Tuesday, December 22, 2009

today, INTERN is declaring pub amnesty

This morning, INTERN woke up and realized that lately she has been thinking about writing and publishing and books pretty much constantly. And she realized that maybe all these book-thoughts have been crowding out other potentially luminous and joyful thoughts. So today, she is declaring Pub Amnesty: a break from thinking about writing, revising, editing, contracts, advances, trim sizes, bookstore demises, e-books, who's publishing who, and (Zeus help us all!) book promotion.

Instead, INTERN is celebrating the following inherently joyful and luminous subjects today:

1. Funiculars.

2. A spoon from Medieval times.

3. Time-lapse videos of mushrooms growing.

4. Mason jars filled with pickled hard-boiled eggs at a gas station.

5. A spoon from the Renaissance (which spoon is happier?)

6. Celestial navigation.

7. Mashups.

8. Fruit that comes in the mail.

9. Druids.

10. Rastafarians (why aren't there more books with Rastafarian narrators? INTERN can't think of a single one. No—that's a books/publishing thought! delete!)

11. Hieronymus Bosch.

12. The fact that every character in Avatar looks like a spokesperson for that "One Flat Belly Rule: OBEY" ad that's all over the web.

13. Oblivion.

14. Neil Young's comb.

15. Logic.

16. Those quilts that are actually secret maps.

17. Pancakes with the faces of saints.

18. Pianos that sound like saxophones.

19. Saxophones that sound like John F. Kennedy.

20. Ferns.

21. Raspberries.

22. Things that dry in the sun.

23. A spoon from the future.

24. All the objects you can make out of clay.

25. Bluegrass.

Feel free to add your own Luminous Subjects, and INTERN will dance down the street thinking about them. For truly!

Monday, December 21, 2009

"that book looks good enough to steal!"

INTERN was interested (and dismayed) to read that festive holiday book theft is up this year. Favorite steals? The bible, anything that says "staff pick," and books by Martin Amis. Read all about it here.

And for you readers over the pond, consider this list of top ten stolen books in the UK (from Times Online)

Ten most stolen from UK shops

1. London A-Zs:

London Street Atlas

by Geographers' A-Z Map Co. Paperback, £4.35

2. Ordnance Survey maps:

Exmoor Explorer Map

by Ordnance Survey. Paperback, £5.99

3. Terry Pratchett novels:

The Colour of Magic

by Terry Pratchett. Paperback. £5.44

4. Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J.K. Rowling.

Hardback children's edition, £10.43

5. Lonely Planet travel guides:

Great Britain - a Lonely Planet Country Guide by David Else. Paperback, £11.49

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy:

Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary Edition by J.R.R. Tolkien. Hardback, £24.50

7. Martina Cole novels:

Faces by Martina Cole. Paperback, £7.59

8. Jacqueline Wilson novels:

Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson. Paperback, £6.49

9. The Oxford English Dictionary:

Oxford Dictionary of English by Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson (editors). Hardback, £22.75

10. The Highway Code:

The Official Highway Code by the Department for Transport and the Driving Standards Agency. Paperback, £1.59

At this rate, INTERN is surprised bookstores haven't introduced bait books the way some cities have bait cars: a prominently displayed "staff pick" copy of The Colour of Magic...with fangs!

Friday, December 18, 2009

the (book promotion) gods must be crazy

A few days ago, INTERN had the distinct pleasure/terror of conversing for the first time with one of the book-promotion people her publisher has hired to handle her book. It felt rather like the initial "try-out" montage in a kids' sports movie: clumsy INTERN with bottle-thick glasses and a mouthguard fumbling passes from the hot-shot coach who (for baroque reasons of her own) has been sent to train the junior league. Here is what INTERN learned about book promotion during that very intense hour:

1. "Every day you're not on Facebook, I die a little inside."

Not a direct quote from the Book Promoter, but close enough. Everyone knows Facebook is essential for establishing an online presence...but did you know that not using Facebook causes physical pain to your book publicist? Every day?

2. "If you don't add 20-30 friends a day on Facebook, this puppy will die."

Direct quote, accompanied by telepathic burst of ailing-puppy images.

3. "Stick to your game plan."

Apparently, lots of authors make a marketing plan, then freak out after two months and want to try a new strategy. This is a no-no. How can all those little marketing seedlings you planted grow up and bear bananas if you keep uprooting them to plant tomatoes? However, INTERN can see how it would tempting to try new strategies if the first plan doesn't seem to be working. Book Promoter might have a hard time reining INTERN in on this one.

4. "Your book ain't worth shizzle! You are your real product!"

Apparently, book promoters have cottoned on to the fact that for writers (at least for unknown, small-time writers like INTERN who, let's face it, are not going to sell a million copies of their first book), selling an extra hundred copies of their book here and there is only going to translate to an extra couple hundred bucks of royalty money. Selling books is (in *most* cases) not a viable way of making a living. Therefore, when it comes to $$, INTERN's book promoter encourages writers to think of increased book sales as a side-benefit of publicity—the real financial gain is in increased business to a writer's other business ventures, whatever they may be.

Selling lots of books is (obviously) good for many things besides money: it raises your chances of getting a better offer on your next book, it makes you feel good because your love-child is getting out into the world, and, yes, it raises your stock as a consultant/public speaker/freelance goat herder/writer-in-residence/whatever.

5. "Give something away for free. But not too much."

It's generally worth it to post free articles about your subject on your author website and guest post on relevant blogs, as long as you don't give away so much that readers don't feel like they need to buy your book anymore. Prize pack giveaways are also A Good Thing, as long as your prize pack doesn't only consist of your book (a book by itself is not considered exciting enough a prize to stimulate a contest—you need to throw in something classy like a mug or some razor blades. Yeah! That'll get those readers riled up!)

6. "Bribe Ethically."

Here's a new term (new to INTERN, at least): Ethical Bribe. That's the term for when you lure people into signing up for your e-newsletter by promising a tasty reward: "If you sign up for my Celtic Fairytales newsletter, a leprechaun will give you a hot stone massage." That sort of thing. INTERN is not sure where the "ethical" part comes in, but she is working on it.

INTERN is getting too jittery from the coffee she just drank to continue this list, so the rest will have to wait for another post. Oh, but one more thing: some good news! After a series of interviews (like, six), most of them confusing and surrealist, INTERN is set to intern at this venerable publisher starting in February. She will be dividing her time between the editorial and publicity/marketing departments, so she will (conveniently enough!) learn lots more about book promotion in the months before her book comes out. Sneaky, no?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

thoughts on contests

INTERN got a very thoughtful and pleasant e-mail from a reader yesterday, asking INTERN's opinion of writing contests. It boiled down to this: "are there any contests within the reach of a novice writer that are also impressive enough to catch an agent's attention?"

INTERN's answer was pretty much "no, unless you're a novice writer who wins the O. Henry prize."

In INTERN's (limited and certainly not authoritative) experience, most of the writing contests writers cite on their query letters are not impressive and, at worst, make the writer in question look like a small fish. If Jack Kerouac was writing a query letter, would he list "2nd place Boonsville Writer's Association Flash Fiction Contest 1951" as a credit? Would Harper Lee have been better off if a promising but incomplete first draft of "To Kill a Mockingbird" had won a prize at a writing conference?

Maybe it's an outdated and romantic notion, but INTERN believes it's better to toil and toil and toil and revise and edit and moan and spend years in obscurity and create something truly world-exploding than it is to toil a little bit, then get a little prize, then toil a little more, then get another little glimmer (perhaps a false one) of non-obscurity, and inadvertently build up a sense of (INTERN fears) complacency.

Ask yourself: will this contest will really challenge me? Will this contest will really be of value to my development as a writer? Will anyone besides the judges actually read and be moved by my story/poem? If the answer is "no," then it's better to keep on toiling, contest-free, until the right one comes along. It's the difference between investing in one sturdy, well-made can opener like your grandma used to have versus buying a dozen flimsy inexpensive ones that work for a few months but have no lasting value: it's worth keeping an eye on Quality.

Not that contests don't have value. In many cases, the funds raised from writing contest entry fees help keep small literary journals afloat. And for lots of people, a contest deadline is an incentive to actually finish a story or poem. Participating in contests can give you a sense of urgency and belonging, and winning can provide much-needed encouragement to keep going. At the same time, flattery is dangerous, and those contest deadlines can make otherwise thorough writers submit work that hasn't yet reached its full potential.

In other words...............it takes a very level-headed and insightful person to reap the benefits of contests without being mislead, flattered, or injured by their hidden downsides. So maybe what's in order isn't a wholesale rejection of contests, but a discerning and realistic approach.

INTERN so serious this afternoon!

Good day, sirs and ladies! You look fantastic!

>Update: Thanks everyone who commented with very good points about the value of contests! INTERN doesn't mean to say that there are no meaningful contests or that you shouldn't list good, respectable contests as writing credits...just that not all contests are created equal, and that they can have downsides.

Friday, December 11, 2009

a modest proposal

So the Kirkus Review is shutting down and everyone is, once again, hailing the death of print. In this time of great belt-tightening, INTERN has been brainstorming ways print publishers can save precious $ and stay in business through the recession and beyond.

Not so many years ago, New Zealand was debating the best way to standardize the spelling of Te Reo, the Māori language. One of the issues discussed was whether to use a macron (Māori) or double vowel (Maaori) to indicate a long vowel. They chose the macron and, INTERN has been told by her New Zealand friends, have since saved millions of dollars in printing costs for documents in that official language.

This morning, INTERN was working on a manuscript critique. The manuscript in question is 408 pages long. Quite a whack of ink and paper! Closing her eyes and thinking of New Zealand, INTERN opened the find/replace tool and replaced all instances of the word "the" with an asterisk: *. Bam! 7,895 replacements. Now we're down to 402 pages. Pennies saved!

Encouraged by her success, INTERN replaced all the "ands" with ampersands. 398 pages, and now the manuscript looks like it was written by Jack Kerouac on a benzedrine binge. Cool.

Scanning through the pages, INTERN noticed that a lot of the characters in this manuscript had long (ahem, *expensive*) names. People, can we really afford to name our characters things like "Jonathan" and "Alexandra" in this economy? No! But if we place a three-letter limit on character names (Dan, Bob, Dre, Ali, Mel, Lee), we can take another entire page out of the printing cost.

Last but not least, INTERN chose a letter to sacrifice. H. A few seconds later, we're down to 389 pages: roughly a 5% savings off our original 408. Plus, now everyone in the novel has a delightful cockney accent: "I didn't like ow e was looking at me & Bob."

The biggest problem facing print publishers is *obviously* print itself, e.g. ink and paper. So really, if everyone could just cut down on production costs using these simple techniques, this whole print crisis shenanigan would blow over in, like, a day. Rolls eyes.

Goodnight Kirkus.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Borders special report

Last night, INTERN ran into her friend who works at Borders. He was looking uncharacteristically grim. Even his nose ring had lost its gleam.

"What are they buying?" asked INTERN, putting her arm around his shoulder and shepherding him to a quiet booth.

He rolled his eyes and said bitterly, "Sarah Palin Going Rogue."

He has since taken mental health leave...

Monday, December 7, 2009

today, INTERN's heart is fluttering with suspense

News, news!

INTERN might (fingers crossed) be doing ANOTHER INTERNSHIP starting in February! YAAAAAAAAAAAAY! This time, instead of the sleek modern confines of Big Fancy Publishing House, she would/will be gleefully toiling in the more sedate, polished headquarters of a distinguished old publisher to be referred to henceforth by the code name Venerable McPulitzer.

All has not gone smoothly on INTERN's road to renewed interning. There have been snags. Very telling snags:

After a delightful e-mail repartee with one of the editors at V. McP, a phone interview was arranged for last Friday. INTERN rang up said editor at the appointed time and her extension was answered by a very professional-sounding intern who informed INTERN that the editor (who has this frightening name—something along the lines of "Isadora Sharkskin" but more intimidating) was still in a meeting and would call INTERN back in half an hour.

INTERN waited next to her phone for the next hour, jotting down increasingly paranoid and inane notes-to-self in case she froze up during the phone conversation and forgot who her favorite authors were or why she was interested in Venerable McPulitzer. After an hour and fifteen minutes, INTERN started to get even more anxious, because now it was getting on one o'clock and she had to be at a life drawing gig at one thirty.

So INTERN called again and this time spoke to a different intern, who asked INTERN to hold and assured her that this editor would come to the phone in a minute.

Ten minutes of holding later and INTERN is practically vomiting with nervousness. The intern comes back on the line and tells INTERN to wait for another ten minutes. INTERN yelps that she can't wait another ten minutes! She has to sprint down to this obscure warehouse and pose for a secretive coven of artists and sculptors wearing only a fedora!

The intern does not seem to understand INTERN's predicament, possibly because INTERN is babbling about having to get to her "day job" at an extremely high speed.

Finally, the intern tells INTERN that the editor will be in a meeting all afternoon and to call back on Monday. INTERN hangs up and flees to an afternoon of life-modeling and piano whispering. Groceries get bought.

Now it is Monday and INTERN just received a phone call from yet another intern who spoke as if INTERN had already been accepted for the internship. So was that whole thing with the "interns" and the interminable "meeting" actually some kind of warped interview in itself? Was INTERN being tested for coolness and resolve? Were all those interns actually Isadora Sharkskin herself putting on voices? And if not, when will INTERN speak with the real Isadora Sharkskin?

This internship (IF INDEED INTERN HAS IT) does not start until February. So there are still fifty-odd sleeps until INTERN is back in her element.

In the meantime, INTERN would like to know, from any readers who care to reveal themselves: What is your day job? And, How much do you dig it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

hail to the copy editor

Yesterday, INTERN's book's editor forwarded her the copy edited version of INTERN's forthcoming book—huzzah! It feels like months since there's been any blips on the editorial radar, so seeing the copy edited manuscript in her inbox made INTERN's brain tingle with something like terror and relief rolled into one. Despite having seen and handled copy edited manuscripts as an intern and knowing what they look like, it was still uncanny to see INTERN's own sentences and paragraphs littered with yellow highlighting and lots of [comments and questions and tearings of new grammatical assholes in brackets in bold].

As she read through the manuscript, INTERN started to feel more and more mortified. The copy editor had caught so many silly mistakes, pointed out places where a topic mentioned in an introduction was never addressed in the chapter, and even raised questions about the political correctness of some of INTERN's word choices. "Oh man!" thought INTERN. "Copy Editor must think INTERN is a fool! Copy Editor must be wondering what Publisher was thinking when they offered to publish such a cretinous and unworthy INTERN!"

It was like getting dressed up and brushing one's hair very carefully and thinking one looks quite respectable indeed, only to have one's big-mouth best friend show up and say "You can't go out like that— your skirt is tucked into your underwear and you smell like Chewbacca." You feel relief that someone caught you in time. Adoration for their superior wisdom and objective eye. Lingering embarrassment, mingled with wounded pride, mingled with overwhelming gratitude.

Copy editing is not for sissies. A good copy editor does not humor you. A good copy editor does not chuckle warmly at your tendency to misspell the names of foreign dignitaries or diseases and let it stand 'cause it's cute. A good copy editor will kindly but firmly tell you that your phrasing is unclear, your language offensive, and your punctuation laughable. These people are frighteningly smart and thorough and have your manuscript's best interests at heart and deserve all the love and respect in the universe.

So hail to copy editors! And to INTERN's copy editor: if you're reading this, thank you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

and you thought getting a book deal was hard...

INTERN is back, after a delightful and adventuresome pilgrimage to her ancestral homestead, aka grandma's house, for Thanksgiving. It was nice and low key and most of the crazy belligerent long-lost relatives who cornered INTERN for a chat were too deaf to understand her responses to their questions, so she was able to get away with pretty much anything:

CBLLR: "Why don't you get a real job?"
INTERN: "The moon!"


An eye-opening thing INTERN learned this week:

Techie Boyfriend, who invented a neat tool a little while ago, and has been staying up late reading about the patent application process. Like book publishing, the whole concept of patenting something can push some powerful emotional buttons: "If I don't get this published/patented, someone can steal my idea!" "If this goes through, I can get rich off the royalties!" "The world really needs my idea!" etc.

With book publishing, you send in your query for the price of postage stamp and it gets read and processed at no further cost to you. Editors and agents and their interns read your pages for free and if your ms gets declined, you're only in the hole emotionally and not financially.

In patenting, though, you pay out the eyeballs for every step of the process. First, there's a $75 fee just to get your application in the door. Then, once your application makes it to the top of the pile, it's another $300 for some monochromatic civil engineering type to read it. Then, it's another couple hundred bucks for somebody at the patent office to search through other patents to make sure your idea hasn't already been taken. Then, the patent folks will probably find something to quibble about in your wording and you'll have to hire a lawyer to fix your patent application for several thousands of dollars.

If you make it that far without a snag, it's another several hundred bones to have the damn patent issued. Oh yeah, and even after the patent is issued, you have to pay a "patent maintenance fee" that starts at $700 and goes up every few years just to keep the rights to your patent.

Sounds an awful lot like a vanity press.

The funny thing is, the U.S. patent office was *supposed* to level the playing field between small-time inventors and big companies, and make it so the big guys couldn't rustle the little guys' ideas. Except now it's prohibitively expensive for most people except in big companies to afford a patent.

So, people, be glad you're only trying to publish books and not trying to patent groovy electronic action figure robots who act out your books. Publishing is at least still *sort of* accessible to everyone. Right? Right? ...

Friday, November 20, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #5: galumphing towards triumph

A little while ago, INTERN posted about a fictitious Character Transformation Bazooka which could make characters have deep realisations and catharses instantly, with no justification.

There are a few other weapons of mass manuscript destruction (WMMD) in the arsenal.

One is the Triumph Bomb, or T-Bomb.

If you go see just about any movie that's playing in a mainstream theatre, there's bound to be at least one scene involving a Moment of Triumph: the submarine crew realizes they've fixed their leaking vessel just in time (hugs, shouts, and meaningful apologies ensue) or a pair of starcrossed mental defectives realizes they're meant for each other and triumphantly race to the nearest marriage office.

These moments of triumph usually happen after about ninety minutes of false starts, dissapointments, and disasters.

One comment INTERN finds herself writing frequently in novel critiques is that the moments of triumph in the story come too soon, or make no sense, or seem to drop out of the sky with nothing to warn their approach but a faint whistle on the breeze. There haven't been enough obstacles or disasters to make the triumph meaningful—or the stakes were too low for anyone to care.

T-bombs are especially rampant in manuscripts that involve the following:

-unrequited love
-battles (literal battles. like, with axes and longswords).
-stories with quirky mysteries (particularly in YA and MG books)
-stories about overcoming bullies (particularly in YA and MG)
-characters with diseases
-stories involving sports

Actually, it is possible to drop a T-bomb in just about any kind of novel.

INTERN has been doing a lot of research into this triumph thing, and has found that really effective triumphs in novels happen only after one or a few of the following have happened in the story:

-a character has had to sacrifice something
-a character has had to make a high-stakes choice or moral decision
-a character has tried several other options and failed
-a character has suffered a hard loss or injury over the course of struggling towards a particular goal
-a character has, indeed, been struggling in some way, not floating along easily.
-a character has been forced to change significantly
-a character has undergone real trials and conflicts pertaining to the goal

If none of these things have happened, but your characters are still smiling weepily and holding each other while Chariots of Fire plays in the background, they're probably the victims of a T-Bomb. Edit at will!


INTERN is heading out for an extended Thanksgiving visit with her family, so she will be away for the next week. Have courage, revisioneers, and good luck!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a completely unscientific look at book-buying, part 2

Last night, INTERN went to her favorite bookstore just to hang out in the company of new books, as you might visit a bird sanctuary to hang out with an ever-changing roster of egrets just because you find it pleasant.

She had very sternly instructed herself not to buy anything. But in spite of her (apparently typical, in bookstore customers) preemptively raised defenses, one book mercilessly sank its fangs into her emotions and a Book-Buying Event transpired.

INTERN spent the rest of the evening trying to analyze the event and pick it apart. What happened in that bookstore? It's like trying to recall an alien abduction.

INTERN remembers walking to the poetry section and plucking a book off the shelf because it looked thick and new and had the kind of matte cover that doesn't get finger-printy (very important for a book's seductiveness, at least when it comes to seducing INTERN).

INTERN remembers flipping through the book and reading a few lines from poems here and there, and how reading a few lines compelled her to read entire poems—she didn't have to search through the book to find a good poem, or encounter any poems she found to be turn-offs. The book was an anthology, so there was the feeling of getting much poetic bang for the buck of turning more pages.

INTERN remembers checking the publication information for the book and seeing that it was published in 2009. This felt important for some reason.

INTERN remembers sitting down in a chair with the book to spend some more time with it.

After that, there is only a flood of emotions:

-interest/love/identification with/for the content of the poems
-nostalgia/sorrow/regret for the days when INTERN read a lot of poetry, and a feeling that she should start again
-the sensation of re-sparking of a "lost connection" to a poetic side of herself
-feeling of lapsed belonging to some kind of imagined poetic community that could be reinstated by buying and reading the book
-feeling of grief/urgency/quasi-religious atonement, all tied into buying the book

After five minutes of handling the book, INTERN might as well have left an internal organ on the shelf and walked away from it as walked away from that book. Putting the book back on the shelf would have constituted a betrayal or a serious psychic wound. Buying the book was completely, overwhelmingly necessary.

Looking back over the experience, INTERN suspects the following elements are portable and could apply to other books and book-buyers besides herself:

-sense experience (book looks and feels good)
-feeling of "belonging" to a certain book or to the community implied by that book
-certainty that the book will deliver certain benefits (emotional, intellectual...)
-feeling that the (expensive! unnecessary!) purchase of said book is justified
-sensation of being brought to one's knees by the desire to own said book...sensation of acute distress if book is not immediately purchased...

Now if only one could bottle those elements and sell them...oh wait, that would be evil...

(The book, by the way, was American Hybrid, an anthology of new/experimental poetry.)

How is everyone's Wriming and Revismoing going? Word count increasing or decreasing respectively?

Friday, November 13, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #4: Tales from the Dumpster



INTERN's hippie roommate's trashier-than-thou friends from college have been visiting for the past few days, two very serious and scruffy anarchists who live in treehouses in Santa Cruz, from where they are plotting the "neo-anarchist ecorevolution".

Last night, they decided to go on a dumpster diving expedition, and hippie roommate kindly invited INTERN to tag along. And wow. Anyone concerned about enfeebled female heroines (see Rejectionist's post on this phenomenon) should write a YA book about INTERN's hippie roommate, the femme fatale of dumpters. She scaled chain-link fences three times her height, pried open locked dumpsters just widely enough to slip her (leaf-like) body inside, and hefted fifty-pound bags of rolled oats and slightly sprouting quinoa over brick walls—all while wearing a slinky red dress and blue tights which did not even get a run. (INTERN lolled along behind her in a giant black sweatshirt and tocque, looking like some kind of wannabe gangster and trying to make herself useful).

It was exhilerating and delightful and it felt so damn productive to harvest all that booty.

This morning, INTERN and Techie Boyfriend looked over said booty in the clear light of reason.

Techie Boyfriend: Those oats look good, but what are you going to do with thirty-six packets of wildberry glucose gel? Also, I think some of those artichokes are past their prime.

INTERN: Are you crazy? We're going to use all of it.

Techie Boyfriend: But those artichokes are turning...black.

INTERN: They're still good! We FOUND them!

Techie Boyfriend: What are you going to do with sixty pounds of mouldy quinoa?


NaNoRevisioneers, as the booty of the dumpster, so the spoils of the first draft. Yes, it is a nice, satisfying, pile of words. Yes, you did go out and harvest it yourself. No, you are not allowed to hang on to every bit of it. Frankly, every bit of it is not worth keeping. And if you stay up all night trying to make a soup that will "use it all up" nobody will eat it (at least, not Techie Boyfriend).

That being said, there are enough shots of glucose gel to keep INTERN going for a week. ALL IS NOT LOST!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #3: the transformers are coming

Has everyone seen one of those kids' movies about a [soccer/baseball/hockey] team made up of clumsy misfits with mouth guards and runny noses whose [bitter/resentful/hard-ass] coach reluctantly (then enthusiastically at the key moment) leads them to victory over the [snobby/evil/orc-like] rival team the Blood Jaguars? It seems to INTERN that every one of those movies has the exact same scene at the end with everybody high-fiving and the runtiest kid and the reformed bully practically make love to other through six layers of scrappy, home-made uniform. Hollywood got the memo about character transformation, and they got it big time.

INTERN sees a lot of manuscripts (particularly YA) where the high-fiving, back-slapping scene is present, and the bully hugs the runt and the hard-ass coach finally tells his son he loves him and the prissy league official takes off her librarian wig to reveal ten feet of luscious blond hair...but there hasn't been any kind of build-up to account for these transformations. Like, none whatsoever.

It's like the writer was sitting there, drinking a martini and typing away happily, when all of a sudden somebody rang a bell and said "Simon says TRANSFORM CHARACTERS!"

Then the writer was like, "Oh sh**&$S*###!" and whipped out her Transformation Bazooka and started firing at will. Bam! Mean character becomes nice. Bam! Frumpy character becomes a sex god. Bam! Bitter character stares into the sunset for two seconds and has a life-changing revelation.

The reader is left in the rubble, surrounded by unrecognizable characters who have no apparent reason for their sudden transformations.

Just like you can stick your Conflict Toothpick into your manuscript, you should be able to stick in a Transformation Toothpick to make sure your characters are really having their worldviews challenged enough to account for change.

If we stick our toothpick into the first ten minutes of a Kids' Sports Movie, we see the bully terrorizing the runt. If we test again twenty minutes later, we see the bully witnessing the runt being terrorized again by his own father. Twenty minutes later, the runt helps the bully cheat on a test. When they get caught, the bully has to make a moral decision that might see one of them thrown off the team...and yadda yadda. At several points in the movie, the bully's view of the world is challenged, and a series of crises pushes him to the point of real transformation. Transformation doesn't just splash over him like a paintball hit.

Any of the following on their own are insufficient justification for Change:

-a character staring into sunset/sunrise/great whirling cosmos and spontaneously having a Deep Thought That Changes Everything.

-a character saying any variation upon "No, Sparky. This time we're going to kick *their* asses!"

-a character doing something out of character, then accounting for it by ways of a lengthy speech explaining how, exactly, he had a change of heart (if the transformation isn't justified by showing, no amount of telling will ever be convincing).

You don't win the Regional Team Sport Championships of the soul without breaking a few bones along the way.

Techie Boyfriend just made INTERN a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso in it, so she is off to go jitter somewhere stimulating. Hurrah!

Monday, November 9, 2009

zen and the art of self-publishing

INTERN was starting to feel a little mournful and over-serious after her last NaNoReVisMo post, so she packed herself some apples and half a loaf of bread and set off on a self-imposed Quixotic Journey. Over the course of her wanderings, she visited some kind of Zen buddhist establishment, where a kindly nun pointed her to a pile of Free Books. INTERN emerged from the temple with a cute little self-published tome called simply "CAUSE AND EFFECT," and repaired to the nearest forest to read it among the dry leaves and withering nettle.

Here's the deal with cause and effect:

"If in this life one loves and enjoys hunting, in the next one will suffer from chronic nervousness to the point of insanity."

(pencil drawing of sneering hunter with "effect" arrow pointing to foamy-mouthed madman)

"Excessive attachment to tastes will undermine the normal functions of the lungs leading to sickness there from"

(pencil drawing of vomiting man surrounded by garlic bulbs, leeks, and green onions)

"Do not simply pour hot water on the ground. This is because many small insects (cause) live in the ground. This reckless action will harm their lives and moreover it will result in us having a short life (results)."

(pencil drawing of helmeted, jackbooted soldier type sneeringly pouring water on the ground while centipedes and ladybugs twice his size writhe around him).

It goes on like that for 180 fully illustrated pages. INTERN wanted to run back to the temple and investigate the other books, but she might have splashed her coffee on the ground and was nervous about the Effect that might have on her lifespan.

Anyway, the whole experience made INTERN reconsider everything she's been hearing about the book is an antiquated form soon to be replaced by electronic readers. Had the buddhist temple offered free downloads of "CAUSE AND EFFECT" INTERN would have never bothered. As it is, the (rather spooky) little volume has wormed its way into her imagination and her shelf.

Maybe, like the cockroach, the Free Book will the last physical book scurrying around after the apocalypse, when all those weak, silly "for profit" print books are decomposing in their graves. Maybe self-published books with massive print runs will be the proverbial last man standing in the history of print. Somebody please prove INTERN wrong.

Back to regular scheduled Revismo-ing next time. INTERN is feeling refreshed, and a little paranoid about all that lion hunting and seal clubbing she used to do in the evening after interning. Four-point restraints in the next life...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #2: two flavors of facts

The nice thing about having knowlegeable people around when you're editing or revising something is that you can enslave them as fact-checkers and constantly holler "Do drug dealers measure out weed with a scale or a ruler?" or "Would mixing baking soda with helium *really* create an anti-gravity wonder fluid?" or "Is it plausible for my character to choke on a credit card?"

Revision is a time for making sure the physics and chemistry of your world are sound, that you haven't completely botched the slang of whatever underworld you're trying to portray, and that you haven't confused hepatitis with haemophilia.

INTERN has seen some embarassing mistakes. Doctor characters who take someone's temperature to see if they have epilepsy. Fir trees whose "leaves" turn "brilliant orange" in the fall. Improper use of the word "do-rag".

This is the easy kind of fact-checking: the kind you can do on the subway, merely by polling wise-looking travelers and trying to read Wikipedia on your cell phone.

The more challenging (and painful) kind of fact-checking involves your characters' emotions.

"Would my main character really feel satisfied when her mean neighbor's house burned down, or would she feel lingering regret?" "Maybe I need to change how Ebenezer feels in that scene where he makes out with Britney, since I added that new scene before it where she reveals her base digust for him."

Too often, revision only consists of adding new scenes without adjusting existing scenes to account for the changed dynamic. It's like taking a go-kart, adding an extra wheel, and then expecting it to run the same way.

A little emotional fact checking can fix this:

In Draft 1, Ebenezer is overjoyed to be making out with Britney. In Draft 2 (now that we've added that extra scene) we realize that our Ebenezer can't possibly feel overjoyed—now he feels used or humiliated or angry-yet-lustful. If the Britney-Ebenezer makeout scene doesn't get revised, the manuscript stops making emotional sense.

INTERN suspects that the reason many emotional inconsistencies stay put in manuscripts instead of getting revised is because old scenes can start to feel like they're set in stone, and somehow "meant" to be how they are. In fact, old scenes are the ones that most need to flex, or even get cut, because the characters they portray are no longer the real characters in the book.

Now that INTERN is reading this over, it sounds kind of obvious. If this were a novel, INTERN would have to go back and revise the end of this post to reflect her authentic emotional state of fretful perfectionism. Since this is not a novel, INTERN is going to finish this post exactly how she planned to:


Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoReVisMo #1: the electric kool-aid conflict test

INTERN used to have a terrifying Cuban piano teacher who would stop her at random while she was playing a piece by memory, question her extensively about the reasoning behind the tonal, rhythmic, and expressive qualities of the notes she had just played and the notes she was about to play, then make her start playing again in the exact (usually awkward and off-beat) place she had stopped.

INTERN would complain that *of course* she didn't know exactly what was going in those spots—they were in the middle of difficult passages, there were too many notes for each one to have a purpose, and she relied on sheer momentum to get herself through to the sections where she *did* understand what she was doing with each note and why.

It was like trying to take a cake out of the oven, and someone really annoying comes up and stabs it with a toothpick: "But it's not cooked here!"

Lately, INTERN has been conducting a similar test on manuscripts and library books. Here's how it works:

-Open novel to a random page
-Read a couple paragraphs, or at most, a couple pages
-Can you tell what the conflict is, or what the character is yearning for? Can you explain, in just a few words, what these paragraphs are doing and why?

It can be as concrete as "she is trying to catch the rattlesnake" or as abstract as "he is struggling to understand his son's anger".

Some examples from INTERN's handy pile 'o' library books:

In a random paragraph from "Small Island" by Andrea Levy: "character is having moral qualms over what to do with an expensive brooch she finds on the ground."

In a random paragraph from "East of Eden" by Steinbeck: "character is deciding to punish two boys, even while having doubts about their guilt."

In a random paragraph from "Lullabies for Little Criminals" by Heather O'Neill: "character realizes that she's been so wrapped up in her own struggles that she hasn't noticed her father's life falling apart."

In a random paragraph from "The End of the Affair" by Graham Greene: "character is frustrated at his own inability to confront a friend."

These are not carefully selected examples. These little conflict summaries are literally pulled from single paragraphs on randomly opened pages. Stab these books with a toothpick all you want—that sucker is gonna come out clean. At seemingly every moment in these books (except maybe in passages describing the scenery), there is some kind of tension or revelation going on.

If you stab your own manuscript with that toothpick and need to read an entire chapter before being able to identify some kind of internal or external conflict, you might have a problem. If you can't identify what's going in any particular spot in less than twenty words, chances are the conflict or tension is too vague (or there isn't any). [Note: obviously, all books are different, and a surrealistic alinear epic space opera needs a different barometer than a linear coming-of-age novel. But still.]

Lack 'o' identifiable conflict (especially in the first few chapters) is a major problem with first drafts. If you can't identify any conflict until Chapter 3, the book either needs to start at Chapter 3 or the first two chapters need to pony up.

Remember: Nobody taking a bite of your half-cooked cake is going to say, "That's OK, I love salmonella" and keep eating it.

That's all for today, revisioneers. Be bloody, bold and resolute!

Friday, October 30, 2009

announcing NaNoReVisMo!

In honor of November's tank-like determination to actually happen despite INTERN's fervent wishes that it be cute, silly October forever, INTERN is announcing a new Month as an alternative to the imminent National Novel Writing Month that gets people into such a frenzy at this time of year

It's National Novel REVISION Month, baby, and it means business.

It occurs to INTERN as she types this that someone has undoubtedly already thought of the idea of NaNoReVisMo, and there are probably something like five hundred active cells of the NaNoReVisMo underworld in a thousand different cities (yes, five hundred cells in a thousand different cities. You do the math!)

But let's ignore that for a moment and forge ahead as if were a semi-new idea. Humor INTERN? Yes?

So. NaNoReVisMo.

Here's how it works:

You open a first draft from your (no doubt monstrous) desktop file of first drafts. Maybe you read it all the way through once, just to get in the mood. You start to feel daunted, overwhelmed by the task of fixing all the fix-its and rewriting all the rewrites and cutting out all the six-page speeches about the collective unconscious you wrote in because you were reading a lot of Jung at the time. You start to feel like your manuscript is hopeless—OR WORSE: fine just the way it is.

You almost close the document and walk away (OR WORSE: bang out a query letter and start submitting your first draft to agents and editors as is).

Then you notice the word written on the back of your hand in permanent marker: REVISMO!

Heartened, stoic, determined, terrified, you go back to your computer, open that file, and plunge yourself into the filthy, glorious work that is revision.

Repeat daily for a month.

End of month: you emerge with a manuscript that is more cooked (possibly all the way cooked), more beautiful (possibly really beautiful), more finished (maybe really finished), and more saleable (maybe actually saleable!)

Sounds good, right?

NaNoReVisMo is also the six-month anniversary of when INTERN first started taking on freelance manuscript critiquing and editing projects from the Hire INTERN sidebar on this page. It has been nothing but delight and extreme brain-pleasure, and she plans to continue offering her services for a long time, because it's much more fun than doing anything else. ANYWAY, to celebrate NaNoReVisMo and the whole art and delight of editing, INTERN is going to be posting about the 8-10 most common criticisms/fix-its/rewrite notes/whatnots she encounters in fiction and memoir manuscripts.

She is also going to pull out one of her own blighted first drafts and hack that sucker to pieces.

Much love to all, NaNoWrimers and NaNoReVisers alike! Godspeed!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

hail the robot overlords of novel-writing

This morning INTERN was going through her soon-to-be kaput computer's hard drive when she happened across a program called Writer's Dreamkit, a used-once present from INTERN's parents circa x-mas 2003.

Has anyone used or heard of it?

It's this completely insane novel-writing software that interrogates you at length about your characters and plot, then runs your answers through a baroque and frightening Story Engine and spits out a plot outline.

The best thing about Writer's Dreamkit is that it makes absolutely no bones about being a novel-writing robot. It doesn't try to put on a soft and friendly human face or pad its cold, hard plotting engine with fuzz. Writer's Dreamkit is like, "Hell yeah I'm a robot. And if you don't select your Impact Character's chief flaw from this pull-down menu in the next fifteen seconds, I'm gonna crash your system so hard you'll feel it for days."

INTERN was playing around with WDK all morning, and came to the following question:

Select the nature of what all your characters are hoping to achieve or prevent:

The Past
How Things are Changing
The Future
The Present
Gathering Information
Developing a Plan
Changing One's Nature
Conceiving an Idea

Yes, it begs the question how one's characters can Prevent the Past or Achieve their Memories, but if you grit your teeth and go through with it, WDK does a pretty solid job of forcing character motivation down your "experimental" "literary" throat. By the end of a round of Storyforming intense enough to rival a U.S customs interrogation, WDK has narrowed your story down from 30,000 possible plots to one single possible plot.


It hardly needs saying that the NaNoWriMo potential of this program is endless. Actually, INTERN is more curious about whether WDK can predict the plots of real people's lives based on their current conflicts, goals, and character traits. Will INTERN's fate be determined by a Timelock or an Optionlock? In order to achieve her (story engine-determined) goals, will she need to Change her Nature or Develop a Plan?

Hail the robot overlords of novel-writing! Brothers, sisters, we are saved!

Monday, October 26, 2009

today, INTERN is reading her hippy roommate's raw food uncookbooks

...and if she reads another recipe like this:


Core an organic apple and slice into rings. Sprinkle apple rings with organic cinnamon and drizzle with agave nectar. Now enjoy your delicious RAW donuts!

or this


Core an organic apple and slice into thick, burger-shaped circles. Sprinkle with organic sea salt and drizzle with Braggs Liquid Aminos. Now sink your fangs into your hearty and filling RAW burger!

she is going to lose her shizz.

INTERN spent the weekend job-hunting, a task made ten times more interesting by the fact that Techie Boyfriend found a college friend of his (who is from Seattle!) wandering the streets in a manic episode, took him home, and generously offered him half of INTERN's dwindling stash of antipsychotics (Manic Friend's supply of said drug had run out several days before). Result: Manic Friend sleeps for the first time in days, and INTERN is overcome by a fit of uncontrollable frolicking.

It's all cool, though, because INTERN has now applied for a few jobs ranging from "office assistant" to "life-drawing model" and has even secured herself a few gigs as a self-described Piano Whisperer (basically a faith healer for the worn-out Little Mozarts of high-powered investment banker parents). She had her first piano whispering gig on Saturday, and it was powerful stuff:

First two minutes: INTERN arrives, exchanges professional niceties with investment banker parents.

Next two minutes: Parents depart. Their nice but obviously stressed-out eight-year old daughter leads INTERN to the grand piano and tinkles her way through the first sixteen measures of some awful sonatina.

Next twenty minutes: Eight-year old girl explodes in tears. INTERN listens and responds caringly to ensuing piano-related catharsis.

Next twenty minutes: INTERN asks eight-year old girl to run get her iPod. Rest of piano whispering session is spent listening to T-Pain. Now and then INTERN makes some casual inquiry about T-Pain and his music, and eight-year old girl (a T-Pain expert, practically an academic in the field) responds knowledgeably.

Next two minutes: Investment banker parents reappear with a cheque. Eight-year old girl's confidence appears to be restored. Appointment is made for the following week.

There's got to be a future in this.

Anyway, things are pretty good. INTERN is off to make herself a raw donut now. Mmm...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

impressive boondoggle #63

INTERN has been thinking about the different ways authors (particularly non-fiction authors) cash in on their books apart from actual book sales. The most common side-project is public speaking. Next is instructional seminars, either in-person or online.

In her rambles around the internet this morning, INTERN happened across the website of Andy Behrman, author of "Electroboy," a memoir of bipolar disorder (and spokesperson for other mental illness-related stuff). And wow. This dude has taken the idea of the Book Spinoff to the next level.

The first thing you see when you go to his website is a plug for his "Services as a Consultant for People with Mental Illness(and Those who Love Them)". For a mere $225 per hour—PER HOUR—e.g. more than INTERN spends on food in a month, including splurges on the occasional avocado—he will talk to you on the phone or shoot you some e-mails about how to pick a psychiatrist, figure out how to get on disability, remind you to take your meds and...whatever else a semi-famous writer with no medical degrees is qualified to do for his (well-heeled) homies in mental illness.

Perhaps INTERN is coming across as bitter or cynical about Mr. Behrman's services. Let her assure you (and Mr. Behrman, if he is reading this) that she is not. She in fact kind of awed and impressed by the spirit of get-go behind this venture. In INTERN's internal dictionary, "boondoggle" is a term of serious respect. INTERN wishes more authors would audaciously and shamelessly pursue their own personal boondoggles. Imagine how fun the world would be if Stephanie Meyer offered vampire consulting services, or if Dan Brown offered private genealogy sessions linking ones distant relatives to the Virgin Mary. Good work, if you can get it (and you can apparently get it, if you try.)

Anyway. Point is: public speaking: out. Ingenious and dizzyingly expensive consulting services: in.

You heard it here first.

Monday, October 19, 2009

author websites part 1.75: what not to blog

So you've made yourself an author website, your first book has come out, and you're feeling kinda famous. Kinda famous enough that you think people might want to hear about your daily life, your writing process, or your two cents on the latest tempest in the publishing teapot. Kinda famous enough that they might want to download a picture of your pet iguana reading a copy of your book and use it as wallpaper for their cellphone. That kinda famous.

So you decide to add a blog to your author website, where readers can do just that.

Now what?

Now you have to write content for your stinkin' blog. Or harness the power of globalization to hire a personal valet in India to write your blog posts for you for six dollars an hour. But do you have six dollars an hour to spare? No? Then it's time to write blog posts.

Lucky for you, INTERN has broken it down somewhat. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

PART 1: What's Hot:

-Publishing or book-related news and opinions

You belong to an authors association, right? You read other books in your genre, right? You're concerned with the fate of books and publishing...right? No? Well...let's just say that if you *did*, you could blog about the goings-on in the book world, like this post by womens' fiction writer Cathy Yardley about a scuffle between print and e-published authors in the Romance Writers' Association. Or if you can't be bothered to inform yourself about industry goings-on, you could always use your blog to start rumors.

-Writing about writing

Readers love to know how a book came to be written—what inspired it, what the your writing schedule looked like, the exact view from the window over your writing desk, how you came up with the character names. Posts about the writing life generally make for happy readers, and the more specific you can get, the better. Bonus if you wrote the book naked (or at least claim to on your blog).

-Updates on forthcoming books

You have a forthcoming book (or, if you're Meg Cabot, a constant stream of forthcoming books) right? You're excited 'cause your publisher just sent you the cover art/a galley/a list of scathing comments on your latest revision. Slap those on your blog, and readers will ogle (or weep) right along with you.

Contests and giveaways

Send a free book to the first ten readers who send in a photo of themselves waterskiing while wearing only the paperback edition of your novel. But only try this if you have a big enough readership that ten people will actually enter, 'cause it's a bit of a buzzkill if nobody enters.

Shoutouts to other writers

Tired of talking about yourself all the time? Turn the spotlight on other books and writers that will interest your readers. By "spotlight," INTERN means, "say nice things about." Not "trash their new book and/or announce plans to firebomb the mansion they bought with that ridiculously engorged advance that was rightfully yours."

Personal stuff that your readers will care about

A big theme in Cupcake Brown's book "Piece of Cake" is drug addiction and recovery. This week she blogged about the party she's throwing to celebrate her 20 years of sobriety. Totally relevant news to her audience of readers who feel an emotional connection to her recovery. If Cupcake Brown was, say, a children's cookbook author, this news might not touch her readership in quite the same way.


Once you're famous enough, you can post photos of pretty much anything you want. Until then, keep it to pictures of your books, yourself, and your readers engaging in aforementioned nudist stunts.

Links to relevant media

This probably doesn't need mentioning, but if you're appearing on TV, on the radio, in a magazine, or as a guest blogger, then by god provide a link. Mentioning you're nervous or excited about said media appearance is OK too, and tends to increase your likeability-factor.

PART 2: What's Not

-Any personal information that's boring or...boring.
-Anything mean. You will regret it. No exceptions.
-Random, junky links and photos that have nothing to do with your subject matter or target audience.
-Lengthy rambles pertaining to religious conversion, unless directly related to your book.

Go forth, and blog ye in goodness!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

publishing observations round-up


INTERN went out to the plant store and bought herself a fern the size of a smart-car to fill the post-internship space in her life, and is feeling ready to take on the world. She is naming the fern "Head Ed" and will be taking assignments from it (envelope-licking and such) whenever necessary. Techie Boyfriend is a little concerned, but seems to buy INTERN's argument that she has to cope however she can.

Right now "Head Ed" is telling INTERN to write a round-up of Things Learned About Publishing before going on to write new things. So, anxious to please her new boss, here it is:

Round-Up of Things Learned About Publishing

1. On her first day of interning, INTERN was shocked to learn that the acquisitions editor listed in Writer's Market does not necessarily always exist.

2. Editors can and will check the sales figures of your previous books. Fools who tweak their numbers get pitied. And not just by INTERN.

3. Getting a book deal is 10% reason for celebration is 90% reason for nervous breakdown.

4. It's not enough for a book to be good—it has to be a good fit for the publisher (and the publisher's boobs.)

5. If you want to publish a memoir, merely having an interesting life is not enough—you also gotta write good, and stop talking about yourself so dang much.

6. That no matter how brilliant you think your title is, the overlords in marketing know better.

7. That all sorts of things like gift books and journals can and do get cranked out in-house in, like, fifty-five minutes. Counting pee breaks.

8. That in fiction, emotional truth trumps literal truth every time. Write from the heart, folks—not from memory.

9. Authors get discovered all over the place—in magazines, on the radio, in the elevator—not just in the slush or agented submission pile.

10. That no matter how true your story is or how extravagant your promotion plan, what matters at the end of the day is the quality of your writing. Oh, and good timing doesn't hurt either.


What's that, 'Head Ed'? You want some coffee? Cream or sugar? Both? And some water from that spray bottle?

INTERN must run now. Urgent duties. Good day!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

tidings of imminent yore

INTERN has eaten her Goodbye Lunch of curry and various triangular fried things.
INTERN has opened her Goodbye Card and delighted that 9 out of 12 signees spelled her name right.
INTERN has taken one last wander through the book shelves and filled her backpack to capacity with irresistible Goodbye Books.
INTERN has made one last round of jovial conversation with the Head and Assistant Eds, the Editorial Assistant, and various and sundry other friendly publishing folk.
INTERN has cast last, loving gazes at the mail machine, the rare orchids in their pots, the coffee machine, and the red leather couch where she spent so many days reading queries and tinkering with stuff.
INTERN has taken the stairs down, carrying her bike on her shoulder, and said goodbye to the cheerful doorman.
INTERN is not even writing this from Big Fancy Publishing Office, but from a coffee shop a few blocks down.

INTERN is officially not an intern anymore, though she remains so in spirit.

"What now?" wonders INTERN, taking a bite of an oversized Oatmeal Cookie.

Shall she run away to sea, become a vacuum cleaner saleswoman, or busk for spare change with her doleful melodica? And what of this blog?

And what of this blog?

Should she axe the thing completely, or keep it going in some other vein? Keep writing about publishing/writing, or allow it to wander? Start afresh under a brave new pseudonym? Post pictures of church pews and kittens? Is it time for INTERN to slink off into the dusk?

Comment, and INTERN will ponder.

For now, she has that giant cookie to finish, and a train to catch, and a felicitous jig or two to dance when she gets home.

INTERN will post again soon with some debriefing-type thoughts on interning in general. Also: INTERN is still available for hire for all sorts of writerly critiquerly business, even (especially!) if she runs away to sea.

Off, now, an intern no more, to greet what disasters come next!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

author websites: read this

INTERN was going to write down more basic ingredients of an author website, but The Book Publicity beat her to it.

In other news, when INTERN was biking home yesterday evening, she found some free church pews on the side of the road, and, seeing her inspect them, a friendly construction worker offered to throw pews, bike, and INTERN in the back of his pickup and ferry them home. It was wonderful and exhilerating and awesome, and even though INTERN kept her head ducked down for most of the ride because she was paranoid about the legal snags of pickup bed riding in big cities, she managed to peek up now and then and look at the city and scare people.

Now INTERN's room looks like some kind of shrine to her Webster's New World Dictionary, which sits on one of the pews like a hymnal. Word of the day: granadilla.

But seriously: have a look at that Book Publicity post!

Monday, October 5, 2009

author website curmuddlement

In the past few months, several people have asked INTERN her opinion on author websites, particularly websites for authors who have not yet published a book or significant body of magazine articles/similar.

A few months ago, INTERN's response was a grouchy: "no! too many unpublished author websites INTERN has to look up as part of her slush pile duties are festering caves full of broken links and unflattering writing samples."

But arguments pro author websites for everyone (see Nathan Bransford's post on the subject) seem pretty reasonable, and INTERN's stance has shifted closer to the middle. Her thoughts on the matter now go as follows:

-A website is like a new puppy. Cute and fun, but, like your parents loved to say, "a big responsibility." If it's a blog, you need to feed it new content regularly or it will look abandoned. If it's a website written in some finnicky language, you'll need to know how to fix the code if something breaks (or call an expensive internet-veterinarian). And no matter what it is, you'll need to resist the urge to dress it up in those ridiculous sweaters.

-In other words, a good author website is rarely a "set it and forget it" type deal. That sucker is going to need maintenance in order to keep looking professional and interesting over months and years. How much maintenance depends on the website. Some sites can do well with minimal updating, and others seem to wilt almost immediately if you leave them alone. Keep this in mind when dreaming yours up.

-INTERN gets confused if the author website the author provides doubles as the author's personal ferret photo collection/manga link farm/news feeds from other random websites, and one has to sift through all this other stuff to find writing-related information. Save your author website for content directly related to your writerly self (and/or your professional self, if applicable). Please?

-For non-fiction, (say, a book about healing broken bones through cosmic mind-melding) it's OK to just include a link to your professional website. If you're an established doctor/academic/public speaker/whatever, you don't need to make an awkward new website presenting yourself as a writer (not yet, anyway). Your platform in your field is probably more relevant than your fledgling book-writerly credentials at this point.

-For an unpublished author, INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author, identifies what kind of thing the author writes, and pulls these two tasks off in a manner that does not embarrass the author. That's all there is to it.

-For an author with a book or two already published, INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author, identifies what kind of books the author writes and how to buy them, gives the occasional, timely update on forthcoming books and media appearances, and pulls off these three or fourish tasks in a manner that does not make the author look completely insane. That's all there is to that.

-For an established author (OK, fine, a semi-famous or famous author), INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author's assistant or spam filter, identifies what kind of books the author writes and how to pre-order them, gives more frequent updates on forthcoming books and media appearances, includes a nice bio or personal statement and photograph and an FAQ, and pulls off these four-or-fiveish tasks in a manner that does not make the author look like some kind of book-writing robot overlord.

INTERN will probably revisit this topic later in the week, and will try to drum up some examples of awesome author websites to illustrate. In the meantime, she will be visiting the websites of the potential authors the Editorial Assistant wrote down for her to investigate, and they'd better be good!

Friday, October 2, 2009

den of frivolity, take two

This morning on the train, the skinny young gentleman in the XXL white t-shirt sitting in front of INTERN was listening to Ludacris, loudly. Over the course of half an hour, INTERN realized that Ludacris might be moonlighting as a literary agent or publisher. Evidence:

"I've got hoes in different area codes."

Ludacris has successfully pimped foreign rights to his authors' novels.

"Move bitch, get out the way, get out the way bitch, get out the way."

Ludacris recalls the manner in which he butted in line to buy the new Dan Brown novel. Move, bitch!

"Lady in da street but a freak in da bed."

Ludacris recalls how one of his authors' novels only did modestly in bookstores ("da street") but totally rocked Amazon ("da bed").

"One day we on the autobahn swervin drivin,
next day we in the sun on the Virgin Islands."

Only the best book tours for Ludacris' authors.

" Let it rush through your veins, cause I'ma be the one
to step up and put a hundred thousand dollars on the game"

Manuscript auction? Ludacris is on it.


In other news, INTERN is going to be a guest on some sort of books-and-publishing related radio show this evening. She has no idea what she is getting into, but if you care to witness the havoc, you can do so at 9 PM (new york time) here.

Update Just finished radio interview (well, an hour ago). INTERN is pretty sure her IQ drops 50 points the moment she picks up a phone. Still, INTERN managed to communicate a few things semi-coherently, namely:

-that the people she knows in publishing are smart and nice and not (as a host inquired) catty (except on their blogs, for fun!)

-after six months of interning, INTERN still believes earnestly that Good Writing matters more than anything else in whether or not a ms gets picked out of the slush pile.

-that her opinion on the subjects of POD publishing and what makes writing good are "Um" and "Wha—" respectively.

So that is that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

when you have a hammer, Nemesis Intern looks like a nail

Sometimes, an INTERN needs to put on a slinky dress and toolbelt-as-purse and go out dancing on a Tuesday night.

Techie Boyfriend: Where did that dress come from?
INTERN: Alley behind our building.
Techie Boyfriend: Hang on.
Techie Boyfriend: (returns holding a small hammer). Take this.
Techie Boyfriend: If you're going to wear that toolbelt, you totally need to be carrying a hammer.
INTERN: Got it.

Fast forward two hours. Music is playing, INTERN's girl friend has gone to the bathroom, and INTERN is making her way to the dance floor when a semi-familiar face pops up in front of her.

It's Nemesis Intern, who INTERN has not run into in months. He is wearing a blue dress shirt and jeans, and mostly looks like his normal Wusiness Beek self except the top four buttons of the shirt are undone, revealing a rather un Wusiness-like patch of skin.

Nemesis Intern: Oh my god, I totally know you from somewhere.
INTERN: Big Fancy Office Building. You're the intern for Wusiness Beek.
Nemesis Intern: Yeah! That's it! I'm not doing that anymore.
INTERN: Oh yeah? What are you doing now?
Nemesis Intern: Grad program in Econ.
INTERN: Tight.
Nemesis Intern: What's the hammer for?
INTERN: Busting heads.
Nemesis Intern: So can I buy you a drink?

The rest of the night was surprisingly fun. There was minimal talk of things Wusiness, INTERN's friend and Nemesis Intern hit it off, and comradely 2 AM pizza was had by all. And INTERN actually used the hammer (only somewhat extraneously) to bust herself out of a bathroom stall when the lock jammed. Coincidences abound!

Today INTERN is sleepier than usual, but all she's had to do so far is lick envelopes, so everybody wins.

Monday, September 28, 2009

internet write-for-hire? INTERN would rather process a goat.

INTERN has been off the wire for several days, and in that time she had the chance to collect her thoughts on internet write-for-hire operations and learn hands-on how to de-gut and process a goat.

Yes, both those things in one weekend. Multitasking rules.

The short version?

Goat: totally worth it. Internet write-for-hire: totally not.

The long version:

A few weeks ago, INTERN started lurking around writing and publishing job boards, and came across the same postings all around the web: something to the tune of "make money writing!" or "now hiring writers!". She visited a few sites, and lo and behold, here were promises of real money in exchange for writing informative articles on an infinite range of subjects.

INTERN's Boondoggle Bell started ringing, and she knew she had to investigate further. So INTERN regis—um, "applied" for several of these so-called writing jobs. A few days later, the e-mails began to flood in: INTERN had been hired! Huzzah!

Deciding she didn't have time to deal with all of them, INTERN chose one website out of the several and threw herself into it for a few days.

The website INTERN investigated work like this: the writer logs in and browses through a long list of "assignments" that are up for grabs. If she sees something she thinks she could write, she claims it, and then has about ten days to complete the article and hand it in. Then the website coughs up $15 for her trouble, and she loses all rights to her work. Easy as pie!

INTERN, in her hubris, immediately claimed five assignments in different categories. Some examples: "What Is Scheurmann's Kyphosis?" and "How to Write an Emo Song" and, cryptically, "About Harmoniums". INTERN figured she could crank out the articles in a reasonable amount of time, say, one per lunch break over a week.

Indeed, it only took about half an hour to research and write the first article, about a spinal deformity affecting 8% of the population. INTERN grinned, thinking she would use her first Article Writing Paycheck to buy herself some of that nice greek yogurt.

But when she went back to the website, she found that there were still a few steps left to complete. First, she had to read and absorb the website's gargantuan Style Guide. Then, find a few more Links and some Photographs (with hard-to-find photo credits) to attach to the article. Then, copy and paste the article paragraph by paragraph, subheading by subheading into the website's baroque Article Input Form.

By the time all this was done, an hour and a half had passed. INTERN, a little grumpy, submitted her article. A few days later, the site sent her $15 as promised.

Thinking she would become more efficient as she went along, INTERN started her second assignment, "How to Write an Emo Song." This one was tougher to write than the first. The website had rigid guidelines for how-to articles, and wanted photos and references to back them up. INTERN struggled for an hour to decide which items one needed to gather before starting to write an emo song (a mandatory field): a black hoodie? Some skinny jeans? A cigarette?

Finally, after two hours, INTERN finished the godforsaken article and sent it in. She consoled herself by thinking about all the yogurt she could buy with that $15.

At home in the evening, INTERN worked away on her third assignment. Techie Boyfriend, looking over shoulder, asked "Why are you writing about harmoniums instead of working on your novel?" to which INTERN growled, "Need the money."

By the time INTERN went to bed at 1 AM, she had spent almost six hours on two articles: doing extra unnecessary research, hammering them into the website's format, and wrangling the complicated style guide and input fields.

The following evening, INTERN got an e-mail from the website: one of her articles (About Harmoniums) needed revision. There was too much about the history of harmoniums. Furthermore, the harmonium article was now worth only $7.50. Not $15.

INTERN (not a frequent drinker) poured herself a shot of her roommate's whiskey. The situation was dire. She'd already spent almost three hours on that article at $5/hour. If she didn't revise, she would get nothing. If she did revise, she would be working for about $2.50/hour.

"Are you on that stupid website again?" said Techie Boyfriend.
"No," said INTERN, too ashamed to tell him about the predicament she now found herself in.

After two more hellish days of article-writing, INTERN deleted her account and vowed never to Write for Money! again. Total profit: $60. Total hours of labor: more than INTERN will ever admit to. Degree to which the experience effed with INTERN's head: huge.

To wash the experience out of her mind, INTERN spent this past weekend with some friends who are essentially homesteading out in the countryside. When she arrived, they'd just slaughtered a goat and (though a vegetarian) INTERN hung around and watched and learned for several hours as they took its organs and guts out, skinned it, and butchered the meat. The organ part was actually kind of neat, like watching airport security unpack someones suitcase.

They took approximately the same time to process the goat as INTERN had spent on those infernal articles, and at the end of it they had food for a week, a goat hide, and all sorts of useful bones and membranes for making tools and cordage.

INTERN is sure there are people out there who find joy and fulfillment and make decent livings off of internet write-for-hire schemes, and more power to them. But when gutting a goat seems more fun and satisfying to INTERN than writing, INTERN knows there is something wrong with the writing. As far as INTERN is concerned, these websites are boondoggles designed to force writers to write low-quality articles with maximum effort for what often works out to be less than minimum wage.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

most beautiful typo award

Yesterday evening when INTERN was biking home, she went past a construction site with the words "No Tressing" spraypainted onto a cement block. It conjured up images of Rapunzel-ish construction workers studiously ignoring their own hair while they worked, and made INTERN very happy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

ceci n'est pas un livre

Late last night when INTERN and Techie Boyfriend were walking through the park, Techie Boyfriend's supersonic ears detected the sound of two kittens somebody had abandoned in a cardboard box. INTERN has never had any kind of non-brine shrimp pet and was baffled re: what to do with said kittens, but luckily T.B. is some kind of expert and built them a doublewide kitten spaceship back at the apartment, complete with litter box lined with shredded drafts of INTERN's latest fiction project. Oh, and flashing LEDs.

Now, INTERN is just out of an editorial meeting, and her nose is still a bit sniffly from the kittens. Editorial wisdom of the day? Some books are not books, and some books that are books are not the books they think they are.

If your manuscript has gone as far as an editorial meeting, the Eds are going to be discussing not only where your book would go in the book store, whether it would sell, and whether it's any good, but whether your book is even a book at all.

-Maybe your book would make a better magazine article (i.e. you have one or two good points that you wang on for two hundred pages, with lots of filler.)

-Maybe your book would make a better blog, or rather, should remain a blog. (i.e. the up-to-the-minute cat updates that make your blog fun to read really wouldn't work on book publishing's geologic time frame.)

-Maybe your book would make a better greeting card (i.e. the first 99,990 words of your 100,000 word novel are just build-up to the lead character saying one cute sentence)

-Maybe your book would make a better fortune cookie (i.e. the first 99,990 words of your 100,000 word self-help book are just build-up to you revealing the one cute insight you've been snuggling for years.)

Even if the Eds decide your book is, in fact, a book, the question still remains: is your book really suited to the form you, the author, have imposed on it?

-Maybe your memoir would make a better self-help book. (i.e. you have an interesting topic and angle, but you decided to talk about yourself instead of your subject and frankly, your subject is more interesting)

-Maybe your novel would make a better philosophical text (i.e. you are an academic or a self-described philosopher who has a lot of lofty points to make about existentialism, and the characters in your "novel" are just mouthpieces for your pet theories)

-Maybe your narrative non-fiction book would make a better how-to book (i.e. you really want to write about your bicycle trip around Europe, but your descriptions of how to fix a bicycle are the best part...actually, they're the only part that's readable).

-Maybe your highly technical sci-fi book about an obscure supercomputer would make a better instruction manual...for said supercomputer...

Before submitting your manuscript for consideration—actually, before you even start writing the book in the first place—ask yourself if the form you've decided on is really the most appropriate, or if you just see a certain kind of book as having higher prestige. If you're writing a novel to simply show off your life philosophies, or trying to stretch a single magazine article until it's practically transparent (think Silly Putty), the Editors will call your bluff. Nobody sits around an editorial meeting saying, "Oh, a how-to book, how trashy...the author is clearly not sophisticated enough to write a novel about this subject." But plenty of manuscripts get thrown out because they were *meant* to be how-to books, or cookbooks, or whatever, but weren't.

Thank you.

Friday, September 18, 2009

hare e. coli

Every now and then when INTERN gets off the train in the morning, there is a little card table set up on the street with people in orange robes chanting and tinging little bells and handing out flyers for free meditation classes. On the card table, there is always a plate of orange slices, sitting right next to a bottle of disinfectant spray. The orange/disinfectant combo never fails to give INTERN pause. Do these guys need to spray down their oranges periodically to satisfy health codes? Do passers-by routinely pick up an orange slice, turn it over in their fingers, and put it back down, covered in germs? What's the deal here?

INTERN feels the same way—fascinated, suspicious, wary—when those submissions come into the s. pile with a bio listing "high school short story contest 1982" as a writing credit, and "Ms. Tinkleby, the Head Ed at Otherbigfancy Publisher [in 1971!], said this was the most heart-wrenching asian fusion cookbook she'd seen in her entire career" as an endorsement. Who all has handled this sheaf of papers, maybe taken an experimental tug at the rind, and decided to pass? Even creepier, who sprayed it with disinfectant and put that sucker back on the plate without making a single change?

If nobody in the past twenty years has been impressed by the fact that you once read your short story out loud in a coffee shop, or that some agent at a conference complimented your sweater (and, by extension, the manuscript you were keeping warm underneath your sweater like a live animal), it's time to take it out of your query letter. In fact, it's probably time to write a new query letter. Actually, a new book. Maybe even a book with different characters in it, and a different plot. There's nothing wrong with being patient and holding out for the big break, but patience isn't a good replacement for the essential writerly hunger to always be writing (or re-writing) new and better and deeper and more brilliant things. (Are you listening, Hare Krishna? How about some melon, next time?)

Since her day 'o' turmoil on Monday (thanks for the multitudinous comments on career options, which have been a great encouragement), INTERN has been filling her head with various mystical Sufi texts, most of which involve enough mind-blowing parables about donkeys to make your eyes cross. INTERN is not sure where all this donkey-mysticism is leading her (possibly a barn?) but is feeling better about things, and has not ruled anything out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

autumn jabberwockery

Today INTERN's heart is full of despair. She wanders, listless, from bookshelf to filing cabinet to mail machine, the Bermuda triangle of busywork, then retreats to her couch to listen to some Ravi Shankar on headphones while re-proofreading a manuscript about the ancient druids.

The internship will be over in a month. INTERN is not sure what to do with herself. INTERN is not generally the month-in-advance planning type except when she's feeling despairing, in which case everything is fair game. Therefore, it would be helpful if readers could vote on the following:

In a month's time, should INTERN

a) get some kind of menial hipster job and stick around the city
b) sell her organs on the black market and stick around the city
c) attempt to find some kind of publishing job, somewhere
d) be a fire tower lookout like Jack Kerouac (this is a legitimate option)
e) hitchhike to northern British Columbia to live on her friends' commune (also legit)
f) move to somewhere cheap and rural where INTERN can be a lumberjack and techie boyfriend can run a greasy spoon
g) ?????

Input appreciated.

Bob Marley says, "Trust the universe and respect your hair." INTERN's hair is long past the point of respectability, but as for the universe, we'll just have to see.

Friday, September 11, 2009

what is and isn't a book promotion plan

INTERN just finished reading a proposal for a non-fiction book about a young woman's experience volunteering at an orphanage in China while on a church mission trip and her subsequent realization that philanthropy had to begin at home. After a ho-hum summary and chapter outline, she got to the punch:

"I will use the advance money and royalties to open an orphanage for abandoned babies in downtown San Francisco. The grand opening for the orphanage will provide all necessary publicity for the book."

*Bang head on desk*

INTERN cannot count how many times she had read this kind of thing. "I will use my advance to build an aquarium for endangered whales." "I will use my advance to find a cure for colon cancer." "I will use my advance to open a ballet academy for children with rabies." Every time, the writer tacks on something to the tune of "and the aquarium/cancerarium/orphanage will obviously generate more than enough publicity for the book. Like, DUH!"

So many wonderful plans, goodhearted plans, pure and earnest plans for that coveted advance $$$. INTERN's heart warms up like a microwaved burrito. But these plans are not promotional plans, and not realistic ideas of what actually happens to advance money.

In the real world, most writers' advance money gets spent on bus tickets, liquor, and those family-sized boxes of cheerios. Maybe a dinner out to celebrate, if the writer is feeling really hubristic. Maybe rent, if the advance is even big enough to cover a month or two's rent. Maybe a patch kit to fix a burst bicycle tube, or if we're talking a big advance, a new bike tube. Not orphanages, or aquariums, or elevators to the moon (INTERN plans to use her book royalties to open an ant farm. In a really big jar, though. And only for orphaned ants).

It will soon be the weekend, and that is a GOOD THING because today the Big Fancy Publishing Office is moving very slowly. Coffee time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

a completely unscientific look at book-buying: part 1

INTERN has been doing a lot of thinking about why people buy the books they buy. Head Ed says it has a lot to do with where the book is placed in the bookstore and other marketing-type stuff, and this is very true. But their are other, squidgier reasons: people buy also books out of guilt, or self-pity, or indulgence, or a feeling of righteousness, or need, or even terror. It's all very Catholic (and INTERN is allowed to say that because all her elementary school teachers were nuns).

INTERN's mom says she buys whatever books are necessary to keep up in the dog-eat-dog world of her ladies' book club (terror).

INTERN's hipster friend who works at a Borders in a fairly small town says pregnant women come in to buy pregnancy books, then slip in romance novels the way people slip chocolate bars into their groceries (indulgence/deservingness).

INTERN is thinking about the last few books she paid cash moneys for. As an intern, INTERN gets a lot of free books already, and she doesn't have much extra $ for buying stuff— so actually paying money for a new book is a big deal. Not counting used books, INTERN has bought in the past two months:

-poetry book by unknown author (philanthropy/psychospiritual need)
-field guide to edible plants (justified as "useful")
-poetry book by INTERN's friend in New Zealand (supporting friend/psychospiritual need)
-how-to book about building mud shelters ("useful")
-history/how-to book about tying knots ("useful")

When it comes to getting book-buying $ out of INTERN's pocket, the key is a little bit of guilt ("must support small presses!"), and a lot of utility.

INTERN is not alone in her suckerness for books that promise to be useful. Utility is why publishers love slapping titles like "The 8 Secrets of X" or "Sleep Better Tonight Using Y". Humans are complete suckers for promises of benefit. This is why some publishers will find any way possible to wring a "high-benefit" title out of a non-fiction book—it sells.

Even though INTERN reads way more novels than any other kind of book, she buys more "useful" books than novels because she can justify the purchase on some deep level: it's a "need" not a "want." A field guide is a productive "tool," not an indulgence. In a weird way, INTERN sees poetry on the same level as non-fiction/reference books: as necessary, and therefore morally OK to spend her meagre $ on.

Way back when the novel was a new form, the mere act of novel-reading was tied up with guilt for a lot of people. It was seen as a solitary, apparently frivolous activity—morally suspect. INTERN suspects that this feeling still lingers in our cultural memory, and accounts somewhat for higher sales of non-fiction books. At least when it comes to INTERN's book-buying habits, it does.

Now, question: do novels with titles that mimic high-benefit non-fiction titles sell more copies? To be continued...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

scientific proof that publishing a book won't make you happier

INTERN interacts with a lot of writers (some of them her friends) who have elaborate fantasies of rapture and eternal contentment following the acceptance for publication of their chapbook/short story collection/thinly-veiled college honors thesis.

But then, at her internship, INTERN interacts (or usually, overhears interactions) with writers who have book deals, but have deferred their rapture and eternal contentment to when their book sells 1,000,000 copies, or when they get interviewed about it on the Daily Show.

And yesterday when INTERN was dumping flour in the bread machine, she noticed that the rather humble bread machine cookbook she was using had sold over a million copies (and this, apparently, in 1991). INTERN was suddenly swamped in the feeling that her life was futile, and required two hours of high-octane pep-talking from Techie Boyfriend to come around. INTERN's book is slated to be published in May. The initial rapture-and-contentment has worn off, and now she is getting the jump on worrying about it.

INTERN has been bothered by this contradiction for a long time, and finally found an explanation for it: the hedonic treadmill. According to the hedonic treadmill theory, human happiness can only fluctuate so much before an internal recalibration occurs, and one returns to how happy or anxious one always was.

Over time, achievements that seemed huge and wondrous will shrink in importance until they seem like abject failure in comparison to the next desired achievement. Merely getting a book deal will seem like nothing compared to becoming a bestseller, or getting famous, or ghost-riding the whip on TV.

This is actually good news. It makes INTERN feel way better about life to know that she will always be approximately the same
degree of happy no matter what she does, and to think that Donna German, czar of bread machine cookbooks, is probably still feeling normal emotions rather than writhing in perpetual bliss.

INTERN is supposed to be signing and sending out stock declines right now, but she really wants to add a note to each one: don't worry about it! you are as happy now as you will ever be!

Friday, September 4, 2009

scrapple in the apple

This is the first September since INTERN was four that she is not going back to school, and it feels weird.

To compensate, INTERN went to the library last night and checked out a stack of incomprehensible books on physics and philosophy, and plans to read them in the back of the van while on tour with her harsh noise band this weekend, and possibly to read them onstage too, because in terms of the band INTERN is the harsh-noise equivalent of a tambourine-banger or triangle-dinger, and could probably get away with it.

Also, INTERN has been slowly compiling a reading list of her favorite writing-advice books and resources, by genre. Here goes nothing:

Chick Lit: Will Write for Shoes: How to Write a Chick Lit Novel by Cathy Yardley is an intelligent look at the history of the chick lit genre, how to write it, and how to pitch it. If you're prejudiced against books with pink covers, this one will set you straight: all killer, no filler, and no punches pulled.

Literary Journals: If you're trying to publish stories in literary journals, and wondering what goes through the minds of "little magazine" editors, read this blog by the editors of The New Quarterly. Their "how we choose stories" series lays it out straight...or as straight as possible, given the sometimes maddening nature of short-story submission guidelines.

Fiction-General: Every would-be novelist who's just finished a first draft should pour herself a shot of whiskey, lock the knife drawer, and read 78 reasons why your book may never be published and 14 reasons why it just might by Pat Walsh. INTERN loves the declarative chapter titles ("You Sacrifice Clarity for 'Art'") and the way this book manages to be funny and kind of friendly even as it delivers truth bombs left and right.

Romance/Erotica: The editors at Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc. keep a great blog called Redlines and Deadlines with great adivce posts like this one. (tip on writing sex scenes: "Keep an eye on where hands and arms are, making sure that you don't end up giving your hero three (or more!) hands"). From the sounds of this blog, it seems like romance is the genre most prone to hilarious continuity errors...

INTERN has to go now, because everyone in the office is going out for pre-weekend beverages at a dim pub with leather booths (such pubs are easier on the eyes).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

why you should be writing something besides your manuscript

It turns out one of the hip, young Editorial Assistant's more pleasant jobs is to keep her finger on the pulse of hip, young indie magazines (hellooo Pirates Magazine) and scout for bookworthy talent.

At this morning's editorial meeting, she pulled out some obscure, paisley-covered music magazine and pointed to an article by some guy who specializes in urban magic. Urban magic, e.g., quickie spells you can cast to dispel heat-toting gangsters when you're riding your bike through their neighborhood. e.g. divination w/found movie ticket stubs. e.g. dowsing for $^#% public bathrooms in the city.

Magazine gets passed around. Everyone loves it. Head Ed gives Editorial Assistant the thumbs-up to contact this lucky urban warlock about the possibility of a book. And all this, without said warlock ever writing a query letter or affixing postage stamp to envelope.

And also, a week ago, INTERN's roommate dragged her to a very long and positive affirmation-heavy yoga class where the instructor took a moment to talk about her forthcoming book, which she never intended to write but was instead "prodded" to by a Person in Publishing who had read one of her articles in a yoga magazine. (then she made us listen to ourselves breathe for a very long time, and then INTERN might have fallen asleep).


Diversify. INTERN is starting to suspect that a well-written magazine article or short story is, in some cases, more likely to lead to an eventual book deal than "wading through the normal publication channels," as our brave craigslist querier put it. Even if it's a small-circulation magazine. A cool magazine article that screams "book" is especially good because a) it means somebody else (the magazine editors) already vouched for you and b) you have *some* kind of exposure or readership to draw on. Both nice things.

And, if the magazine industry is tanking as hard as people say it is, this magazine-to-book deal thing is a limited-time opportunity. So...better get on that one.