Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The RM has just started a new job--he has been trying to switch careers, going from being an auto mechanic to an elementary school teacher--and teaching the 4th grade involves being out of the house by 6:45, which involves getting up at 5:30 (he's a primper). Getting up this early means morning jogging has fallen by the wayside. But today he dragged me out of bed at 5:20 so we could do the two-mile loop we used to.

Let me tell you, this running-in-the-dark proposal did not thrill me. But I'm glad I got my begrudging heinie in gear. (Yes, btw, I checked, and that's how heinie is spelled. Who knew?) For once, the busy streets in my part of town were almost completely empty, and on our home stretch we got to watch the sun rise over the Bronx.

While I was jogging quietly, I finally thought of what I wanted to say here. I've been procrastinating about posting, because it's hard to undertake a big decision. But I haven't really been fair to the friends who come here looking for me. Thanks to everyone who's sent notes asking if I was ok--I'm perfectly ok, in fact, the best ever. I've just been stalling, and I apologize for making people worry.

The short story, where this post is going, is that I have decided to stop posting here at EdAss. There are a variety of reasons--the biggest one is that I don't really have anything fresh to say anymore. I find increasingly people ask questions, and my answer is some variation on, "Well, let me refer you back to July 2007 [or whenever]..." Sure, the industry has changed, and I've sure as heck changed over the four years I've been blogging, but somehow most of the things I said I still agree with. Fancy that.

Another reason is time--sure, I've always been busy, but suddenly it seems like it's costing me a lot more energy to maintain an anonymous advice blog than it used to. I find that everything I want to write about lately is, well, personal, and not of relevance here. I don't want people's opinions of my personal life choices to affect the perceived quality of the publishing information I have here, you know? So it seems like maybe the best thing to do is make a clean break--leave the publishing stuff here, in hopes that it will someday aid others. (I'm already blogging at a completely unrelated and unlinked place, a place that will never be linked here, so if you're one of the folks who comes here less for publishing and more for insane gossip and are interested in knowing that address, shoot me an email.)

But before I close up shop, I do want to come clean about something. As you might know if you've been reading for a while, I started EdAss as an outlet for my frustrations with the publishing industry. I knew I would always read books and love reading books, but there was a lot not to love about the machine that produces books. In the beginning, my only desire was to air my grievances, but over time, as I joined a community of bloggers interested in publishing, it seemed like maybe I could be more proactive than just complainy--maybe my opinion could help other people. And so the content evolved.

What I got out of the blog, though, didn't change much. I came here to post when I was frustrated and had no where else to go, because when I came here there was a dynamic forum of people who were willing to trade opinions--something one unfortunately cannot count on in real life. There were some really rough times, but when I posted here, you guys made me feel like the time I put in was worthwhile.

The truth is, not all of the four years I've been blogging here have been easy. I'm a person who takes my job very seriously, and professional successes and failures become very, very personal for me--I like to think I'm the kind of editor an author would hope to work with for that reason--so when things weren't going well, I was pretty deeply affected. During the two years of ups and downs, I tried to leave my identity out of my content. "Characters" are composites, stories amalgamations, time lines very heavily fudged (I would frequently write a post but not have it post for weeks or even months to help keep fictional distance). I used fictional characters to help me obscure the more difficult things that happened. So I hope that not too much of this all came through. My intention was not to reveal my problems to readers; I didn't see how that would help me or them.

At one point, it became clear that my company was probably going to downsize me, and then I waited for months for the axe to drop. I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but along the way I saw some truths about how things work that I still wish I didn't have to know about. I eventually found myself out of work during the worst moment of economic crisis, when everyone was paring down editors, and I admit I fully expected I would not work in the industry again.

In the worst moments, when I wasn't sure if I was an editor anymore, I wondered if it was unethical for me to keep my blog. But friends assured me that my having been laid off wasn't a reflection of my understanding of the industry, and didn't make my advice less sound. So I kept the blog as I looked for work, temped, ghostwrote, freelanced, considered other industries, etc. You guys were a huge piece of my social life when I was trying to collect my thoughts and decide what my place in the industry was. I can't really exaggerate how much I appreciate the world we had here, or how much good it did me.

I learned a lot from that hardship, though. Most importantly, I learned what made this job worthwhile to me, and why I still wanted to try to work in this industry: the authors. I think other people probably say "the books" instead, but for me there will always be books, regardless. The difference is when you work in publishing, you can be a midwife to an artist, nurture a career, make a huge difference in a life. The chance to be the caring professional who makes a difference, who helps an artist create a piece of art, is huge. Because authors really, really care, and their books are precious to them. I love talking to authors, learning from them, spending time with them. It's like having an amazing collection of experts in every conceivable topic within arm's reach at all times. At the end of the day, despite it all, I wanted to go back to them. I still thought it mattered, and was worthwhile.

I'm sharing this story of my layoff now, after hiding it for so long, because at the end of the day it is a hopeful story. (Someone wanna count how many times I used the word "hope" in this? Talk about needing an editor!) I hope that its hopefulness might help some people who've read it. I feel like I can safely say I have had every possible reason for giving up already, but I haven't given up. I still want to be a part of this. Now maybe that makes me stupid. But it doesn't make me the first person to get stupid because they fell in love with an art.

In the end, I was lucky enough to find another job--and a much better job than any I'd ever had before. I am well out of the honeymoon period now, and yet I still love my company and current job to death. I'm not really sure what I did to deserve this kind of luck, but I will say that it was people I'd met blogging here (three of them in particular) who got my foot in the door. I know I can't ever thank them enough, but I hope I have at least thanked them enough that they know who they are. And I owe thanks to everyone else who has been part of this community, too. Even if they didn't help me quite as directly, they contributed to my confidence, my sense of commitment, and my desire to be the best I could. So thank YOU.

It is a sad net-net to arrive at, but the honest truth is that blogging has filled its function and run its course for me. It got me an awesome job. It offered me a place to vent when no one else would listen. But the thing is, I just don't need it anymore. I have no need to vent; now, if I have an opinion, I just go tell my boss, who is always interested.

So, selfishly, I am closing EdAss. I will leave it online, in hopes it will continue to help people looking for guidance on various things, but I won't be posting anything new. I'll keep my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I hope the many people I've come to think of as friends will keep in touch. This blog and the people who've made it interesting have been a huge part of my life, a source of great pleasure and much education. I hope other people feel the same, and aren't too sad that I don't have anything else left to say. I sure am going to miss it.

Thank you. For everything.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

sorry, guys.

Meant to post. Too much going on. One more wedding and we're over the hump.

Ttys. xxx

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Moonrat's Rundown of Publishing Options

The other day, I received a sad email from a reader who has decided to go the route of self-publishing. This person wanted to know why I--and others in New York publishing--had so little respect for people who chose to self-publish.

When I got this note, I realized we had some clearing up to do. I haven't talked about self-publishing much here lately, so perhaps that is the origin of the confusion, but I personally have nothing against people who self-publish, nor against the self-pub industry. In fact--if you can keep a secret--I freelanced for a large self-pub company for a long time, helping authors polish their books, etc. I know a lot about who chooses to self-publish, why, and what advantages and disadvantages they have. I also know the huge amount of work they undertake. But certainly I respect their choice, and respect the people who make that choice.

But publication is a choice--if you're in the throes of the submission process, this is sometimes hard to remember, but do remember you always, always have a choice whether or not you publish. You also have a choice how you're going to publish, and what kind of publication to pursue.

So I've compiled this list of the pros and cons of each of several publishing options (and trust me, each has pros AND cons). I have worked, as you now know, at big companies, small companies, and self-pub companies, and thusly declare myself a creature without bias (or pretty darn close). Of course, every publication experience is different. These are just generalizations culled from the best and the worst of my observations.

I have, rather snobbishly, lined up these options in the order of what (mostly) everyone starts out hoping for, then what they hope to settle for, etc. But I hope this pro/con list illuminates that all such distinctions are relative.

*Huge, powerful sales force. I put this first because it's perhaps the most important quality of a big house, whether consumers realize it or not. The reason most bestsellers come from big houses is because big houses have the most comprehensive and powerful sales teams, which have the best marketing sponsorship and thereby the biggest laydowns (first printings) and sell-ins (stocking numbers in national chains). So by default, they also have the best track records for numbers of copies sold--book buyers tend to buy what they see in stores. So chicken-egg-chicken etc. If you want your book to be a bestseller, your best bet is the big house route.

*Money, money, money. The big houses are giant corporate cash cows, often with private company or bajillionaire overlords (::cough Rupert Murdoch cough cough::). This means a lot of things:

*The possibility of a substantial advance (although these aren't universal, so don't get your hopes too far up).

*More personnel, so more people working on publicity, marketing, production, etc, with all the benefits that come from crack specialist teams.

*These personnel are usually paid more than their indie counterparts, which means (in theory) they may be the top of their game.

*Bigger possibilities for publicity and marketing budgets.


*Don't assume you're going to be allocated those publicity and marketing budgets. Only the "big books" will. All big companies have a way of stratifying each season's titles to indicate which ones are important and which are, essentially, quota-meeters. These two types of books are, respectively, Lead Titles and Midlist. If people are interested, I can talk about why the midlist exists elsewhere. But the fact remains that you may not want to be on it, unless you have the kind of book with a built-in niche audience (in that case, this may actually be a really good place for you). But for everyone else on the midlist, the publication experience can be harrowing, frustrating, and fraught with disappointment. You may have a great sales team selling the book, but if they don't love you or prioritize you, you might not have the dream scenario you imagined. More than one agent has actually told me they will no longer execute a midlist deal with a big house--they will take their project to a small house, and absorb the risks involved with that, rather than get involved in the midlist malarkey.

*A lot more bureaucracy. If you fall into the midlist, you may find yourself utterly unable to get a human being on the phone. Ever.

*Also, related to the bureaucracy: things can move at a totally glacial pace. In my time at a big company, I observed an awful lot of hurry-up-and-wait on the part of the author.

*Personnel turnover often leaves authors homeless. After their book is bought, it might get shuffled around. Here's's a great article I've linked to on bestselling author Susan Orlean's horrifying experience of big house shunting-around. Which isn't to say small companies are totally exempt, but there is some discrepancy.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:
BOOKS WITH OBVIOUS BLOCKBUSTER POTENTIAL. Make sure your agent gets you a good advance--it's your security deposit that the company is going to have to take you seriously. But if you fit this profile, this slot here is basically the only one on this list that will get you a bestseller.

BOOKS THAT ARE PERHAPS NOT POTENTIAL BESTSELLERS, BUT IN WHOSE GENRE/CULT FOLLOWING THE COMPANY HAS DEMONSTRATED A STRONG TRACK RECORD. For example, do you write urban fantasy or paranormal? Orbit is an imprint of a huge conglomerate (Hachette), but Orbit has been extremely successful with breaking out new genre authors by launching them in very tasty paperback packaging. It may be rare that their books break, say, the bestseller threshhold, but they sure as heck have a good track record of getting authors into the five-digit copies sold threshhold. A place where many, many of us would be very happy.

Most important of all, as you're submitting, IN THIS AS IN ALL THINGS, TALK OVER YOUR STRATEGIES VERY CAREFULLY WITH YOUR AGENT. You'll want to know what you want going in.

*It sounds trite to say indies are full of people with passion, and I don't mean to say the big houses aren't full of passionate readers, but it's true! Let's face it, we at the indies must have some kind of crazed vision of a literary future; otherwise, we wouldn't get ourselves stuck in these love-instead-of-money traps. But hey. This means if you sell your book to an indie, you'll most likely have a team of really die-hard nerds working with you. It can be a very loving environment.

*Many indies have a specific kind of cache; some get impressive numbers of reviews; others outperform all other companies, big or small, in specific genres. Take, for example, Akashic Books, who (among other genres) have created a monopoly on the noir anthology market. Who even knew such a market existed? Well, Akashic new, and made it happen, and has made many authors happy.

*Communication with your publishing team is relatively easy, since there are a small number of people and one professional often wears many hats.

*As mentioned above, indies are often specialized. They have smaller staffs, often with particular expertise areas. So don't try to reinvent the wheel--don't sell your crime novel to an indie that specializes in poetry, or your young adult novel to an indie that specializes in Slavic interest publishing. It's just... not going to be a good fit.

*Indie presses have small--often tiny--budgets. Let's just get that out of the way at the onset. They don't have huge public (or private) conglomerates behind them, and month-to-month cash flow is an immediate issue. They can't take huge risks, because huge risks could very well bankrupt a small company. Let's look at a couple manifestations of this smaller budget:

*A throwaway mistake a big company can make and absorb--say, printing and distributing 100,000 copies of a book, but only selling 20,000--could be ruinous for an indie. This means that they usually take smaller risks, printing closer to the bone, and are cautious about distribution. Because there are fewer copies available, let me come out and say it: on the indie model, it is very, very unlikely your book will be a bestseller.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:

BOOKS WITH CERTAIN CULT FOLLOWINGS: One great example of a success story is Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, a biopunk fantasy novel that was publishing in late 2009 by Night Shade Books, a tiny sci fi/fantasy specialty publisher in San Francisco. Night Shade really knocked the ball out of the park for this book, and The Windup Girl ended up winning both the Hugo and the Nebula and being featured in tons of big places, including Time.

If you have a book with a very specific or cult audience, you might actually be better served by an indie who specializes in your type of publication than you would be served by a big house, who basically knows how to make obvious commercial successes into obvious commercial successes. It's simply a different model of people-power and numbers. Do make sure, if this description fits your book, that you're going with the right press.

*You, the author, control every aspect of the publication process. You can choose to publish a book that has not met with trade attention. You can dictate the title, the appearance, and the editorial content, and be totally in charge of your own publicity possibilities. Most frequently, the hugest pro is that authors who might not otherwise have been able to see themselves in print can, after all, if they self-pub.

*The reading market is becoming more egalitarian, especially with ereaders, etc. Selling your own book cheaply is so easily done on the internet that you might be able to drum up a readership without any of the trappings or deadweight of a publishing house. Just as long as you understand that all the work will be done by you, the author--and that it can be quite a lot of work.

*Some books are really, really well-suited to self-publishing. If you're, say, a lecturer, a community advocate, a professional who conducts seminars, or a doctor or nurse, you may have the need for informational or learning-oriented packets. Self-pubbing is a great way to go, since no company is going to be interested in the project, but there is still a market that wants the project.

In fact, I have a story from personal experience. When I was working at a large company, we bought the rights to a previously self-pubbed book by a dynamic author who did a lot of lecturing on a particular topic. The author's lecture had a tie-in book he had been photocopying and distributing, essentially, from his garage. Once he hit the 20,000 copy mark, he got really tired of doing it himself and decided to see if a publisher could do the work for him. The sad thing was, our publisher couldn't do it as well as the author himself could--publishers sell in traditional channels: bookstores. They don't do well with the hand-to-hand selling. In the end, after a short period of time and only a fraction of the success the author had had on his own selling from his garage, the publisher reverted the rights to the author, who went back on his merry way, probably wishing he had stuck to self-pubbing the whole time. He's an example of an author whose book was actually better suited to self-pubbing.

*If you're a fiction author who is dying to see their work in print--and professional-looking print at that--in a hurry, and who isn't really bothered by how widely it is distributed, go for it. For hobbiest writers without specific writing career aspirations, self-pubbing might be a great option. You'll have a way to get your story to family and friends, and maybe some others, as well, depending on your own distribution efforts.

*To get to the heart of my reader's question, there is a stigma associated with self-publishing. Not everyone feels this way, but many people do. This is because self-publishing contains a range of book types. Many fall into the type "author's passion project that can't seem to find trade publication." Trust me, as someone who has worked on many, many such titles, the range of quality among them is vast. I have seen some well-written, entertaining books that stand on their own but perhaps didn't attract an agent's attention because of bad timing (eg, there were a glut of similar titles on the market). I've also seen books that were barely written in English--in fact, some quite obviously by non-native speakers--but whose authors were so frustratingly precious about their vision that they refused to edit a single word. If you choose to self-publish, you're going to encounter people who think all self-pubbed authors fall into the latter category. You are going to have to work harder to set yourself apart, since no one but you has sanctioned the publication decision. That is, if you want to set yourself apart--as discussed above, many people self-pub for other reasons entirely.

If you choose to self-publish, you have to remember it is a choice, that you're doing it for your own good and have been well-informed about your options. You can't let people get you down or angry or defensive--if you do, you've lost this game. If the publication of your book does not make you happy, then you shouldn't publish it.

*You have to pay to publish your book, instead of having someone else pay you. I mean, these days, what with the trade author's job coming crumbling down, that's probably a smaller concern. But you do need a chunk of capital to get started.

*Capital, indeed, is the great equalizer... The more money you have to put toward promotion, the more likely your book will have any kind of chance in the trade market (if, indeed, trade market you pursue). Brunonia Barry had a huge success with her 2008 book The Lace Reader, but don't forget that she probably wouldn't ever have caught anyone's attention if it hadn't been for the very substantial private publicity plan she implemented when she self-published.

*The fiction market everywhere is extremely competitive. If you are considering self-publishing a novel, it is really important to ask yourself whether this is a novel that mainstream publishing didn't understand (in which case, they probably never will! so, like Brunonia, go with the god/dess of your choice and do what you can with your book) or if it is perhaps a book that isn't ready for trade publishing--meaning, might need another polish, more editorial development, etc.

*You most likely will not have trade distribution (meaning, you probably won't be stocked in your local Barnes & Noble or Powell's).

*Choosing the self-pub route often precludes a trade career. Not always, as demonstrated by Brunonia Barry, but often. The reason: chains, salespeople, buyers, retailers, etc all have access to Nielsen Bookscan. They look at author track records, and usually use these track records to decide whether or not they want to support the author's next book. If it shows that an author has a (most likely very modestly-selling) self-pubbed book already, they are going to use that as an excuse not to buy in again. It's how things work. Trust me, it's frustrating for everyone. But it's a point not to gloss over.

In short, who would be best suited by this route:

NOVELS BY AUTHORS WITH SPECIFIC VISIONS THEY DON'T WANT TO EDIT FOR TRADE PUBLISHING. If you're getting consistent feedback from agents that your book is not right for them for editorial reasons and you really believe in your project as it exists, with no changes, then it's possible your best bet is a smaller (not trade) audience. You can maintain 100% of your vision through self-pubbing, and although it will mean you will have limited distribution, your content will be solely in your control. A niche market is a better fit for many books, anyway.

BOOKS BY AUTHORS WHO WANT TO BE IN PRINT IN A HURRY AND WHO ARE WILLING TO DO THEIR OWN DISTRIBUTION AND PUBLICITY. A number of authors don't believe in the trade model at all. It does, after all, yield a lower percentage of the profits to the author. If you have your own vision and plan for moving forward, and understand the amount of work you'll be undertaking, then go for it.

Remember that it may be more frustrating and heartbreaking for you to publish your book poorly than to not publish it at all. As my mother has oft said to me, if it's meant to be, it will be. Which isn't to say it's not a worthy goal to pursue, and that arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible isn't a great idea. But understand all the options going in, and know what you want, and what you're willing to do to get it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

my own personal bridesmaid update

So for those who still care about my bridesmaid saga, I only have one more wedding left this summer! This one, for some reason, has proved itself the most stressful, though. I can't quite put my finger on why, but this is the one that's been giving me anxiety dreams.

A month ago, I had the anxiety dream in which I showed up at the wedding and still hadn't bought the correct shoes (I ended up marching down the aisle in combat boots; my brain decided to add the creative detail to the dream of having all the bridesmaids carry candles instead of bouquets. "Just don't let the candles blow out," the bride's mother warned us as she sent us down the aisle. Of course mine kept blowing out and I in my combat boots would have to scurry over to the sconces on the chapel wall and relight it several times during my short journey. None of the other bridesmaids had any such difficulties.). This was the dream that inspired me to go out and buy the damn shoes, which of course almost gave me gangrene (so did anyone want me to post the pictures I took of my foot infections?).

I thought I was done with anxiety dreams after that. But this week, they came back. I guess we're just getting to close to the actual day.

In the first, on Tuesday night, I showed up--late, of course--for the wedding and realized I wasn't wearing the correct EARRINGS (because yes, in real life, the bride has mandated matching earrings as well as eye shadow--so maybe the dream isn't totally without relevance). I needed a pair of pearl studs, and the bride was SO disgusted with me that I hadn't managed to by them already.

But then, saving grace! my friend Karen--who, by the way, the bride doesn't know in real life, and who had no logical reason to be at her dream wedding--showed up. Karen happened to be wearing EXACTLY THE CORRECT EARRINGS!!!

"Karen, you HAVE to give me those earrings!" I begged.

"If you want them, you have to earn them," she said.

"How?" I would have done anything.

"Well, for the left earring, why don't you give me a verbal essay about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and your opinion on the best global strategies for moving forward." Maybe I should mention Karen is a high school teacher.

"But Karen," I protested, "I'm not really up on current events! I haven't read much about it since--"

"You're just going to have to do your best," she said.

Luckily I woke up then. I don't think I could have delivered that essay.

The next night, I had another dream. In this one, I realized on the Thursday of the wedding week--as in, the night of the bachelorette party--that I had actually commited to being a bridesmaid in two different weddings that same weekend, one in DC, one in Vermont. I just hadn't realized until that moment that they overlapped. Woops.

After mulling over my options--could I somehow teleport between duties?--I realized I would have to cancel on one of the brides. My dream-self opted to cancel on the fake bride (ie, the one whose wedding I'm not actually in). This turned out to be a girl who'd sat at my four-person lab table in 8th grade science, although I hadn't seen her since then. My dream self didn't remember her name; I had to look her up on Facebook the next day.

Science Girl cried when I lied that family obligations had come up. It turns out I had made the right decision, though, since all the bridesmaids were wearing elaborate theater costumes for Roman-era tavern girls. There would have been extensive make-up required. As the bride sobbed about how much my participation would have meant to her, I woke up. Phew.

Anyway. That's where I'm at right now. Off to get me some pearl studs. Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 26, 2010

just finished reading

Two books featuring Mormon Fundamentalism/polygamy: Brady Udall's The Lonely Polygamist, and David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife. My double review here. Anyone else read either?

some very quick thoughts on the present tense

So I've been getting a TON of submissions in the present tense lately--normally, they're speckled throughout (maybe a 1:4 ratio, present to past). But lately EVERYONE seems to be writing in the present tense. So I felt the need to make a public service announcement.

First off, let me say that present tense is not a reason I categorically reject a novel submission. But it often becomes a contributing reason, because successful present tense novel writing is much, much more difficult to execute than past tense novel writing. Most writers, no matter how good they are, are not quite up to the task.

I'm not just being conservative here. It's true that historically, most novels have been written in the past tense. This is not purely convention--there are practical reasons for narrating in the past tense:

IN THE PRESENT TENSE, YOU MUST KNOW AND INCLUDE EVERY TINY DETAIL--there is no room for skipping forward. By placing the narrative in the immediate present, you're investing every moment and every breath with importance. Using past tense allows us to glibly skip forward and cut out of scenes easily once they have been milked for their interest. But in the present tense, you've already chosen the importance of, well, the present, which makes it much more difficult to escape artfully from the many boredoms that pad the interesting parts of our day-to-day life. This means that unless you are very, very skillful indeed, the format of your narrative may force you to include content that bores your audience, either directly or gradually.

THE PRESENT TENSE IS VERY STRESSFUL FOR YOUR READER. The flip side of the above point: if you haven't bored your reader, you've probably stressed them out. Think of the incredible tension of following every moment's move and thought and emotion--either there's not enough going on, and it's boring, or there is enough going on, and it's totally exhausting for the reader. Actually, this technique can work really well for high-energy thrillers, but if that's not your genre of choice, think about the unwelcome side effects. Frankly, life is exhausting to live--that's why we seek escapism in a nicely written novel--so don't make your book exhausting to read!

So present tense narrative is very difficult to execute. Can your story support moment-to-moment narrative? And if it can, can your reader handle it? Two questions to ask.

THE PRESENT TENSE CAN JAR UNCOMFORTABLY WITH SUBJECT MATTER. Somehow, present tense narration has a very modern feel to it. So I can put my finger on no more scientific reason for my aversion to reading certain stories in the present tense than that sometimes it can make the writing seem to contemporary (or too edgy) for the subject matter in the book.

ARE THERE NOVEL GENRES WHERE IT'S OK TO USE PRESENT TENSE? Yeah, actually--playing off the subject matter point, I've read a couple scifi and crime novels/thrillers where the author pulled off the present tense. However, that does not make it a less difficult feat to accomplish.

CAN SHORT STORIES BE WRITTEN IN PRESENT TENSE? Sure! In fact, many great short stories are present tense. The reason the shorter genre is ok for present tense: you're sustaining the narrative for a shorter period of time, and often focusing on tense moments or short but deep plot arcs. A short story is a great place to explore moment-to-moment action or emotion.

DO NOT FLIP-FLIP TENSES. This is like flip-flopping perspectives. You may feel you NEED to do it to best showcase the drama or action in your story, but eventually it's just laziness: if you had worked a little harder, you could have figured out how to say something as powerful in the same tense that you started writing in. Remember that above all things: flouting many conventions is actually laziness. Sometimes it's not, but try to be your own harshest critic here.

In summary, when you embark on a writing project, the present tense may seem like a good idea. But please think carefully about all the above points--it would be sad to think that the wrong tense choice was what got between you and a book deal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

back from bridesmaiding what turned out to be the most beautiful wedding in the world (apologies to those hoping for horror stories! Better luck next time ;). It was seriously like being in a regency-style remake of Pride & Prejudice. 1100-year-old English church, seven miniature flower girl cousins in shades of pinks and purples, groom in top hat, barefoot Scottish dancing in a hayfield late into the night. Everything (everything!) was done by hand in an incredible show of teamwork by the bride's family and friends (her mom made the bridesmaid dresses and grew the sweet pea flowers, which her grandmother arranged and used to decorate the church; one extremely talented family friend made the professional-looking cake, did the bride's hair and make-up, and slaughtered the cow from her own herd to cook the steaks for the rehearsal dinner, etc). It was really incredible to see all those people come together.

As you know, I'm a big sap, and basically cried the entire time. Except while dancing. The only major casualties of being a bridesmaid for me were tearful dehydration and majorly sore calves from reeling and romping for eight hours. Definitely, definitely both worth it.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Aunda was also at a wedding--a traditional Afghan-style Muslim wedding, quite an exciting experience for her. Many years ago, when my brother and sister were babies, my mother hired as a babysitter an Afghan woman, whose family had evacuated under extreme duress--they had to ride camels through the desert to Pakistan before finding asylum (Fatima, the mother/wife, was six months pregnant at the time--an incredible story). The Afghan family was still getting their start in America at the time--they are quite prosperous now, but back when my bubbies were babies they were in a position where it helped a lot for Fatima to watch children. We are still family friends with them, but we aren't as close as the Aunda, who, as everyone knows, is a major meddler, and is now so involved with the family that she scores invites to all these awesome parties. She said the reception--300 people--was like nothing she had ever seen before, and she was extremely impressed with the food (hard to believe, but they didn't serve pasta! instead they had rice! how interesting!) and everyone's dresses. This morning she chatted to me for a very long time about all the points of Muslim weddings she had learned about--the most surprising part to her was that the bride has to pretend to be sad during the entire wedding. The Aunda, however, was NOT sad to be there, and a good time was had by all.

So all in all, an extremely positive weekend for weddings. HOWEVER, while I was away, I received THE MOST amazing horror stories about OTHER people's wedding experiences! So fear not, entertainment will commence anon.

I'll probably post a story a day for the next week. Thanks to everyone who submitted, despite the fact that I never officially even announced a prize. I couldn't pick a winner, because all the stories are hilarious. If you entered, send me your mailing address and I'll send you a little treat as a token of my esteem :)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

good news galore

Hello from sunny, temperate England (utterly unlike the New York I left, which was somehow both overcast-muggy and 8,000 degrees). And apologies again for the neglect in this time of Busy. But in the meantime, I have tons of things to announce.

First, you still have until midnight tonight to enter the contest! And let's be totally honest--I'm not going to be back at my computer again until Sunday, so if you're running a little late--like three days late--I'm probably not going to notice. No one has suggested a prize yet, either, so I'm still open for suggestions.

In other mischief, lots of of old friends have great news!

Ebony McKenna's debut novel, ONDINE, a fairytale-mystery, was just released in Canada. Congrats, Ebony, and I can't wait to see it in BNN as well as Indigo :)

Anita Laydon Miller, our friendly Colorado book reviewer, has landed a literary agent--she's just signed with Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. You go, Anita! Let us know how your adventures unfold!

It's a hot day in Colorado. Stephanie Blake (also known as Colorado Writer) has just landed a book deal! Robin Benjamin at Marshall Cavendish has bought Stephanie's debut, THE MARBLE QUEEN, for publication in 2012.

I feel a special victory here because all three of these ladies have been online friends for a long, long time. It's, like, victory for everybody. Congrats, everybody! Keep making me proud :)

Friday, July 02, 2010

In which Moonrat is always (always, always) a bridesmaid

So I'm having a fun summer, during which EVERYONE I KNOW IN THE WORLD is getting married. The reason you haven't been hearing from me much is because most weekends between June and August have been devoted to either showers or engagement parties or bachlorette parties or the weddings themselves.

Thanks, guys. Way to stagger the schedule.

What all these brides need, I feel, is a managing editor. Managing editors control project schedules, make sure deadlines don't bottleneck, and check that there are either personnel or freelancers to cover all the work needed. I feel like no one is coordinating my various brides with one another at all!

But anyway, I love weddings. These should be interesting, too. One bride has selected a barn as her venue, and she and her groom will roll in as man and wife on a tractor. Another bride, who is an outdoorsy sort, is having her reception in a field, and guests are encouraged to bring sleeping bags. (YT, who is perhaps less outdoorsy, will be trundled very comfortably in a nearby hotel, don't worry. I'm not sleeping with any spiders, thank you very much.) But there will be much dancing and speechifying (and thank God, breaking announcement, an open bar! one of the weddings was looking hairy there for a while) and, if all goes well, the RM won't offend too many of my friends' parents with his, erm, off-color sense of humor. Actually I'm still debating leaving him at home. The last time I took him to a wedding... Never mind.

So I'm actually really excited about all this. Well, to be totally honest, there are one or two facets of being a bridesmaid I'm rather less excited about. But generally the pros way outweigh the cons.

Speaking of weighing. Being a bridesmaid is a physically hazardous prospect, for those of you who haven't tried it before. For example, say one is in a wedding overseas, and the international bride of yours has sweetly bought you a bridesmaid dress in a mystical British size.

"What British size are you?" asked the bride. Because I was going to know the answer to that question. Because I can even tell you what American size I am. (I can't. Really. The only reason I go to work clothed in the morning is because periodically people like the Rally Monkey or my mother go out and by me load of items from consignment shops. So my British size? Your guess is as good as mine. And you don't even know what I look like.)

The bride was not chagrined. "I'll just buy you a dress in my size," she said. It almost sounded rational.

So the short story is, I won't know until the week of the wedding itself whether the dress will even fit or not! To prepare, I went on a diet (I figured it's better to be too skinny for the dress than too fat, right?). However, for me, dieting amounts to starving sadly all day, then going home and eating trays and trays of cookies baked by the evil Rally Monkey. And sometimes also cheating and having dinner in Chinatown when no one is looking. And sometimes having milkshakes or giant cupcakes at Crumbs. But only sometimes. In the end, I am probably only one or two pounds heavier than I was at the beginning of my wedding diet, which, all told, is pretty good.

Will the dress fit? I will let you know how that all plays out anon. I have fairly long hair, so if the dress won't zip up the back maybe I can just let it hang and cover. It's good to have back-up plans!

Elsewhere in the "physical hazards of being a bridesmaid" column, we have "gangrene" and "limb amputation." Another bride of mine gave her maids delightfully flexible rules for shoe-buying; this means we can wear whatever we want, as long as the color is right, the heel size is low enough, and they are not made of plastic. Which actually turns out is pretty specific. I found two pairs at DSW that matched the description, and being a cheapo, went for the pair that only cost $25.

I chose to break these shoes in the weekend I was going to one of the engagement parties. Perfect! I thought. And fortunately I don't have to do too much walking, so in case they're uncomfortable, minimum damage will be incurred.

I wore the shoes for 7 hours on a Sunday. Let's just say... not as comfortable as one imagined. On Monday, I hobbled around on the outsides of my feet, feeling glad blisters heal so quickly. On Tuesday, I woke up in the middle of the night to wash the puss out. On Wednesday, I took pictures, but the RM forbade me from posting them here because he said it would drive away all my readership. On Thursday, patches of dead green skin started sliding off my feet, and the entire inner sides were inflamed. I called my father, as one does, and explained the situation, and he encouraged me to secure an antibiotic. Woops, I needed antibiotics to treat my bridesmaidfeet. It is now almost two weeks later and I still have thumb-sized scabs on either foot.

However, I am NOT paying ANOTHER $25 for a DIFFERENT pair of shoes of this description. After all, they might do the same thing. So I will just wear these again. After all, I'm only walking down the aisle. Right?

The RM says it's not worth losing my feet over this wedding. No friendship is worth that much, he says. I think he's a quitter, that's what I think.

Anyway, now you know about my adventures. Former (or current) bridesmaids, I invite you to share your stories of wonder and horror. In fact, don't do it in the comments--send me via email. In fact, let's make it into a contest.


Tell me your bridesmaid story! And so the fellas don't feel left out, you can tell groomsmen story, or the story of a loved one who was forced to bridesmaid. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essay, letter, whatever you like. Feel free to include pictures if you think they will enhance. Entries will be judged on a rubric of stylish execution and outrageousness.

The prize will be... hmm. Any suggestions? I mean, I'll definitely post my favorites here. But what else would people like to be awarded with? I'm very open to suggestions.

Email me your story at moonratty AT gmail DOT com. There are no length stipulations, but remember I have a very short attention--what? A cupcake? Where?

The deadline: Thursday, July 8, 11:59 pm EST

For inspiration, you might read the essay "You on a Stick" from Sloan Crosley's I WAS TOLD THERE'S BE CAKE.

Ok. Off I go. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Mystical Blue Yonder (Or, Book Publicity)

I got a note:

Dear Moonrat,

My book is coming out from a lovely indie publisher. Since they're small, I know I'm going to have to help out with book publicity. Any recommendations for where to start?


Um. Ok. How to tackle this?

I have been working in publishing now for... at least three weeks, let's just say. I have seen a lot of people trying a lot of things to make books sell. I've seen companies and authors spend tons of money and sell zero books, and I've seen no-name midlist books that no one believed in or stood behind totally take off. So what's the secret to book publicity?


Ok, but besides magic, do I have recommendations for what you can do to help your own book? Sure.

Successful book sales are a combination of two factors (and this is literally all it comes down to):

1) Accessibility of book
2) Word of mouth

Accessibility is something that you can't do alone. You need your publisher to help you as much as possible, which means helping your publisher as much as possible. If you can, get your agent to request a publicity meeting with your publisher a year to six months before publication. This shouldn't be a "what are you going to do for me?" conversation, but rather a brainstorming session--remember that ultimately you all have the same goal (selling your book) and sometimes a meeting/conversation like this will help your company think of new ideas based on your personal connections and experience, and maybe also help you realize you have connections and experience you didn't realize you had. Good for all. Also, it's always good to show you are smart, positive, and enthusiastic.

Now if all things line up well and you start way in advance, your publisher will have more ammo to go in with when they have to sell the books in to the accounts (the chains, indies, etc). The more your publisher knows about you and your publicity plan for the book, the more copies they'll be able to get into stores, and the more successfully they'll be able to target the right market for your book.

Now, for more personal things you can do, I'd offer the following bits of advice:

Make a website
If you don't already have one. In case people want to come to you for publicity, they need to have a place to go. Your blog will do just fine, as long as there are clean and accessible pages of info about you. Just... don't leave yourself without go-to internet presence. Make sure there is contact info there, and make sure you don't put up anything time-sensitive (because nothing looks worse than logging onto an author website and seeing "Wow! Can't believe 2007 is here already!").

How do I create that "word of mouth" thing you were talking about?
Well, people have to talk about your book. Ultimately, if we really want things to take off, people you don't know have to talk about your book to other people you don't know, and then THEY have to talk to people you don't know. But this chain of events can start with people you know; for this reason, remember your family and friends.

For authors publishing with small or indie presses, or self-publishing, or who know for whatever reason there are not going to be a whole ton of copies of their book going out, I recommend a book party as a good starting point. Even if it's intimate, it's nice to celebrate your accomplishment while reminding people you've been published. It's also a good way to get the ball rolling. We talked here about throwing a good launch party.

You can also give stuff out. Cheap and nice solutions include bookmarks, buttons, pens, and postcards; you can get fancier, but usually the cheap stuff works just as well. Don't be shy about asking your friends to give your thingies out at work, too. That's what friends are for.

Plan to spend a little money.
Guidelines I have heard include 10% of your advance--but of course this is only relevant in some cases. Don't go bankrupt, no matter what you do; think of it as hobby money (I might have spent this on vacation or buying myself tropical fish, but instead I'll use it on gas money to drive to Houston for that book signing, etc). But use your allotted funds on things like your giveaways, visiting indie bookstores and introducing yourself to owners, etc.

Should you hire a publicist?
There are pros and cons. Publicists are expensive. Very, very expensive. But if you are in a situation where you're getting zero backing from your publisher--which, let's be honest, happens a lot--you could benefit from one. Just make sure it's worth your while. Also, make sure the publicist is a good choice for you--if it's someone rinky-dink, they may get nothing done. If it is someone huge, they may end up ignoring you for bigger fish. Get recommendations from author friends.

I hope this helps. So much of publicity is case-by-case. Let me know if any specific questions/scenarios come up--or if any authors want to volunteer stories on what worked for them, that would be great.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

because I know everyone was holding their breath

I passed! The iron test, that is. My iron count was just over threshold, and I gave blood successfully!

Then I ate a giant cheeseburger and had a peanut butter milkshake. Yar.

So glad to tell you the sacrificing caffeine seems to have paid off! Or at least it didn't hurt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

why the first page of your manuscript is so dang important

Just briefly, because I am up to my tailbone in manuscripts.

Heaps and heaps and heaps of manuscripts. At the moment, all of them fiction. 90% of them debut novels. All of their authors hoping desperately for a book deal, for a home for their beloved novel.

When I read submission after submission after submission--which, let's face it, is everyday--my mind starts to dull. My eyes begin to glaze from all the white on black. My butt begins to hurt from sitting. I'm pretty hungry (because I'm always pretty hungry), and this is making me cranky. As the day wears on, I get irritable. The reading gets faster, and the disappointments stack up more quickly.

I don't want to reject books--I want to buy them! But I can't buy something that I'm not passionate about. So many of these manuscripts are only 60% of a book I'd want to read. There are different reasons they don't fit the bill--maybe the content doesn't interest me personally; maybe I don't like the writer's style; maybe there's nothing special about the book, it's just adequate. Maybe the agent didn't do a great job of pitching it, and I was expecting something other than what I got.

Or maybe it's a beautiful, perfect, exquisite book, exactly the book I've always dreamed of publishing. But I'll never know, because the first page was CRAP.

There are different ways to create a crappy first page. Boringness. Cliche. Too many fancy schmancy words. Immersing your audience too quickly into the action. Immersing them too slowly.

Yeah, I know, it's basically impossible to win at this game. But YOU MUST TRY.

Above all things, YOU MUST BE SPECIAL.

Assume whoever is reading your submission is going to be in a terrible mood when they look at page 1.

You just don't have until page 2.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday morning educational video

How to swear in English (Korean instructional video). As the commenters say, "I would learn English from this man!" "Learn English? I would follow this man into battle!" (Warning: as our kind teacher points out, children and pregnant women should not watch, as it will not be beneficial for them.)

Thanks to Maud Newton for steering me to him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

weakness of nationalism at The Office

Editor Colleague: You know, maybe we should stop feeling so happy the US tied it up. After all, no one here even cares about soccer. That's all Slovenia has.

YT: Shh!! Stop! Be strong of mind and will!! Slovenia has plenty.

Marketing Director: Like what?

YT: Like... delicious cuisine.

MD: Oh yeah? Like what?

YT: Uh. [I'm not sure, so I scramble to look up "Slovenian Cuisine" on Wikipedia, and come up with this]. It says right here that... "There is no such thing as Slovenian cuisine..."

EC: Exactly.

Fight Wikipedia, my friends! Send me your best Slovenian recipes. Go US!

just finished reading

Lips Touch Three Times, by Laini Taylor, illustrated by Jim di Bartolo. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I guess I'm more closely genetically linked to her pet turtle than to her.

Fellow Editor: So I was thinking about this. I have a pet turtle, and every day she eats--well, it's basically lettuce, but it's still bigger than her entire body. Meanwhile, I eat this [brandishing a sandwich], which is smaller than my head, and I feel totally satisfied.

[file under: #problemsidonot have]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

life is meaningless without challenges.

This post has absolutely nothing to do with publishing, except maybe how much coffee people in publishing drink (a lot).

So back when I was very very young, I used to give blood all the time. I started when I was 17, and quickly figured out that giving blood was a nifty way to assuage my grieving conscience for all my other crimes against humanity. E.g. "You've been gossiping an awful lot about your friends lately; that makes you a nasty person. But at least you gave blood." Etc, etc. Plus giving blood is a good excuse to eat like a hooligan. Replenishing nutrients and whatnot. Right?

Anyway, this merry pattern dropped off about two years ago. At that point, every time I went into the NYC Blood Center, they would stab my finger and then turn me away for low iron. An outrageous accusation, especially hurled at one who could easily eat an entire cow over the course of a week (or other tasty iron-filled meat product, for that matter).

I tried eating more meat and going back. No dice. I tried supplementing iron-rich non-meats, like spinach and walnuts. YUM WALNUTS! An addiction was born. But no, still the iron count was too low.

The last time I went, I asked the guy what was wrong with me. "I never used to have this problem until a couple years ago," I told him.

"Hmm," he said. "Well, have you started drinking a lot of coffee lately?"

"No," I said. "No more than three or four cups a day. Unless I'm tired. Then sometimes more."

"Right," he said. "You know coffee depletes your iron. Try cutting out the coffee and coming back."

Obviously I laughed uproariously at his hilarious joke. Cut out the coffee! FUN.NY. Sure, I wanted to help save lives. But without coffee, I might accidentally kill someone myself, either through morning rage or sheer sleepy accident. So saving lives might actually cost lives. Which would defeat the purpose, right?

Well, anyway, suffice it to say that after lo these many months I am reversing that decision. I have to leave the country shortly (on vacation, boohoo, poor me), and that will make me ineligible to donate for six months. So, when inspired by my friend Ellen, who also wants to make a donation, I decided to squeeze one last little life-saving in before jetting off.

Our appointment is set for next Thursday. I haven't had any coffee whatsoever--not a single drop--since Friday morning of last week. Let's just say this is both easier and harder than I imagined. I come from a fine line of coffee drinkers. My father, who used to be in the navy, drank so much black coffee everyday to keep himself awake through his dog watches that on nights he managed to sneak in a full 8 hours to sleep, he would wake up 4 hours into it with a crushing caffeine withdrawal headache, brew himself a cup, and go back to sleep. I mean, he makes me look like an amateur.

It's very interesting to look at the facets of my life this probably largely psychosomatic drug has. For example, without the crutch of coffee, how do I trick my brain into engaging in the morning? A brisk walk? A math puzzle? Cake? (I have tried at least one of these options. I will not insult your intelligence by saying which.) And this is only one manifesting issue. My coworkers probably want to kill me--I keep walking into things, taking three times as long as usual to do stuff, and being unable to think of very common everyday, uh, what are they called. Those things, that you say and write. Words! That's them. But my coworkers are kind and haven't let on.

Perhaps we can break the addiction forever! Do I have staying power? I don't know. I like coffee. I like the smell, and also mixing it with lots of milk. But I do hear it does a number on your poor insides. I dunno. I'll leave big decisions until later.

Anyway. That's my adventure for this week. Now if the Blood Center tells me my iron count is STILL too low, I shall return here with irateness anon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

just finished reading

The Elvenbane, by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey. This is the one I promised you I'd review a couple days ago--the reread of my childhood magician's book. My review here. I know at least a couple of you have also read it--I hope you'll come out of your lairs and comment. (Dragon joke.)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

writing @$$ off commencing

Please feel welcome to report your accomplishments here, fellow stalwart friends. The official goal is 3,000 words, but my personal goal is to finish one scene that's been tricky.

Knock 'em dead!

Friday, June 11, 2010

ladies and gentlement, we have a bleeder*

*I borrow a term from vampire literature I've been reading lately to refer to a "real, live human being, who has presented itself in the flesh, for all the world as if it is begging to be sucked dry"

That's right. We have had an unsolicited, unagented author "drop by" the press to hand-deliver his work today.

He is, even as I type this from behind my little wall, describing to our poor managing editor the merits of his manuscript and exactly why he's sure we're going to love it.

What is our ME supposed to say to that?!


"Uh, thanks"?

"Well, this is a little uncomfortable. I really wish you'd stop describing your plot to me now so I can get back to work, especially since I'm not the one who will be reading this anyway"?

"Wish you had followed our submissions guidelines as they are available on the web, but instead you've chosen to demonstrate that you're above everyone else's submission guidelines, so thanks for helping us realize at the beginning of the process that you're going to be a handful to work with"?

It sounds (as I huddle behind my desk) like our ME is being very polite. Power to the ME! Better our ME than me!

I know dropping off a manuscript in person seems like a great idea--a way to make yourself stand out, a way to make yourself special, make that agent/editor remember you.

But it's really, really not.

Remember that on a whole, editors are introverted and antisocial (even, secretly, yours truly, if you crack through this blustery exterior--it's part of the job calling, if you think about it). This means that for many editors, in-person presentations like this feel an awful lot like confrontations. You do NOT want the person who's reading your manuscript having backed-into-a-corner thoughts about you.

In fact, you risk the editor becoming afraid of you, and assuming you are a stalker.

Anyway. Everybody reading this blog already knows these rules. It is, alas, the people who will never need this blog that most need them.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

My Magician's Book (Or, the Life-Long Secret of the Reader Child)

So, fans of the Chronicles of Narnia, I'm going to remind you of one of one of Lewis's mini-fables, as this book reminded me:

Lucy Pevensie is looking in a spell book for a spell she desperately needs. The spell, it turns out, is in the form of a story, a really amazing story that Lucy can't stop reading. It's so good that she tries to go back and reread it, but finds the (magical) pages only turn in one direction. Worst of all, the story is erasing itself from her brain even as she reads it, so that by the time she gets to the end she can't remember it at all. But it was such a good story that from that day on, whenever she reads something that she enjoys, it's only because it in some way reminded her of that one perfect, lost story.

Sound familiar? The Magician's Book. The perfect story you read as a child, and which since you read it has gone utterly unmatched and only vaguely echoed by anything else you read?

If you're a nerd-child like me, you probably have a book (or book series) like this. You might still be able to quote from it extensively, even though you haven't read it in five, ten, twenty, or fifty years. You're still not sure you ever felt as good or as intense as you did that first time you read it, and you may have wished really desperately that you could just find and be transported to the world those characters lived in. Any of this ringing any bells for you?

When I read The Magician's Book, Laura Miller's monograph on her love of Narnia and rereading it as an adult, bells were clanging in my head, like Sunday morning at all the churches in the world.

For Laura Miller, the book columnist at, the Magician's Book was Narnia. She writes about her childhood love for Narnia, her return to the series as an adult, and everything she has learned about and ruminated on regarding nerdy childish reading patterns. Some points she makes:

1) As children, we read books desperately then, falling wholly and completely in love with them (did you ever sneak a book under the dining room table or under the lid of your desk at school, and then get yelled at by your parent/teacher for reading instead of being social/studious? I did all the time. ALL THE TIME.)

2) We kept reading as adults, but don't really love reading as much or as purely as we used to when we were kids. This is because...

3) Experience, life-knowledge, exposure to various things, etc destroy our credulity as we get older, meaning we don't allow ourselves the same escapism we used to as kids. One of her great examples here is the nearly universal desire of children to read about talking animals or a hero's ability to commune with animals--it's because, down to that bitter moment we actually become adults, all children hang onto the hope that *they* will be the child to bridge that gap and talk with animals. Eventually, we finally give up on that hope, and then we feel stupid and embarrassed at ourselves for ever feeling hope in that particular magic.

(That's another sad part about being an adult--being embarrassed by the things that made us happy when we were kids.)

Laura Miller says that, for us, you know, us kids who read constantly and obsessively when we were kids, we've spent our entire lives trying, like Lucy, to resuscitate that feeling of total immersion we felt when we read our Magician's Books when we were kids. We read things and like or enjoy them based on to what degree they can recall that ancient, complete escapism.

Now, full disclosure--I read a lot. I mean, besides for work. And despite all this very great amount of reading that I do, it is very, very rare that I read anything and experience a sense of pure enjoyment. I mean, I often experience some or various enjoyments from what I read, or I appreciate different elements about the book, or maybe it strikes a particularly resonant chord for me. But very, very, VERY rarely do I get so totally lost in a book that every time I put it down I just itch to re-immerse myself. You know, the way I read EVERYTHING when I was a kid.

So recently, I reread my Magician's Book--an epic fantasy called The Elvenbane, which I'll review separately. I don't want to give up any spoilers regarding whether or not it held up to my childish love for it; I'll get to that later. But I've decided it's really silly to be embarrassed about the things I read and loved as a child. That means--mostly epic fantasy, which made me so, so happy as a child. So very happy.

So, calling all nerd children: what do you think of Laura Miller's thesis about childhood reading? What was your Magician's Book? I can't wait to hear.

*Postscript: I dedicate this post to Alyssa Smith, the Sterling editor who loaned me her copy of Laura Miller's MAGICIAN'S BOOK and inspired this post. Alyssa has been a very good friend for a long time, and has been one of a small vanguard of folks who have helped me re-discover my inner geek. Alyssa also had the horrific experience of losing all of her belongings and pets in a fire that burned down her entire house earlier this week. Alyssa has done a lot of kind things for a lot of people, so please send her your love, good wishes, and, if you can spare a couple bucks, her friends are collecting donations to help her rebuild her life. More details here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

tons of good news

Lots going on in our part of the blogosphere...

First, a bunch of his friends have put together a huge online party, complete with prizes, presents, and games, for the release of Stephen Parrish's new book. And writing contests. I know "contest" is the magic word for a bunch of addicts around here, so run off and submit!

Next, devilish good news, my very dear friend Ellen Oh has just signed with the stellar agent Joe Monti. I'm SO happy for her. I know a lot of you guys know and love Ello as much as I do, so this is a big victory for the team!

Finally, he's so modest that I had to figure it out for myself, but very very long-time EdAss reader and commenter Charles Gramlich just had a book come out! Bitter Steel, a collection of epic fantasy stories, is available from Borgo Press.

As for me, I'm still icky-busy over here (you know, though, in a good way). But I will be doing Saturday's Write Your @$$ Off Day! The official goal is 3,000 words in one day, but my goal will be just to devote a couple steady hours to writing. I'm still working on that project that came to me in my dream, just like what happened to Stephenie Meyer.

That's all for now!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Summer Fridays!

So here's a wacky tradition that goes back to, we imagine, back when everyone in publishing was incredibly wealthy and had some kind of summer weekend getaway in the Hamptons. In the summers, we work an hour later Monday through Thursday, and then on Fridays everyone leaves at one o'clock. (Not everywhere... just most places.)

Obviously, for all the COOL kids, that makes summer the time of Karaoke Happy Hour. From 2pm to 7pm, at various New York establishments, Karaoke is only $4 per person per hour (I pay to sing, not to drink--I understand other people go to Karaoke for different reasons, but I have VERY clearly defined priorities).

So to celebrate, I link you (again) to this ridiculous video: "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (perhaps the best Karaoke song ever), the literal version. If you don't laugh, your next two songs at Karaoke are on me.

Happy Summer Friday!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

just finished reading

Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Monday, May 31, 2010

How to Throw an Awesome Book Launch

Hey Moonrat. Any tips for throwing your own book launch?

Uh, YEAH. I've seen some really excellent book launches in my time, so let me throw down a couple of ideas I've stolen from innovative authors.

1. Expect zero support from your publisher. I mean financial support as well as every other kind of support--a lot of publishers have a zero collaboration policy on book launches. Don't hold too much of a grudge--it's hard to justify spending marketing dollars on a party when they could be spent on retail co-op placement or ad initiatives. So just be pleasantly surprised if your publisher does send materials or people or money (hey! Sometimes it happens!), but be prepared to do it all on your own.

2. Put together an invite list.
Do this before you try to take any other steps, because knowing the names of the people (and how many) you expect is really key to securing a venue.

Don't fudge this--sit down and make an actual list. The reason I say this is because if you go the route of approaching a bookstore to host you, they might actually ask for a guest list to decide if they can break even on accommodating your party. But just practically speaking, knowing how many people might come will help you choose a good spot and make sure you have enough supplies. Pretend you're planning a wedding here--take it that seriously. Put the guests in tiers: Definitely will show up come hell or high water; Can probably count on him/her as long as s/he is in town; Might come; There's some chance s/he will show up. I do this pretty frequently, and always use Facebook and LinkedIn as well as my email address book to cross-reference who will be in the area. Remember to include local business people you've patronized--many of them will be tickled pink to see your project, and some of them may offer sponsorship (for example, donating door prizes) in exchange for the advertising opportunity (although I'd say don't ask people for this kind of thing unless you know them pretty well and are sure they won't take offense).

Then, prep yourself emotionally to only expect the "Definitely" people, but to be able to host the "Some chance" people if they happen to show up. Just like any party. Only take this one a little more seriously--the more the merrier at your book's big coming-out party. You want all the attention around launch time you can get, and your friends are a good place to start.

3. Venue: to bookstore or not to bookstore? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. A bookstore party is harder to score and more responsibility for you. You have to be careful of the property, the time frame, and the owner's interests, which include making money while they close down the store for you. On the other hand, if your party is a great success and lots of people buy books, you have an opportunity to create a beautiful relationship with your local bookstore.

Conversely, a non-bookstore venue is often easier because you don't have to worry about the above pressures. I've seen some very creative and successful venues: bowling alleys, hair salons, living rooms, back yards, clothing stores after-hours, liquor stores, ballrooms. In my opinion, the best venue is one you don't have to pay for. But other than that, there are really no rules to where you can throw a book party.

The downside about not having a bookstore party is you're going to have to arrange your own book copies and sales. Sometimes, your local bookstore will be able/willing to send a bookseller to staff and sell at your party, even if they can't afford to actually host the party. If you can't set that up (and it's often tricky, but it's worth a shot), you can always just order your own copies. (See below.)

4. Arrange food and beverages. Trust me--you can't have too much. And also trust me--if you've got stuff to nosh, you'll get a higher turnout commitment. What can I say? People like food. Heck, if you have a party with food, just tell me where and when and I'LL come.

If you're worried about cost, there are lots of ways to do this cheaply. One of my authors held a truly GORGEOUS book launch for herself--I thought the whole thing was catered and must have cost her thousands of dollars. I found out later that in fact several of her thrifty friends each pitched in potluck style. It was a seriously classy party for not very much money.

If you're doing the whole thing yourself, remember it's quantity, not quality. Piles of Doritos are just as munchable as fancy canapes. You don't need to spend lots of money; this party is about your book, so you're not going to be judged for what snacks you serve.

5. Creative add-ons make people happy! I've seen some authors have themes that relate to their books. For example, Alaya Johnson had an excellent 1920s-themed party for Moonshine, which is set during the 1920s. She was smart, though, in that she didn't make the theme a prerequisite of the party, just a fun add-on--you don't want to make your party work for the people attending.

If themes aren't for you, consider a raffle! Maybe guests can fill out a cue card with something cute related to the book, and you can draw a winner or two. Then you can advertise "door prizes" on your invite, which looks nice. If you're energetic, you might make gift bags or little giveaways. These don't have to be expensive, but something to take home is a nice thank-you to your guests for coming out. You can get things like tote bags for $3 or $5 a pop if you're feeling fancy, or you can make things like personalized bookmarks or pens for a lot less.

Obviously, none of these things are necessary to making a good party. Really the only necessary thing is food.

6. Uh, make sure there are copies of your book at the party. If you scored a bookstore venue, the store owner will have to work this out with your publishing company. Your guest list will DEFINITELY come in handy then. You really, really want to guess about the right number of copies. Over-ordering will be a great trauma for your kind host, but under-ordering will cause both you and them to lose business. In my humble opinion, it's always better to over-order slightly. Sometimes the host, if they are generous, will invite you to sign the remaining stock. So be nice to the host.

But yeah, if someone else is providing the books, follow up. A lot. I mean, be nice about it. But don't underestimate the ability of other people to be disorganized. It would be really sad if you had a party with no books.

If you're at a non-bookstore venue and aren't partnering with a bookstore to sell your book, you have some extra bonus options. I would recommend buying copies for yourself and selling them for cash. As a courtesy to your guests, you might sell them at a discount if you got the copies at an author discount (an advantage over working with a bookstore, who will probably charge cover price). Now here's the most unorthodox suggestion I'm going to make in this post. If you're buying the copies yourself, do so from a retailer who will give you a bulk discount (I have no preference among accounts, but there are certain retailers that pretty much always give discounts, such as Powells and Amazon). If you buy copies from an account like this instead of from your publisher, the books you buy will a) count toward your national sales numbers, which is always a good thing, and b) pay you royalties. And yeah, a lot of times you can get a discount from these accounts that's almost as high as your contractual author discount. So, as Michael Scott would say, it's a win-win-win situation.

7. Remember to thank everyone profusely all the time.
Just in general, when you're an author, make this your policy in all things. But especially be gracious at your book launch. Be unflappable! Expect the least from your guests/customers, and appreciate everything as much as possible. It's easy to let your nerves get the best of you, but just be nice no matter what. (Those who have been around these parts for a while might remember my story of watching an author event go down the tubes because the author let their nerves make them snappish.)

There are my thoughts! Hope they help.

**ETA** Authors! If you have good/bad/ugly book launch stories to share, please do!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday morning publishing song

This made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pjs. This despite how, well, familiar poor Mr. Hall's plight is.

For bonus video-watching points, see if you can catch a glimpse of Dana Cameron, the fabulous Janet Reid's excellent client.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

rejection rejection of the day

An editor friend got a letter in the mail. It was a rejection letter she had sent to an author, and was annotated thusly:


[Note, typed, from my friend to the author:]


We have already* considered and turned down your submission. Unfortunately, I just don't think that your writing is a good fit for us. I wish you the best of luck.


[Note, handwritten beneath it, from the author to my friend:]

Why didn't you guys tell me that you're a red bunch of communists! Who needs you here in the USA? I certainly don't! Go to Hell, the Red Hell!



*The same manuscript was already considered and rejected three months earlier

Aww. So sweet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How much does an agent cost?

I got a note:

Hi Moonrat,
I have a book deal with a lovely indie publisher. I don't have an agent. *cowers and hides under table* I know you despise us little agentless authors *ducks further under table*, but I am a full-time school student, and I don't have the money to pay for an agent, either. I write because I love to write, I wasn't writing for the sake of getting published, but I was lucky and pleasantly surprised at the offer. Have you any suggestions (seeing as you also work in a small indie press) about publicity and selling your book? Also, what do independent publishers offer in terms of marketing strategies? *timidly peeks unagented head over desk* I'd much appreciate if you'd take the time to reply! Thank you!

My dear, several notes:

1) I do not despise anyone, with the possible exception of Charles Dickens, who was just a real jerk to his poor first wife. But you might call that more of a personal grudge.

2) Agents do not cost money--you don't pay them anything at all up front. If an agent has told you they charge a fee, they are not a legitimate agent. You might find more information about heinous people on Preditors & Check 'em out. But REAL agents take a percentage of your earnings (15% in most cases) AFTER that agent has secured you a book deal (and sometimes other deals too). So, my friend, whichever agents were telling you to pay them for their services should be knuckled off your list in a great hurry.

3) Re: publicity and marketing: I shall save those ideas for tomorrow, as I just REALLY wanted EVERYONE to know that REAL AGENTS DO NOT COST MONEY UP FRONT (or at all, until there are earnings to be had).

Monday, May 17, 2010

I woke up this morning

at 7:17 am. My alarm was set to go off at 7:30. But I woke myself up out of a very deep sleep (I mean, if the amount of drool on the pillow is some kind of sliding scale indication of how deep the sleep was). I was also in the middle of a very involved dream--a vivid dream, one that I remember all the details to (except, of course, how it ends, since I woke up--how frustrating!! I wonder what happened to that girl in my dream!).

I have no idea what startled me awake. But I do know it was some kind of miniature miracle (what do they call those? Stroke of good luck, maybe?) because if I hadn't woken up until my alarm went off, I probably would have finished the dream and exited REM and snoozed and woken up normally and that would have been the beginning of my day and the end, forever, of whatever happened inside my head last night (I'm a very clean dreamer--I never remember anything I dream, ever, unless I'm woken up in the middle of it). But my dream last night was SO UTTERLY AWESOME that instead of snoozing I waddled over to my computer and started setting down an outline based on the dream. It's the PERFECT story (well, sort of--I'm going to have to seriously edit my dream main character, since she was really credulous and unquestioning, like my dream main characters always are for some reason).

Alas now I have to go to work. But I wanted to share that I got hit by the muse. I thought if anyone could sympathize it would be you guys :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

various & assorted tasties

Here's my roundup of interesting links I came across this week (as always, much Twitter crossover).

Writers' Coalition has announced an official Write Your @$$ Off Day, June 12th! You might recall we had an unofficial one back here. Anyone else wanna play? I think I'm in!

Author Alaya Johnson talks on John Scalzi's blog about her new book, Moonshine, and how vampires are actually a metaphor for historically oppressed minorities.

Sarah Weinman shared one author's take on the 10 most harmful novels for aspiring writers. (I add Twilight to the list--what do you guys think?)

Twilight sales have waaaay dropped suddenly (my guess is everyone just owns everything already, so there's nothing left to buy). But the point is, does this mean the door is open for the next phenomenon?

You thought English speakers took Harry Potter fan fic seriously--check out the level people take fan fic to in China!

Our comrade INTERN anagrams the names of the big publishing houses. This is awesome.

The Rejectionist points us to this excellent list of horrifying rejections, some of them quite nasty--and all of them sent to people who went on to become extremely famous.

Tomorrow is an editing day. My weekend work partner is coming over and we're going to kick butt. But in between butt kickings, we will be making these.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Drowning in the Title Pool

I got a note:

Hi Moonrat,

I'm almost done with rewrites on a novel, getting ready to send it to agents. I noticed recently on Publishers Marketplace that another book (same genre) with the same working title just sold to a big house. I know titles are fluid and by the time it gets to print, the title on the PM book might have changed. Or if I sell my book, the title could change. My question is: should I come up with a new working title before sending it out, if only to avoid confusion from agents/editors who may have considered the PM book? ("Didn't I just see this?") I'm reluctant to do it, because it fits so well with the book, but I don't want someone to pass, thinking they've looked at it already.


Great question! A variation of this titling issue happens to a lot of people--you know, having the perfect title for your book and then realizing there are a host of outside circumstances working against your using that perfect title.

Honestly, as an editor, I remember stuff like that (if I've seen a book by the same title, I know instantly, even if the first submission was a project that went no further than my desk). I don't think I find repeat titles offputting per se, but I definitely remember. This is relevant in your case because since it's the same genre you might be submitting to the same editors.

That said, I got a book into production that had the same title (same genre, slightly similar plots) as another book at a much, much larger company. We had both announced our deals in PW, and just missed each other through neglect. At the last minute, the big house called me and tried to bully me into changing my title--but we were already close to press, and so we won (they had to change). There is no moral to this story, really; it only proves that it could come about that no one ever notices your title match.

But I think to be safe it would be a good exercise for you to think of a second-choice title and submit under that. Just in case someone is anal (and editors, as a career discipline, often are). Besides, as you point out yourself, retitling is something that often happens for marketing reasons, so if you've already spent some time thinking of second- and third-choice titles before you submit, you'll be prepared to have a great conversation about your options later.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

things the rally monkey says

[We're watching 27 Dresses, as YT is a romcom fan.]

RM: Can they make a sequel called 28 Dresses, where Kevin Doyle realizes he's a cross-dresser?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Is What It Is Ism (Or Why You Must Be Your Own Evil Drill Sergeant)

Here is a conversation that is, in some variation, overheard in publishing houses everyday:

Publisher: How's the edit on that John/Jane Smith book?

Editor: Well, John/Jane has sent back his/her responses to my edits. I mean, we did a ton of work--it's much better than the first draft. But s/he didn't really go as far with the second plot line/character development/cultural details as I was hoping.

Publisher: That's a shame.

Editor: It really is a shame. I just... I had really high hopes for this book, but I'm not sure I can get the author to really get it up to 100% of what it could be. I can take the time to do another round of edits, but then we might miss our to-production date.

Publisher: Nah, let's just push it forward. It is what it is.

~ ~ ~

What's your reaction to that phrase, "is what it is"? Does it go blithely buy you as an everyday-ism? Does it strike terror in your heart? Or a little bit of both?

The first time I heard the expression "It is what it is" I was an editorial assistant. I admit my first response was, "Oo, what a cool phrase!" I think subconsciously I had already realized that sentence would be an out-clause, the secret to writing off any editorial changes I would be too exhausted with a book to make. But of course, it's also an ugly sentence--it means we're giving up and moving on. And you know what? At some point it is said about just about every project.

The point I want to make today is about vigilance of craft. Creativity is exhausting. When you're working on a novel, there comes a point during writing, or rewriting, or editing, or re-editing, or hearing back the nitpicky bits from your crit group or agent or editor for the eight millionth time, when you just say "Ug, can I be done with this? I'll fix it later, or someone else can, if they really have a problem with it."

But the thing is, you can't count on anyone to fix anything later. When your editor sends you edits, you may be so sick to death of staring at your manuscript that you do the bare minimum to address the comments and then send that sucker right back. But then your editor may also have run out of steam, will have some version of the above conversation with her publisher, and everyone will move forward with the book as it is--in a permutation that will get slightly worse reviews than it might have received if we'd all pushed it a little harder, will therefore sell slightly fewer copies than it might have, etc.

We ALL run out of steam--writers, editors, proofreaders, marketers, publicists. The best professionals in any sector of the industry are the ones who fight it out a couple more rounds before throwing up their hands. Since you can't guarantee that anyone else who will be working on your book at any other stage will have the time, energy, and bandwidth to give it their all to the bitter end, you, the author, would do yourself a favor by not being the lazy one.

I'm writing this post today because earlier this week I was visiting a friend at her office and overheard one of her colleagues give an "Is what it is" speech. It made me realize these occurrences aren't rare--they're pretty universal. So the moral of this story is, fight the good fight, at every stage of the game. Write, re-write, re-re-write, and edit, then edit again, then re-edit again before you even THINK about submitting to agents. Then do it all over again. And over again.

In the words of Jason Nesmith, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo cultural disconnect

So we ALL know Cinco de Mayo. I raise a mole enchilada to Mexico's victory over French forces in 1862.

However, apparently yesterday, May 4th, is a different kind of holiday for different people. I think of the May 4th Movement in China, where students fomented a revolution.

I have learned from certain people that others celebrate Star Wars Day--as in, May the 4th be with you.

Who would you guess wins on Google (in terms of top-ranking searches), Star Wars fans, or all of China?

Anyway. Mole enchilada!

Monday, May 03, 2010

cool things I found while catching up on my Google reader

(If you follow me on Twitter, you might have already seen some of these)

Got sucked into any good books lately? A couple visuals to make your day.
(via The Undomestic)

NYT on the (re)new(ed) movement to document rare and endangered languages. Lingistic enthusiasts, you'll love this--who knew there may be as many as 800 languages spoken in New York, including languages that are no longer spoken anywhere else in the world? (via Ellen W)

The 100 best Arabic books (in English), according to the Arab Writers Union. I'm 0 for 100. Clearly this is a language whose translations I need to explore more. (via Lit Saloon)

Booklist's Bill Ott talks about the mysteries he recommends to people who say they hate mysteries. I personally recommend Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon, especially to fans of sci fi and/or literary fiction. What would your answer(s) be? (I'm particularly interested in the genre bias here--there are great mysteries in every genre.)

Finally, my dad sent me this website: Demotivators. What can I say. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

a beautiful weekend for good news!

The lovely Bernita Harris has signed a deal with Harlequin's Carina Press for her urban fantasy, Dark and Disorderly, a Lillie St. Clair adventure. Congratulations, Bernita! And let me know the second it's up for pre-order on Amazon :)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

procrastinatory Villanelle

How sad to be stuck inside today
A desk-bound bun-wearing red-lining recluse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

for once, the weather's going my way!
blossoms unfurling, sunlight diffuse
How sad to be stuck inside today

my cold winter edits are inspired, I'd say
but with sun shining outside, I feel obtuse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

in Central Park's green grass I'd lay
and frolic amongst squirrels, fawns, and moose
How sad to be stuck inside today

my aching eyeballs tear away
o! how they suffer such wretched abuse
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

That's what I've written this Villanelle to say
Might my time be put to better use?
How sad to be stuck inside today
Saturday editing this lovely morn in May

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

just finished reading

Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier. WOW that was good. My review here. Anyone else read it? Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


As you may have guessed already from my several weeks of sporadic posting, I got slammed with a ton of deadlines and am going a little buggy.

I hope to be back here with interesting things soon. Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

things the rally monkey says

[The RM and I are with a group of people trying to pick out a restaurant in the West Village. We pass a place that's all shuttered.]

YT: Oh dang! That's the place I wanted us to go. Now it's closed! That's so sad!

RM: If that restaurant were your mouth, it would still be open.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

adventures in book reviewing

Yesterday, I had an adventure.

I arrived home to discover a a sticky note posted to the outside of the doorbell box outside my apartment's foyer. It was a UPS delivery attempt note--third and last attempt; the package would be returned to sender the next day. There was no name on the sticky, but it was left for Apartment 7. There's no apartment 7 in my building. There are several apartments with 7 in their number--like mine, 73--so on the off-chance it was mine, I called the number on the back.

This is how I learned what UPS's excellent strategy for handling missed deliveries is--unlabeled sticky notes on the outdoor call boxes of buildings, regardless of wind or weather. I'm not REALLY surprised I didn't catch notes for the first or second attempt. But whatever.

So yes, in short, the package was addressed to one Moon Rat (like, not my real name, actually "Moon Rat"). My options for obtaining the package were to pay $6 to arrange another delivery (which I also wouldn't be there to intercept, since I have, you know, commitments not in my apartment during UPS delivery options), to pick it up at the local UPS store, or to let it be returned to the sender.

I inquired about the location of the UPS store in question--it was in an area of the Bronx I had never heard of. Also, I'd have to go at night, after 7:30, when the truck had returned to the yard. I looked at Google and noted the many highways and abandoned lots around this UPS store address. Hmm, wandering around alone in the dark in the Bronx in order to retrieve a package addressed to someone who doesn't actually exist (what would happen if I got there and they required photo ID? Hmm, irritating).

I was going to just let the package go back--what the heck was it, anyway?! I wasn't expecting anything!--but the Rally Monkey major guilt-tripped me, saying this was disrespectful to the person who had sent it. At first I snorted off this logic, but then it started to sink in, and I found myself glumly climbing on the train (I had to transfer THREE TIMES to get there!).

I won't go into too much detail about my escapade (summary: I got lost. A lot. I walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction. It was not a residential area, but there were tons of abandoned lots, warehouses, cars zooming by, and bridges with clumps of two or three people standing under them as if someone were PAYING them to look shady. And it was cold, and dark, and when I finally got to UPS they were totally disorganized, and I had to wait for an hour with all the other cold, lonely, angry people who had been wandering around lost in Co-Op City trying to find UPS). But let me assure you, it was AWESOME. The best part was that the guy at UPS didn't ask for photo id like he was supposed to. If he had protected my privacy, I would have thrown a stink fit.

In the end, the package was a review copy of a book I hadn't requested on a topic I'm not very interested in; the publicist had enclosed a brief note requesting I consider it for review on my blog. I'm a little curious about where the sender got my address; I've given it out in the past (there's not much I won't do for free stuff), but did I make some kind of mailing list? And then why would they pay to send it UPS?

I tell you this nattering story because it's a bizarrely New York story (I think anywhere else you could just DRIVE to the UPS store). Also, because it raises some practical issues. How does one freakin' get one's mail?! USPS is no good, either, since the post office by me is only open Monday to Friday, 10 - 5. What, am I going to take a day off to get mail?! And for at least 100 reasons, I do NOT want to be receiving stuff at work.

What IS the answer?!