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.