong.

Robert the Publisher: Yes, well, as they say, failure is an orphan and success has many parents.

[My personal experience--failure is one of those situations where a maternity/paternity test might be in order, what with all the blame-passing. And as for success, they do say it takes a village to raise a child!]

rewards for being dedicated!

Guess what!! I got my FIRST EVER book dedication today!

I've been acknowledged in lots of books before--ok, let's be honest; the only reason I'm as nice and agreeable and lovable and helpful an editor as I am is because I'm secretly hoping that EVERY SINGLE AUTHOR ACKNOWLEDGES ME!!! And hyperbolically.

But a dedication?! That was beyond my wildest dreams. I can die happy.

All right. Full disclosure. The book is a how-to on an unsavory subject and the author explained to me that her husband, agent, and friends have all forbidden her from dedicating it to them.

But hey! I'll take what I can get! (Gotta start somewhere.)

Ps. For any of you about to be published, this is something to keep in mind. Don't you ALL want to dedicate books to me? ;) Just kidding. I don't want to cause any divorces or family feuds.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That an Individual in Possession of a Word Processor Must Be in Want of a Book Deal (or, What Would Jane Do?)

Come on, who here doesn't love them some Jane Austen? I know you do, secretly, even if you claim you don't.

The thing about Jane is she wasn't a superhero. She was an author, just like so many authors among us, struggling to reconcile her art with a rather silly business model. Today, an inspirational post in honor of Jane, who went through all kinds of crap to see her books in print. The lesson I'd like to take from this? There's hope for us all.*

Jane's Rejections
Jane's family--her de facto crit group--loved her work, despite the fact that it was anything but commercial (all anyone wanted were Gothic/horror novels, of course) and despite the fact that perhaps her drafts needed some fine tuning before they were ready for publication.

The first novel she finished was First Impressions (which would later be retitled Pride & Prejudice, her most famous and beloved novel). Mr. Austen promptly and proudly sent it off to the prominent publisher Thomas Cadell in 1797. He didn't bother to write a diverting query letter, though, and didn't do much research on the marketplace or tailoring his pitch. (Of course no one who reads this blog would make a mistake like that!) First Impressions was sent back, unread, with the note "declined by return of post."

Luckily, Jane didn't let the rejection get to her. She kept writing.

Jane's Unfortunate Lack of Agent
Her first book sale was Northanger Abbey, although at the time is was called Susan. She sold it in 1803 for ten pounds to the publisher Benjamin Crosby & Co., who proceeded to never publish it.

Jane was frustrated and tried to retrieve the manuscript from them, but of course they demanded the advance money back. Jane, whose entire family lived on a budget of 60 pounds, of course had already spent her advance money and couldn't return it.

In 1816, only two years before her death, Jane was able to publish the book, finally, as Northanger Abbey. Jane felt the need to explain to her readers why the manuscript was 13 years outdated in "places, manners, books, and opinions," and so included a preface to explain her publication story. She wrote, "That any bookseller should think it worth while to purchase what he did not think it worth while to publish seems extraordinary."

Alas! Poor Jane. She was probably not the first and certainly not the last author to tumble into this sad scenario. Now, agents always negotiate a non-publication clause into the contract, so rights will automatically revert to the author if the publisher hasn't produced the book in a certain period of time.

Of course, as we all know these days, it's not the advance (unless you're a 7-figure Jerry Seinfeld type) but the production of a book that costs the publisher the most money. I do rather sympathize with the publisher here, who must have had some trouble "selling the book in" or the equivalent for the time. The publisher had gone as far as taking out ads for the book, and still chose not to publish it--there must have been very low perceived interest.

Jane's Need of Editing
Pride & Prejudice would become Jane's second published novel, after she had made a considerable splash with Sense & Sensibility. What made P&P acceptable now, in 1813, where it was so unacceptable in 1797?

Well, of course, Jane's new-found platform as the author of S&S made her much more interesting to publishers (sound familiar? The only thing you need to get yourself published is to already be published! Guess not much changes.). But there was also Jane's revisiting of the manuscript, which, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, had been "lop't and crop't" and significantly revised and updated so that it takes place in 1811 or so, not a decade and a half earlier.

Apparently Jane's ability to self-edit and to revisit the themes that were so dear to her really paid off--P&P is the work we tend to know and love best.

It must be mentioned here that Jane was a stickler of a craftist. She planned every detail of plot and place meticulously in advance of starting the actual writing (yay for a fellow bullet-pointer! I bullet point everything... including blog posts. I'm in good company, it seems.). She was also utterly inflexible about accuracy in her stories, and stuck to themes and places she either knew inside and out or could safely imagine correctly. When her niece took up writing, Jane sent her a critique letter advising her to change the passage where the characters went to Ireland, since the niece had never been to Ireland herself. That would have been irresponsible representation.

Jane's Lack of Platform, and Credit Lost as Author

It was unacceptable for a well-mannered lady to publish, or be proud of her work--it would have reflected ever-so-poorly on Jane, and not only that, might have caused people to not buy her books, since revealing her identity during publication would have pointed to the author's bad taste. So Sense and Sensibility was published with the byline "By a Lady." Pride and Prejudice's was "By the Author of Sense and Sensibility." Jane's brother Henry couldn't stop bragging about her to his fancy friends, so some word of Jane's identity got around after awhile, but never during her lifetime was her name publicly associated with what have become some of the most immortal works in the English language.

Jane's Struggle with the Blurbing Process
All of Henry's blabbing caused word of Jane's identity to get to the Prince Regent, who was a huge fan of hers. The Prince kept copies of all her books at all his residences, and invited her to his Carlton House in London for a tour guided by his head librarian, a Mr. Clarke.

During the course of the tour, Mr. Clarke suggested that Jane dedicate her next book to the Prince Regent. Poor Jane was in an awfully awkward position there. She was, after all, the author of books about proper behavior and good taste, and the Prince was mostly well known for his profligate and debauched lifestyle.

But this was a tricky choice to make, and as all published authors know, we are frequently forced to question our own moral indexes for the sake of publicity. Emma, which was about to hit presses, is the lucky bearer of this dedication. Jane sent a pre-pub copy--that's right! They had ARCs back then!--to the Prince, and this copy is still in the Windsor Castle library.

Jane's Irresponsible Habit

Books were expensive at the turn of the 19th century. Emma sold for a guinea cover price--that would have been equivalent to Mr. Austen's weekly wage (had he still been alive).

That's why 19th century novels came in multiple volumes. If a book were bound in three or five or seven pieces, multiple members of the family could read it at the same time. You start a week ahead of me and then read part II while I'm working on part I, etc. Clever.

[I can't help but dig this one in a little farther--you all already know I think books should have higher prices and lower print runs. Then maybe more people would visit and contribute to libraries, create reader circles, and cherish their used books! But I digress.]

*All the information in this post was stolen directly from a rather splendid little volume by Deirdre Le Faye--Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

yet another 100 books you must read in your life list

this one by the telegraph (UK)

I've read 35. hmm.

who gets to make these things? whose opinions are this definitive?

that said, i still can't resist tallying up.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

things the rally monkey says

Rally Monkey: Some girls just aren't very funny.

YT: I'm not funny, am I?

RM: You're... you're not very funny.

YT: Then why do you hang out with me?

RM: You think I'm funny.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

Sales Director: Of course, sell-in is a little more difficult this year than last, especially with new hardcovers.

Robert the Publisher: But OUR books are timeless! Just like the Bible!

Sing it, Robert.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a good week (or, count on your peeps)

My typesetter is psychic.

I botched up a galley order for Winter Institute. I thought I was ordering a title of mine for rush shipment, and didn't realize I was also supposed to be ordering two other titles for other editors, since (apparently) only I was directly in touch with the typesetter.

The marketing manager and I figured it out this afternoon, when we both freaked out--Winter Institute is next week, and there's next to no time to get galleys made and to Utah.

I called my typesetter to ask him to arrange an emergency printing, but he had somehow found a scrap of paper three weeks ago that had the correct quantities for all three books printed on it. Even though no one had remembered to ask him, he had finished sets of all three galleys printed and already waiting in Utah.

Thank you, lucky stars, and also psychic typesetter. I will take you out for lunch.

things the rally monkey says

YT: I think my ancestors were probably pirates.

RM: Don't you mean Pie Rats?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

open letter to Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted you to know that I am very lucky. I have a job at a time when a lot of people, especially people in my industry, do not. I don't make a ton of money, but I just about pay my bills. I'm pretty healthy, and I live in a place I love and am deeply proud of, and I am surrounded by so many people who care about me that I am occasionally overcome with pleasant shock.

My point here is that I know people are asking a lot of you right now. They want, or maybe I should say expect, you to fix their lives, right their sinking ships, solve world crises and knit a sweater for their grandmothers. And while I don't blame them, since I've seen where they're coming from, I don't envy you what you have in front of you.

So there's just one thing I want to ask you for, and it's this: if there's anything that I can do for YOU and my government, I want you to let me know. I don't really have any money I can give you, but I have my time and my energy, and a short list of skills that may or may not be of use to you. You, Mr. President, have gotten me excited about the idea of a government that isn't a cold, distant, unilateral tyranny, but is instead a kind of club that we all belong to by default and may, for once, actually be involved in. I want you to use me, if you can; I want to be there for America.

My very best wishes to you.



Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yiddish Expression of the Day

A toches und a halb--A woman with enough toches for 1.5 men

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yiddish Expression of the Day

toches--behind, fanny (in the American sense, not the British)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thursday, January 08, 2009

sorry, guys

It goes light here because I'm kind of up to my ears in a lot of stuff. I've been editing so much my eyes hurt and it's hard to blog.

I'm hoping for a return to sanity next week.

Miss you.


Yiddish Expression of the Day

A ritch in kop--crazy in the head

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yiddish Expression of the Day

A broch!!--Oh hell! Dammit! [literally, a curse!]

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Yiddish Expression of the Day

A gezunt ahf dein kop!--Good health to you [literally, good health on your head]

Monday, January 05, 2009

oh, how my eyes hurt

How much longer can I stare at this manuscript? ::weeps::

Yiddish Expression of the Day

A maidel mit a vaidel--a pony-tailed nymphet

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Yiddish Expression of the Day

For the holidays, one of my coworkers gave me a Yiddish phrase book. Oh joy! Everyone knows Yiddish is the second language of American publishing. I'm really excited about this.

I've picked one out to share today. Since I'm at work editing right now, I've chosen:

Oi, gevald! --[cry of anguish, suffering, frustration, or for help]

Saturday, January 03, 2009

everyone else got to do one

So I'm doing my "what I read in 2008" list, very self-indulgently. I did all the work, I want to brag!!!

But first, my immediate TBR list, as it is stacked against my bed, in no order except how it's sitting at the moment:

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano
Hope against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer
"Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" Beverly Daniel Tatum
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Book Borrower, Alice Mattison
Jetpack Dreams, Mac Montandon
Forever, Pete Hamill
What Happened to Anna K., Irina Reyn
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl
Inheritance, Lan Samantha Chang

I have some unused gift certificates (to the tune of $28) so I will judiciously consider any suggested additions to the above list for the new year. Especially awesome, readable historical biographies--I've decided I'd like to read some biographies in the future, and frankly don't know where to start, having been a fiction reader up to this point.

Now my 2008 list. I'm blanking out a couple of titles for private reasons (anonymity, etc) but I still want credit for reading them, because I'm competitive (with myself? what's the point? I don't know). Total for 2008: 56, with which we are well pleased.

Since I LOVE to talk about books I've read, if you have questions or comments about books on the list you've read or want to read, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE humor me and write them all.

01/02/08 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
01/04/08 -----
01/08/08 A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro
01/10/08 -----
01/16/08 Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon
01/27/08 -----
01/30/08 Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
02/03/08 Peony in Love, Lisa See
02/12/08 The Gathering, Anne Enright
02/16/08 Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
02/22/08 Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
02/23/08 Maus, Art Spiegelman
03/20/08 The Night Watch, Sarah Waters
03/27/08 Look at Me, Jennifer Egan
04/02/08 Empress, Shan Sa
04/09/08 Best Friends, Martha Moody
04/16/08 The Book Thief, Mark Zusak
04/20/08 Him Her Him Again the End of Him, Patricia Marx
05/05/08 Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See
05/09/08 -----
05/30/08 Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Ayelet Waldman
05/30/08 By Hook or By Crook, David Crystal
06/04/08 I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
06/15/08 The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak
07/16/08 Affinity, Sarah Waters
07/24/08 The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry
07/27/08 Parallel Lives, Phyllis Rose
07/30/08 Crossed, Nicole Galland
08/11/08 The Empress of Weehawken, Irene Dische
08/16/08 Out, Natsu Kirino
08/21/08 The End of the East, Jen Sookfong Lee
09/08/08 The Black Book, Orhan Pamuk
09/13/09 Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld
09/21/08 The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki
09/25/08 Tethered, Amy MacKinnon
09/28/08 The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti
10/02/08 -----
10/06/08 -----
10/12/08 Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri
10/18/08 Prague, Arthur Phillips
10/25/08 The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones
10/29/08 Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, Alice Mattison
11/08/08 When the Elephants Dance, Tess Uriza Holthe
11/10/08 Picking Bones from Ash, Marie Mockett
11/13/08 Petropolis, Anya Ulinich
11/19/08 The Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
11/27/08 Mona in the Promised Land, Gish Jen
11/30/09 A Mercy, Toni Morrison
12/01/08 What Was Lost, Catherine O'Flynn
12/10/08 The Passion of Tasha Darsky, Yael Goldstein Love
12/12/08 The Almond, Nedjma
12/14/08 Land of a Hundred Wonders, Lesley Kagan
12/18/08 Edinburgh, Alexander Chee
12/23/08 Wetlands, Charlotte Roche
12/26/08 Away, Amy Bloom
12/29/08 Orange Mint and Honey, Carleen Brice

In 2008, for the first year, I got to read books by blog friends. Yay! There were three Mischief books on my list. There will be many, many more in 2009! A special pleasure in all of those.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Overwriters Anonymous

Dear Overwriter,

We need to talk about my editing pet peeve. And, well, to put bluntly, it's not me. It's you.

I know that you think that saying things in a straightforward way is boring. I can tell, having worked through about sixty grueling pages of your writing in the last week. If only your content wasn't so good, I would kick this project away and wash my hands. But curses! Your story is so good. So instead, I need you to work with me a little here.

The thing about your overwriting, Overwriter? I mean, even worse than the fact that it's terrible and embarrassing for you. It's just boring. It's going to be the thing that makes people put your book down and never buy it. I know that in your mind, this language was a good idea. You clearly put a lot of time into stringing together as many adjectives, adverbs, and "replacement" nouns that struck you as interesting. So I'm gonna need you to try to be honest with yourself and flexible with me here.

Some short tips for you, Overwriter.

-Every noun need not be accompanied by both and adjective and a modifying adverb. For example, "dazzlingly brilliant hues." Maybe that example sounds ok to you standing alone where it is right now (and actually, it's really not ok--none of the words in that string are interesting or unique, so why not just say it simply, instead?), so let's picture it in a string:
The flirtingly feathery fringe of Mary's perfectly fitted jumper was incredibly intricately embroidered in dazzlingly brilliant colors and hues.

Unfortunately, because of the composition of that sentence, you didn't leave me with anything I wanted to read.

-Alliteration. Just... try not to let it happen. Flirtingly feather fringe? I know it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I promise. You won't regret letting it go.

-Try to keep an eye open for unnecessary restatement. "Colors and hues" is the same word twice. "Last and final"--same word twice. "Ultimate and concluding"--yup. "Sharp and puncturing"--close enough. But that brings us to

-Try to avoid using verbs as adjectives too much. Colorful verbs are great--as verbs. Don't take away their punch by overusing them. Or "proliferating" them, as you would like to say. What is it with you and the word proliferating?

-Most of your problems come down to dialogue tags. It's ok to use the word "said," even if you use it more than once. Really. You can just say "Jackie said" instead of "Jackie sneered jeeringly" or "Jackie continued her bombastic harangue, her outraged grimace flickering as a sympathetic smirk fought its way to the surface." Repeat after me: WORDS SPEAK LOUDER THAN DIALOGUE TAGS.

-As you might notice from the above example, when you overwrite something you make it... well, much less meaningful. What you have above doesn't even make sense. Do you really want to confuse your reader by plugging together "big" words that don't make sense? Every word you add is another word you have to be able to stand by. (I can't believe I'm actually going to break this down, but maybe the exercise is worthwhile.) For example, is Jackie's harangue REALLY bombastic? I don't think it is. Earlier, you described Jackie as shy and retiring. Why would her character suddenly change for a dialogue tag? But even if her harrangue really is bombastic, the words "bombastic" and "harangue" have different nuances. When you put them together, the nuances clash and, well, you sound a little dumb. So... maybe try to think of a different way to express it. Or better yet, "said."

-Don't try to stand by "bombastic harangue," dear Overwriter. The reason? All your fellow overwriters LOVE the words "bombastic" and "harrangue." Here's a short list of some of the words overwriters love (and when you find yourself using them, perhaps pull back):

jeer (jeeringly)
sneer (sneeringly)
coax (coaxingly)
sudden, suddenly (everything can't be sudden, I'm sorry. Some things just happen without any suddenness at all; most things, in fact.)
anything that ends in -ingly (ok sometimes, for some people--but not for you. Sorry, you just lost your privileges.)

Dear Overwriter, the most futile and frustrating fact (unnecessary nonsensical alliteration! Did you spot it?!) about this whole letter I'm writing to you is you don't know who you are. Overwriting, I've learned, is a condition of blindness. At least, I can only hope it is--if you actually realized how terrible your overwriting was, I hope you wouldn't have sent me your manuscript anyway.

So I'm just going to have to put in a plea here that you try not to spread your disease among other writers, and that you maybe have a stiff drink (or two) before you tackle my ed memo.


(A slowly recovering Overwriter--one day at a time, people. One day at a time.)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

January Book Club: A MERCY, by Toni Morrison

Welcome all! Thanks everyone who expressed interest in talking about A Mercy here today. There's a lot to unpack, I think, especially for such a short book, and I'm so happy to have people with whom to talk about these things!

I've already said my piece and then some about this book, so I'm going to back off and just respond to discussions. But as a prompt, should you like one, I've put some discussion questions below, most of which were stolen/adapted from LitLovers.

* When I heard Toni Morrison read in November, she spoke about why she wanted to write this book about the hardship and backbreaking labor that built America. There were, of course, slaves who were brought to the infant United States against their will. But there were also free people, merchants, indentured servants, etc--people who chose to get on a boat for a journey of 4 months knowing there were very good odds they wouldn't survive the trip, never mind life in the colonies. What about their lives before America could have driven them to choose that lifestyle? "I wanted to understand that level of desperation," Morrison said. What are your thoughts about the different backgrounds of the various characters--slave, free, indentured--who are brought together in the novel? What are their various brands of desperation? (Can you imagine making the choices of the characters who have the ability to choose?)

* A Mercy is told primarily through the distinctive narrative voices of Florens, Lina, Jacob, Rebekka, Sorrow, and, lastly, Florens's mother. Did you like or dislike certain characters or narratives more than others? Which did you respond to most?

* Jacob Vaark is reluctant to traffic in human flesh and determined to amass wealth honestly, without "trading his conscience for coin" (page 28). How does he justify making money from trading sugar produced by slave labor in Barbados? What larger point is Morrison making here?

* Rebekka knows that even as a white woman, her prospects are limited to "servant, prostitute, wife, and although horrible stories were told about each of those careers, the last one seemed safest" (pages 77–78). And Lina, Sorrow, and Florens know that if their mistress dies, "three unmastered women … out here, alone, belonging to no one, became wild game for anyone" (page 58). What point does the novel make about women in late-17th-century America?

* Rebekka says she does not fear the violence in the colonies—the occasional skirmishes and uprisings—because it is so much less horrifying and pervasive than the violence in her home country of England. In what ways is "civilized" England more savage than "savage" America?

* Why does Florens's mother urge Jacob to take her? Why does she consider his doing so a mercy? What does her decision say about the conditions in which she and so many others like her were forced to live?

* The sachem of Lina's tribe says of the Europeans: "Cut loose from the earth's soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples" (page 54). To what extent is this an accurate assessment? In what ways is A Mercy about the condition of being orphaned? What is the literal and symbolic significance of being orphaned or abandoned in the novel?

* Anyone want to talk about the last paragraph, specifically how it applies to Florens and her blacksmith, or more generally about how it applies to us as people?