Monday, November 30, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 10 (p 631-700)

Oh, we're so close...

Am I crazy for being worried about what we should read yet?

Any takers on another read-along?

All right, let me rephrase. This is my blog, and I write about stuff I'm doing. And I'm usually reading. But it's more interesting (to me, and probably to you) to write about what I'm reading when other people are reading it, too. Because I'm kinda co-dependent. So who wants to help me nurture my co-dependence?

Anyone want to propose candidates?

Oh yes, also, what did people think of this week's pages?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mentors, Muses, Monsters (CONTEST!!)

On Monday night, Angelle and I went to a reading/conversation with five of the contributors of MENTORS, MUSES & MONSTERS, the book from which that spectacular Alexander Chee essay came from a couple weeks ago (I blogged about it here).

I had already fallen in love with Alex's essay, and then I saw the list of very heavy hitters who had contributed to the collection. It seems pretty obvious that most writers have been supremely affected by someone--a writing tutor, a writing group leader, a professor, a high school English teacher. Some one person changed everyone's path.

The conversation about the book was great, but also it inspired me to host a contest! Which we haven't done since the movie mash-up, which was a mashing success.

I know there are tons of writers reading this... I hope you'll play :)

The contest: Create a tribute to (or a character assassination of) someone who contributed significantly (positively or negatively) to your path toward becoming a writer.

Rules: Email me at moonratty@gmail.com your submission in the body of an email. (No attachments please.) The submissions can be any length you like, but please keep in mind I have a fairly short attention span, and that submissions may be judged accordingly. The submissions may be prose, verse, acrostic, or whatever other verbal form inspires you.

Submissions due: December 15, 2009, at 11 pm EST

Prize: One hardcover copy of MENTORS, MUSES & MONSTERS, signed by Elizabeth Benedict, Lily Tuck, Alexander Chee, Martha Southgate, and Mary Gordon. Also, the winner and the finalists (a number I have yet to determine) will be posted on Editorial Ass (so your submission will be considered permission for me to do so).

I think maybe I'll write one, too. I know exactly who it will be about.

Hope you'll play!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Annual Sappy Thanksgiving Message

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday because it's just like Christmas, only without any religious connotations or monetary burden vis a vis present-exchanging. In other words, it's about gorging yourself like a pig with family and/or friends. 'At's what I'm talking about. For those who are not US Americans, I urge you to consider embracing this fine holiday. If you'd like to escape American colonial connotations, consider renaming it "Stuff Your Face Day" or something. (And let me know when you're celebrating; I'll totally show up with the Death by Chocolate.)

As usual, I would like to post an Annual Sappy Thanksgiving Message. Here goes.

My senior year in college, I didn't really have my act together. I suddenly realized that although I wanted to work in publishing, I hadn't really taken good steps in that direction. Haphazardly, I managed to secure an internship at a literary agency, working under the supervision of the agency's assistant.

I won't say her name here--if you're really curious, she's one of the people thanked in the acknowledgments in Junot Diaz's BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, which just shows me I'm not the only one whose life she's affected. But this woman changed my life. She went out of her way to demonstrate and instruct me on tasks, instead of just having me read slush. She had me accompany her on errands, so I could see multiple facets of the ass(istant) lifestyle. She gave me invaluable advice on career development, name-collecting, personal organization, and etiquette. She practice-interviewed me and taught me to write thank-you notes (whoda thunk?). She invited me to industry networking parties, where I met a number of inspiring, hard-working young men and women, many of whom I still work with frequently today. One of these women she introduced me to happened to know of an opening for an editorial assistant in her company--this would become my first job. The agency assistant wrote my recommendation.

This isn't the end of what she did. When I got the job fresh out of college, I quit my internship, of course. Even though she no longer had anything to gain from me (if she ever did), she helped me through the very difficult transition. She literally allowed me to live on her couch (for zero rent) with her and her fiance for six weeks until I was able to find an apartment.

Perhaps most importantly, she paid me the one compliment in my life that has meant more than any other. I was very bummed about a specific thing in my life that hadn't gone well, and she said something to console me that, to this day, if things are going really bad, I still think of to make myself feel better.

This woman, who did all this stuff for me, is no longer in publishing. Unfortunately, after she left New York, we lost touch. She is doing something else that I hope is making her happy--it seems, from some online stalking, that she's doing very well.

I'm a great believer in karma. And I can't pay this woman back at this point in my life for everything she did for me. So, when I remember to, I try to pay it forward. She gave me so much advice and untiring support that I'm not sure that I would have gotten a job (or deserved one) without everything she did. That's one of the reasons I blog; besides tapping into my flagrant exhibitionism and offering a sense of community to someone who's a bit of, um, well, a community-seeker, blogging also offers me an opportunity to try to pay back/forward some of my advice debt. I've been a part of the alumnae mentorship program at my alma mater for two years now, and I try to pay special attention to the interns who pass through my clutches.

The thing about paying it forward is that it's never enough. I mean, however much I can try to be helpful and available to other people, that can't *make up* for the fact that I ever got a job in the first place. But I can try, when I remember.

So today, I'm thankful to this particular women, and the many ways she changed my life. I'm also thankful to anyone who's ever asked a blog question here, because you're helping me chip at that karma.

Thank you~

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

what book(s) are you reading over Thanskgiving weekend?

(Sorry, UK friends, but take a day off in solidarity if you like!)

I'm bringing the following books to my parents':

-Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
-Path of Daggers, Robert Jordan
-Ash, Melinda Lo
-The Lottery, Shirley Jackson

(this isn't to say I'll finish all or any, but I'm sure I'll read at least part of some!)

How about you? Leave me comments!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writer Question: When Should I Take Revision Advice, and When Should I Listen to My Gut?

So I'm finally returning to that question from a couple weeks ago--when should a writer take advice on his/her manuscript, and when is it better to trust the gut?

This is the classic conundrum, and one you will be confronted with again and again and again if you seek and secure publication. You will have an editor, and that editor will have viewpoints that may differ from yours, and the editor is only one of many potential viewpoints that will inflict themselves upon you. Some of them will be professionals, some amateurs; some will be right, some will be wrong. Also, the first half of that sentence doesn't directly correspond to the second. Ultimately, you're going to have to decide when to fight for what you've already got, and when to ask yourself if maybe the critique is correct.

There are several stages here, and the opinions you'll half to negotiate will differ at each stage.

when you're working on writing a book but have no agent or contract

Craft development is tough. No one can do it alone. Literally, no one. Even Shakespeare was heavily edited by peers before the First Folio came out.

The thing is, your friends and family know you too well to be good objective guides in many places. They may not know your genre well, and give you bad advice based on the genres they read. Or they may tell you everything is awesome and perfect and provide no helpful reflection at all.

It will take some hunting, but the best thing to do is find a really compatible writing partner or group. I personally like groups--although they are rather a lot of work to put together--because you get a variety of opinions (some of which are always crappy and obviously wrong, but the perspective they provide helps you realize that there are GOOD comments in the group).

Writing a book is not (and definitely should not be) a democratic process. But public opinion (in small doses) is really great to see how various people react to your writing.

Do you take their suggestions or trust your gut? Well, it's your call. You have to trust your gut on whether or not to trust your gut. But. Make yourself be open to the idea that you might need reworking. I can't tell you how hard this is, or how many otherwise reasonable people fail at it. Do you keep hearing the same criticism over and over and over? Because then it might be time to start listening.

when you've secured an agent but haven't yet signed with a house
Your agent is going to look at your ms not from a craft point of view (well, some agents are great prose editors, but not all of them). Their primary focus is going to be marketing, on making your book be salable to an editor who acquires in the category that most closely fits your book.

You gotta be able to trust your agent. If your agent gives you advice that you can't take or that frustrates you, take some time to reflect and calm down, then see if you can talk about it with your agent. Your agent should be able to clearly explain why these changes have to be made. You HAVE to be able to talk with your agent.

Do you always have to take their advice? No. But your agent's a professional. And ultimately the only person who is entirely on your side (or should be, at least). SO if you can't trust your agent, you have to ask you if there's something wrong.

when your book has been contracted by a house
The thing to remember about publishing a book is that although you are the author and you hold the copyright, ultimately someone else is paying to publish that book, and has licensed your intellectual property from you in what is, at least in theory, a business scheme. This means a publishing company has--by default--corporate, political, and ethical interests. If it's publicly traded, one of the chief interests is the stockholder opinion. If it's a private company, god only knows what specific agendas might be.

During the in-house editing process, these are the people who will or may ask for changes on your manuscript:

-your editor
-your publisher
-your copy editor
-your proofreader
-the house's legal department

As with any business relationship, there is push and pull during the editing process. If you really, really disagree with a change, you should tell your editor. But remember that no one is making changes willy-nilly; they made them for reasons. So make yourself step back and try to think about it from their perspective.

Even editors are fallible (shocking, I know, right?!). If you clearly (and calmly) elucidate the reasons you disagree with a change, your editor will probably listen. If she doesn't--and yes, as much as I hate to admit it, some editors are close-minded and argumentative, too--call your agent, and explain it all to your agent. Your agent can run interference--and also tell you if maybe you're being unreasonable. (That's the agent's job, to know when to push hard in one direction or another. That's why I love agents; please go out and give your agent some love today on my behalf.)

The point is, pick your battles, and keep your head no matter what. This is a creative industry, and passions run high, but it's also a subjective industry by the same token. The pros may or may not be right, but you may or may not, either. You know your book a lot better than they do, but they know the business end better. You must meet in the middle. You are in a business contract--don't let things get sour between you and your editor. It will hurt you now and later and forever. If your publisher starts thinking of you as a high maintenance author, you will get avoided by all the teams in house who start to wonder if their energies are better allocated elsewhere.

Did this help, or just make it worse?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow

I had to take this week off to catch up. Can we reconvene next Monday?

[It's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to.]

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday morning shout-out to all the lawyers out there

One of my oldest friends is in her last year of law school. Today she sent me this email.
I just thought I should let you know that I am done with my finals. I just need to print my last one and hand it in before noon. It was a long hard road culminating in a race to the finish in a 19 hour long computer lab/kitchen table session. The villagers were angry. The sea was rough. And in the end, there could only be one winner between my exam and me. It was a hard fought battle ending at 3am and to the victor would go the spoils. And the victor was me!!

All last night I dreamed of disabled international people who wanted to develop real estate in order to leave it in a pour over will with their heirs and assigns as beneficiaries.

So cute. <3

Friday, November 20, 2009

Robert the Publisher's Gem of the Day

RtP: When one is undertaking a book contract, one must proceed with great caution. Have you ever seen a raccoon walk? It takes one step forward, then two steps back. Then two steps forward, then one step back. Then it walks sideways. [Visual aid for you] Much can be learned from observing the animal kingdom, you know. They are all parallels for us right here.

[I tend to feel more like this guy here.]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mischief Book List for your gift-giving convenience

Children's
R.J. Anderson/FAERY REBELS: SPELL HUNTER (Fantasy, HarperCollins Children's, age 10+, April): A fierce young faery fights to save her dying people while concealing her forbidden love for a human.

Rebecca Barnhouse / THE BOOK OF THE MAIDSERVANT (middle grade historical fiction, Random House, October): A medieval pilgrimage to Rome. Difficulty! Danger! Abandonment! Love? "A compelling read."--Horn Book

Nancy Coffelt/Big, Bigger, Biggest (Picture Book, Henry Holt, April 2009): A bright read-aloud introducing children to the wide world of synonyms.

Emily Ecton / NIGHT OF THE LIVING LAWN ORNAMENTS (Middle Grade adventure, Aladdin Books, March 2009). When lawn ornaments and knickknacks start coming to life, two kids and a dog must stop them from destroying downtown.

Jacqui Robbins/Two of a Kind (Picture book, Atheneum, July): Mean Girls for the playground set

Pamela S. Turner/The Frog Scientist (Nonfiction children's book, Houghton Mifflin, August): Describes how Tyrone Hayes studies the effects of pesticides on frogs. 4 reviews, 4 stars.

Pamela S. Turner/Prowling the Seas: Exploring the Hidden World of Ocean Predators (Nonfiction children's book, Walker, October): Follows the travels of a sea turtle, white shark, bluefin tuna, and two seabirds given high-tech tags by scientists.

YA
Nancy Coffelt/Listen (YA, Westside Books, October 2009): Two boys, running from their pasts, are thrown to together when a baby in town goes missing.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann/Gringolandia (YA Historical, Curbstone Press, 2009): "...international politics, the consequences of torture, complex family dynamics, and first loves"--Horn Book

Hannah Moskowitz/BREAK (Contemporary YA, Simon Pulse, August): With his dysfunctional family falling apart around him, Jonah goes on a mission to break every bone in his body.

Aprilynne Pike/WINGS (YA, HarperTeen, May): Everything changes when fifteen-year-old Laurel learns she's a fairy.

Cindy Pon/SILVER PHOENIX: BEYOND THE KINDGOM OF XIA (YA, Greenwillow, April): fantasy inspired by ancient China; named in top ten fantasy/sci fi novels for youth in 2009 by ALA's Booklist.

Maggie Stiefvater/SHIVER (YA, Scholastic, August). Bittersweet love story about a boy who becomes a wolf each winter. Involves metaphors, werewolves, and kissing.

Fiction
KS Augustin / GUARDING HIS BODY (Contemporary romance / Total-E-Bound /
November 2009): A female martial artist guards a very male, very delectable
body.

TJ Bennett/THE PROMISE (Historical Romance, Medallion Press, May 2009): A mercenary must convince an unwilling widow to marry him in order to keep a promise to a dying friend.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Pretty Is as Pretty Dies (Cozy Mystery, Midnight Ink,
August 2009): A feisty octogenarian sleuth tracks down a killer in a small Southern town.

David Dvorkin/BUSINESS SECRETS FROM THE STARS (Satire/humor, Norilana Books, April): A book of inane business aphorisms from an invented interstellar tycoon endangers its author when dangerous people take it seriously.

Susan Helene Gottfried/ ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes: Year 2 (mainstream story anthology/Lulu/September) The Trevolution continues!

Maureen Lipinski/A BUMP IN THE ROAD (Commercial Women's Fiction, St. Martin's, June): A newly married couple must make the transition from beer bottles to baby bottles after an unexpected pregnancy.

Annette Lyon/TOWER OF STRENGTH (Historical Fiction, Covenant Communications, March): Being widowed at eighteen was hard; a mother at nineteen was harder; learning to love again—too much to ask.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett/PICKING BONES FROM ASH (Fiction, Graywolf, October): Three generations of women intersect in Japan and California.

Stuart Neville/THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (US)/THE TWELVE (UK) (Thriller, Harvill/Soho, July/October): An ex-IRA hitman roams Belfast seeking revenge for his own victims.

Briane Pagel/ECLIPSE (Sci-fi, Lulu.com): "Claudius wanted to be the first to reach the stars, and maybe he was... or maybe things went murderously wrong."

Lydia Sharp (and 21 others; Alva J. Roberts, editor) / SHADOWS & LIGHT: TALES OF LOST KINGDOMS (Fantasy, Pill Hill Press, September)

S. W. Vaughn/HUNTED (Urban fantasy, Lyrical Press, June 2009): A young woman discovers that angels are real, her father may have been one, and some of them are trying to kill her.

Jaye Wells/RED-HEADED STEPCHILD (Urban Fantasy, Orbit, April): A mixed blood assassin struggles to prevent a war brewing between the mage and vampire races.

Nonfiction
Helen Couchman, introductory essay by Dr Anthony Gorman/Mrs. West's Hats (art, Soloshow Publishing, November 09): Mrs. West (1909-1993) was my grandmother and this work is prompted by my memories of her.

Charles Allen Gramlich/WRITE WITH FIRE (Nonfiction/Writing related, Borgo Press, July 2009): "Both beginning and advanced writers will benefit from this straightforward look at the art of creating publishable fiction" --Robert Reginald

Marsha Moore/24 HOURS LONDON (Non-fiction travel guide, Prospera Publishing, November 2009): Top tips for what's happening any moment in time from London's only hour-by-hour guide.

Hannah Faith Notess/JESUS GIRLS: TRUE TALES OF GROWING UP FEMALE AND EVANGELICAL (Creative Nonfiction, Cascade Books, September): Stories “by experienced women writers from diverse evangelical Christian backgrounds; the tales are honest, approachable and revealing.” –Publishers Weekly

Bruce Pollock/ By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock and Roll Revolution of 1969 (Music History, Backbeat Books, September): A caustic and humorous look at 1969, a defining year in the life and death of the counter culture.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

obviously all your holiday gifts are going to be books...

I know you guys are already onboard, but here's your friendly reminder to buy books for all your holiday gifts over the coming weeks. (Yes, all of them!! Do I look compromising to you?!?!)

Here was my plea last year for why books make even better gifts now than they did in the past. Here's my address of the rebuttal that all unprofitable industries should fold, and here's my post where I insist buying books for holiday gifts does not mean I don't love and support libraries! Yes, I want you to help me save my industry so I can continue to have a job (and so authors can have hope of being published), but I also believe in promoting literacy, and that a book makes a great gift during this economic downturn because it costs between $10 and $20, especially with your holiday coupons/member rewards/free shipping.

Over the last year, we came far. We made the Facebook group Buy a Book, Save the World! which pretty much says it all.

Here's my personal list of gift choices, for your convenience. It's based on what to buy for whom based on what they might have liked in the past. The list hasn't been updated since last year because alas I have been rereading the Wheel of Time instead of anything else in the world. But consider this your opportunity to tell me great books you read in 2009 that I should buy as gifts for others.

Furthermore, the Mischief Published in 2009 list will go live tomorrow. Here's your last chance to submit your details. Don't make me stalk you.

Wheel of Time joke of the day

[This alas will probably only be funny to people who know both The Wheel of Time and my brother. But my sister and I laughed our tuchuses off.]

My brother [via text msg]: Guess what page [of PATH OF DAGGERS] I'm on.

YT: [thinking about it for a total of about 3 seconds, then texting back] 420

MB: Woah, you're good. How did you know?

YT: Does your sister know you or what?

MB: I guess so... Sometimes it seems like women can read minds... I wish I understood them as well as Rand or Perrin.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

what's the difference between earning out my advance and making a profit for my publisher?

Got me a letter.

Dear Moonrat,

I'm a newly published author receiving an inaugural royalty statement, and I was hoping you could help me understand it (I'm too sheepish to ask my busy agent). Everyone knows we want out books to earn out, but until now, I thought "earning out" meant making a profit for my publisher. But my royalty statement made me think otherwise. Let's say hypothetically my advance was $10,000. If my royalty statement says I've earned $7,000 toward that back so far, is it possible I've made a profit for my publisher?

Thanks,

XXX

Ooo, earning out is SO interesting. Mathses!! What we all thought we were getting away from by writing. It's nice to flex those brain muscles sometimes, isn't it? [Streeeetch.]

So the answer to your question, my dear, is yes, it IS possible you've made a profit for your publisher--although neither you nor I will ever know. The truth is, some of the hugest bestsellers only cost their publishers money, and some tiny sellers--even some that never earn out their advances--turn a net profit. So... this is a bit of a mathematical mess. Or you might call it mystique. But I'll start by fleshing out those two ideas (earn out and profit) separately, so maybe you can make an educated guess about how happy your publisher is with you.

Earn Out
The important thing to remember about earn out is that it is related only to the advance you were paid vis a vis the numbers of copies you sell. This is the more straightforward of the two concepts. Alas.

So in almost every publishing contract, the author is offered an advance--that's short for "advance against royalties." Basically, your publisher is *loaning* you the specified sum of money under the stated assumption that the royalties your book will earn will eventually pay the publisher back.

But remember a couple things:

1) You won't see any additional money until your royalties (or rights sales) have paid back the publisher, so don't sit around specifically waiting for a royalty check to come immediately upon publication

2) In most cases, especially if you have an agent and/or the situation was competitive, the publisher offered you the absolute most they could see safely earning out (and in some cases, they threw caution to the wind and went above that). This means that many advances never earn out. And while yes, earning out your advance is a great target--it shows your publisher the investment in your book was worthwhile--don't kick yourself too hard if you don't earn out right away.

3) The advance is a loan in the sense only that you pay yourself back with royalties; no one can ever actually bill you for the balance, unless you did something in breach of your contract (for example, never delivered your manuscript).

4) Everyone is on the same sliding scale here--if your advance was relatively high, you have to sell relatively more books to earn out. A bestselling thriller and a tiny paperback collection of haiku may equally likely earn out or not earn out.

Ok, so think of royalties as YOUR profit. Is this pretty clear? Let me know if there are any questions.

Profit for Publisher
This is a little more complicated, because the math is soft and mystical like a fluffy down pillow.

For a publisher, there are two kinds of profit:

1) Gross (the retail cash value of the books we sell)
2) Net (the dollar value we make after all the costs--production, overhead, marketing, etc--have been deducted)

We use either number when it suits us better.

In a vacuum, if *hypothetically* your book earned out immediately and not a penny was spent on marketing, you would know, safely, that you had made your publisher a profit. Everyone else can only guess.

How do I know this? Your royalties on a hardcover are almost certainly 10% (except exceptions). Your book's price was determined by an 8-times markup of the cost of production, including allotments for overhead, author advance, distribution, and the very paper and boards the book is printed on (except exceptions). Your publisher will actually sell it at half the retail price to vendors, meaning a 4-times markup from cost. You get 10% the retail value, your publisher makes 40% of the retail value. In terms of cash flow, your publisher definitely profits, in this magical hypothetical vacuum of which we speak. Ok?

If only there were a vacuum for us to publish into. Now moving on, to what makes it complicated in the real world.

Let's talk about marketing dollars. A percentage of anticipated gross profit is allocated at the beginning of the sales schedule to each book. Usually, this number is 5% of the gross cash value of the laydown (meaning the number of books that go out with the first shipment of the first printing). 5% is considered manageable risk.

But then, of course, there are the exceptions. The biggest exception is the books that got huge advances. You can't just let them loiter at 5% of the safest gross estimates you make, because if more money isn't thrown behind them, they will all sink into the midlist and that horrifically huge advance you paid for them will be lost forever. Often (usually) how this plays out is the books that received the biggest advances will receive the most marketing dollars. The publisher of a company would never have allowed that huge advance to be spent if there wasn't a plan in place pre-acquisition with the sales and marketing teams to make sure that this book got itself everywhere. Basically, books become bestsellers because it was decided they would be at point of acquisition.

There are of course some exceptions in either direction. There are books--often second novels following a smash-hit first novel--that never perform as they were expected to, and represent huge, huge losses on every front. One example is Thirteen Moons, Charles Frazier's follow-up to Cold Mountain. I've heard that $8 million was paid for that book--alas all the money and marketing in the world can't make people buy something if they're not in the mood. Surprise hits are rarer. Harry Potter is my one favorite example. Generally speaking, a book is a bestseller because a publishing company decides it's going to be one, although sometimes they are wrong.

But here's the thing. A book with those kinds of huge expectations behind it could easily end up costing the company tons more than it ever makes, gross or net. Even a bestseller can cost the publishing company money, through combinations of factors like unearned advance, marketing and advertising budgets, overprinting copies in order to make the book appear more ubiquitous, co-op stocking fees paid to the chains for placing the book on front tables etc (and these can get insanely expensive, especially during holiday season). With the exception of the author advance, all this money is money straight down the drain--totally unrecoupable.

Can you imagine? Bestsellers being huge, unprofitable money sucks for publishing companies? Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense, and perhaps the system will change. But we haven't quite figured out what works yet in this new world.

Meanwhile, dear reader who wrote in, it sounds to me like you actually may have made your company some profit. If the company stuck to their 5% budget for your marketing and you're working through your advance by gradually paying back royalties, they're making cash flow out of you.

Is this ok? Or did I create more questions than answers?

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm reposting here what I was just forced to post in my own comments.

Just in case I haven't been clear about my politics, I'm a feminist who is also pro-men and pro-men's studies. I aim to be neither hurtful nor deliberately inflammatory, and I prefer that people not be hurtful or deliberately inflammatory to me or others on my blog.

With that in mind, I'm turning off anonymous comments until [the post in question] falls into the backlist, because my feelings and temper have felt a little... attacked by certain commenters here. I can't believe you don't know who you are; if you read my blog, you already know what I stand for.

If you want to come forward bravely under your own name and stand behind those kinds of comments, please be my guest.

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 9 (p 561-630)

3/4 there... chug chug chug..

How's everyone doing? Status/reactions/thoughts/feelings?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mischief holiday giving

Hi all,

I'm going to be putting together another annual holiday gift suggestion list to help everyone buy all books, all the time. Wouldn't it be nice if they could fill all their gift needs while supporting the Mischief?

To this end, please let me know (or remind me!) if you published a book in 2009. I want to include our whole community. If you're shy, you can email me at moonratty@gmail.com. Here's my ideal format:

Author Name/TITLE (Genre, Press Name, Month): One very brief sentence of description about the story (twenty words tops! no cheating or I'll cut them myself! I'm an editor; we're vicious with that delete button)

Thanks and kisses.

Friday, November 13, 2009

women never write anything important or spectacular anyway

As you may or may not have heard, PW announced their best books of 2009 last week. All 10 of the 10 books were by men. I noticed it as soon as I started to read the list, and it made me cry a little in fury.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying the books that were selected didn't deserve to be, or that books by men aren't awesome. Some of my favorite writers are men (to borrow a famous cliche). And everyone knows about my secret boyfriend and our wildly passionate (if perhaps slightly one-sided) literary affair. But if NO BOOKS by women are making best-of round ups, this means two things:

1) Not enough books by women are being published relative to the total number being published
2) The books by women that are published are getting less marketing money relative to their counterparts by men, and are therefore catching fewer people's eyes

You can make whatever argument you want about gender blindness and pure merit. If you want (and you don't mind getting eviscerated by me and probably other people on this blog) you can even claim that women just don't write as well or importantly. But it is simply not true that there is not a publicity/sales/awards achievement gap due to allocation of marketing money. So... a little affirmative action is in order--and yes I mean this in all the traditional ways (there's another post to be made about authors of color here, but I'll save it for now).

I thought I was only outraged by this because I'm hypersensitive to the very specific issue of acquisition and marketing diversity in publishing, and although I get desperately upset about stuff like this, I thought I'd be the only one. Well, I was wrong. Twitter has been aflurry. Among the many bloggers and organizations who've made their points on this, SheWrites declared a day of action that got lots of individuals thinking and talking.

In the long run, no one has benefited from this list, not even the men who were selected. Their status will forever be tainted by "the year that thing happened with all those angry bloggers."

The Undomestic Goddess issued her challenge for us to protest by going out and drawing up our own list of books we think should have been contenders. So here's my list.

As everyone already knows, we make a goal of buying as many books as holiday gifts (and other gifts) as possible. So if you're feeling feisty (or just looking for a great read), maybe consider some of these overlooked books of 2009 by female writers.* (Also, consider this your official challenge to go make your own list.)

Carleen Brice/Children of the Waters--A story of half sisters thrown together in adulthood by circumstance, and who against all odds find friendship. I love that Brice creates conflicts and relationships so attentive to real, tiny life details.

Rachel DeWoskin/Repeat After Me--A twentysomething American girl with a complicated mental health history falls in love with a Chinese student who turns out to have an equally complicated psychology and relationship to his home country. I discovered DeWoskin when I read and loved her memoir, Foreign Babes in Beijing, and impossible although I would have thought it, I think I loved Repeat After Me even more.

Emily St. John Mandel/Last Night in Montreal--Lilia Albert is an enigma; when she abandons her boyfriend Eli and Brooklyn life without warning one morning, Eli isn't the only one obsessed with finding her and figuring out what happened. I love that Mandel is so ambitious with her characters, and that she's not afraid of real adventure in her plot.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett/Picking Bones from Ash--A fatherless girl being raised by her mother in rural Japan becomes a gifted pianist, and must discover whether piano is her true calling. Her decisions will have repercussions over more than twenty years, as her motherless daughter struggles to come to terms with her own talent. This book kicks some serious butt; I first met Marie, the author, when her book was on submission, and it has been so exciting to see attention snowball ever since.

Kate Walbert/A Short History of Women--a glancing but kaleidoscopic story of five generations of one family's women, from the 1890s to the 2000s, and the very different ways each generation fights in the name of feminism. I loved the many points Walbert makes so obliquely through a cast of deft and varied characters.

Sarah Waters/The Little Stranger--a bachelor country doctor in rural England takes up the role of family doctor to the once-wealthy but now deteriorating Ayres family. As he gets to know them, the secrets of their seemingly haunted house become darker and darker. I love Sarah Waters; she's an absolute wonder of psychological messing with you.




Hope you'll make a list, and leave me a link to it.

*I limited myself to adult literary fiction and nonfiction published for the first time in 2009, like the PW list. And actually, it appears I didn't even read any nonfiction that qualified. Sorry that there's not a lot of genre diversity.

no more rooting around through the trash for delicious goodies, then, I guess

So for the first time in my life, I got violently sick from food poisoning and got to spend about 7 hours in the clammy embrace of my porcelain toilet bowl. A sleepless night, resulting in very sore tummy muscles, which have been much busier than they're used to.

The culprit? Can't quite be sure. I eat any number of strange and suspect things every day, and it might have been anything from the day-old miniature sandwiches I harvested from the office kitchen (no, I don't believe they were refrigerated overnight) to the delicious but week-old marinated chicken I fished out of the back of the fridge for dinner.

I have been making a very good effort to throw myself a pity party because of these horrific trials, but have been getting muted responses. Everyone keeps telling me how lucky I am--I made it to my respectable age without ever once having been sick to my stomach?! What can I say, I'm pretty hardy. (Also, I train my stomach pretty thoroughly by eating above-mentioned weirdness.)

But I'm lucky in another way--as a creative person. How would I ever be able to write or edit realistically about food poisoning before?! Ok, maybe I could have researched the experiences of others and mimicked. But now I won't have to.

Reflecting on this, I realized that really creative people are much luckier than anyone else in the world. Everyone else only has hardship; creative people have hardship, but they also have material and inspiration.

My little thought for the day.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

publishing glossary

Thanks, Tom Christensen, for leaving in the comments of a previous post this link to yourGlossary of Publishing Terms. Although I'm very angry with you because I spent an hour laughing my butt off over this instead of working on my NaNo.

On that note--one of my favorite entries was

EDITOR: A writer with a day job

Other favorites include:

MAINSTREAM FICTION:
The pretense that there is a group of readers who can be reached through writing that is sufficiently unspecific as to exclude no one.

PUBLICATION DATE (PUB DATE): A sliding holiday based on the phases of the moon.

COMMERCIAL FICTION: The notion of publishing as a way of making money.

Please note: Tom's Glossary is funniest if you already know the publishing term in question. For example, his definition for "Bluelines" is "A signal for the author to begin rewriting." Which is hilarious/painful if you know what blues are already--they're the printer's absolute final press-ready copy of a completed book, at which point it is very difficult and expensive to make any changes at all, and in which invariably authors find something that will cause them to die of apoplexy if it is not changed. Hardy har, Tom. Some terms are obviously funny, and some are pretty industry-oriented. I don't want newbie authors to get scared or confused by them! So ask away here in the comments if you want a "real" (well, you know, more docile) definition of an unfamiliar term.

fangirling The Wheel of Time

So as everyone clearly already knows, on Monday night, Dadrat truckled up to New York (took the day off to do it, too) to sit all afternoon in the Union Square Barnes & Noble so we would have seats for the Brandon Sanderson/Gathering Storm event.

For those who aren't tired of my personal story, I read Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time--well, the first 7 books, all that had been published at that point--for the first time when I was 12. My dad had brought them home and was probably a little peeved when he starting having to compete with me over custody of a given book at a given time, but he never let on (it would only get worse when my brother and sister would also become obsessed). When Robert Jordan died tragically in 2007 without completing the 12th and final book in the series, my poor father went into occlusion. Hope and order was restored to the world (partially, at least) when it was announced that Brandon Sanderson would be completing the series with the aid of Harriet McDougal, Jordan's widow and amanuensis--not to mention editor--hence the rather feverish anticipation with which he sat at BNN warming second-row front-n-center seats for three and a half hours before the event started.

Rather than having Harriet read very much--too many spoilers--Brandon talked mostly about how he came to be the one to finish the series. There was bound to be scepticism toward anyone taking up the project, but Brandon definitely won us over--he might actually be a bigger WoT geek than my dad. For a man who's really had a major break in his career with this, Brandon's beginnings were modest and inspiring. He wrote 13 books before he got his first book published.

("You should blog about that," Dadrat said. "Your people will want to know that.")

Just in case anyone was waiting for a report.

Oh, ps, whoever the genius people in the Tor marketing department are thought of creating and giving out bumper sticker. Mine says "I killed Asmodean," but I could have gotten one that said "Bela is a darkfriend" instead. It makes me want to go out and learn to drive so I can buy a car to put the bumper sticker on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

argh so busy

and so many freakin things to blog about!!! boo, sorry guys.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 8 (p 491-560)

The end is so close I can smell it...

Now, non-sequitor, tonight I'm totally going to Union Square to stalk Brandon Sanderson at the Wheel of Time signing (obviously). The Gravity's Rainbow read-along has really made me into a wiser, more efficient person, since I had to coordinate my weekly GR page alotments with re-reading... let's see... about 9,000 pages of Robert Jordan before tonight in order to be prepared for this book release. Seriously, I laugh at college kids who think they got it rough. Phew.

Anyway. Thoughts/feelings/etc, please!!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Writer Question: How Do I Cut Text from My Novel and Not Lose My Soul?!

I got a reader question recently, and (coincidentally) was, um, "approached" by a would-be author at a lit party the other night with a very similar question (although he did not word it nearly as nicely as you did, dear anonymous polite reader below). So it seems to me this is on a lot of people's minds lately.

Dear Moonie,

A newbie (me, unfortunately) is having a bit of an issue with her MS. Cuts need to be made (my darn novel is a porky 130,000 words). But every time I start cutting out my protagonist's funny little comments or thoughts that don't necessarily add to the plot, I feel like I'm betraying and/or losing my beloved character and replacing her with a streamlined, made-for-the-market version of her. On top of that, the only person who's seen my work says that the things I'm cutting really are unnecessary and need to go to make it more "effective."

As someone who's probably dealt with many authors in this dilemma, do you think I'm just being overprotective of my character, or is there merit to my madness? At what point should an author listen to her gut over the advice of more experienced writers?

Best,
XXX


First, dear Newbie, kudos to you for identifying that 130,000 words is probably too long (and not taking affront, like the gentleman I encountered at that event last week, who insisted not a word of his 280,000-word ms was unnecessary). For those who want further discussion re: word count, I refer you here.

Now, Newbie, I identify three separate issues in your question:
1) volume
2) character integrity
3) trusting your gut over advice

I shall address these in order.

First, over-volume. Lots of people write too long--I think it's about 6 times as common as writing too short--so you must not feel alone in this. In almost all of these cases, it's excess wordage in a sentence, not excess plot or excess character development, that leads to the the bulk (or "pork," if I may borrow your word). Unfortunately, whittling writing down to the bare necessities takes a lot of practice and, in 98% of cases, a second pair of (ruthless) eyes who can help point out your personal bulky passages. If you're striking what you see as important material, my question is can you take what's important and say it in fewer words.

Second, character integrity. Here's the thing: you, the author, need to know EXACTLY what your character would do in ANY situation in the ENTIRE universe, known and unknown. You have to know how s/he would react at a disco, riding a camel across the Sahara, abducted by aliens, and with a bad hangover. However, no one else but you needs to know all these details. Creating art is never as much a matter of sharing interesting details as it is a matter of choosing banal details not to tell. Quirky, delightful, and lovable are all great--even if they're not strictly necessary to the forwarding of the plot. So don't cut willy-nilly things you don't *need* for plot. But do cut things that are dear to you because you're so pleased you know them abotu your character, but maybe aren't so dear to anyone else.

As for how the first and second point come together: I would recommend that in any case you see if you can't tighten up some of the "telling" prose to see how many words you can lose on the "natural fluff" that tends to pad most of our manuscripts. Then, ask yourself carefully whether some of these beloved character quotes that you're hurting to cut might be "natural fluff" themselves. Beloved natural fluff we call "darlings," and darlings, alas, MUST DIE!

Most people can't do the darling daignosis all on their own. That's where you ask for help from people whose judgment you trust. Which brings us to #3.

Third, trusting your gut. Well, that sounds like a complicated question that needs some kind of rubric, or at least a checklist. I'm afraid this is a separate post for a separate day! Perhaps next Tuesday.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

first authors, first books, first agents, first deals--and avoiding first mistakes

Aprilynne Pike posted this excellent essay this weekend, and I strongly recommend all aspiring authors read it.

The central point: remember what you're writing for, and don't get caught up in the "must get published" fever that has caused more than one person to make a decision that actually hurts their career in the long run.

I've wanted to post something similar myself, but couldn't have done it this well--plus, Aprilynne is uniquely qualified to say it. I hope everyone reads it, and leaves their thoughts if they are so inspired.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

argh pet peeve

Dear Agent,

Is this novel you're pitching me *really* "luminous"?

If it is, I simply don't want to read it. I've had it up to my neck with luminosity.

Is the prose "spare" and "elegant"? Or "achingly beautiful," told "with verve and heart"? Is it a "sweeping" saga of "untold passion"? (Wait, what does that even mean?)

If you have nothing but cliches to put in your query letter, how am I supposed to know there's anything new or different about your client's book? Wouldn't it be more useful to show me, briefly, how it's special?

I'll give your client the benefit of the doubt and read it despite your query letter. But really... luminous?

That's all for today.

Love,

Moonrat

PS any other bad book copy people want to have banned? Perhaps we should create an index.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow Read-Along: Week 7 (p 421-490)

Hi everybody! Time for the weekly Gravity's Rainbow chat.

What did everyone think about this week's pages?