Monday, June 29, 2009

Publishing Process Part 1.5: Editorial Meetings

As previously mentioned, Editorial Meetings are pretty much the pinnacle of THE INTERN's existence, right up there with opening her backpack to find that her beloved Techie Boyfriend has packed her a delightful lunch complete with See's chocolates for dessert (which happened today! graow!). There's something tense and exciting about sitting around a table with all those short-listed manuscripts piled up in front of each editor, waiting for each one to be handled and chewed over. It's like watching Olympic diving. Hot.

Editorial meetings are where manuscripts in the "maybe" pile either get voted off the island or stay on for another round. Before becoming an intern, INTERN supposed this involved a lot of vigorous debate over the deeper meaning of a given book, its cultural significance, its zeitgeist.

What really goes on in editorial meetings is a lot like what goes on when a bunch of girlfriends go out shopping for clothes.

Many acquisitions can be boiled down to one fundamental question: Does This Make My Boobs Look Good?

Never underestimate the importance of the appearance of a certain publisher's proverbial Boobs. It doesn't matter how good your manuscript looks on the hanger. If it doesn't fit the publisher—or fit in with the publisher's overall style—it won't fly. INTERN can't count the number of times the only question that comes up at an editorial meeting is "I like this, but is it for us?" ("Oh, it looks good on you, sweetie." "Are you sure? Doesn't it make me look fat?" etc.)

INTERN tells you this for two reasons. Actually, three reasons:

1) Because 90% of declines are because the ms just doesn't fit. It's nothing personal: it just don't fit!

2) Because, with this in mind, you should never, ever submit your shizz all over the place without thoroughly studying the publisher first. It's like getting the saleslady at Forever 21 to pick out an outfit for your grandma.

3) Because, with this in mind, it's better to get an agent who actually knows the best place to submit your ms.

"Does This Make My Boobs Look Good?" is obviously not the only question that comes up during editorial meetings, but it's the question that gets put to every single manuscript.

Other questions that come up are specific to certain manuscripts or authors. INTERN was intrigued to discover that a lot of the time, editors are actively looking for books on certain topics ("let me know if anything about shape-shifting extraterrestrials shows up in the slush pile") and will often call up an author they already know rather than waiting for a book proposal on that topic to trickle in ("why don't you call up Larry and see if he'll write us a book about shape-shifting extraterrestrials?").

Editors also sometimes quibble over whether or not they want to keep on working with a certain problem author. e.g. "Yeah, Jane Smith has done ten successful books with us, but she did set fire to my doormat and send us anthrax in the mail after finding a typo in that last one."

At the end of each editorial meeting, everyone goes around the table and tells one personal thing that happened to them that week. A lot of people talk about dentist appointments. INTERN tells about playing a show with her recently disbanded harsh noise band.

Then everyone goes back to work.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


INTERN meant to continue Publishing Process 101 today, but she is gargleshmazzled to report that she has just taken part in her first ever Well-Oiled Publishing Lunch!!!

Actually, there was no Lunch, just Oil, which came in fancy upside-down pyramid shaped glasses—some kind of clear liquor with a spasm of fruity stuff lurking at the bottom. INTERN doesn't know what exactly what hers was, because she got befuddled by the extensive menu and had a knowledgeable Senior Editor order for her. But whatever it was, it did the trick.

Over the course of this WOPL, INTERN learned:

-that Editors are real people with real life concerns—for example, one Editor is being stalked by her creepy phone-breathing ex-boyfriend, and another (gay) Editor is stressed out about seeing his homophobic grandmother on the fourth of July, and another Editor just needs to find a good cupcake recipe.

-that certain Authors are not real people and have only psychotic concerns—for example, one Author is threatening to sue because her author photo (which she provided) makes her chin look big. And another Author will only respond to e-mail written in pink, size 16, comic sans font.

-that certain Editorial Assistants and Designers may be having a tumultuous water-cooler romance. OOH!

-that nobody gets paid enough and if anyone doesn't have only 15 minutes of vacation left, it's because they only have 7.5 minutes of vacation left.

As far as INTERN can tell, WOPL's happen rarely enough that when they do, everyone's secret desires and suspicions and gripes and suppressed personality traits come crawling out of the woodwork in a great big Carnival of Intrigue. Now that we are back in the office, everyone is back to normal—except the INTERN, who is feeling kind of woozy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Publishing Process-o-rama: Part 1

What EXACTLY happens when you submit a book proposal to a publisher? INTERN spills all!

Step 1. Your manuscript arrives in Big Fancy Publishing Office*

Big Fancy Publishing Office is not as moneyed and luxurious as you might be imagining. We use regular whiteboards for which there are never enough or functional markers. We have the same assortment of humorous or titillating coffee mugs as any office. We do have a very nice leather couch which editors occasionally nap on, and a little altar thing with candles and incence and flowers and crystals and various voodoo contraptions.
INTERN is pretty sure this is a standard fixture, but who knows?

Step 2: The Editorial Assistant logs your manuscript.

The Editorial Assistant is a very bright, very pretty young woman who could easily be a brain surgeon or a supermodel or an astronaut, but instead she has elected to be here at the publishing house logging YOUR manuscript and either farming it out to the appropriate editor or tossing it to THE INTERN for appraisal. Her desk is closest to the door, and she has a way of stirring her iced coffee with a spoon that would send any male or female creature over the age of 12 into immediate and uncontrollable romantic conniptions.

Step 3: An editor or THE INTERN looks at your manuscript.

If your manuscript came in via an agent (a legitamate agent, not a phony agent—more on those some day) it will go to the editor whose area of specialty it falls under. That is, it will go to this editor's inbox, and she will read it as soon as she has a moment. The editors' offices are filled with books and decorative odds and ends and they seem to have a prediliction for pretzels, which (oddly) get delivered to our office is 40-gallon buckets.

If your ms was unsolicited, it will go in a big box. The Editorial Assistant might have a first pass through this box and pull out anything promising. THE INTERN spends most of her time going through this box as a form of occupational therapy. To help you imagine this scenario in better detail, INTERN will now reveal that most unsolicited ms-reading goes down on the aforementioned leather couch, where INTERN sits crosslegged eating cereal from a ziplock bag.

If a manuscript looks promising, or if it came from an agent and an Editor requests it, INTERN will fill out a Manuscript Assessment Report, which is basically a free-association poem explaining whether or not INTERN thinks the ms is worth a hill 'o' beans (fox, recoking, meander-thal warble duck).

If the ms is thoroughly bad—or more likely, simply unsuitable for our publishing house, INTERN will say as much on a wee post-it note and stick it to the ms. The Editorial Assistant or Editor obviously have the final word on all declines, but in general it doesn't take a genius to see that Aunt Greta's Road Safety Tips doesn't belong in, hypothetically, a publisher specializing in cookbooks.

Step 4 a) Perhaps your book is declined.

If we decline to take on your book, THE INTERN will personally sign a letter to you saying as much. Sometimes THE INTERN sneaks in a little comment, but sometimes all you get is that pseudonymous autograph, and a little sprinkling of INTERN germs to boot.

Step 4 b) Perhaps your book goes on to an editorial meeting.

An Editorial Meeting is a pow-wow where everyone sits around a big table and talks about their current or pending projects. Editorial Meetings are the high point in THE INTERN's life, because her rabbits ears/meaty-information radar are fully perked and there is so much juicy stuff to absorb it would cause this blog to self-destruct if she ever leaked the extent of it. THE INTERN gets excited for Editorial Meetings days in advance, and has trouble sleeping the night before one.

Everyone else thinks Editorial Meetings are a pain in the ass.

INTERN will tell more about what goes on in Editorial Meetings in a future post. For now she must run over to the kitchenette and make some of that nice green tea.

Monday, June 22, 2009

gut-churner #1

This morning INTERN woke up in a panic from a nightmare that she had spent her entire advance on a single trip to COSTCO.
Although the dream itself has long since faded, INTERN has been feverish all morning, and feverishly drowning her anxiety in a bottle of The Chicago Manual of Style.

Now tell me, once and for all: when you put sentences after a colon, DO YOU CAPITALIZE?


Friday, June 19, 2009

hot publishing trendz '09

Hot tips fresh from the past 5-6 editorial and pub board meetings:

-Vampires are IN.

-"me"-related books are OUT. ("it isn't all about you any more! now it's about "us"!)

-Twelve-step book are IN

-superfoods are on their way OUT.

-simplicity and simple living are IN

Do the math people. We're looking for twelve-step programs to help vampires get over their narcissism, using a diet rich in white bread and peanut butter, while living in straw-bale houses.

Also: Nemesis Intern spotted this morning on bicycle, coming from opposite direction of INTERN riding her bicycle. Nemesis Intern's bicycle is yellow, skinny tires, with a high-tech flashing red reflector thingy on the front that is probably designed to produce epileptic seizures in rival cyclists. If you see him, ruffle his hair.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

fun tips on author questionnaires

Haggard night last night—Author Questionnaire for INTERN's doomed and wretched book was due today. The 15-page beast is now sitting in the inbox of a heaven-sent Publicity Lady thousands of miles away, along with a snaggle-toothed Author Photograph taken by an old friend. This was a fantastic learning experience, so collected below are THE INTERN's gleanings, in no particular order.

Gleaning #1: The Author Questionnaire is not a list of cute, fun questions like "Do you have any pets? What are their names?"

"Author Questionnaire" is a polite euphemism for "Time To Rake Yourself Over The Coals of Your Own Obscurity". It's a tool for helping publicity people decide how to best market your book, taking advantage of all the exposure, contacts, and experience you already have—or don't have. They wanna know who already knows you, and who might want to know you. For an unknown author, this is surprisingly hard to come up with. Be prepared for tears.

Gleaning #2: If INTERN was smart, she would have looked at this website and...wait, that's the only website I found that would have been somewhat useful...surely there must be more out there.

Gleaning #3: Public Library = Chamber of Divine Ecstasy

Discovering the Reference section of the library for the first time is like (INTERN supposes) dropping acid for the first time. The world explodes with new meaning, all references connecting, making sense, 1000s of parallel worlds revealing themselves, elephants dancing, walls bleeding...DIG IT, MAN:

Gale Directory of Publications & Broadcast Media: This is a million-page volume containing the names, addresses, column depth, circulation #s and whatnot of all the print and broadcast media in the US (and Canada, and the world). The volume THE INTERN drooled over was listed by town and contained (GET THIS) info about what the town was known for, in addition to listing its daily/weekly rags: e.g. Lovingford, Ohio: corn, soybeans, oats.

Using the information in this book, you could hypothetically plan a marketing campaign that would target EVERY PUBLICATION IN THE WORLD.

Encyclopedia of Associations: As if THE INTERN wasn't already tripping balls after discovering the Gale Directory, the next thing on the shelf was this tasty little number: comprehensive listings of EVERY ASSOCIATION in the US, their contact info, membership #, even their yearly budget.

Dig it: If you're having trouble building an author platform, you can go through this encyclopedia and join all sorts of crazy shit. Within months, you could be vice-president of the Puppeteers of America or the Tin Can Sailors (which "seeks to promote camaraderie among destroyermen") DESTROYERMEN!!!

There are also Media directories for every state, generally published in cheap spiral-bound volumes and filled with page after page of Kabbalistic radio station names (KRS314, KRT159, etc).

Ye gods! Public Library Ecstatic Wisdom Chamber is the answer!

Gleaning #4: Publicity People Good Wizards

Who else would treat INTERN's maniacal requests to promote her book on the side of airplane vomit bags with such grace and tact?

THAT IS ALL. Back to interning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

envelope gum: it's what's for dinner

INTERN is thinking of writing a letter to the USDA advising them to change the food pyramid to reflect the reality of interns and other wild creatures in these troubled times.

Bottom half of pyramid: Cookie crumbs and half-eaten chocolate bunnies (seasonal) swept off table after editorial meetings.

Top half of pyramid: Lick-and-stick gum on envelopes and postage stamps. INTERN read somewhere these are 2 calories a pop. INTERN wonders if it is possible to live on envelope-licking—although a truly wise INTERN would simply eat the whole envelope.

Nutritional considerations aside, writers please harken: Every time INTERN has to lick an envelope to send you a decline or request, it takes A YEAR off her tongue's life. At the rate she's going, she will be tongueless by the time she's 25, like that sparrow in the fairy tale. INTERN's heart leaps with spasms of delight when someone's SASE is self-adhesive. Not only are they fun to stick, the INTERN uses those strips of paper to insulate her nest.

Now that Matters of the Tongue are dealt with, INTERN would like to close with an inspirational message, something along the lines of "dream big". Somewhere out there, there is an intern waiting to paw through your submission, and she would rather deal with big dreams than little schemes. For example, why doesn't someone write a field guide to bicycle racks? They come in so many different shapes and colors. Like creatures of Galapagos. A field guide to bicycle racks is THE INTERN's dream submission.

INTERN full of whimsy. Must find some way of thinking sober, substantial thoughts.

Off to mail book catalogues to prison inmates!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday scamduzzlery

Let it be noted that there was no coffee in the pot when THE INTERN showed up this morning.

Kindly Editor to INTERN: "Would you mind running up to the fifth floor and borrowing a stapler from Wusiness Beek? Ours just broke and we can't find the other one."

INTERN: "No problem!"

INTERN has never actually been to the necktie-studded environs of the Wusiness Beek office, though she frequently runs into WB editors in the lobby. Putting on her most professional air, she skips up two flights of stairs, pushes through a heavy fire door and arrives in a chrome-and-mahogany receptorium with the words WUSINESS BEEK displayed prominently on the wall.

A young man, presumably an intern himself, is sitting at the desk. Although THE INTERN has never seen this young fellow before, his eyes sparkle with (menace?) (recognition?) when she appears.

INTERN: "Hello there! I come from [publisher redacted]. May we borrow a stapler?"

Nemesis Intern, smiling: "Do you have an inter-office loan form?"

INTERN, flustered: "No. I can run get one, I guess."

INTERN turns around to leave.

Nemesis Intern, producing high quality stapler from a drawer and setting it tantalizingly on the corner of his desk: "That's OK. You can just leave your phone number."

INTERN suddenly gets the impression she is being messed with. But she hasn't had any coffee this morning, so it could just be her mind playing tricks on her. She scrutinizes the young man. He is reclining in his chair in a posture of relaxation and ultimate leisure. His tone of voice suggests flirtation.

INTERN set to destroy.

INTERN, real life: (snatches stapler and runs away).

INTERN, fantasy life: (in perfect femme fatale I'm-gonna-bust-some-heads voice) "Sure. Do you have an inter-office phone number retrieval form?" (takes out battle axe and reduces Nemesis Intern's desk to rubble).

INTERN is now hiding out in the warm bosom of [publisher redacted] hoping Wusiness Beek doesn't send down their goons to retrieve that stapler.

In other news, it's generally a bad idea to hire a "talented illustrator" to make sample illustrations for your book before it's published, or to illustrate your self-published book in the hopes of making it look more professional. 99.9% of the time the illustrations are not what a publisher would have in mind anyway, and it just make everyone feel sad that you spent so much money.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Day NOT done with burrito.

After burrito, INTERN checks her e-mail and sees 25-question author questionnaire from her publisher's publicity department, due in a couple days.


The author questionnaire is designed to extract every last bit of news-worthiness from a writer's tortured flesh. And THE INTERN is nothing if not completely un-newsworthy. THE INTERN is not interviewable or photographable. Her looks, Valentine, are laughable. She's basically a wretch.

Feeling bleak, THE INTERN sends boyfriend out for a quart of Jack Daniels (actually, sends him out for one of those delicious Mexican popsicles, coconut flavor) and gets down to business.

Question 10: Who would you like to endorse your book?

Dear Publicity people. Here is my list:

1. Barack Obama
2. The Moon

INTERN too drunk to go on.

Day in the Life

What does an editorial intern do all day, you ask? It goes something like this. This applies to pretty much any intern at any publishing house, unless someone wants to come along and prove me wrong.

7:00 Wake up, put on clothes that are lying on floor next to bed.

7:10 Eat bowl of discount cereal with slosh of roommate's milk.

7:30 Leave house. Ride beat-ass bicycle down the street to the commuter train station, busk/panhandle/turn tricks for train fare.

8:00 Get on train, holding bicycle with one hand while holding ceiling strap with other. Dodge dirty looks from other passengers, who are afraid of getting THE INTERN's bicycle filth on their business pants.

8:45 Arrive in the city. Haul bike up the stairs from the train station, bike remaining mile to Big Ole Fancy Office Building downtown.

9:00 Arrive at Big Ole Fancy Office Building. Tip proverbial hat to doorman on way in. Haul bicycle up three flights of stairs to avoid embarassing anyone in the elevator.

9:15 Tidy up in bathroom: wash face, finger-comb hair. Get mug of coffee from office kitchenette. Say hello to busy editors.

9:30-12:30 Read manuscripts, send out declines (we don't call them rejection letters anymore), have epic battles with mail machine ("what the fuck, don't tell me it costs $9.62 to send a letter to Portland. I'm gonna smash your face in. print label! print it, you bastard!")

12:30 Walk to grocery store, spend $1.87 on a bagel and a carrot stick for lunch. Eat lunch on park bench, next to a snoozing bum.

1:30-4:30 Attend editorial meetings, hunt down contact info for book endorsements, proofread mega manuscripts, mail some shit.

4:30-5:30: Out of stuff to do, stare at computer screen or organize bookshelves.

5:30: Haul bicycle down three flights of stairs, say goodbye to doorman, ride to commuter train, board train.

5:45: Gangstery-looking white dude on train: "What you do?" INTERN: "I'm an intern at a publisher." Gangster: "That pay good?" INTERN: "It doesn't pay at all." Gangster: "What kind of bitch-ass job don't pay nothing?" INTERN: "It's supposed to be good experience." Gangster: "I can get you a job at Phat Boyz stereo. My brother works there. You shouldn't work no job that doesn't pay you nothing." INTERN: "yeah." gangster: "what they make you do all day like a intern?" INTERN: "I mostly read stuff." gangster: "shi-i-i-t."

6:15: Get off train. Haul bicycle down stairs. Bike through the incredibly impoverished Mexican neighborhood where THE INTERN lives, stop to buy 3-pound burrito, crash through gates to apartment.

7:00: Sit on front steps sharing burrito with boyfriend. Boyfriend: "you look shell-shocked." INTERN: "mmmmmmmmmmfffff."

Hey college kids! YOU CAN BE AN INTERN TOO!

:) :) :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

the edge

Hey guys.

INTERN here, fresh out of a two-hour long editorial meeting. Breath smelling like coffee, fingers ink-stained. Ears ringing with the news of the latest acquisition. Ready to spill the redacted-for-publisher-confidentiality goods.

So here's the story. About three months ago we got a submission from this lady who had developed a program for, shall we say, learning to love your headaches. THE INTERN dutifully read this book proposal, which detailed a complete self-helpy guide advising readers to stop fooling around with Tylenol and ice packs and start loving your headaches instead. It was kinda interesting, kinda schlocky in places—it read like it had been written by one of those chronic seminar attendees, the kind with frizzy hair and a purse full of dubious-looking natural snacks. Nevertheless, it wasn't exactly bad—so THE INTERN jotted down some notes and passed it on to our health editor.

The manuscript then sat in the health editor's box for several months, as she waffled on its questionable publish-worthiness. It had a nagging quality to it, naggingly un-rejectable, yet naggingly un-scoopable too. It pushed us to a plateau, where all concerned sat awaiting further stimulation.

Then the author wrote in saying she was slated to appear on Dr. Phil to talk about her love-your-headaches program, and that she would love to say she had a book forthcoming from our publishing house.

Ba-da-bing! Book acquired. This author, wishy-washy writing and all, managed to push the editors off the edge, by virtue of doing some seriously mad hustling before her book even got accepted. Now she has a book deal.

Props, headache lady. Maaaad props.

THE INTERN wrote about this hustling stuff in the last Money Talks post. Now see it in action!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Slush Pile Boogie

THE INTERN interrupts her daily romp through the slush pile to bring you this newsbreak: God is not on your team. Today alone, THE INTERN has had to send rejection letters to three people who thought he was . Newsflash: If God was on your team, you wouldn't need to be sending me a book proposal. That shit would come to me in a vision, and I would contact you.

In particular, THE INTERN's life would be less full of bullshit if people would stop sending in letters like the following:

Exhibit A:

"Dear Publisher,

I have been trying to manifest the perfect publisher for my manuscript for the past seven years. I felt a strong energetic connection to your publishing house when I ran my finger over your listing in Writer's Market, and feel strongly that your house will help me manifest my world-changing book."

Dear Angel-Balls,

I'm manifesting a rejection letter.

Exhibit B:

"Dear Publisher,

Every night, my children (Orbit, 6, and Chewy, 3 and a half) pray to Jesus to help us find a publisher for the book we wrote together, called "All Jesus' Pretty Flowers." Will that publisher be you?"

Dear Born-Again Joe:


Exhibit C:

"Dear Publisher,

I am channeling this cover letter to you from King Tutenkamen, dead for thousands of years. King Tut has been channeling messages through me for the past 20 years. He now has a dire message for all of humanity in the advent of 2012. Here he is:

(this is King Tut talking now): Dear Publisher, Publish my book or I send a plague of ten thousand scorpions."

Dear King Tut,

We are interested in seeing a full manuscript...

It's OK to be a psychic, it's OK to have a religion, it's OK to be on a hippy trip. But unless it's directly relevant to the content of your book, keep it outta my face...