Evil Author

This morning, we received two calls--the man was so pushy that my intern wisely tossed the phone to me the second time. (I'm much meaner--okay, everyone laughs at my "mean face," which probably looks about as scary as a kitten about to go after some vicious yarn.)

"I'm downstairs," the man said. "Let me up so I can bring you my project."

Um, no.

"I'll send someone down," I said, and hung up.

I told my intern to take her keys and stand in full view of security. I didn't think he was dangerous--wouldn't have sent her down if so--just pushy, but still.

She came up with two big boxes--both manuscripts not even remotely related to our interests--which were filled with pages in bizarre fonts with strange pictures. Did he send a query? No. Did he ask if we wanted his work, or how to send it, or look at our list of interests or do any research at all? No.

"He says he's going to call later today to discuss his work," she said.  

What? He really thinks we're going to throw everything aside to look at his work the same day it comes in?

And see post below. Very very busy, and would rather spend time on authors who've done their homework.

From Editorial Anonymous

"The only editors these days who are not swamped are the ones who are out of work."

Just change "editor" to "person remotely related to publishing."

On Checking In

What about a friendly letter to remind an agent that it has been well over the two month mark? I don't want to annoy due to all of the hustle and bustle, but the whole band-aid ripping is looking a lot better than waiting until the snow melts.
Yes--of course. It's not only acceptable; it's your duty to check in--we simply don't have the man (well, in this industry, human) power to know where every single manuscript is at all times--and to remember to look.

We assume that if it's been a long time, or longer than the norm, that you will check in. In fact, it makes you look good and aware--and, sometimes, the manuscript simply didn't reach us, or is hiding somewhere--and we'll only find it if you email us and ask us to look.

For most agents, the "norm" is up to six weeks for queries, and up to three (sometimes four) months for manuscripts. Every site should state norms. It's also completely acceptable, when you send your work, to ask about the turnaround time.

I'd been great at getting back to everyone within a month--and then I was hit with a flood of awesome in manuscript from. Since July, everything's been thrown off. Gmail probably hates me for actually using the space they promise.

So, yes. Checking in is a necessary skill. The key here is friendly.

And please, please don't call.  Especially at 5:59 on a Friday.

Just as you would with a query letter, have a friend look over all of your agency correspondence. Ask them to be absolutely sure that your writing is free of the following:
  • Errors
  • Anger 
  • Rudeness
  • Impatience
  • Condescension
  • Sad/defeated attitude
  • Angry questions (WHY is it taking so long?)
  • The assumption that the agent is being, somehow, unfair (sorry, but no, we don't read everything in the exact order it comes in--and we actually work more quickly because of this--but don't bring that up)
  • The assumption that we'll eventually reject your work  (you showed a little of this in your band-aid analogy above) because it's taking so long. No no no. This isn't accurate, and actually creates sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy. We subconsciously assume that this means everyone else said no to you, and then wonder if there's a reason. And sometimes, there's a delay because 1) we want to give your work a careful read and/or 2) we're showing it to others in the office. Both good things.

Keep in mind that every single word you send to an agency reflects on you and your work. If your mundane correspondence simply radiates writerliness, we'll think to ourselves, "My! Where is that manuscript? I bet it's good..."

And as far as timing/spacing--I'd say you get one check-in for queries, at about six weeks. And for manuscripts/partials, I'd say send one email after the three-month mark (assuming this is the time frame you were given), one two weeks later if you don't get a reply, and a third two weeks after that if you still don't hear back.

But what do you assume if you hear nothing? Well, that's a tough one. Sometimes (often) agents are just overwhelmed. Unless you have another offer (do NOT fake one. I repeat, do not fake an offer--we will find out, not trust you, and then worry you'll go all James Frey on us) getting back to an author simply because he/she is, like everyone else, eager to hear back...is not our highest priority.

Is it rude of us? Totally. But in an avalanche, you don't get to say "please" and "thank you" to the snow.

And not hearing back in a timely fashion does not necessarily mean anything bad. You may get a favorable response very soon. 

Are you free, though, to send your work elsewhere? Absolutely.

Keep in mind that sometimes we don't get answers, either--when we send out manuscripts, there are often one or two editors who just never get back. And we move forward. Again--everyone in the business is pretty overwhelmed.
    Here are some check-ins I received this week, and my comments:

    Hi ______, I'm checking in to see if you or [my colleague] re-read the new revised, [title]. I would be thrilled to resend it if you need me to. I hope your holiday was great! Thank you again.... [name] [phone number]

    Totally fine. You really don't need more than this. I'm going to get nitpicky and say that this could be a bit more elegant (everything is on one line) and there should be a comma between "new" and "revised." Would I hold this against the author? Not at all, if I love her work.

    It's been just over 2 months since I sent in the proposal for [title]. The automatic responder I received said to check back if I hadn't heard anything.

    Have a great Thanksgiving,

    Perfectly passable, but--well, boring. Again, you don't get many lines of correspondence with an agency--make them count! I like the "Have a great Thanksgiving," but I'm not sure from the beginning if it's truly meant with warmth. Also, "2" should be written out.

    You must be getting ready to escape the office to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. I just wanted to check in on my manuscript, [title].

    Let me know if I should check back after Thanksgiving.



    I like this one. Warm and friendly, and free of errors.

    I'm checking in. Since I haven't heard from you, may I assume you're not interested in my project?

    All best,

    Yikes! I felt really bad while reading this (it had been more than two months). But did it make me want to pounce and read it immediately? Not really. Keep in mind that we get the most done when we have a can-do, lots-of-exciting-work-out-there, can't-wait-to-read attitude. If your letter saddens us a little, well, we're going to assume you're sad from a lot of rejection. And this is never good.

    I'm just checking in to see how the reading of [title] is going. Are you enjoying the story?


    Too informal. I don't think it wise to ask if we're enjoying the story. It doesn't set quite the right tone.

    Again, not enough to make me dislike the project, but not going to make me excited to read it, either.

    This next one's my favorite, and comes after a series of long emails: 1) I need time to make sure my work is perfect, 2) Here it is....! 3) I sent you a bad proposal, can I send you another one? 4) I know my marketing section is weak. I'm working on it. Let me send you a new one. 5) How are you doing? Is there anything you'd like to talk about? 6) Can I call you? 7) Okay, if I can't call you, can you tell me why you need sample chapters with the proposal?



    Here is a sexier and more complete proposal.

    How long do you think it will take before I hear how much you love it?


    Sigh. Sigh again. Note that the new proposal does not contain sample chapters. When there are hundreds of authors vying for my attention, it's correspondence like this that makes me tempted to simply not reply. Or to reply and immediately spam-block the author.

    Maybe this industry does steamroller one's soul. But I think it has more to do with time and quantity. Anything in enormous numbers decreases in value. If I got two emails a day, I'd read each several times. But since I get hundreds--and have other things to do, like read manuscripts!--well, for the sake of efficiency, one becomes somewhat less kind.

    Rotton Rejections

    The following are stolen (quoted!) from the Rotten Rejections page, which advertises a book by the same name. (Holiday present? I should think so!) That page has more. Go, visit. And see that even the very successful writers receive rejections--and, sometimes, absurd ones. How do we know these are real? Well, we don't. But are they possible? Most certainly.

    Jorge Luis Borges
    'utterly untranslatable'

    Anais Nin
    'There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic.'

    Jack Kerouac
    'His frenetic and scrambled prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation.  But is that enough?  I don't think so.'

    Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence
    'for your own sake do not publish this book.'

    Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    'an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.'

    On Sylvia Plath
    'There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice.'

    Crash by J  G Ballard
    ‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'

    Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
    'Do you realize, young woman, that you're the first American writer ever to poke fun at sex.'

    The Diary of Anne Frank
    ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’

    Carrie by Stephen King
    'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell.'

    Animal Farm by George Orwell
    ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’

    Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
    ‘My dear sir,
    I have read your manuscript.  Oh, my dear sir.’

    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
    ‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

    Manuscripts...or cookies? Well, let's see...

    After reading the Editorial Anonymous post, "Manuscripts Roasting on an Open Fire, Jack Daniels Nipping at My Nose," I do have to throw in my two cents. Yes, it's true that all editors and agents are different. But I do think that sending out your work just before the holidays is not the wisest move.

    Of course we'll do our very best to be objective and concentrate well--but when we're suddenly committed to 4-5 events a week (we only see some of these people once a year, so all such events feel obligatory) and even the street signs are suddenly sporting red and green--plus, there's gift-shopping, card-sending, travel-planning--it's a pretty frazzled time of year.

    I'm sure the average time spent on each manuscript is a little lower, and while we usually have some reading time on weekends, the holidays promise, for many of us, to be a whirlwind.

    You've worked on your project for months, maybe years. As I've said many times: you can wait a little longer to make sure everything (including your timing) is perfect. Wait another four weeks and send it out in January.  At that point, we'll be looking for any excuse to stay inside and avoid the snow and mess and subway cars that taunt us with images of St. Croix. (New York goes into a sort of mini-hibernation for January and February.) Manuscripts and leftover cocoa sound mighty nice in comparison.

    I wouldn't go as far as E. Anonymous and say that extra manuscripts will be thrown into a bonfire (though this is a yearly tradition with old friends: we go to the beach--with a Duraflame log, not manuscripts--and attempt the roasting of sweet sweet marshmallows). Amazing work will, of course, get its due attention.

    It's just--like with all of these tips--in case we are on the fence about your work. A manuscript we'd set aside and think about (and then still have a pretty good chance of sending back) the rest of the year may, in the hustle and bustle, simply be sent back. 

    But we are trying to clear our desks before going home and making cookies like these. And these. And, my very  favorite (chocolate butter cookies with almond extract), these.

    Give your book its very best shot, and wait, just a little longer. 


    Books I Would Have Rejected

    I'm considering a new "blog column" (or running blog joke) entitled Books I Would Have Rejected--and why. Are bestsellers on the list? Yup. Books that have won awards? Those too. Books that have changed lives? Most assuredly. Am I wrong? Maybe. Don't care. I tend to think that there aren't any objective standards of right and wrong in this business--we're just a collection of people who, at some point or another, have proven ourselves to be in possession of reasonably good (if subjective) literary tastes.

    I personally don't care if I think a book would sell ten bazillion copies--if I don't like it, I'm not taking it on. Why would I spend my time putting something displeasing into the book world? Since each editor can only take on a finite number of projects, it takes a spot away from something good.

    Today, after reading 27 pages of Eyes Like Stars, I threw it (not literally, but) into the NY Public Library's return bin. (One of the great things about the NYPL: you never have to talk to a human being when returning books at the main branch--and you can check them out by machine.) I'm not usually so return-happy; however, I was in the neighborhood (a new mother-daughter chocolate-coffee place opened up, and I had to try their mocha, which features two scoops of molten chocolate), and in theory my copy of Catching Fire was waiting. This was the second time I'd gone to pick it up--it was supposedly there as of Tuesday--and, nope-- "It's not ready yet," they told me. Grrr.

    I think they should give priority to books that are in a series. Don't they realize the anticipation it's building?
    Need. This. Book!

    But. Back to ELS. I'm reasonably pro-fairy (they're cute and have a lot of story potential) and most definitely pro-theatre (having come to New York thinking I'd somehow take Broadway by storm).

    But--and this is something that I know isn't just me--I hate openings that have more dialog than narration. Drives me up the (subway, in this case) wall. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Plus, the ridiculous fairy names (and so many of them! Could barely keep something-puff from something-flower) didn't help either.

    Lesson for the day: IMO, you should ensure there's at least a 2:1 ratio of narration to dialog in your opening.

    Agent Inbox

    I find Agent Inbox both disturbing and inevitable (and inevitably, eventually, expensive--seems there's always some new "must have" that takes more money away from writers).

    I'm not pleased with the feature that allows agents to reject authors with three clicks. Click one: Delete button. Click two: choose from one of three options (one says something like "wrong for us," one says something like, "we have a similar project," and one has a space for a form letter). Click three: Send.

    Wow. You'd think we were evaluating machinery, not writing.

    Sometimes I wonder if it's only a matter of time before all authors post all of their queries on one big site (sorted by genres and searchable by keyword) and agents can just click and contact as they please.

    There's something frightening and evil about that, too--but perhaps it could have features like, say, an "Ask for this" button that would store the agent's information, the writer's information--and it would send submission instructions to the writer with one click. It could also have a "this is good, forward it to my actual inbox/Kindle" button, several automatic steps so correspondence ("Did you get my manuscript? Does it open okay?") notes are unnecessary. It could (agents would rebel) tell writers how much time was spent reading their work.

    It could also tell agents that the writer would never consider about work that they'd love--and connections that would normally have to wait for next year's Jeff Herman could be made immediately.

    Okay. Convenience might, as usual, win.

    Calgon, Take My E-Reader Away!

    I'm a big fan of reading in the tub. (It's probably because it was such a popular scene in eighties movies--when the protagonist wanted to relax, she lit a few candles, got some chocolates, made thousands of bubbles--and Calgon took her away.)

    But the Kindle seems about as safe as a plugged-in hair dryer, right?

    Not so, says Nathan Bransford. "Put it in a Ziploc bag and it's more waterproof/sandproof than a paper book."

    Huh. Good point.

    Mistakes in Today's Mail

    I'm usually far too nice to make fun of queries, but today I have a headache and there are more than 200 of them. Please consider this educational, sanity-preserving, (your) ego-inflating--but not out-and-out mean.

    Are any of these "put it down and reject" mistakes? Two. I'll let you guess which ones. But the rest are things you may wish to avoid.

    I post this mostly so that you can see that a lot of our mail is very, very strange--and those scary statistics you hear about the odds of getting published are misleading--needlessly grim--as they include the very odd submissions, too.

    And yes, these are all from just today:

    • Apologizing for your query in the very first line. Four people did this today. This is akin to saying, "I'm sorry you have to spend time with me. If you want to leave, you can" the moment you meet a romantic prospect. No no no. 
    • Queries under fifty words. If brevity is (as Dorothy Parker wrote) the soul of lingerie, yours consists of one ribbon and one doily. 
    • Writing a book about recreational activities while under the influence of illegal drugs. Bad enough, but then assuming a, "So, you know how...? Isn't that funny?" tone. I'm sorry, no, I don't know about going to a skate park after shooting up. And it seems somewhat impolite to imply that I would. 
    • S&M queries in the second person.  I think Emily Post would agree that one should not include such things in business correspondence.
    • Sending a beyond-deadpan query for a humor book. 
    • Sentences like, "So far you are thinking, why am I reading this right?"
    • Discussing your financial difficulties in your query. This makes one uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is pretty far from, "Yes! I must see this book!" on the emotional spectrum.
    • If your work is called Poison, do not call your files, "Poison for [name of agent].doc." Actually, this one amused me, and I'll take a look. 
    • Sending the work in seven separate emails (one chapter per). This makes it impossible to keep all your work in one place at one time (or apply my nifty multi-colored labels). Then I worry that I'll reply to one, and not others, then forget about it, then reject it again. Bad. Bad bad bad. Headache=increase. 
    • "I won't lie and say this doesn't need polishing."
    • Don't slip in and out of third person when describing yourself. 
    • Four ellipses and three exclamation points in the first paragraph of the pitch...sigh!
    • Quoting unfavorable reviews of your first project. You would do this...why?
    • Saying, "Thank you for agreeing to represent me"--twice--before I've even seen the work. 
    • "I have written what I consider, a good book, that I hope will intrigue you. I have never made an attempt at writing before, but I believe this book has all the elements of a best seller."
    • Emoticons. No.  
    • Spending the first paragraph talking about how your market is glutted.
    • Saying of the competing works: "They are all full of crap."
    • Eight footnotes in the body of your query = bad. 
    • And finally, my very favorite: writing, in the very first line, that you would rather work without an agent. 

    Reading on the Android

    The brilliant and talented Gwen Hayes has written a fun, informative piece about reading on the Android.

    I figured there must be a lot of people just like me out there—people who have a basic understanding of cut-and-paste and “click here”. People who love the idea of new toys and yet have no idea what to do with them. People who probably have no business operating handheld digital devices worth hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars.

    This one is for you.

    Queries: 216.
    Manuscripts: 141
    Paper manuscripts: about 1.5 feet

    Angry author check-ins: 4
    Polite author check-ins: 6

    Authors whose work I can't wait to receive: 2. They're so cool.

    Patience: thinning.
    Headache: growing, despite gel-caps.
    Coffee cup: needing a refill.
    Herbal tea cup: delicious. I heart peppermint.
    Water cup: good.
    Emergen-C cup: Tangerine. Oooh, so sparkly.

    Thanksgiving plans: changing. I could either be the cool aunt and tear around with four children under seven...or accept an invite to something swanky in the city. Either way: excuse for new dress. Dress can be less practical if I stay in the city, as it'll be less likely to end up with kid puke/marker/juicey-juice/graham cracker mush stains. (And you wonder why we wear so much black: any other color is, in comparison, impractical.)

    Weather: finally feels like November, holiday season. Somehow, this is comforting.

    Leaves: falling quickly, but still enough to swirl down gracefully.

    My interns: awesome. Awesomer than usual.

    Barometric pressure: steady.

    Mood: rising.

    The Weekend Read

    I love hearing from editors on Saturdays. Not just because it's usually good news (bad news can wait until Monday), but because it means they love their jobs and their reading as much as I do mine.

    Now, I know you're thinking you'd rather we read during office hours--after all, wouldn't a manuscript feel more, well, assigned during formal work time--and, therefore, wouldn't we read more of it?

    Well, yes and no: first of all, more pages read most definitely does not equal a better overall outcome--if we're hating page 30, it's not like if only we kept reading we'd love pages 200-300. And the average number of pages read is lower during the week. But assigned, obligatory, yes: we have a bit more of that feeling in the office, which is exactly why the Weekend Read is perfect. Reading during the week (and on the subway--which seems like a drive-thru Egg McMuffin munched at 60 mph versus a formal meal) is hurried, sped up by the fact that lots of other things (emails, calls, appointments, interns, coffees) are flying though the air at an incredible rate. 

    I think most of us use the taste-n-tell technique: if something's really good and obviously going to need a few dedicated hours, we mark it for the weekend. If I choose it over SNL (actually, I've given up non-Hulu programs, but you know what I mean), I know immediately that I like it. Same with editors, who are human and like television, too.

    I've spent some of yesterday and much of today stretched out with a manuscipt on a topic I never thought I'd go for. It requires quiet, careful reading, as some of the best works do. Possible in the office? Maybe. Possible with my chocolate stash and one enormous chair? Abso-bloomin-lutely.
    More good news for works for women, young adults, and "new adults"--Twilight's new movie is very nearly "guy proof"; that is, it would be a runaway success without a single male purchasing a ticket.

    And nearly a third of the advance tickets were purchased by women ages 25-34. I didn't like the books, but I'm tempted to join that group: the writing is less annoying in dialog (script) form and, well, I'm curious. (But would I tell my friends I'm going? Certainly not. I'd hide out in the back with sunglasses and a big Audrey Hepburn hat like this one.)

    Like me, the author of this article has some misgivings--if this is the next generation's image of true love ("spineless" Bella and "stalky" Edward--ooh, I do like the word "stalky"), I'm not sure I can fully approve.

    So, as this writer states, we get into a strange place: the overwhelming mass power of the female-owned (transferred, I guess) dollar supporting a product of questionable feminist value. 

    That said,
    The question is, will the powers that be recognize young women as a robust market that's been largely ignored and condescended to, or will they write it off as a limited phenomenon? "Studios should look at this as a golden opportunity and not a fluke!" writes [Melissa] Silverstein [of the Women in Hollywood blog]. But tapping into the passions of young female audiences means "working to try and uncover things that are bubbling in fandom and even trying to come up with exciting ideas to engage the audience," not just waiting around for the next runaway bestseller.

    More here: "Could "New Moon" be a feminist triumph? Forget the antiquated gender roles and the axed female director. This movie's box office could be a game changer."

    Also, I've heard a lot of men complain lately that so darn many agents are female--well, as we've heard, 70 or so percent of books are purchased by women. Doesn't it make sense that we'd be the ones choosing which ones to sell (to publishers), too?

    Gossip, Gossip...Yakkity Yakkity Yakkity Yak!

    Okay, so for those of you who weren't in high school choir, the title is from a song about how gossip is evil, etc., etc. Real convincing coming from a bunch of kids in sparkly green cummerbunds.

    But: things I've heard (and no, sorry, if you say you learned it here, I will deny, deny, deny):
    1. Semi-underground website for editorial job-searching here. It's very hush-hush; they'll tell you if you can or can't mention the site when you apply. See the WhisperJobs section. 
      1. It should be noted that not all jobs are as peachy as mine. I have 1) the best boss in the world, and 2) have paid my dues, so to speak. I could write a whole post on "stupid reasons I've been yelled at," but instead, I will simply state that one office was like that in Mad Men (minus the great clothes), one only recently decided its assistants were allowed to speak at meetings, and another very nearly patted me on the head when I had an idea. So. Don't go packing your suitcase with visions of sugarplum-coated manuscripts. Go in with a clear head and get a good sense of who you'd be working with.
    2. Apple's version of the e-reader will be announced this January. Ish. At first I heard (from a friend whose dad is a big Comp-Sci guy in CA) that because it's called Tablet, we'd be able to (eeep!) annotate our reading. Now I see it's just, well...a really big iPhone. E-ink? Doesn't look like it. In other interesting semi-news, Steve Jobs thinks people don't read anymore. Which is pretty silly, given that much of the internet is, duh, text. And I don't see the internet going out of style anytime soon. 
    Here's the Tablet in relation to an iPhone.

    And another great article, "Apple Tablet To Redefine Newspapers, Textbooks and Magazines" (with another great picture but I don't want to "borrow" too many) here.
    A lovely post from Chasya, at Dystel & Goderich: "Why I Am An Agent."
    Like much of NYC (you wouldn't believe how many coughs I heard on the subway--it's getting to the point where, if I had a small child, I'd find another form of transportation!), I'm under the proverbial weather. Not rainclouds, necessarily; my spirits are high and (almost as if I've been planning it--I certainly haven't!) I've got a stack of great books at home--and the best boss in the world, who told me to go home and get better.

    Keep sending those apple recipes! If one a day keeps HMOs away, then surely I'll be well soon. :)

    Cavewomen, Dunk Tanks, Writing Groups--and Applesauce, too

    I joined a group that's writing about food for, well, the heck of it. At our somewhat disastrous first meeting, in an obscure Malaysian restaurant on a street that literally sells eels in buckets, I started to get really nervous. It felt like drama waiting to happen.

    So, for any of you who'd like to put an agent (one who rejected you, say) in a dunk tank (that's so going to be a publishing-themed fundraiser someday--and I'll totes volunteer), please be assured that many of us write, and our writing buddies reject our work all the time. Or, you know, tell us they don't like it.

    And--oh, snap. Consider me dunked.

    However, it's hard to feel too sad while spending the evening doing Apple Fest (it's a yearly occurrence) 09--homemade applesauce, homemade hard cider, baked apples (core and fill a green one with brown sugar and butter and bake at 350 for an hour). I'm listening to Fats Waller ("There's Honey on the Moon Tonight") and fixing to go out with two of my favorite people. And I've decided (can't wait to read Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human) that I would have been an excellent cave woman cook.

    For your own apple fest, a recipe. Keep in mind I'm the laziest cook ever, so this is very easy. And if you like cooking for those without hours to spare, I just met the guy who started Food 2, which is an online foodie channel with shows like Dorm Room Kitchen.

    Best (Post-Rejection) Applesauce Ever:

    You'll need butter, two green Granny Smiths, cinnamon, and sugar.And a skillet with a lid, but I imagine any lidded pan will do. And about fifteen or twenty minutes.
    • Chop the apples into small pieces, excepting the core. Toss the core. My pieces were about the size of half a Wheat Thin. But it doesn't really matter--just chop 'em.
    • Get skillet. Heat to medium. Add about 4 tbs butter. 
    •  Throw in apples, stir to coat with butter. 
    • Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar to taste. (Don't burn yourself while tasting.) You'll need a lot of sugar, since G-Smiths are tart. Splenda and Truvia work too.
    • Add about a half cup of water. You may need to add more as they cook. Just make sure they don't burn.
    • Cover, and stir every five minutes or so. All the water should evaporate--if it doesn't, uncover and turn up heat. When apples are soft, squish 'em with a fork.  Add final touches of sugar/cinnamon if they're too tart and stir in.
    Seriously. Super easy, and your friends (and kids) will be very impressed. 

    What are your favorite apple recipes...?
    The more scary articles (It's end of books! We'll soon be illiterate and fighting saber-tooths with iPhones!) there are, the more we need a the publishing equivalent of Threat Level Elmo.

    Because it really is starting to feel almost like a fear campaign. And what's the best antidote to a fear campaign? Humor, of course. 

    Anyone? Anyone?

    The Kindle ate my homework!

    Well, Kindle's paying up--in promises and cash--after making all of Orwell's work disappear in a rather Orwellian manner. See "Amazon settles lawsuit over deleted Kindle copy of 1984," which I found via the Fine Print Literary Management blog.
    So here's tonight's conversation:

    "Literary Agents, bah! Who needs them?"

    "Who needs an agent? You do."

    Uggh. Frankly, I find all of this "Digital publishing will do away with everything but the writer and the reader and the internet between them!" stuff rather tiresome. I can understand wanting to think agents are unnecessary if, say, a few of them rejected you--or if you're this guy, who apparently threatened to kill his agent and would seem to be on the run.

    However, Googling the guy brings one to this rather good article, which says:
    The publisher William Heinemann speaks, in 1893, of agents as a canker "eating into the heart" of the mutual interests of author and publisher. Rudyard Kipling, by contrast, presents a rosier picture of his agent, A. P. Watt, as being "very kind and nice and does everything for you except - writing your book". And while opinion might have been divided on their good intentions, no one could deny that their rise was spectacular. In late 1870s Britain, the professional agent was largely unknown, but by 1914 no self-respecting author could be without a Mr Ten Per Cent to negotiate on copyright, represent their interests and help them sell their "stuff".
    And Mr. Possible Agent Killer comments:
    You have to wonder what Joyce et al would make of the profession these days as most agents (at least on the American side of the stream) are female and the business at large seems to be running male authors and men's interests out of the equation. These days we have to pretend to wear dresses, I suppose; add to our sentences rather than strip them down, all but grow a spare set of female genitalia in order to publish.

    But really--let's pick on another industry for a few days.

    How about--cars? (Books don't get a bailout.) Non-internet television? (Hulu.com is my friend.) Sports? (I certainly wouldn't mind.) Anything other than publishing? Please? Pretty please?

    MileHiCon--Speculative Fiction in Denver

    My friend Josh, who's created some of the most beautifully written speculative fiction I've ever seen (and has written something like nine novels) attended MileHiCon in Denver. If you're in the area next fall and write spec fic, sci fi, or fantasy, it may be something to consider.

    Here's his post (applicable to all fiction genres) about what he learned at the conference this year.

    Carbaholics unite--Tonight in San Francisco!

    For those of you who (like me) could live almost solely on the ingredients in Rice, Pasta, Cous Cous, there's an event at Omnivore Books (tee hee) in San Francisco. TONIGHT, Nov. 12 • 6-7 p.m. • Free. 3885a Cesar Chavez Street (click for map).

    Do I have any idea at all where that is? No, because when I drove in San Fran, I was 16 and trying not to roll backwards (really, why are there stop signs at the tops of steep hills?) into the fancy cars.

    And, as my fellow-once-Californian, fellow-Sarah Lawrence grad, fellow-agent friend would say: B-T-Dubs (btw): I only link to Amazon because they're the most searchable, user-friendly site I know of. Do I think you should actually buy the books I link to there? Heavens, no!

    Try Powells.com or Strandbooks.com. Both ship and have very competitive prices.

    And you won't be supporting, you know, evil.

    Before I become a huge hypocrite, I should note that yes, occasionally, though I love independent bookstores (and dislike what Amazon's doing to the industry), I do sometimes order from them. Same for Starbucks, though my life would not be complete without independent coffeeshops.

    There were some unkind but very funny jokes at the indie publishing event about a holiday present that could prove very popular among those in the biz: someone could make a plush doll modeled after a certain internet book company's CEO that would happen to be soft enough for the pins that would happen to come with it.

    Me, I'm sticking with my Freud finger puppet/magnet (they also have slippers!), but for those of you on etsy, this could be your next project. (The closest I found was "voo doo doll on cupcake"--aww, cute and evil!)

    Also, while we're talking about evil that is cute, you really must check out 100% Evil. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available in the US (the link is to Amazon.co.uk) anymore, but it's the perfect present for the malcontent on your list.

    Also, though I'll steal Freud and Cous Cous (but link to them, so I doubt they'll mind), I won't steal the amazing image you'll see if you click here, then click Samples, then click Next four times.

    Really. It's worth it. Mmm, yes, quite.
    From my mother:

    Quite thankfully, this isn't one of those, "So about those grandchildren I don't have yet..." hints.

    At least I don't *think* it is... :)

    Thanks, Mom!

    Pie Charts and the Sharing of Them

    For your blog/site/anything you'd like visitors to share: see the little button below each post? The one that says "Share" and, when you mouseover, gives a list of all the niftiest ways of sending it to a friend?

    With a few clicks, you can have your own--it'll even do the annoying "add widget" thing for you on Blogger.

    Better still, it will make you pie charts of its use statistics.

    And what's better than a pie chart?

    For new visitors, I will happily direct you to two of mine--one about why I say Yes or No to YA queries, and one about why I say no to queries in general--based on six months of data-gathering. They're cute and if, like me, you're a fan of quantitative data--a very useful thing indeed.


    The share button comes from http://www.addthis.com/.

    If nothing else, their list of 174 sharing services makes me feel about as tech-savvy as the average great-grandmother. But it's good information. Surely at least a few are about to take off--and you can say you knew them when.

    A Comment on Comments

    Knowing that these were all-around tech-savvy individuals, I knew I was taking a risk when I wrote about Al Katkowsky in this post. After all, if anyone was going to have a Google Alert--it'd be these guys. (See this article on Google Alerts, or just go to the Google Alert page.) I was actually rather worried that someone would think I had tape-recorded the whole conference and was posting it free online (I didn't--I wouldn't. But I wanted to share what information I could remember).

    Instead, he left a lovely comment, which includes this bit of wisdom:
    As a followup for those who may be interested in how to succeed in the app world, we selected very specific keywords when the app was uploaded to iTunes, and then had as many people as possible download it on the first day it was made available. This approach gives you a shot at spiking up the charts. We are still Top 30 in the Book category, which has over 13,000 titles. Question Of The Day will hit 100,000 downloads as a free iPhone app by the end of November, with over 600,000 views of the integrated video content.
    So, you know, read the comments too. There's a lot of good stuff in there.

    Also, I recommend clicking (or "ticking," if you're British) the little box that offers to email you responses to your comments. Sometimes I'm just not sure how to reach all of you.

    Or just be old-fashioned about it and include a signature with your blog address and e-mail. I'll get back to as many comments as I can.

    Hope you're well on this blustery, leaf-orange day.

    Today's numbers

    This post is dedicated to my dear friend, C8H10N4O2.

    Queries today: 147.
    Manuscripts: 146 + 10 on Kindle. Progress!

    "Hi!...so, um, I think I was interviewed for NPR tonight...."

    The great thing about book events in NYC is that they have a very high likelihood of becoming very quickly awesome. This is a good thing because, as a professor once said about me when I was giving a talk at Fordham--and I hadn't thought about it that way, but I suppose it's true--it's part of our job to go to parties. (There are seasons for these things, quiet weeks, and weeks where we hit two to three events a night. But yes, we do go, mostly because book people are our people, and it's always good to know as many as possible--not to mention have remarkably interesting conversations. I maintain that human beings are better-searchable, more interesting sources of information than computers ever will be.)

    My friend and I attended the Celebrate Indie Bookselling event in Dumbo last night, which sounded, from the invite, like a walk on uneven streets (cobblestoned and far from the subway) in the cold (it's near the water, so...) in the dark (darn you, lack of Daylight Savings!). With, you know, books and stuff. But we dragged ourselves out of our steam-heated apartments anyway. And I'm so glad we did.

    We arrive and it's an enormous, gorgeous space--twenty-something-foot ceilings, five-foot chandelier. That's one of the wonderful things about this area of Brooklyn--there are really amazing lofts available. There's a sort of arena set up--almost-bleachers that are made out of giant steps. A band, Jones Street Station, which is somewhere between Bluegrass and Pop and hipster in the very best way (mandolins, banjos, accordions, guitar, drums, harmonicas), had set up in the center, and as we arrive, there's a drawing of business cards from the raffle box. Both my friend and I won adorable tote bags with books--mine included the Momofuku cookbook (!!!), The Harvest Eating Cookbook (!) and a signed poster.

    Then there are talks about how we can't let NYC become repeating "neighborhoods" of Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, H&M--and that homogeneity is the end of local culture. Yes! There were shouts, snaps, applause and free beer. And sandwiches. We were blissed out.

    The band starts playing. They're amazing. Then a guy approaches us where we're sitting (the seats resembled church pews--and may have been, at one point in their history). "Hi," he said, "I'm from NPR."

    "Seriously?" I ask. I really need to work on this thinking-before-speaking thing.

    He blinks. "Um, no, I just go around saying that as a joke." Totally stone-faced. He blinks some more. Awk-ward. "Can I ask you a few questions?" He's wearing orange Converse and carrying what looks like an oversized, spiffed-up walkman and a big, puffy microphone.


    So he interviews us both about our thoughts on the future of publishing. I answer, scrunching my face as I think, thankful that won't be audible.

    Someone says something about e-books and e-readers and how they haven't seen them, and I whip out the office Kindle--in the middle of this event about independent book selling. We giggle at this unusual combination. It's kind of like the time I brought my giant Starbucks latte into the Left Forum. To top it off, in a few minutes I'm caught--and I can quote perfectly because a totally well-intended girl from Housing Works repeated it back to me verbatim--saying, "Well, I'm a Luddite. On my blog"--she only repeats this first part, but the end of the sentence was, "...my followers say I need to use Twitter."

    But for all of you pro-Twitter folks out there, who say that anyone with any modicum of technical knowledge is Tweeting away, I'll have you know that Mr. NPR barely knows what it is.

    Anyway, so the odds are slim. He's got about two hours of very articulate book people talking about books, and needs to cut it down to five minutes. If it does air, it'll be near Thanksgiving.

    But it's still enough to call up friends--something increasingly rare in a texting society--and say, "Hey! Guess what...?"

    How I Live Now

    The lovely and talented (and yes, she really is both) Suzie Townsend recommended, in her blog, Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now. While it's not The Hunger Games (lurve lurve lurve), it's really quite good. Imagine me saying that in a British accent, because it's about a young woman whose stepmother sends her to live with her cousins in the English countryside. At first it's a perfect setting: their mother, her aunt, is called away on business in Oslo, and so they are left to have gorgeous days swimming in the river and (in the case of the protagonist, Daisy, and her cousin Edmond) experience a little cousin-on-cousin romance. But then, of course, a war breaks out, and everything convenient and comfortable about modern life is stripped away.

    There are lovely moments when, in their separation, Edmond "visits" Daisy, à la Jane Eyre calling out in the night for Mr. Rochester and having a sort of gothic ghostly (but living ghostly) visit/interaction.

    It's almost as if, as the modern comforts are taken away, magic replaces them. There is also great description of the animals taking over the wild as the people are (with propaganda) forced to believe there's a smallpox outbreak and, therefore, they should always be inside--leaving the animals, like the children before the war hits, running wild.

    Okay, so I'm only 2/3 done, but that's after, like, a day. It's not "cancel on your friends" good, but it's "take it with you everywhere and read it when you're not frantically reading Kindled manuscripts" good. 

    Anyway.  If you live in NYC, there are like 30 copies that the public library has available. (A friend of mine is dating someone high up in the NYPL system, and promises an introduction. I have lots of questions about young adults and library usage.) No one seems to be checking them out, and they'll have them messengered to the branch of your choice. And, dude, it's a penny on Amazon (+ $3.99 shipping). Sweetness.

    The Writer's Block

    I know there are a ton of story podcasts out there, but--maybe it's because I was once (and until recently, legally was) a Californian--KQED's The Writer's Block is by far my favorite.

    You can listen to all of their podcasts for free either through their site or through the iTunes store.

    The stories are always excellent--very engaging. So much so that they can make me forget the screaming toddler to my left and the kid testing out every last one of his ringtones (twice) on my right--that is, they make my commute enjoyable--and it's much appreciated.

    This morning, I listened to Alive in Necropolis. WB's sound effects? Not the best. But I love the message it came with:
    Please note, this podcast is a little racy in spots--if you have a delicate constitution and choose to continue listening--good for you. 
    Take it from someone who can't, and probably never will be able to, watch horror films--it's not that bad.

    Today's numbers

    Queries: 105
    Manuscripts: 160 (progress!)

    New Must-Read Pub Blog

    Surely there are hundreds. But I like this one. It's written by Sarah/"JJ," who is the assistant to Dan Weiss, new "New Adult" publisher at St Martins. Check out her post on this emerging subgenre.


    YES! New, slightly-older-YA publisher at St Martin's

    Thanks Gwen!

    Apparently it's a big day for details!

    Nathan Bransford and Michael Bourret (today) and the Waxman Literary Blog (Friday) have posts about overall feel versus tiny mistakes in queries and manuscripts.

    I especially like this from Waxman:
    ...Time and time again so many of these smart, talented writers I met expressed relief bordering on elation when I or another agent said I don’t care if it’s Helvetica or Courier, I don’t care if there is one typo on page 219, I don’t care if your email and mine collude to strip the formatting, I don’t even care if I’m addressed as Mr Root–it’s clearly by accident, no really we won’t autoreject it, so long as the writing is amazing.

    Writers, Take Note!

    As backstory, I mentioned in an earlier post my love of 18th-century writing.

    A writer, whose work I requested, wrote today to say that there will be a delay--there's an exclusive with another agent--but had I read the piece from the 1720s called "Woman Triumphant: Or, the Excellency of the Female Sex, Asserted In Opposition to the Male--Dedicated to The Ladies--by A Lady of Quality"?

    She attached the piece, which is scanned with postmarks, historical typesetting (the Ss look like Fs, and some of the lines are delightfully uneven), and gorgeous drop-caps. The file came through easily, and is small enough to forward.

    I'm pleased as peach punch.

    And I immediately wrote back to ask if she'd read my favorite, "Fantomina, Or: Love in a Maze." If you haven't read it, it's absolute genius: it's about what happens when a very smart Lady (love the 18th-century capitalization) disguises herself as multiple women so as to keep one man's attention. Witty, no? Well, it's darn relevant even to modern relationships. Anyone see that awful "Womanizer" Britney Spears video? Same concept. (Amazingly, one day while channel-surfing, I saw an interview where Spears comes up with the concept. It's all "um"s and "ah"s and "like"s, but it makes me wonder if she's been playing dumb all this time.)

    Naturally, though, Fantomina's way better. Sorry, possibly-secret-genius Spears.

    But writers, take note. This is a brilliant way to strike up conversation with an agent. It's a fair guess that we like reading, and like people who appreciate our (sometimes unusual) reading tastes.

    If you've gone to the trouble to find out what we like to read, or find out something of interest to us, and recommend more of it--well, you're on our Good list. No coal for you. Do we always have time to send thoughtful replies to these nice-making emails? No. But we'll read them and appreciate them.

    One more 18th-century plug--that movie, Cruel Intentions, is fun on its own. But when you really know Les Liaisons Dangereuses (which it's officially based on), and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa (said by some to be the very first novel--with remarkable similarities to LLD), the movie is much more fun. There's one point where Ryan Phillippe asked the name of one of his conquests, and she replies, "Clarissa." Oh! I loved that moment. (And he's not bad, either.)

    Errors (and Clippy) Must, Apparently, Die

    I hear people in publishing say, all the time, things like "You could have the best story in the world but if I see typos and bad sentence structure right off the bat I'm going to pass." Apparently that's not always true.

    Typos? Goodness, no! It's not true. It's not even close to true. For me. Maybe there are agents out there who read with a proverbial red pen in hand at all times, but I very much doubt that's the majority. In a query letter, sure, it will make me respect you a little less. (However, if you use advanced punctuation correctly, or--be still my little heart, a comma-dash--I'll immediately like you.)

    Bad sentence structure...well, that's a little more difficult. We are, after all, trying to make an educated guess about the writing in your manuscript. One bad sentence among many great ones will most likely not ruin your chances--but, of course, it's not advisable.

    Errors are much worse in queries than in partials, manuscripts and proposals. First of all, they're shorter, so a problem is easier to spot. Second, they're your first impression--you really, really, really should try to get it right.

    But here's the other side of that. Allow me to share something remarkably unfair about publishing. Let's say that you've spent the last five years writing a book that is without a single error. You've combed that thing so closely, you would bet  your favorite pen, your beloved desk and your computer on its being error-free.

    Then an author of absurd talent hands in a draft that has typos, misspellings, and errors. It needs line edits and big edits (take out this character, re-order those scenes, cut 100 of your 500 pages).

    And their book gets accepted. Yours doesn't.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, line edits are easy to fix. That special something that makes a book, well, glow? That makes it moving and new and exciting and enjoyable and seem to radiate potential?

    Not so easy to add.

    (Can you imagine? I'd love it if Microsoft Word--or even Clippy--had an, "It looks like you're writing a pitch letter. Click below to make it glow!" tip.)

    That said, the absurdly talented writer would still get rejections--lots of them. As I've mentioned before, there are agents who just won't bother with doing edits, or won't do heavy edits. We're always doing a mental calculation--how much we like the piece versus how much work it would be for us to get it into salable form.

    We'd have to like something a lot if it's going to get that much work from us. Keep in mind that we're working on spec--we're taking a risk (of time--sometimes months) to work on your book, never knowing for sure if it'll actually sell and we'll get paid until after all our editorial work is done.

    I've seen books at publishing houses--in fact, as an intern, I was given first pass at some of the corrections--that would make a smart sixth grader (or, well, me as a sixth grader) cry. Wrong form of "its/it's/there/their" everywhere--horrible, seemingly random comma placement--misspellings on every page. But the message and its information (it was nonfiction) were, overall, very good--and, believe it or not, there were some amazing sentences in there.

    I saw the completed version in a bookstore many months later. Every error fixed. Looked like a very smart book. Very strange experience.

    So, no. We'll lose some respect for you if you don't bother to learn that commas and semicolons are not interchangeable. It does lessen your chances of getting a Yes. If an agent is on the fence about a book--we seem to spend a lot of time on fences, since it's a business with few absolutes--and your manuscript is filled with errors, it's certainly not going to help.

    For whatever reason, the best writers usually also have the best grasp of the language. They are also usually humble, and just seem just, well, nice over email.

    But is an error an automatic rejection in a partial or proposal? No. Not at all.

    For more on Clippy (Microsoft Word's paperclip-shaped assistant), this is Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!'s piece, "Clippy Must Die." Note that it gets very, very funny around 2:00, so go ahead and fast-forward. Turn up the sound! Also note what Clippy comes up with at minute 3:03. ("It looks like you're trying to write a novel. Would you like me to...")

    You know how I said I was purposely going to not figure out which of the incoming manuscripts were by younger authors? So, I was reading one and, wanting to see the query, searched for it. I was 26 pages in, really enjoying it, thinking, "My! The YA voice is perfect!"

    And--yup. It's written by a 16-year-old.

    Oh, snap.

    Celebrate Indie Bookselling event

    For those of you in the NYC area, there's a Celebrate Indie Bookselling event tomorrow in DUMBO. Live music, reading, beer and snacks, $10 suggested donation. I'm a bit sniffly, but if I'm better (and not too tired from the Women in Publishing event tomorrow), I'm totally there.

    See below:

    Really enjoyed this article on Young Adult books (and a fairy theme): "Field Guide to Fairies" in yesterday's NY Times. 

    On what *not* to say in book talks

    Very much enjoyed this post by Editorial Anonymous.

    It's so true: writers do tend to overshare much more than the average population. But then again--if they didn't have that tendency--a great deal of writing would be locked away in someone's drawer/computer, now wouldn't it?

    A correction/addition

    I mentioned two sites for finding blogs of similar interests--this helps because, if you comment on them and leave your blog/site URL, you'll soon have a lot of new visitors.

    Many of you wrote in about Alexa.com. Yes, it's good.

    Even better is Technorati's blog directory. You can search (at the top) by any topic, and then get results that start with the blogs with the most hits.

    More Self-Publishing Expo Tidbits

    Here are some more tips from the panelists (now the lawyer-ly bit: please note that all of these are straight from the panelists, and I know very little about some of these. Always use your good judgment--some are appropriate in some cases, and not in others. As always, if you have any questions, do ask...):

    When you do your social networking, treat your followers as an exclusive group.
    Yes, it's daunting. There could be thousands of them. But if you offer freebies, announcements, or something they can't get anywhere else--they'll keep coming back.

    If you send out a newsletter, instead of (or in addition to) a blog, you don't have to pay for ConstantContact.com (though they make beautiful emails). MailChimp.com kind of blows my mind. It allows you to send pretty, sophisticated emails without any web skills--for free. And can tell you who opens the email, who clicks on its links, and who tweets about you and where. Watch the demo. I think we have a company that will either inspire Google (to rip it off) or soon be purchased by Google.

    Consider an iPhone app for your book

    An unusual and very smart way to publicize your book is to commission an iPhone app that ties into it. This was done for Question of the Day, which has its corresponding app. Author Katkowsky says he was able to get an app for between $500 and $1000. Not chump change, by any means, but it's a very clever way to target an audience that (if they have an iPhone) probably has a fair amount of disposable income. As always, though, keep in mind that you may not be writing for iPhone users--for example, if you're writing a book for five-year-olds, this may not be the best. On the other hand...they do have that "iPhone for Kids" app, don't they?

    Before you try to get all of Barnes and Noble to stock your book, go meet with the manager of your local bookstores.

    Have an informal proposal ready--don't just go in and ask to talk. Mention that, if they'll allow you to have a reading, you can guarantee 50 people will show up--and then make sure it happens. There's nothing worse than a reading without listeners. Note that many self-published book companies can make it possible for these stores to return unsold copies--this is standard for traditional presses, and many bookstores won't agree to stock anything they can't return.

    Amazon.com, and other online retailers, will often take your work much more easily than a brick and mortar store. They don't have the storage logistics problems, and it sounded like Amazon could actually have a deal with, say, Lulu--once Amazon received an order, Lulu would then print the book, and then send it. Neither Amazon nor Lulu had to invest in the physical book before an order was placed, as it existed only as a file. Pretty spiffy.

    What may seem like a disadvantage may actually help publicize your book.
    Isobella Jade wrote her modeling memoir, Almost 5'4, from her local Apple store. (Once self-published, the HarperCollins edition comes out in February.) She was living on Dollar Menu, she said, and didn't have a computer or place to work. In part of her promotional plan (she really has promoted the heck out of her book--one woman in the audience, a freelance publicist, actually called out in the middle of the session, "I want to hire you!"), she hosted events at the Apple store where she wrote the work. One thing I thought was especially interesting--she emphasized the very real nature of her writing. (I haven't read it, so I can't comment.) "I'm not Grammar Girl," she said. "I'm telling you a story."

    Many full-service self-publishers don't create physical books until they're ordered.
    This prevents a garage filled with unsold copies--and doesn't require nearly the investment.

    Some authors opt for Errors & Omissions Insurance.
    This way, someone can't sue you if your (usually nonfiction) work can somehow be tied to causing harm in a reader's life. A year's policy is around $2600, and is often only necessary the first year. I can't comment on whether I think this is a good idea or not, but it's interesting to know that it exists.

    You really do need an outside editor.
    One of the panelists likened editing your own book to trying to do surgery on yourself. It just can't happen. No matter how much publishing changes, you'll still need a story and an editor. This could be anyone from people you met at a writing workshop to someone hired who does this for a living.

    Think carefully before considering Publish America.
    Yes, they do give you an advance--one dollar. For this, they call themselves a "traditional press." Unfortunately, also like traditional presses, they keep the rights--and the right of first refusal for your next book. Their site gives me the heebie-jeebies. They're saying everything a naive author would want to hear.

    While a traditional publisher assumes all risk, you make far less per book.
    With a traditional press, you may make 80 cents a book. With full-service self-publishing, though you've laid out around $1,000 to $2,000 to get the book published, it's more like $5 per sold, unreturned copy.

    If you're writing for children, target schools, teachers, and libraries
    Elizabeth Uhlig, author of a number of children's books, started with a bad experience in self-publishing. When the company (a small, independent outfit) more or less took her money and ran, there was a conversation with her husband where he said, "You're a librarian--I'm an MBA. Don't you think we can do better than that [unkind word for the woman]?" (Incidentally, the thief is now in jail.) So they started their own press, Marble House Editions, and come out with new books for young readers every year. She sends free copies to children's librarians and schools, and then asks for speaking engagements (for which she doesn't charge). Before she arrives, she sends order forms (the kids bring the money to school in envelopes), sample lesson plans (questions the teachers may ask the children about the book), and several similar materials. When a child asked her what about the process she didn't like--knowing the kid expected her to say something like "editing"--she replied, "The only thing I don't like is when I can't find a parking space."

    A Word of Caution on Self-Publishing Conferences

    I've been to a number of conferences in which small publishers and self-publishing companies tell the audience, "Don't even bother with traditional presses. They're corporate and heartless/impossible for new writers/only interested in money/only interested in stealing your work and giving you a fraction of the money it makes/only interested in work by their friends and family/EVIL."

    Yesterday, an otherwise very good panelist said:
    Publishers are only interested in you as an author if you're famous or infamous. Publishers are gamblers. If you were to go to the horse racing track, would you gamble on a horse that's had a good track record, or one who's never raced before?

    [At this point a woman in the audience stood up and cried out, "That's not true!" Another said, "Hey, what about debut novelists?" He continued:]

    You hear about these things--they're newsworthy--because they're VERY rare. Fiction is all about selling a name. Unless you're a Picasso or a Renoir [not sure how we got to talking about art], they aren't interested.

    Mmm...kay. This logic presupposes two things:
    1. All current fiction writers entered the market as debut novelists WITH bestselling books somehow already under their proverbial belts, and
    2. All fiction writers are immortal and will keep writing forever. Otherwise, by this logic, at some point, all existing Picassos and Renoirs would, eventually, die out, and we'd be bookless.
    I also went to a panel in California where the panelists flat-out said,
    Don't bother with traditional publishing. Take it from me: They are not interested in your work.
    She said this without knowing anything about our work. Had we professed to being proud writers of alien abduction memoirs and "I love my cat" books? No.

    I hope someone in that room sold a book to a major publisher just to spite her. And then spent some of the advance on a fancy website that says how much s/he loves the publisher.

    So, yes. I highly recommend these conferences. But know that some of the people there may be in self publishing because they're angry at traditional presses. Keep your critical thinking cap on at all times.
    Why in the world was I, an agent who works with traditional houses, at a self-publishing event? First of all, I wasn't the only one--a number of people who work for traditional publishing were there, if undercover. (Actually, I attend a lot of such events this way--one suddenly becomes very visible when attached to the word "agent" at a book event.)

    Second, the world of publishing is incredibly small--and fortuitous meetings are likely. During one of the panels, a young woman raised her hand and, in her question, mentioned the title of her book. She'd sent it to me months ago, and so when the panel let out, I dashed after her and asked, "Hi! Are you ____? I think I had your manuscript..." We'd ultimately decided on passing, but I really like her writing.

    We ended up having a lovely conversation, and it turns out she has another book that, well, I'm really, really interested in seeing--and that she might never have thought to send to me, since her previous work was for adults, and these new books are super-spiffy YA.

    Things like this happen all the time in publishing. It's not just me. The world is incredibly small, especially in NYC, especially in publishing. We're writers, and the internet is writing-based. Our information travels very, very quickly. Don't burn bridges. If you do, sooner or later you'll end up falling off of one at a dinner party, and will feel like, well, a total troll. (Or you'll run into your ex on the subway the next time you haven't done your hair and it's sticking up, troll-like. Good times, good times.)

    We went because we're curious. I think that's mostly it. Self-publishing, while not in my mind "the future"--is a part of the future. The cost and difficulty have declined, making it possible for a good segment of the book-writing population to see their works nicely bound and on Amazon--or, for $99 through several self-publishing companies, as a Kindle book.

    And the stigmas are slowly easing away. Self-publishing is no longer just something you do when you can't find a traditional publisher. It's something to do when you want your work out immediately (one of the panelists had convinced Urban Outfitters to carry copies of his book--but, yikes, traditional publishing would take too long), or something to do while you promote your book, sell a lot of copies (5,000+ will get our attention), and then try for a traditional house. It's also a relatively inexpensive way to test the market--though it is, of course, an enormous amount of work. As several of the panelists said, "The writing was the easy part."

    I mean, if it's a choice between not bothering with the book because you don't think an agent will take it, and self-publishing--just write the thing and get it out there. Even if you convert it to an ebook yourself (which will soon, I'm guessing, be much easier). Really. Writing is good for you, and the only way you'll get better.

    Also, I don't know about you, but I think of my work completely differently when it's printed on paper than when it's electronic on oh, say, a blog. I think a lot of people have this feeling. Imagine what a printed, bound edition could do to your perception of your work!

    That said, those who say that if you've self-published your book, you have a better chance of getting an agent--well, this just isn't true, unless you sell a lot of copies. Otherwise, I'm going to see it and (perhaps unfairly) assume you sent this to as many agents as you could think of--and they all said no. Will you get a fair read? Of course. But it's not the advantage some people make it out to be, and I know some agents simply dislike self-pubbed works.

    There are many such stories, but I met Matthew Alper, author of The God Part of the Brain, last year. As he tells the story, he was sitting at home with a garage full of self-published copies. He sends out a press release, and a radio program invites him on. The radio program goes national, and suddenly he's gone from a full garage to having to order more--and sells something absurd like (don't quote me on this, it's just what I remember from a year ago) 100,000 copies. Sourcebooks picked him up, and now it's a well-known book.

    Like I said--just one of many of these stories.

    Tips for your blog, social media, publicity, and self-branding

    Went to the Self-Publishing Book Expo today, which was pretty fabulous. I mean, most conferences have at least a few take-home tidbits, but this one was especially good. I love the feeling of bursting out of the (usually hotel) doors and thinking, Yes! I can't wait to tell people about what I learned today!

    And I did. Right after. I dashed to a reading at Barbes, where I ran into a professor--the one who got a friend a publishing internship, which was then passed on to me. This woman set in motion, well, my whole life.

    I was able to tell her a few tips about blogging and finding an audience. "This means a lot to me," she said. I was more than happy, of course, to oblige.

    I was wishing, today, that I had one of those tiny, purse-portable laptops (with silent keys, though) so that I could live-blog from the panels--they were that good.

    But here are some wonderful tidbits I learned today:

    With regard to social media (much of this is from the lovely Cinty Ratzlaff, who's created the campaigns for more than 150 bestselling books):
    • If you want blog readers, the most important thing to do is to find blogs in your area of interest and start commenting on them--leaving, of course, a polite signature with your name and blog/site address. Make sure your comments are relevant, and you can be sure people (including the owner of the blog) will see them and go visit your site. Instant traffic. Hint. Hint.
    • Many of you leave lovely comments, but then forget to include your blog address! I know, I know, I can eventually find it if I click through your profile. But minimize clicks, include the URL, and you'll have more hits.
    • To find the top blogs in your field (keep in mind that some have a larger readership than even The New York Times!) go to Alexa.com and Technorati.com and search by topic.
    • You can also do this at the sites for relevant magazines. The comments section of New York Magazine always seems to read like a who's who of NY culture.
    • If you write fiction, it's perfectly acceptable to write a blog from the perspective of your character. See kittencuckoo.com.
    • Facebook is good. A Facebook Fan Page (the ones you see that say "Become a fan of ____!") is better. First of all, it's Google-able--no one need join your network to find this page. Also, you can use it as a discussion forum. Just be sure that when you form the page you like the title you give it--you're stuck with it and it can't be changed.
    • With regard to (sigh) Twitter, as one of the panelist said, "120 is the new 140." If you keep your tweets to 120 characters, people can easily Re-Tweet you (that's when you see the RT) and your words will travel quickly an easily over the Tweeting interwebs.
    • In terms of time, one of the panelists suggested spending no more than an hour per week. "Remember," she said, "this is a tool, not your master."
    • She says she spends five minutes each on Twitter and Facebook each morning, makes one quick YouTube video a day (she demonstrated and made one in front of us--she seriously plugged in her video camera, clicked "Post to YouTube," and it was there four seconds later), and two blog posts a week.
    • The most important things in social media are authenticity and transparency. So if you're making a YouTube video and you knock over your coffee, that's just fine. It makes you human and--though it's a very strange version of humanity, this YouTube--it works and gains loyal viewers.
    • Remember: "Imperfect action is better than inaction." Typos are better than no posts at all.
    • The point is to create what feels like a community online.
    On publicizing your book (something, of course, very important to those who self-publishing but important to those going the tradition route as well--seeing as the 20-city book tour is, for most of us, a thing of the past):
    • "First and foremost," one of the women on the panel said, "I'm begging you: watch television." Want to be on a show? Well, have you seen it? You may say, "I haven't, but my friends insist I'm perfect for Oprah"--well, that doesn't mean much. You may say you want to be on The View, the panelist continued--but have you watched it? If so, you'd see that they very rarely feature authors.
    • Remember your local media. The fact that you live nearby means infinitely more than blind-press-releasing to everyone in the country.
    • Can't get on television? Make your own show. A great example (again, from the panel) is Gary Vaynerchuk, who simply chats a bit and then tastes four wines on every episode. He has more than 850,000 hits a month. His book, Crush It, is right now #137 in Amazon book sales. Him on social media: "Your business is your hot dog, and then social media is maybe a mustard, at best."
    Other tidbits:

    • Rick Warren shipped 10,000 free copies of The Purpose-Driven Life to members of his online community. I imagine his publisher wasn't thrilled--but, of course, everything's worked out just fine. In this case. Not sure I'd suggest it.
    • You could have a program by which a visitor can add their email (you know how at the top of some sites there's a small text box and a button you click that says "subscribe" or "submit"? One of those) and you will, in return (after adding them to your mailing list) e-mail them a chapter of your book.
    • There is now technology in e-books that tracks--and sends the author an email--whenever the file is shared.
    ...And that's just two pages of my twelve of scribbled notes.

    More soon!


    Do you ever have those dreams with messages so obvious, you can't help but get up and follow through immediately? (I do--often. But I'm always a little disappointed that it's not something big and grand like, "Here's how you're going to save the world. There will be a man at 4 o'clock on the corner of Broadway and 37th...")

    Instead of world-saving, I was dreaming about podcasts--and the pleasures of listening to a story.

    Stephen Colbert once tweeted (see? Are kids now going to be tweeting their sources in school papers?) that he'd like to get an ipod shuffle just so he can punch it in the face--but I'm rather fond of mine.

    Here are my favorites (all of which are free, and can be found by searching the iTunes store):

    • KQED: The Writer's Block (I've found a number of books I've loved through this podcast)
    • New Yorker: Fiction (seriously excellent. Always something wonderful. I just wish they'd update more than once a month! It's an interview with a writer, who's chosen something from the NYer archives to read and discuss)
    • NPR: Book Tour Podcast (just what it sounds like)
    • PRI: Selected Shorts (a wide variety read by actors and others with great voices)
    What do you recommend...?

    Clever Kindle Cases

    I love the idea of hand-carded, then hand-drop-spindled, then hand-knit cases for the Kindle. We used to go on farm tours (yes, small town life) where we'd watch women at spinning wheels with angora bunnies on their laps, spinning their fur immediately into yarn. (The rabbits looked every bit as happy as a cuddly cat on a kind reader's lap.)

    But, until I track down some of that yarn, here's a nifty sewing idea:

    Click the above image for a link to how to make this Patchwork Kindle Case. It's not hard! It's got instructions like my favorite recipes. (Pasta: egg+flour+water+combine+flatten+cut+boil.)

    I'm amazed these aren't at the Brooklyn Flea yet.

    More soon.

    On Agents and Editorial Work

    At SEAK, one of the agent panelists said--rather bluntly, I thought--I do not do editorial work. I do not write: that's your job. I sell books. That's IT.

    This both offended and intrigued me. What about all of the wonderful work that is 99, 98, even 80 percent there? He'd just let it go? He'd be okay with turning down the next literary sensation all because he didn't want to edit?! Geez. Really?

    He also told off another agent on the panel, so I knew he wasn't known for his "I need everyone to like me" personality. Which, of course, one can't help but respect on some level...

    I asked him later if his approach turned off would-be authors. (Fearing, of course, that he would have a few well-chosen words for me.) He said it didn't. And, when not in front of an audience, he was actually rather nice.

    But I've had days of editing for five straight hours--line by line--misspelling by misspelling--misplaced comma by misplaced comma...and I was about to gouge out my eyes with the letter opener. The eye-gouging would not have be pretty, and I would never do so, probably not even if I had a contract with the powers-that-be that I'd end up with Tiresias's mad skills, a personal guide-for-life, and would still, somehow, be able to read and write. And check email. And do my job.

    Was the editing worth it? Of course it was worth it. But the tedium! Alas.

    It makes me understand this agent's no-editing policy. Would I ever adopt it? No. Never. But I understand.