Friday, July 31, 2009

as long as we're posting random people's wedding videos

I get very sentimental. One of these made me cry because it was awesome, the other made me pee my pants laughing. I'm not telling you which is which, though.

Video One
Video Two

Happy Friday! Try not to get married this weekend.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

doomed love

Maud Newton wrote the book column at The Week this week--her topic: books of doomed love.

Here were her choices:

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
The Black Prince
The Book of Night Women
The End of the Affair
My Name Is Rose

Maud is ever better-read than I; I'm afraid I've only read 2 of those. Lolita, which is *certainly* a tale of doomed love, and Marlon James's Book of Night Women, which is only the best book I've read all year. So it looks like I'm going to have to take her judgment in this (as in all things) and read the others.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite books of doomed love (which, I should mention, is just about my favorite subject).

The End of the East, Jen Sookfong Lee--Seid Quan spends his entire life working in Vancouver to support his dearly beloved wife in Southern China--and gets to spend almost no time with her. I love this book because it rings so closely to what I know of my (Italian) grandfather's immigrant experience.

Unless, Carol Shields--a really beautiful book about the most doomed kind of love at all: a mother's for her daughter, who is unwilling to accept it or to communicate with her about why.

Waiting, Ha Jin--A deliberately plodding and ultimately mind-blowing story about love between two comrades in communist China who wait--and wait, and wait--for his divorce to come through so they can marry. Sometimes our worst enemy in trying to execute a successful love affair is... ourself.

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger--This is a story about a couple who is absolutely doomed from the very beginning (seeing as he can't even keep himself chronological) and yet they make it work anyway.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera--A man and a woman who love each other desperately--but he can't stop cheating, and his infidelity tears her apart. From beginning to end.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, Manuel Puig--A passionate, dedicated man and a creative, sensitive woman meant to be together find each other in a prison cell. Alas, the woman is trapped in the body of a man.

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss--I gotta admit, I HATE this book and Nicole Krauss for what she did to me with the ending (no forgiveness!) but her motif of thwarted love--love thwarted forever by unexpected death (this happens at the beginning; I'm not giving away the twist)--is one of the most powerful ideas I can imagine.

What are your favorite books of doomed love?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

funny people I work with

Typesetter: [about to hang up the phone] I'm waxing poetic--wane, wane, go away.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Manhattan Bridge

Check out this beautiful video of one day (of elapsed time) watching the Manhattan Bridge. The guy who posted it called it "creepy," but I think it's stunning. (Yes, the bridge bows under the subway car weight... but is that surprising?)

via Gawker

adventures in book publishing

I am the Arch Enemy of the Rainforests.

That is all. [quiet weeping]

Monday, July 27, 2009

My First Print Run Is Tiny!! How Can I Save My Book?!

Last week, we talked about why publishing companies push for the biggest print runs possible. There's also this icky trend at publishers, vendors, and review venues to cut losses and not "waste" too much energy on a book with a low print run.

What if this happens to you, through some accident of bad luck, timing, or misunderstanding? (You can't, after all, control the economy--or if you can, please give me a call; we gotta chat about some stuff.) But if you ifnd out your first print run is low, is all hope lost?

I'll start off by telling you a little story.

In 1997, a first novel was published very quietly by a literary press. The first print run was 1,000 copies, smaller by a third than the average modest reprint of another book, and the trade would only take half those copies--the other half went to libraries, where, presumably, they can still be found today. In other words, stores weren't even willing to take the risk of stocking this book, even on a returnable basis.

The publisher must not have had very high hopes--printing 1,000 copies is so modest most publishers would not have bothered to put the book in print at all, since their gross earnings would be so minor (or negative). But they did.

The name of the book? You might have heard of it. It was called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

I do not make this up. Corroborative articles here (n.b. it took JK more than 5 years to find a publisher! The book was rejected over and over!) and here (in case you were interested in buying one of these first editions at auction, I suggest you start saving now).

What happened between 1997 and 1998? Well, JK Rowling got really, really lucky. Also, the book are freakin' awesome and deserve to be totally crazy successful (yeah, I'm one of the faithful).

But the point is, books that deserve to be famous are sometimes underestimated by their publishers. If that happens to you, how do you break yourself free?

I don't suggest every book can be Harry Potter. (Geez, I hope not--I'm afraid I just don't have the stamina.) But you, the author, can be a smartypants, and kick a book with a small print run in the butt as much as you can. Back in 2000, the New York Times justifiably called JK "shrewd" in her book campaigning. Be shrewd in yours:

-Be prepared to drop a dime--literally. Nora Roberts recommends you plan on spending 10% of your advance on book publicity yourself.* That's even if you have a huge print run.

-Hire a freelance publicist. You can get publicists of different calibers, different skill sets, and for different amounts of money--the best bet is doing some research on a) where (geographically) you want to sell, b) who your target readership is, c) how they can best be reached (readings? parties? radio? print coverage?), and d) who's good and recommended in your area.

-Hand sell. Don't be shy. (Don't be annoying, either, but don't be shy.) Make sure your friends and family know. Make postcards you can distribute to remind and inspire people. Or make buttons to give out. (I have two, both from Mischief members--you guys know who you are?)

-If you can, try to get a marketing agreement with your contract. Then you know your publishing company is contractually bound to stand behind you, even if your print run is low. Admittedly, this is hard to do, and it's probably well after the fact if your print run has been established.

-Build your presense. We talked about platform here. The more people you know, contacts you have, and places you've written/spoken, the more likely you'll have extra venues to sell in.

-Have a website. When people Google your book name, you want the first thing to pop up to be you, not something else entirely.

-Keep that website lookin' hot. That means clean, accessible, and up-to-date. Keep your current information/daily info on a blog, not on your website--your website should be more general, and should be constantly applicable. (Nothing more of a turn-off than logging on an author website that says "Phew! Can't believe it's 2007 already!")

-Be nice at all times. We talked about this here. If you're not naturally nice, invest $300 in an afternoon of media training. It may make the difference for your book if you're not a natural speaker.

The moral of this story: there is hope for everyone. You, the author, have to be your own advocate. But trust me, there is hope. I have to believe there is; I work at an indie press. Most of our laydown numbers make other publishers (and especially agents, grr) laugh. But that doesn't mean we don't make them work. (Ok, sometimes we don't. But if YOU work with us, we CAN.)

*(I don't remember where I heard this, and the only citation I can find on the internet right now is myself, but I still believe it's true, because Nora's one smart lady. Can anyone help me out with a citation?)

my favorite New Yorker cartoon, ever

I usually don't get them. This one I got.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

things the rally monkey says

[my father has had a suburban lawn mower tragedy of the most unfortunate order and has had to have plastic surgery on his pinkie finger--I won't go into greater detail.]

YT: I talked to Ma this morning. It sounds like Dad is pretty bummed.

Rally Monkey: Poor guy. That sucks. What are you going to do?

YT: I was thinking I might go visit this weekend, keep him company.

RM: Oh, so you can do your laundry.

YT: Noooo, so I can see my parents.

RM: But do they know you haven't done laundry since you went up to visit them for Mother's Day?

YT: I don't keep secrets like that.

RM: You should go, honey. Your dad's bummed, and [sniff, sniff] you're starting to smell like one.

[FYI--I am NOT visiting my parents this weekend because they have a romantic date to watch a basketball game. So I guess it's Saturday at the laundromat instead. Happy Weekend!]

Friday, July 24, 2009


The Intern invokes the book publishing spirit of Beyonce.

This is a video of what I sounded like at sales conference talking in front of all the reps.

Dancing viking librarians. Funny insomuch as someone thought to do this... (This team won first place in the "book cart drill" naturally.)

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

mini updates on my life

1) I saw HALF-BLOOD PRINCE!! And every minute of it rocked. I think I'll go see it again.

2) I finally finished reading ANNA KARENINA. It took five weeks of pretty diligent not having any kind of fun in order to squeeze in enough reading time.

3) The RM brought home tons of assorted Japanese snacks from a new (super cheap) Japanese bakery/bento shop called Zaiya in Cooper Square. Which is where you will find me everyday for the rest of my life.

4) On Twitter, someone (you know who you are!) called Editorial Ass "Moonrat's semi publishing related blog." Semi! Woe, how far we have fallen. (Then again, I did just blog about movies, books, and sushi, so.)

That's all for now.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Is It True?! Are 40% of Books Printed Pulped?!

A little while ago, we were talking about low publishing salaries, and the causal low publishing profit margins. Carol asked the question--is it true that 40% of books printed are destroyed? That we publishers overprint and don't sell and then destroy bunches of books?

Before I get into answering this question, I want to warn you that the whole system is so stupid you're going to want to hit your head against a wall. So try not to sit near any walls.

Um. Yes. The answer is yes.

WHY?! you wail. Well. Hum. Like I said, I hope you're not sitting near any walls.

But we in the book business operate on the principle that we want to see as MANY copies of a given book in a book store as possible. Basically, the higher the print run, the better. A book with a low first print run is (not justifiably) seen as being a lost cause from the beginning.* Hence a great deal of pressure to try to get as much co-op (that is, paid placement in prominent places in bookstores) as possible.

One reason book publishers PAY for the privilege of having higher numbers of their books is that more books can be PURCHASED by customers if more books are AVAILABLE. If only 2000 copies are spread all over the country, a book will never sell 500 copies its first week. Hence not wanting to pre-empt potential. Also, people tend to buy things they see in stacks. (Although let me tell you from my sad personal experience, just because a book of mine gets good co-op and placement in the chains does NOT mean anyone goes on to buy it. That second part of the equation is a little mystical.)

Another reason is the effin' bestseller list policies--talk about mystical. Both my buddy Janet and my own wise and beloved sales manager have tried to explain to me how exactly bestseller lists are derived, and they've failed to de-cloud my understanding. But definitely a big component of becoming a bestseller has to do with a book's laydown--that means its sell in to book stores, not its sell through to customers. So in theory, you can make a bestseller list without having sold through that many copies at all in terms of actual purchases. (Of course, once you're on the bestseller list, you get automatic prominent placement in all stores, everywhere, and a de facto recommendation to casual browsers, so being a bestseller often begets being more of a bestseller.) So on the off-chance a particular book might make the bestseller list, companies are desperate to get out as many copies as possible.

All this said, the truth is that the market is only SO absorbing. While 40% of certain books are pulped, much, much more than 40% of certain other books are pulped. (Trust me--alas, I've seen it.) That said, when you estimate the market correctly, or underestimate it and have to go back for one or multiple reprints, the percentage is smaller, perhaps 0%.

Lastly, and most stupidly, it has to do with cash flow and billing. Publishing companies like to put out huge quantities of a book because they get paid by the vendors right away. The vendors send them cash for all the books they buy. Alas, remember, book publishing is a returnable industry--which means those vendors can (and will) in 4 months or so return all their unsold merchandise--which might be up to 100% of what they originally bought. And the publishing company will owe them the dollar value of every book they have to take back.

But hey! They solve that cash flow problem by paying back their debt with money they make from overselling NEXT month's title. The hope is somewhere along the way, a book will actually sell THROUGH to customers, thus helping us overcome our own stupid cash flow cycle.

What else can I say? I couldn't even make this crap up.

*I'm a big believer in success from small print runs--I have to be, since I work at a miniature indie. So I don't say this despairingly; but it's a pervasive attitude authors should be aware of, so they can work to combat it if it turns out their print run is modest. Do we need a separate post on this? I'll take votes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

one more reason I <3 NY

Yesterday, I was riding the N train to Chinatown (as one does) when a 5-piece Mexican polka band hopped into my train car. (And no, I don't mean a Mariachi band--I mean a Mexican polka band, who played polka songs and sang in Spanish.) They wore matching uniforms of peacock blue button downs and black cowboy hats. Among their instruments was a *standing double bass.* With which they jumped on the car, played boisterously for one stop, and hopped back off. I definitely gave them a dollar.

Where else?

Friday, July 17, 2009

one more for the Mischief!

Our long-time buddy Heather L Dyer has secured herself an agent! Her debut, The Edge of Memory, is now represented by Katie Boyle of Veritas Literary!

Congratulations, Heather! Can't wait to see you in print :)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

just finished reading

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, by Jennifer 8 Lee. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

RtP: "Modesty will get you ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. Except in life."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

a biz blog worth reading

This guy at Pimp My Novel is on the sales' end of things--a relatively untold side of publishing in the blogging world. And boy, does he tell it like it is. His recent posts cover such important mysteries as BookScan, franchise skips, and sell-through--things I only hope to dabble in here.

Thanks to my bloggy buddy Editorial Anonymous for finding him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Too Cool for School (and for the Book Store) (Or, Book People Are Nice)

Some unspecified amount of time ago, I attended a book event that started with a reading and ended in a Q&A. It was the author's debut novel, and it was clear she was a little nervous about the event. She seemed edgy and jumpy.

Nerves are totally understandable at this kind of thing. I speak in front of people all the time, and still get totally fluttery/twisty beforehand. So that feeling I definitely relate to. But what's important is that you control how your nerves manifest themselves.

The author in question's method, it became clear, was to allow herself to get a little defensive--probably she felt on-the-spot, and the need to impress to everyone in the audience with how cool she was. I cringed for the first time at something she said to the event host: "Well, Eric, I'm totally prepared that some people might not like the book. After all, not everyone appreciates great literature, you know?" Which might have been joking, but somehow seemed not quite funny enough, perhaps because of her tone of voice.

But I know other people in the audience started reacting negatively to the author not much later. There came an audience question about how one of the book's characters came to a particularly difficult and troubling decision. The author's answer went something like this:

"Well, I mean, it's real life, right? We all make interesting decisions. For example, you made a *really* interesting decision when you decided to wear that outfit."


I give the author the benefit of the doubt--I'm sure this was intended to be light banter. I'm sure it was her nerves talking. But that was not a nice thing to say. I gotta say, I did not like the author much at the end of the event, and knew there were other people in the audience who felt the same way. Perhaps the majority of the audience.

I told this story to another biz friend, and she came up with a similar story of her own.

She went to a book reading of a literary author she had loved for a long time (can't remember who it was; maybe she'll remind me if she doesn't mind I'm posting this). At any rate, he was touring on roughly the same schedule as Anchee Min, the bestselling author of Becoming Madame Mao and others. Anchee Min is an author now, but used to be a Chinese opera singer, and had been doing opera demonstrations during her book talks. This literary author made some fun of Ms Min during his reading, joking about being on the same tour circuit as her, and proceeding to wail like a drowning cat in his imitation of Chinese opera. This friend of mine felt a little disgusted that he had done that, but thought hey, maybe that's what Chinese opera sounds like, so she went to see Anchee Min read next week. Anchee Min sang, and it was... beautiful. My friend couldn't bring herself to ever buy another book by that formerly favorite literary author--his public persona involved making arguably racist jokes at the expense of other writers.

The thing is, book people don't want cool. In fact, they might actively DISlike cool. They like good-humored a lot, and they usually appreciate funny, but most importantly, book people are really, really nice. That's one thing you need to know about book people, whether you're a writer, a shopper, a reader, a seller, an editor, whatever.

The ones who aren't nice have to pretend to be nice if they want to be successful. To be a writer, you only need to commit to your art. But to be an author, you have to understand that being published means being PUBLIC--in other words, there are a LOT more people involved than just you. And all of those people have a say in whether you're going to make it or not. Once you're an author, you're in the public eye, and have to revise your expression/personality/behavior accordingly (however it fits your particular situation).

There are two facets to this equation. The one: If people think you're a dispicable human being, they're going to think twice about buying your book, no matter how well-reviewed it is. (The reading public, not unlike Mr. Darcy, likes character, and their good opinion, once lost, is gone forever.) The other: If people think you're the nicest person in the world, they'll support you tirelessly, and even forgive a poorly reviewed book or two.

So as you're hitting the road to publication, at whatever stage you may be, try to observe a couple tenets:

- Remember everyone--everyone--has the power to be an advocate for you and your book. This includes the teller at the counter of any given bookstore, the person who walks your dog, and that really, really annoying lady/guy three cubicles over who talks loudly on his/her cell phone all day. So although you might not have liked them before, and maybe you still don't like them, start trying to put out good vibes whenever you see them.

- Remember readers are seeking connection. Think of everyone in the world as your potential soulmate best friend. After all, that's how readers think of their favorite authors. Try to feel warmly toward them, regardless of what they say (remember, they'll be feeling awkward and nervous, too). You don't have to BELIEVE that everyone in the world would ACTUALLY be your best friend if you spent a long period of time together, but remember you'll probably only spend (tops) 5 minutes with most people you'll ever meet on the road. Can you be best friends for 5 minutes?

- If you're a cool kid, try to be a NICE kid, too, and not too cool in a high school kind of way. A lot of us book people were NOT cool in high school, and don't like being reminded of it. There will be people in the audience who don't react well to fun being poked at them or at others in front of them--no matter how nicely or funnily you think you're doing it.

Here are some great examples of application of the niceness/meanness principle.

--John Grisham. This 20th debut anniversary profile ran in USA Today a couple weeks ago, and when I read it, I nodded quietly to myself. In my own retelling: When A TIME TO KILL was first published, it was so tiny it was practically a self-pub. But Grisham was tirelessly loyal to his 3 fans, and his 2nd book brought it all crashing home. Now he's, well, John Grisham.

--Sue Grafton is another favorite example of mine. Sue went driving bookstore to bookstore, one at a time, and making friends with the people who worked there. They must have thought she was nice, because they started buying her books--and heavily. Now she's, well, Sue Grafton. (I've never seen this story written, only heard it told--if anyone has source materials to back me up, send 'em along!)

--Lee Child is another author who gets that readers are what make the difference between "writer" and "author." He throws a thank-you party for his fans every time he launches a book. (Also I have it on good authority he's the nicest man in the world.)

--Diana Gabaldon was an author I had no interest in reading--those books looked so long! But my aunt was a fan, and dragged me to a reading when I was visiting her. Can I just say... 5 years later, I still feel like Diana is an old buddy of mine, she was so kind, bubbly, and warm. I've also heard she still contributes to the same writing forums she did before she got published--she hasn't gotten too famous for the britches she wore "back then." I'm not sure how she has time, but she makes herself available to fans in all kinds of ways.

--We saw a couple weeks ago that Alice Hoffman lost some fans when she was mean on the internet.

--Jennifer Weiner--tirelessly nice. Tirelessly. She even stuck up for Alice Hoffman and reminded us that everyone has a bad day now and then. God, I love her for that, and for everything else!

Favorite nice writer/mean author stories? Please share!

quick links

News update: I am DYING to see Harry Potter. DYING.

Now some random items (mostly an aggregate of Twitter posts; apologies to those who follow both):

6 solid tips for avoiding scam literary agents--a good starting point for anyone making the tricky agent decision. (Via )

Carleen Brice writes about the hard road to her first book deal. A heartening read!

101 weird ice cream flavors! (A lot of which I would totally eat, incidentally.)

In case you hadn't heard, a giant ant colony is taking over the entire world! (No, seriously!)

And finally, one GREAT reason not to make creative people cranky! Teehee.

Friday, July 10, 2009

happy Friday video

You guys think *editors* have amazing concentration skills? Wait til you see this.

(Thanks for the link, Carol!)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

we were obviously meant to work together

My assistant is taking the interns out for karaoke after work.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Happy Tanabata!

Thanks, Jenny-chan, for reminding me that it's Tanabata, one of my favorite Japanese holidays.

Today's the day to go to your local bamboo grove and write your wish for the upcoming year (or any wish in general) on a slip of paper, which you then tie to the bamboo.

Since the closest bamboo grove is a bit of a trek for me, I might celebrate with sushi, instead.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Why do British novels often have different titles in the US (and vice versa)?

Christa brought up this good point. Stuart Neville's brand-new debut is called THE TWELVE in the UK, and GHOSTS OF BELFAST in its forthcoming US pub. The first Harry Potter was THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE in the UK and THE SORCERER'S STONE in the US. On the flip side, Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, the first book in her bestselling series, is called CROSS STITCH in the UK and Commonwealth. Why do these darn publishers meddle with a good thing?

The reasons are various, and perhaps not always good. But we publishers usually try to make things better, not worse. (Sometimes we're wrong.)

Let's look at these three:

Stuart Neville
originally titled his own debut GHOSTS OF BELFAST. From what I understand, and Stuart, feel free to step in here, for him that's what the book was about, so he titled it accordingly. When it got to his UK publisher, it was decided that keeping "Belfast" in the title might have negative connotations in the UK, since books about Belfast in the past have been either dour books about the political strife or downmarket commercial thrillers--so associations his publisher didn't want to make. So the title THE TWELVE, which is more neutral, was decided on. Meanwhile, the US market has none of those concerns with connotations, and Americans love to read about Ireland (what can I say? We do.). "Belfast" helps evoke the place and culture of the novel, which is a major selling point for the American market.

Harry Potter, meanwhile, is a different story. In that case, the American publication was undertaken before anyone knew the phenomenal selling power of Harry Potter, and the US publisher was afraid "Philosopher" would turn off kid readers. Since when is philosophy cool? I've heard that JK Rowling has since wished she'd stuck it out and insisted on her original title. But hey, who can guess these things in advance?

Diana Gabaldon, meanwhile, wrote herself a bestselling series that starts with a book that was called OUTLANDER in the States. When she found out people in England knew her book as CROSS STITCH, she was totally confused. The timbre is certainly pretty different, at least on American ears! (I heard her tell the story of her absolute stupification over the British title at a book signing once.) But it turns out in England, the Commonwealth definition of the word "Outlander" prevails--and outlander is some kind of slang in Australia for something that didn't apply to her book (back me up here, global friends? I can't remember or find online what the exact definition is). So in her case, it was a linguistic gap kind of thing.

Any other amusing/confusing renaming examples you guys have come across?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I would 100% say no

if a guy tried to propose to me like this.

FYI, in case anyone out there was thinking about it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Saturday morning British one-hit wonder pop moment!

Happy 4th of July, my American friends!

To my British friends--don't feel too bad. You may have lost America, but you still have Chesney Hawkes!

Friday, July 03, 2009

new (to me) publishing blog!

Do you guys read Bibliophile Stalker? He's another EdAss blogger, and he literally has links to everything published on publishing, everyday. I've definitely started surfing all his linkage posts to see if there's anything I'm missing.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

when did cats become so funny to me?

Can't help it. Think I've fallen into the LOLcats world (but just a little bit!).

This one via Heather, who has other funnies.

THE TWELVE hits stores!!!!

Oh happiest day! Our long-time mischief buddy Stuart Neville's debut novel, The Twelve, is officially on sale today!!!

(In the UK, at least. US folks have to wait for the US release in October--the US edition will be called Ghosts of Belfast. But it's ok--we get Stuart himself, too, since he's coming over for a tour!)

Congrats, Stuart! May this be the beginning of a long and celebrated literary career!!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

what's an online book launch party like?

Check out Grace Lin's launch party (today!) for her new middle grade novel, WHERE THE MOUNTAINS MEET THE MOON. She has some great ideas for you--contests, giveaways, recipes, you name it.

By the way, Ello's giving away a copy of the book on her blog. She (and her kids) loved the book, if anyone's looking for a good middle grade read!

(via Mitali)

to all my Interns out there

Breaking Onion news! "Summer Intern Already Forgotten"

I'd like to dedicate this post to all my summer interns, and also to The Intern.

This very special article comes to me via Inara.