Sunday, May 31, 2009

two good reads

INTERN is feeling sheepish for talking about herself too much, so here are two blogs which are way better: and

That is all.

Oh, wait, not all: also read this.

Why You Really Don't Want to Get Published

If you're reading this blog, THE INTERN assumes that you either know THE INTERN and are just being nice, or you have some interest in eventually getting a book published.

If you're the former, thank you. If you're the latter: crazy mofo, what are you THINKING?

Getting a book published is not all that. In fact, it will ruin your life (at least temporarily). Want to live in a perpetual state of frayed nerves, paranoia and shame-facedness? Get your damn book published.

THE INTERN must, at this point, reveal, that THE INTERN herself is in the process of having a book published. It isn't my fault—there were no query letters, rejection slips, or postage stamps involved—it's just something that happens when you ride the wrong elevator at the wrong time. BAM! Book deal. Like that one, faintly remembered episode of carnal enthusiasm, you wake up the next morning with this THING that follow you around for the rest of your life. Except instead of open sores, that THING is a book.

Here's why you don't actually want to get a book deal.

1. If you get a book deal, you will have to sign a book contract.

And that contract has a single purpose: to bone you. If you have leverage, you may be able to get a contract that will bone you slightly less. Otherwise, bend over and assume the position. Then prepare to be tormented by it for years to come.

2. Any emotional stability you have right now will be destroyed.

THE INTERN has bipolar disorder, so perhaps it is understandable that said book deal has sent THE INTERN into a tailspin of alternating highs ("INTERN FAMOUS") and lows ("INTERN MEDIOCRE PIECE OF SLIME"). But even if you haven't been declared clinically off your rocker, your book deal will fuck with your head. You will question your self-worth, and the quality of your writing, and whether you made the right decision in signing that humdinger of a contract (see #1) or should have held out for something that would leave you with more than two royalty checks a year for seventy-five cents each.

3. People will ask what your book is about.

You will be momentarily excited about having a book published, and in that moment you will tell everyone you know. They will naturally ask "What is your book about?", thinking they might be talking to the next David Foster Wallace. When you tell them your book is called "100 Tea Cozies You Can Knit," their faces will fall. "Oh," they'll be thinking to themselves, "so he's not really a writer." Eventually, you will be so shell-shocked and defensive about your book's subject matter, you will snarl and say "What's it to ya?" when anyone asks.

4. You'll still be the same old trashbag as you were before the book was published.

You will not transform overnight into a sophisticated and socially-savvy Author. You will not be prettier. You will not become more popular (see #3). You will not be richer. You will not be recognized in the streets. Odds are, you'll be exactly where you were before said book was published, only significantly more neurotic.


That is all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Elevator Problems

The downtown office building where I work also houses the offices of a prominent weekly magazine, which for purposes of anonymity I shall refer to only as "Wusiness Beek". I work on the second floor, and run up and down the stairs several times a day, ferrying mail and coffee. The suit-wearing, palm-pilot twiddling, self-satisfied-looking 45-year old men of "Wusiness Beek" favor taking the elevator to their fourth-floor palace (I've heard they have a lap pool and jacuzzi up there) and always seem to be laughing about something when they step onto or off it.

THE INTERN has always wondered what these ultra-geeks were laughing about in there—poolside shenanigans? Ponzi schemes? So I have taken to running after them when I see them heading for an elevator, jumping in before the doors close, and staring at the mirrored ceiling casually as I strain to overhear their banter.

But I've noticed something strange.

No matter how loquacious they seem to be when I spy them coming down the hall, they always drop their cheerful facades and take on expressions of extreme embarrassment when THE INTERN squeezes her ferret-like body through the elevator doors and gives them a friendly grin before assuming her position of inconspicuity.

It's like they're embarrassed by the mere existence of a human being who is not a 45-year old male Wusiness Beek editor. It genuinely pains them to confront this fact of existence. I can see it eating at their souls as we stand there, within smelling distance of one another, for the fifteen full seconds it takes for the elevator to reach its destination.

"Guys," I want to say, "it's all right. It's a-a-a-all right. I'm not bitter at all."

When the elevator stops and everyone disembarks, THE INTERN spies the Wusiness Beekers giving each other meaningful glances, as if to say, "Dodged a bullet there, boys. God knows, fifteen more seconds and she would have tried to SNATCH OUR BODIES."

Monday, May 25, 2009

FedEx Man

Let's take a break from all this writing-advice bullshit and talk about FedEx Man. Every publishing house has a FedEx Man. Ours happens to be a short, tanned dude with big muscles and slicked-back hair like a Bollywood movie star. FedEx Man comes by every day. He sometimes carries an amusing accessory, like big sunglasses or a pen with a naked lady floating inside it. Something small and funny to spark conversation while THE INTERN signs the pad. Today FedEx man was carrying an acoustic guitar.

THE INTERN shits you not.

He proceeds to play La Bamba while I count the boxes and sign the thingy.

What is a ragged, weary intern supposed to say to that? THE INTERN tries to eject an appreciative "Whoa, FedEx Man, you da bomb!" but all that comes out is a terrified-sounding "Whoa."

"I see you later, awright?" says FedEx Man, in a tone that sounds jocular but could also be menacing. He casually slings his guitar over his shoulder and leaves.

INTERN has panic attack.

Is this arousal she feels? Or batshit, five-alarm terror?

Why La Bamba?


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Money Talks: Part II

How to convince a publisher that your book will sell?


1. Be known.

Publishers are looking for authors whose name people will recognize—or who at least has enough friends and relatives to buy up 10,000 copies of her book. But even if you're not famous, you can convince an editor that your book (and your name) has a built-in audience by proving that you are a Known Expert on your subject.

"How can I be known," you say, "when I am completely unknown? A mere nobody, a nobody with a manuscript and a bad case of asthma?"

If you're unknown, THE INTERN probably doesn't want to hear from you—yet. BEFORE sending in your manuscript, do a little hustling and GET YOUR ASS KNOWN.

And I don't mean carnally.

Here's how.

Let's say you're an unknown author, who has written a book of relationship advice. Before you try to get your book published, spend a couple months building up some credentials for yourself. Write a relationship advice column for your local paper, get an article published in a magazine, keep up an awesome Relationship Advice blog, then get your blog blogged about in other blogs. Then, by the time you send in your manuscript proposal, you'll have all sorts of nice things to list about yourself: "My column, Mandy's Marriage Musings, is syndicated in three newspapers. My blog gets 1,000 unique visitors a day." etc. etc.

Not only will THE INTERN have more faith in your authority as a writer, she'll also respect the fact that you know how to hustle—which brings me to:

2. Show you know how to hustle.

The more work you're willing to do, the better. But don't just say "If published, I'm willing to go on a speaking tour, appear on television, and launch a website to promote my book." This kind of statement rings of inexperience and flakery. Who's going to hire you to speak to them? What TV show wants your ugly self on it? Don't make unsubstantiated promises about future hustling. Instead, show us you already 'bin hustling. If you want to sell a book about the catacombs of San Francisco, you should already be giving walking tours of the catacombs—not promise to begin doing so upon publication.

Most of what THE INTERN is saying boils down to this:

Publishers aren't just looking at your book, they're lookin' at YOU, kid. If you've worked your ass off on your book to no avail, it's time to work on yourself. Nobody wants to buy a book from a slacker nobody. But if you can make yourself into a slacker nobody with some kind of authority, some kind of following—then you can go places. Then your proposal screams money.

OK, kids, last point:

3. Demonstrate why your book will sell.

-Check out sales figures for other books on your subject, and show how your book will cash in.
-Identify any promotional outlets you have at your disposal...if you've been doing your homework and Getting Known, you should have at least 2 or 3.
-Whatever you do, don't bore THE INTERN with your pipe dreams about discussing your book on Oprah or branching out into merchandise like calendars and those hideous boxed gift sets. If you do this, THE INTERN will take a blowtorch to your face (metaphorically).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Money Talks: Part 1.5

One thing THE INTERN, in her mental flurry, forgot to mention about money:

When you're writing your query letter, you might think it's a good idea to tweak reality a bit and claim the book you published in 1993 made $1.3 million in its first year of publication.

"How could they ever find out the truth?" you think to yourself, as you jauntily spit on the envelope to seal it, sitting in your coldwater studio. "They'll be so impressed with my sales record, they'll jump on my book for sure!"


Part of THE INTERN's job is to sniff out people who lie in their cover letters. THE INTERN is a hungry wolf. Lies are a steaming pile of bacon. THE INTERN can smell lies from a mile away. She leaps on da bacon. Fool gets pitied, manuscript gets tossed out.


Publishers subscribe to a thing called BookScan ( which tracks the sales of books that are sold in bookstores. For every cover letter we get where the author has previously published books, we check the sales figures ourselves. Admittedly, BookScan doesn't track books not sold in stores—e.g. the books you sell out of the trunk of your beat-ass car—but it gives us a ballpark figure. We can find out how many copies of your book sold, and over what period of time—and believe me, 10,000 copies over a 15-year time period doesn't sound as impressive as 10,000 copies in the first month. But it's still something!

The point of quoting sales figures or previously published books in your query letter is to impress us with your track record. Just *having* a track record is a pretty good start—it's more than most authors have. If you published a book that bombed, don't try to make it sound like a best-seller—maybe you shouldn't even mention it. Or, you could acknowledge its bombness in a way that makes you look good.

But whatever you do, don't front, or we will smack you down faster than a mole in a paddle factory!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Money Talks: part 1

THE INTERN was on vacation for two weeks but is now back at it, 20% smellier and dirtier than before she left. How does THE INTERN afford to go on vacation, you ask? Perhaps a tidy bonus for her bonanza performance in the office, assessing manuscripts with all the vigor and tooth-gnashery of a migrating killer whale? No-THE INTERN has a boyfriend with a real job. Cha-ching!

Since we're on the topic of money, let's roll in it for a while. Publishers love to talk about money. As a sweet young intern becoming hardened to the realities of the industry, I too am growing addicted to money-talk. How much did this book sell? How big an advance did that author get? How low a royalty rate can we get away with offering first-time writer Joe Shmoe? How 'bout we publish another forest-killer about Superfoods so we can afford to take an afternoon off and get drunk?

Would-be authors: If it ain't gonna sell, we don't want to hear about it. It's a recession: publishers are doin' bad. We're not in one of those decadent eras where we can afford to publish your fancy-wancy, experimental, niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche literary wanksterpiece. We need superfoods, people! Superfoods, fat-busting diets, lady detective clubs, and teen sexuality. That's it. If it stinks of poetry or high literature or any of those pansy, no-sales categories, you might as well put it in your own recycling bin and save us the trouble.

We want something that will bring home the bacon. We're looking for the sugar daddy of manuscripts. In the sage words of Destiny's Child: "Can you pay my billz?/Can you pay my telephone billz?/Can you pay my automobillz?/If you did, then maybe we could chill."

Maybe we could chill. I said, maybe.

In addition to quality of idea (what you write about) and quality of execution (how you write it), publishers are looking for manuscripts that will cost little to publish and reap large returns. Let's take a look at that first factor.

Cost Little to Publish: We want a manuscript that's so perfect it won't cost us $5000 worth of proofreading and copyediting to polish up. We want a manuscript we can print cheaply—if your manuscript calls for stunning four-colour photographs, we will almost certainly reject it, because it will cost us mad cash to print—cash we might not make back. We want a manuscript that will not get us into legal trouble—"101 Home-Made Bombs" sounds awesome until you consider the 101 lawyers we'll have to hire down the road to defend ourselves after a kid uses your book to blow up his school. Make your manuscript as complete as possible, as perfect as possible, and as inexpensive to publish as possible.

As usual, if you're a well-known author with a good track record of book sales, you have wider leeway in regards to what publishers are willing to take on. If you're a complete unknown, it's going to take some mighty solid convincing to get a publisher to consider your work. So you should take THE INTERN's advice into account on all matters. Unquestioningly!

In PART II of MONEY, THE INTERN will tell you about how to convince THE INTERN that your book has a donkey's chance in Cuba of selling more than 5 copies.

PS You can also hire THE INTERN to assess your manuscript proposal and tell you exactly how you can best represent your work to prospective publishers. THE INTERN knows what publishers are looking for, and knows how to make your book look like the deal of the century—if THE INTERN believes in it, that is. Please note that THE INTERN reserves the right not to take on your manuscript if she considers it a lost cause. It's called straight dealing, folks!