Tuesday, March 30, 2010

even YOU can surf the slush!

Has anyone else played with PagetoFame? INTERN discovered it this morning via this Writer Beware post about electronic slush piles.

Basically, it's a game where writers submit the first page of their manuscript, which readers then rate on a scale from "Lousy" to "Heavenly". If a page gets enough "Heavenly" ratings, the author is allowed to submit their first chapter for the next round. If the first chapter does well, the author submits the first 50 pages. In the final round, a handful of authors are allowed to submit their complete manuscript, which are then "reviewed" by a literary agent (though what this review entails is unclear).

While INTERN is dubious about the "Fame" part of PagetoFame, clicking through a bunch of first pages (you choose the genre) is weirdly addictive. To INTERN, it felt just like kicking back on the red couch at Big Fancy Publishing Office, or sitting up straight at her Venny McP workstation, sifting through a pile of slush. If anyone out there is curious about what it's like to surf the slush, PagetoFame is it.

INTERN is somewhat tempted to experiment with this thing, but first she'll have to crank out a bunch of bogus first pages. Will report later!

Monday, March 29, 2010

are some publishers "easier" to sell manuscripts to than others?

Following INTERN's Awkward Goodbye Luncheon at Venny McPulitzer on Friday, the Stepford Interns (who really deserve a nicer name) decided to prolong the festivities by frog-marching INTERN to their favorite Happy Hour spot and plying her with a stream of technicolored elixirs. INTERN feels like she finally bonded with her now-former colleagues, although as the evening wore on their declarations of adoration for Executive Ed grew simultaneously more detailed and more carnal until INTERN figured out it was probably time to catch the train.

INTERN did not make it out of the bar, however, before her intern posse had attracted the attentions of a duo of slick young gentlemen who seemed to take an inordinate interest in the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry (that, and the Stepford Interns' level of desire for more beverages, to which the answer was, "high".) Right before INTERN left, Stepford Intern No. 1 had just finished regaling them with the facts of how Extremely Impossible it was to get published by Venerable McPulitzer. To which the young gentleman asked, "So, like, where's an easy place to get published?"

This question dogged INTERN throughout her whole journey home.

INTERN has, by now, interned at two publishing houses and one and a half literary journals. The first publisher was definitely an "easier" target for would-be authors, if only because Venerable McPulitzer's idea of "fresh new talent" was a thirty-something Stegner Fellow with "only" one or two successful books published from "lesser" publishers and a string of credits from the New York Times—making Big Fancy Publishing Office's roster of authors seem wildly inclusive in comparison.

Similarly, the first literary journal was much "easier" to get published in than the second—but then again, the prestige of the first literary journal was lower, and the publication credit therefore less valuable.

It goes without saying that the "easiest" places to get published are vanity presses and other dubious operations, followed by a micropress you found with your MFA program buddies pre-graduation (By lumping them in the same sentence, INTERN does not mean to imply that the two are in any way equivalent—INTERN has seen some pretty neat stuff coming out of writer-friends' commitment to publish each others' experimental work (and some pretty awful stuff slips through, of course)).

But apart from those obvious targets, are there any factors that make a given publisher "easier" or "harder" for an unpublished or scantily published writer to find a home with?

INTERN grappled with this question for the rest of the night. Are smaller publishers easier than big publishers? (but what about those small presses legendary for their exclusivity?) Are new publishers, imprints, and literary journals easier to break into than established ones? (but what about new imprints like twelvebooks and new lit mags like electric literature?) Is a large list easier to break into than a small one? Is the percentage of books published per year by other previously unpublished or scantily published writers a factor?

Of all the possible factors INTERN could think of, only the last one seems to be a reasonably reliable way of gauging how "easy" it would be for another unpublished writer to get a book deal. If, in the past year, a publisher published books by two or three unknown, unqualified, and quite possibly alcoholic writers Just Like You, your chances of having a book published there are higher than at a place like Venerable McPulitzer.

But at the end of the day, the ease or difficulty involved in getting published anywhere depends on the quality and/or marketability of the project (d'oh!). You can drive around the neighborhood for hours scoping out your dream home, but if all you have is the key to the gas station bathroom (and the germy wooden spoon that was supposed to prevent you from taking it) you can't use it to unlock the castle door.

(note: ease and difficulty also depends on other variables like timing, luck, and whether or not you have agent. but none of these means anything without a brilliant and/or commercially viable piece of work).

INTERN and Techie Boyfriend are working on a mad-scientist Calculator authors can use before they submit their work that will take *all* these factors into account. Estimated release date: 2014.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

INTERN: Going Rogue

It has been two very short (but also very long) months since INTERN first entered Venerable McPulitzer's well-oiled doors and, as hinted yesterday, INTERN's time at that discerning establishment is almost at its conclusion. INTERN had discussed the possibility of a shorter-than-usual term with Venny McP in advance and now, with one month remaining until her own book comes out, it seems fair to say that her time would be better spent pleasing her (regal and angelic) publicist than cleaning out Venny McP's distinguished office supply closet for the second time in a month.

Not everyone has the luxury of quitting their COMPLETELY UNPAID job in order to focus on book promotion, manuscript critiques, and the occasional spring mushroom foray, but the oracular chickens have smiled on INTERN in this respect and she is ready to roll.

At Venerable McPulitzer, INTERN learned the art of writing incisive manuscript assessments, using a soft and discreet Telephone Voice when speaking to important-but-obscure surrealist authors, and printing every rejection letter twelve times (at unspeakable expense to Canadian old-growth forests) in order to select only the printout on the crispest page, with the sharpest ink, to convey Venerable McPulitzers heartfelt regrets. It has been a somewhat absurd experience, but a good one overall.

INTERN will still be offering manuscript critiques and other editorial services, and will continue to update this blog (although, of course, the direction it will take is unclear!)

Tomorrow is INTERN's requisite Awkward Goodbye Luncheon with Executive Ed and his Venerable Rockettes...wish her luck!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guest Post: Scientific Proof That Some Character Names Are Hotter Than Others

This week's Fresh and Delightful Springtime Guest Post is brought to you by Livia Blackburne, a graduate student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. Her blog is A Brain Scientist's Take on Creative Writing

Let’s say you’re writing a sizzling hot romance with a tall, handsome hero and a super sexy heroine. You probably think a lot about how their personalities and looks affect their attractiveness. But what about their names?

Dr. Amy Perfors is a Professor at the University of Adelaide. While a student at MIT, she conducted what might just be the most awesome study ever conducted involving the website “Hot or Not.” For those unfamiliar with Hot or Not, it’s a website where people upload pictures of themselves and ask other users to rate their hotness from 1 to 10.

Perfors was interested in whether certain names make people more attractive. She posted pictures of men and women and changed the names to see whether they affected the picture’s rating. She found that for men, names with stressed vowels formed in the front of the mouth (Dave, Craig, Ben, etc…) made their owners more attractive than names with back-of-the-mouth vowels (Paul, Tom, Charles). For women, it was the opposite. Back stressed vowels (Laura, Julie, Robin), resulted in more attractive ratings than front stressed vowels (Melanie, Jamie, Jess).

Why? Perfors has a guess. There’s some psycholinguistic evidence that people perceive front mouth sounds as smaller and back-of-mouth sounds to be larger. There’s also evidence that women are attracted to gentle men over super macho men. The smaller sounding names might be making the men subconsciously seem more sensitive. Likewise, it could be that men are more attracted to women with a bit more spunk.

As a writer, does it surprise you that the sound of your name would affect how your physical attractiveness is perceived? What other factors do you take in mind when choosing names for your characters?

Scientific footnote: These are fun results, but as always, be conservative about interpretation. If your character’s name isn’t optimally voweled, don’t panic. The effect is a small one, about .5 points out of 10. In Perfor’s study, a more attractive person was still rated as more attractive than a plain face, regardless of name. Likewise, in fiction, characterization, dialogue and point of view will trump the names you choose. For more about the study, see Perfor’s in depth explanation here:


Side-note from INTERN: Does this mean the name INTERN would be more attractive on a male intern? Hmmm...a change in profile picture might be required.

Another side-note from INTERN: INTERN realizes that she has been blogging less and been somewhat off the radar over the last little while. This is partly because working at Venny McPulitzer has been beating the living snot out of her. But she is almost finished with Venny McP, and the oracular chickens are predicting major life changes in the near future. Detailed update tomorrow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

carpe delirium

INTERN is down with a fever today and is recovering on the couch with some good surrealist movies.

In the meantime, perhaps you might be interested in this interview INTERN had the pleasure of doing about the intricacies of anonymity. Or in this article by the former editor of Grand Central Books about how much publishing blogs have changed over the past three years.

A demain!

Friday, March 19, 2010

from the annals of authorial awkwardness

This afternoon, one of Venny McPulitzer's not-so-bestselling authors called up from Osaka to ask how his sales were doing in Japan. He was apparently in the middle of breakfast with his Japanese hosts when he called, and wanted to impress them by getting his Venerable American Publisher on the line with some sales figures.

Whereupon said author was politely informed that he had no sales in Japan—indeed, the Foreign Rights person had not successfully shlepped his book to anyone—and no, his book had not been translated into Japanese quite yet.

INTERN has never seen anyone at Venny McPulitzer acting so undignified as in the ten minutes following that phone call. Howler monkeys could not have howled with greater mirth. Executive Ed even issued a chuckle when the news was related to him.

INTERN is lighting a candle for this author's soul.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

why famous authors don't want to read your unpublished manuscript

Everyone's read this expletive-laden Village Voice piece about why amateur script-writers should never ask professionals to read their scripts. And a lot of authors object to reading strangers' unpublished manuscripts for the same reasons (roughly summed up as: the hugely time-consuming, hellish acrobatics that go into writing a "casual" 3-line e-mail response that will convey the author's honest opinion—often a negative opinion—without sounding like a jerk).

Today while cruising around YA author websites, INTERN came across the "can I show you my manuscript?" question in Aprilynne Pike's FAQ. Her answer:

"I actually get this a lot. If your work is unpublished, the answer is almost always no. I can't review unpublished material simply because I have to protect myself and my family from potential liability."

Now this is a whole 'nother ballgame indeed, and one INTERN had never considered.

In a time when it seems like everybody and their pet iguana is trying to sue successful authors for stealing their ideas, said successful authors have good reason to put their hands over their eyes and sing "LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!" when unpublished writers try to show and/or tell them about their *awesome* idea for a book. The potential for getting sued is real, and it is a frigging shame.

Published authors don't have a duty to read strangers' manuscripts any more than famous chefs have a duty to eat and comment on strangers' attempts at coq au vin, Texas-style. But it's sort of heart-breaking that authors who otherwise seem like they might be happy to take a look at the odd manuscript cannot, for fear of legal quagmires that could threaten their family's financial security.

INTERN would like to know: have any of you ever asked a published author (with whom you are not personally acquainted) to take a look at your manuscript? What was the response? Have you ever agreed to read someone's ms?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

in which cardboard boats reveal the secret to everything…

Thanks and props to everyone who responded to INTERN's call for Fresh and Delightful Springtime Guest Bloggers. The variety and quality of entries blew INTERN's mind. What follows is the first Guest Post of the season, written by A Faithful Reader

Last week Techie Boyfriend and INTERN went with random, second friends once removed, acquaintances of hippy roommate to watch the CARDBOARD BOAT REGATTA. Frivolity was had, copious beer consumption was observed, and boats were launched or sunk, (mostly sunk) and it occurred to INTERN that cardboard boat builders (CBBs) are just like writers.

1. Quite a few, perhaps even a preponderance of CBBs, make their first attempt without even rudimentary background investigation of the art and science of Cardboard Boat Building… See Miss Snark if you aren’t making the connection…

2. Most people just want to build the boat and don’t really mind if it sinks, are expecting it to sink, would even be thoroughly shocked if it did not sink. Mostly they are right, but they really seem to enjoy it so who is INTERN to burst their bubble…

3. Some people are determined, nay even obsessed with making a boat that will float. They don’t seem very happy, even when it does.

4. Every so often there is a boat of such breathtaking beauty or just plain madness that “INTERN” was possessed of an almost irresistible desire to join the CBBs of America. It was the second most enchanting and wonderful thing INTERN has experienced in a long time.

5. Even if you aren’t a CBB you can look the part. Ideally with one of those Viking helmets with the horns stuck to the sides.

INTERN plans to wear her Viking helmet to V. McP on Monday.

Note from "the real" INTERN: Egad! With impersonators this clever, INTERN expects this blog to be 100% ghostwritten by 2011.

Coming Next Wednesday: Scientific proof that some character names are hotter than others, from Fresh and Delightful Guest Poster Livia Blackburne.

Monday, March 15, 2010

best book blurb on earth and...in space?

On Saturday, Techie Boyfriend read some of Loren Eiseley's incredible nature-and-philosophy essays out loud to INTERN. INTERN was completely enamored and moved by Eiseley's writing and spent most of the weekend reading The Unexpected Universe and The Star Thrower, trying to make up for a lifetime of pre-Eiseley intellectual and spiritual impoverishment.

It turns out INTERN is not the only one who was so blown away by this poet of the natural world. There is a blurb on the back of The Star Thrower from Ray Bradbury (!) stating:

"This book will be read and cherished in the year 2001. It will go to the MOON and MARS with future generations. Loren Eiseley's work changed my life."

MOON and MARS CAPS are Ray Bradbury's own.

This is simply the most incredible book blurb INTERN has ever read.

Not only does Ray Bradbury predict that people will still be reading Eiseley more than twenty years after the book's publication (perhaps from the back seat of our flying cars or while having our hair done by robots)—he implies that The Star Thrower will survive Y2K. And look—it did! Like, whoa....

As if that wasn't enough, Ray Bradbury isn't being hyperbolic when he says that this book deserves to live on in extraterrestrial colonies—he states with absolute confidence that MOON people and MARS people will worship this book. It's not a question of "if". It's only a matter of "when."

INTERN has never seen such a passionate and beautiful personal testimony on the back of a book.

Ray Bradbury's blurb has changed INTERN's life.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript

INTERN is feeling extremely wonderful and happy today and wanted to fill the world with yes's instead of no's, do's instead of don'ts. Here, then, are the ten most wonderful and useful things you can do you for your manuscript to give it the best possible chance of growing up big and strong.

1. Revise until there is no "anyway".

The single most common reason that reasonably good manuscripts get turned down (at least, as far as INTERN has observed) is because a writer had an exciting idea, wrote a kinda promising book with a lot of flaws, tried to fix the flaws, gave up, and submitted it anyway.

Never submit it anyway.

"Anyway" is an otherwise promising manuscript's worst enemy. And a manuscript that has been tinkered with until its eyeballs bleed and then submitted anyway screams like a mandrake when pulled out of its envelope. Would you try to fix your car's brakes, get frustrated, and drive it anyway? No? Point made!

2. Run more tests on it than a three-year old applying for an exclusive Manhattan pre-school.

INTERN has already posted about the Electric Kool-Aid Conflict Test method of making sure your manuscript has enough tension. But you could and should devise other draconian tests for your baby Einstein.

Pick a page at random. Can you identify what's at stake in a particular scene? Is every sentence your finger lands on brilliant? Can your manuscript recite the alphabet, sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and know the word for "octagon"? No cheating!

3. Listen to Weird Al's song Everything You Know Is Wrong.

In the wise words of Weird Al Yankovic Everything you know is wrong
Black is white, up is down and short is long
And everything you thought was just so
Important doesn't matter

The same is true of your manuscript. Remember that everything that has come to feel so innate and set-in-stone in your manuscript is actually just something you came up with one day and haven't thought about changing. What if your main character's masseuse and her parole officer were actually one character? What if you axed the character's fiancé altogether? Is your story the way it is because it has to be that way, or have those elements just been sitting there for so long you can't see them anymore?

4. Read other books.

Is your manuscript as good as these books? Or is your manuscript just good compared to its own first draft?

5. Treat your beta readers as professionals.

Even if you're not paying someone to critique your manuscript, approach the situation as if you were. INTERN has a writer-friend in New Zealand who is extremely professional about asking other writer-friends to review his manuscripts. For each carefully formatted and proofread manuscript he sends out to beta readers, he writes a neat, conscientious e-mail with guidelines for the kind of input he's looking for and a requested deadline for comments. Somehow, this seems to generate more thoughtful feedback than a simple "hit me back wid comments, yo!"

6. Spend time in a publishing office.

OK, so this one is impossible for most people, especially since most publishers would have the doorman eject would-be flies on the wall inside of two minutes. But this is INTERN's list of Ten Best Things, and in INTERN's preferred magical world, every aspiring author could turn into an actual fly and sit in on an editorial meeting or two. Author-flies would have to watch out, though, or they might get swatted to death with a galley.

7. Sow your oats in other places.

Get something published in McSweeney's or Bomb or on Salon.com or in another magazine hip editors read. Win a Pushcart Prize or pursue a writing residency. These are not things that can necessarily be done in a weekend, but they do help (and your ease or difficulty in finding homes for your shorter pieces of writing can sometimes be a good barometer of your longer manuscript's chances at publication).

8. Shine your manuscript's shoes.

Proofread. Copyedit. There is no "anyway."

9. Send your manuscript to the right place.

Did you ever get on the wrong school bus when you were little? Remember the horror when you showed up in a weird neighborhood with only your Power Rangers lunchbox for protection? That's how your manuscript feels when you send it to an inappropriate agent or publisher. This is common advice, but so, so true. If you can't picture a given publisher's logo, you probably aren't familiar enough with that publisher to submit. Ditto several books agent has sold : agent.

10. Become an A-list celebrity, develop an addiction or severe mental illness that gets a lot of press, and then submit your manuscript.

Pretty much the best thing you can do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

121 post-pocalypse!

It has been almost a year since INTERN started this blog, and one hundred and twenty posts. INTERN is growing weary of listening to herself jabber. Another anecdote about Executive Ed? Yawn! Another sappy but earnest analogy about writing? Snooze! It's time for some fresh air! Sheesh! Even Techie Boyfriend agrees!

Hence, INTERN is hereby putting out a call for Fresh And Delightful Springtime Guest Bloggers.

Specifically, INTERN is looking for Guest Posts in the following categories:

1. Parodies of INTERN

INTERN and this blog are both in need of some serious mockery. Spoofs of existing posts especially welcome.

2. Posts in the manner of David Foster Wallace

Interpret as you will.

3. Posts that inform/educate/otherwise enlighten re: some aspect of writing, publishing, or bookselling.

What's on the best-seller list in Kenya? What's the latest research on the psychology of reading? What's it like to work at a bookstore? First-person accounts of unusual bookish situations welcome.

The Details

-INTERN will post the best entries in each category on Wednesdays between now and whenever she runs out of the best Fresh and Delightful entries.

-Submit guest posts between now and Tuesday to internspills [@] gmail.com

-Anonymous entrants welcome. Non-anonymous entrants also welcome!

Godspeed, delightful and inspired readers!

Monday, March 8, 2010

in which INTERN is not destined for the Dep't of Marketeering

Today, INTERN was excited to be given the task of writing sales copy for several Venny McP titles, to appear in a forthcoming catalogue. Determined to produce the most tantalizing sales copy ever written, INTERN spent most of the morning reading through past catalogues to get an idea of what said sales copy is supposed to sound like and ultra-familiarizing herself with the books and authors in question. She started making notes. Writing drafts. Joggling sentences around to portray said books in the most flattering possible light.

Somehow, her first several attempts just didn’t seem tantalizing enough:

The Glory of the WonderBees is Ozzy McTwillop’s brightest and most ambitious work yet…

In The Glory of the WonderBees, MacArthur fellow Ozzy McTwillop is at his earthshattering finest…

So INTERN figured she just wasn’t trying hard enough:

Readers’ very souls will be ransacked by the staggering power of three-time National Book Award winner Ozzy McTwillop’s new saga The Glory of the WonderBees…

Ozzy McTwillop’s prose is nothing short of catastrophic in this white-hot work of…

As the afternoon wore on, INTERN’s attempts became more and more…promising. Or they seemed promising to INTERN, who had by this point lost all sense of perspective.

Finally, a Marketing Person came by to check on INTERN’s progress. INTERN was only too happy to oblige with a sample.

To which quoth the Marketing Person, “It’s literary fiction, honey, not Dante’s Peak.”

INTERN has never seen Dante’s Peak, but spent the last few minutes at work nervously reading its entry on IMDB. Dante’s Peak is nothing like The Glory of the WonderBees.

INTERN is humbled and determined to return tomorrow with white-hot, catastrophic levels of determination.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

thoughts on YA: of xylophones and violins

Lately INTERN has been reading a lot of quirky/funny YA manuscripts and noticed a phenomenon which she has been struggling to articulate to herself: a pattern of brand-new gags, information, and characters being teleported in at the last minute to solve the problems of the story. It was more than just deus ex machina—but what was it?

Then last night INTERN went to a potluck that turned into an informal jam session and saw the same phenomenon at work. The host of the party dumped a huge box of instruments on the floor and everybody grabbed whatever looked interesting. Everybody started playing.

And something interesting happened.

The less experienced and confident musicians quickly abandoned whatever instrument they'd grabbed first and started scrabbling around for another one. They kept on switching instruments frequently as they grew bored or frustrated with whatever they had in their hands.

The more experienced musicians tended to stick to whichever instrument had first caught their fancy, whether it was a zither or a set of bongo drums. They had the skills to exploit whatever instrument they had in their hands to its fullest potential. They weren't always rummaging through the box for a new one in the hopes that this is the one that would finally make music.

The inexperienced musicians kept trying out new instruments to solve their musical problems. The experienced musicians, like veteran cryptic crossword puzzle solvers, knew the answer was in the question.

So many YA manuscripts start out fun, crazy, and wonderful, then enter this weird spiral where the author doesn't know how to resolve all the zany hi-jinks and starts freaking out: "OKOKOKOK....moon people! That'll be hilarious! Aaaaaaand....I'll say that all this time, the antagonist was secretly a hummingbird! That'll solve everything!" Instead of using elements that already belong to the world of the story, they start looking for an extrinsic solution, which, even if it kinda works, is never as emotionally or intellectually satisfying as a solution that comes from deep within the story.

It's more satisfying, somehow, to see a magician pull a rabbit out of the hat he's been wearing all along than to see the magician call a herd of purple goats from the enchanted flute that just dropped out of the hatch that just now appeared in the ceiling.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why You Really Don't Want To Get Published (part 3)

...because you will need to pay $@$#@% self-employment taxes on your measly pitiful flea-bitten advance! D'oh!


INTERN has been having somewhat of a Venerable McPulitzer-induced spiritual crisis and has been spending a lot of time lying in the dark listening to Vampire Roommate's vampire music over iTunes. Elements of said spiritual crisis are fairly stock in nature and boil down to "What is the meaning of Art, really?" and also a feeling of general overwhelmed-ment at the sheer volume of manuscripts in the world versus books actually published (aptly expressed by the Fugees as "too many MCs not enough mics").

Techie Boyfriend has promised to commence work immediately on a time-travel device that will allow INTERN to travel back to a simpler time when monks spent entire days writing a single letter of the alphabet and every book that existed was an object to be treasured and revered by generations.

Over the weekend, INTERN went to a story-telling party organized by some friends, where the most unlikely-looking people set their beer on the carpet, shuffled to the front of the living room and told a story. It was the most enchanting and wonderful thing INTERN has experienced in a long time. So enchanting INTERN is thinking maybe that time-travel device should skip the monks and take her back to a strictly oral culture.

In any event, INTERN is drinking lots of strong tea and expects to be back (and with 80% less angst) in a day or two.