You, and I, and just about everyone have heard about it anecdotally for years: you have your best ideas (or a lot of them, at least) in the shower. The Artist in the Office actually suggests taking lots of them (rubber ducky optional)--the negative ions, it writes, promote creativity.

Not one to take hard science from a book that's approximately 30 percent cartoons, I did a bit of research.

Many sources show that these negative ions have a positive effect on serotonin and creativity. They naturally occur in fresh mountain air, bodies of falling water (waterfalls, near crashing waves) and large bodies of moving water. You can also change their balance in your body with "creative breath." (Do I have patience for that? No. But if someone else wants to be a guinea pig, I'd be interested in the results.)

You could get fancy and buy an ionizer or this negative ion shower head (gadzooks). Or you could take the aforementioned blog's advice and eat, drive, or shower when you're in the market for a new idea.

I used to always keep snacks on/in my desk--chocolate-covered espresso beans (yum yum yum), or would nuke a little veggie pot pie pre-writing. It's the perfect thing to do--while you wait for the next word/sentence/phrase, take a nibble. I wrote this while munching brown rice, salad, carrots, potatoes, eggs. Spiffy. Seems to have worked.

Have you tried any of these? Do you think the shower/driving/food thing is true?
Dude. So you know that feeling you get when you go to a bookstore (a good one, one with really good taste, one that's aesthetically pleasing, where you can read 3-5 pages of a book--several books, even--with no one glaring or throwing you out)? I just did. McNally-Jackson, you make Soho worth it to me.



Noting that I'm a frugal Gatekeeper--and, I hope, forgiving me because of it--I had my phone in my pocket, typing to myself the names of titles I'd look for elsewhere--first at the library, then on Paperback Swap, then at the PB Swap store (oh yes, it is awesome), then at an indie bookstore. (Amazon does not get rewarded for its bad behavior, not even its used books, which give it $3-4 in commission for a book around $16.)

Note that you're much less likely to get thrown out of a bookstore if you're writing down titles into your phone--they'll assume you're texting/emailing/playing Snake. If you're writing down titles in a notebook, however, you're immediately (like most people who write in public places) suspicious.

Here's the list, transcribed. Imagine Gatekeeper proverbially drooling. (Any cartoonists in the audience? Anyone?) and check out this list:

36 Arguments for the Existence of God--a novel, natch. I have a feeling this is going to be my favorite (for 2010) piece of weird-ass (er, surreal) fiction I'd wish I'd written.

Normal People Don't Live Like This--opens with a scary scene, but the descriptions are so good, I'll let that fly.


Wish Her Safe at Home--the cover's pretty, as is the imagery

Seven Days in the Art World--like whoa. I have friends who work at MoMA, so my plan is to read it and give it to them. Someone should really make a "keep your books looking new enough in your giant bag to give them away/sell them when you're done with them!" case.

I Don't Care About Your Band--I've heard so many bad things about NYC dating lately, I could really use something funny.

The Happiness Project--couldn't we all use one of these? The book jacket promises writing like Julie & Julia. 


The Dictionary of Etymology--like whoa. There's a whole section at Mc-J that is "writer's reference." I've been longing for a book like this, always known that one existed--but never seen it in person. It's pretty sweet. And really big. If I got it, I'd get it a big stand-up desk/dictionary stand. With, you know, the money I saved on buying used books.

You Are One-Third Daffodil--a book of crazy facts with which you can amuse yourself and annoy your dinner company.

The Art of Conversation, by Catherine Blyth--Dude. I think this should actually be at the top of the list. Can't wait. All about the art of conversation in an age when text messages replace most phone calls.


Buddhism for Mothers--I'm (thankfully, in my mind) not a mother,  but I love parenting books. This one is about appreciating the preciousness/in-the-moment-ness of childhood via parenting.

And, last but certainly not yummy-least:

Best Food Writing 2009.


And I repeat: drool.

What's on your "can't wait to read" list?

Colson Whitehead rocks my socks.

More soon.

But, for now: he was very funny, very smart (of course), and I took a lot of notes.


Stephen King, domes, podcasts, socks, and Upper East Side horror

Even if you have never listened to a podcast, even if you hate Stephen King and all things related (Maine, blood, scary stuff, the entire horror genre, bestselling authors, socks and towns shaped like them), watch this interview with him as part of the Times Talks series. He has great writing advice, and somehow manages to say things cutely even if they're terrifying.

He also discusses his new work, Under the Dome, which I can't wait to read--and how he was trying to deal with negotiating the book's Kindle release so as to give indie bookstores a chance. In the Q&A section, he's downright hilarious about administrations that ban his books. Listen/watch! You can also get it from the iTunes store, free.

I've been listening to it in pieces for days. Nothing like glaring at mean Upper East Siders while you're listening to a podcast from a horror writer. (Scratch that, actually. Under the Dome involves getting stuck--um, in a dome--with the people in your immediate vicinity, which would be mighty scary on the UES.)*

This video was found via the All Things Stephen King blog.


________________________________________

* A footnote: I do not, nor will I ever, live on the Upper East Side. Every negative stereotype about New Yorkers seems to be true there, and only there. Plus, it's a hotbed of negative absurdity. Once, within two short blocks, I saw two men fighting with tasers (and a crowd, including policemen, watching with some interest but doing nothing), a woman riding her wheelchair purposely in front of traffic--the buses thankfully slowed, but were not pleased--and a man who thought it his duty to scream at me for not getting her out of the street. Good times. But they're very well-dressed, I'll give them that.

Facebook for Blogger

Sometimes, it would seem, updating a Facebook status is far easier than updating a blog, simply because the sentence always begins with "[So-and-so] is..."--and, of course, we're all terribly narcissistic.

(Yes, I've been listening to this NY Times Book Review podcast--the one with the excellent discussion of The Culture of NarcissismIf you're interested in what's going on in the business, I'd say this is THE podcast series to listen to--even if you burn it to a CD, then put it on a tape, and carry it around in a Walkman while running in the eighties--neon leggings optional.)


So, for today, Gatekeeper is...


  • Wondering if it makes sense to put the majority of manuscripts on to the office Kindle. Is it an unfair advantage if a manuscript is auto-formatted to look like an (e-)book? Or is it a disadvantage if I'm reading it on the subway and, because I'm cranky about the high school kids who won't shush, the manuscript is suddenly comparatively less interesting than something that can, say, block out noise--like a really loud podcast?
  • Hoping for a second cup of tea--it's rainy and gross out--but know that this will make me bouncy beyond belief. Not good. 
  • Inexplicably humming the theme to the very first Mario Brothers game. 
  • Preparing to hang out with Colson Whitehead. He's teaching a class tonight at the Center for Fiction. They're awesome. Next time I'm a bazillionaire, I'm so taking out a membership with them (such a pretty writing room! What an awesome private library collection!) and the Young Lions of the NYPL. 
  • Looking forward to Friday, when I'll see the Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library. Yes, that's right. While I could be doing something productive (trying out the new hefeweizens that have just come to the city, doing a beer and cheese tasting at Bierkraft, home of several hundred drafts; having a drink on a parked boat named the Frying Pan--can you tell it's been a long week? And it's Tuesday?), I'll be at the museum. I'm especially interested in how many cross-outs she has, if the writing is neat throughout (surely most writers who write by hand have bursts of ideas that are faster than polite, perfect writing?) and her edits. Proper tea to follow, perhaps involving rose petal teas, like Dorian Gray. Mmmmm. Tasty.
  • Interviewing interns. One has an ancient punctuation mark as a tattoo. I feel vaguely uncomfortable asking about it, but she did mention it in her cover letter. 
  • Preparing for one of our authors to be a guest on a major television show. Can't say more.
  • Itching to try out new pasta recipes. Just received James McNair's Pasta Cookbook. Man oh man. I could stare at those pretty carbs for hours. 
  • And....giving in and having more tea.
Hope you're well and somewhere sunnier. 

I'm so pleased for the lovely Ms. Jamie Harrington, whose delightful interview on how she found an agent--and, by the way, she did everything just right--is here. 

Ursula Le Guin on the Google Settlement--and leaving the Authors Guild in protest

http://blog.bookviewcafe.com/2010/01/07/le-guin-on-the-google-settlement/

Hee hee hee...



http://whomovedmybuybutton.com/

Oh, Amazon. How much you began.

This site will track Amazon's treatment of Macmillan works and any others you enter into its system. 

From WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com:

See, the folks at Amazon have a headlock on the online book world, and they tend to get carried away. That's why we developed WhoMovedMyBuyButton.com. We'll keep an eye on your Buy Buttons, checking daily to make sure they're safe. If they're AWOL, we'll let you know by e-mail. We'll also let you know when they return. 

Sometimes, Buy Buttons leave for good reason. Your book can go out of stock, for example. (You want to know that, too, right?) Know the difference between just doing business and nasty business. Go to 
Buy-Buttonology: a Field Guide to Amazon's Book Pages

Taxes, Lentils, Urban Hermits and the Home Office Deduction

Tax time? Oh joy, oh joy! As if it weren't financially difficult enough to be a writer, now you get to pay both parts of your Social Security taxes!

Don't be like Sam Macdonald of The Urban Hermit (who, after realizing that a 1099 usually means you have to pay the government, and not vice versa, started living on lentils and bargain-brand canned tuna): be prepared. As much as you can be.

There are a lot of readers now, and I don't know what your individual situations are. I certainly hope you are not forced by financial circumstances into a lentil diet, but if you must live on lentils, here are some great recipes for yummy daal. (And lentils are not only high in protein and iron, but considered by Health magazine one of the five healthiest foods on the planet.)

Believe it or not, Macdonald's is a really fun book--kind of like The Year of Living Biblically, minus AJ Jacobs and the Bible, and adding in a Rainbow Gathering, a trip to Bosnia, and a lot of longing for beer. And then there's the strange "accident"--on this plan of spending $8 a week on groceries, MacDonald loses more than 100 pounds.

But, back to the important stuff: here's a series of tools for the small business owner/independent contractor/writer: from toolkit.com, a Home Office Deduction Calculator,  article on qualifying for said ginormous deduction (if you don't this year, you can make changes so that you do next year), and a list of likely expenses and deductions. Good times, good times. Still, I imagine, preparedness is slightly more fun (and productive) than crashing your plane into the IRS building. Yeah. Gatekeeper officially discourages any unkindnesses toward such institutions. (Also, he was a software engineer--couldn't he have used those talents to do something a bit more creative and less violent? Frowny faces that won't go away as IRS screensavers, perhaps? Live web feed into the homes of those crying as they write their tax checks?) Again: Gatekeeper disapproves. (*Cough* Make tax collectors subsist on lentils for the month of April! *Cough cough*!)

If any of you are both tax collectors and writers, my apologies.

But can't someone please financially pick on a group other than writers for a change? At the very least, let us write off chocolate, coffee, books, specialty dip pens, pretty journals, gin and No-Doz as business expenses.

The Artist in the Office

A very enjoyable podcast/streaming program from NPR's WNYC--an interview with Summer Pierre, author of The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week.

Book Race

It's hard to run in snow, yo.

Hence the book race slow-down.

That said, I still need to look at Haroun. Haroun came in third, then Days of Little Texas.

However, being the fickle Gatekeeper that I am, I read Little Texas in its (his?) entirety. So, if Haroun gets put down, Little Texas wins.

Haroun soon.

Center for Fiction, How I do Heart Thee

From The Center for Fiction's newsletter:

Craftwork with Colson Whitehead
presented in collaboration with One Story
Tuesday, February 23nd at 7:00pm

Have an idea kicking around in your head for a story, but not sure where to start? Curious about how a great writer keeps a reader turning the pages? Want to see what going to an MFA class would be like without taking out student loans? Then join us for an intimate talk by best-selling author Colson Whitehead as he discusses his creative process and the art of fiction.

Colson Whitehead is an award winning author of numerous books including John Henry Days and most recently, Sag Harbor. His reviews, essays, and fiction have appeared in a number of publications, such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Harper's and Granta. He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

To find out more information about this event and other events at the Center, please visit our website.

* * *
And yes. I'm so going.

The Steampunk World's Fair

You know you want to go.

http://steampunkworldsfair.com/
Question: They say don't write to market. They say write what you want to write. I believe them. I do.

BUT. . .if you're waiting for someone else to enjoy that book of your heart as much as you do, and you want to, just for fun, mind you, and perhaps as an experiment, write something paranormal romancy urbanesque fantastical that might just rock several agents' cashmere socks at once.

Something that might induce bidding wars from publishers, an advance that would pay down the credit cards that buy your ramen noodle soup by the case every month. . .

would it be

A) vampires (or is the market too saturated?)

B) werewolves (or have they gone to the dogs?)

C) fairies (too Disney?)

D) angels (or are they just a pass-over fad?)

E) Ghosts (too transparent?)

F) Other

Also - are female leads definitely the way to go in this genre or can male leads work, too?

Curiouser and curiouser,
:)


It's with great trepidation that I answer this question: I certainly don't want to inspire a flurry of writing-to-taste and--if the flurry and sudden deluge didn't make the subject unappealing to editors--time surely would.

By the time a book could be written, whatever is popular now will not be popular. You know those shows in the eighties where the popular kids would say, Oh, I brought another outfit, cause this will be out after lunch?

I get so many vampire queries now. I've heard writers say things like, "See how well Twilight did? How could an agent possibly say no? So, yeah, I'm spending some of the advance now..."

Oh, cringe. Cringe, cringe, cringe. Even if you stumble upon the best concept ever right now--the best new demon on the block--and time it perfectly--you'll still have to, you know, write in an extraordinary fashion.

If it would make the vampire queries go away--don't get me wrong; I really like vampires, but I've seen just so many--I'd happily eat one of those sleeves of six garlic bulbs you can get at the corner store. How? I'd roast 'em and put em on a pizza. Yum. 

That said, if I had something now, my personal preference would be for a female protagonist (given that young women are seen as more likely to believe in such things than young men, and many readers are female), and either werewolves or ghosts--depending on how the topic is addressed. 

Vampires have been overdone. It's a pretty (blood-)saturated market.

A flurry of fairy books came out recently. Truth be told, I didn't like many of those, either--they were flighty and silly--and we'll have to see how many more are purchased before declaring that creature, also, recently-passé. 

Angels present the hurdle of having religious connotations--and many young readers are put off by this. Usually, also, they come with death. That limits the writer's choices. 

But werewolves and ghosts can be flavored so many ways--they are broader, seem to have more possibilities available for original story lines than any of the aforementioned entities. 

That said, I still think "other" is the most interesting choice. I do wish there were a book like those encyclopedias Buffy and Willow pored over--dictionaries of creatures. Heck, pick a season of Buffy to Netflix, see what sort of paranormal activity grabs you with its demon grip, and make it yours. Lots of ideas there. 

That said, again, there are no guarantees. If you connect with angels but not with werewolves, you're always best off writing what you feel most comfortable with. 

A Perfect Check-in

This is a real, and perfect, check-in. Now, if only all of them came with recipes!

Now, of course, this required that the writer not only 1) knew I live in New York and that it was snowing and 2) that I really like food.

Also, it might be a bit strange to drop one of these out of the blue, but if you'd have a few friendly emails back and forth--and, assuming, you're reasonably sure the recipient isn't diabetic/on a diet and telling everyone including all writers about it/of the belief that sugar is a manifestation of colonialism and/or terrible for the environment--then you're good to go!

Dear [Gatekeeper],

Snow days are more fun with Snow Ice Cream. To make: 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 1 capful vanilla extract, lots of freshly packed snow. Add milk to taste, pour in extract, mix well. Garnish with sliced strawberries and dark chocolate shavings.

Checking in on the latest with my manuscript, [Manuscript Title]. I look forward to hearing from you, and hope you are well.

Fondly,
[Author]

P.S. Snow Margaritas are a fun alternative to ice cream. 


Very important addendum--the writer of this note recommends Patron Silver to preserve the snowy color.

And I recommend not using snow from the side of the road. Central Park snow may do nicely.

Blizzard takes internet; Gatekeeper thinks outage "serendipitous"

What do you do when 97 percent of your submissions are electronic and the internet goes out?

Try ipconfig like twelve times. Give up. Make a cup of green-almond tea. And forward submissions to the Kindle email via smartphone.

Only one got through. And it's awesome.

The telephone, the agent, and you.

Now, I posted awhile back--and, yes, I promised to disclose the answers, which I will, soon--about a telephone call that could have been more, um, graceful.

In the meantime, a bit on telephones.

First of all, it really depends when you catch us. I got a call yesterday--yes, President's Day, but I was in the office 'cause I'm hardcore like that--from a writer who told me, "I had a feeling that not only would you take my call, but that you'd be in the office today." Um, a bit strange, but okay.

"I sent out my query to 50 agents." Oh dear.

"All of them rejected me." Double dear.

But, the lucky man, I've been to yoga this week and am feeling rather chill. I ask how many of those were query versus manuscript rejects and, because most were the former, advise him to edit it, get other opinions, and tailor his first sentence. I advise that there's no crime in re-submitting months later--but if he does that for me, I'll notice. We chuckle.

He's a doctor, he says. He hates it when people reply to his queries with "Mr" instead of "Doctor." Can't they read?

Uh-oh.

"Where did you go to school?" he asks me. Yikes.

[Liberal arts college], I tell him.

"Did you get an advanced degree?" No. It's an apprentice profession. We work five, six, more years and then get promoted. Some have MFAs or a something related to the profession, but it's not necessary.

Here things could either get really bad--or he could hang up. Thankfully he chooses the latter, inserts some niceties, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

*

Why are agents so anti-telephone (unless we know you and/or have seen and like your work)? For three reasons:

  • It puts us on the spot. It's very uncomfortable for everyone involved if you call up, tell us something very personable about your life, tell us you're writing a memoir--and then ask if we're interested. We could defer to asking you to send a query--but if you haven't written one yet, I'm not going to ask you to do that just so I can avoid discomfort.
  • It interrupts what we're doing. 
  • Most of the telephone calls we receive are from people who haven't done their research--who, therefore, are less likely to have interesting works and more likely to get angry with us if we say no. 
That said, should you have some reason you absolutely have to call (like you've got another offer of representation, you're in Fiji, there's no internet, you can't get hold of someone with internet to take down a message, and the other agent needs to hear back ASAP), a few tips:
  • Come up with an alter-ego. Don't give your  real name. If the conversation goes really well and you want them to know who you are when you send your materials, use this alter-ego's name as your pen name in your query. You can always get rid of it later.
  • Call from a different number than the one you'd use to make calls to the agency in the future. Many companies have caller ID. My editor friends have sometimes used this to their advantage, allowing writers to think that they just know the sound of their voices. (I'd classify this as mischievous but not devious.)
  • Plan what you're going to say ahead of time.
  • Be nice to whoever answers the phone. Sometimes even the CEO will, depending on who's in the office at the time. And if you annoy the assistant, do you really think he or she will put you right through? Um, no. 
  • Be nice, warm. Smile before they pick up; we can hear it.
Now that's a lot of paranormal!

I know. But I love it.

One of my interns, when we discussed how in the world to keep all of the manuscripts we read straight, liked my plan of "palate cleansing"--read one bit of fiction, then one nonfiction, then spice it up with food, memoir, cookbook, travel, psych. Read one YA about a kid hating her parents; read one how-to about how to get your kids to listen to you.

It all, amazingly, comes together.

I Am the Wallpaper

I Am the Wallpaper (Readers Circle) I Am the Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Peter Hughes is, I'm convinced, secretly a teenage girl.

You know those books that are so accurate to how you felt as a teenager that they make you cringe enough to set them down several times during the reading--always with great relief to be past this life stage?

Um, yeah. Enter I Am the Wallpaper.

Floey Packer is an introvert surrounded by screaming, bratty, intrusive cousins--and a cadre of adolescent boys determined to invade what little privacy she has left. (Naturally, her mother simply thinks she's overreacting/making it up/being an overemotional teenager--or simply doesn't notice.) One boy proudly admits to spying on her through her bedroom window. Some follow her, take pictures of her, and post them on the internet. When she discovers a revealing photo in the hands of her devious cousin Richard--and classmates start making too-specific references to things she wrote in her diary--she knows it's only the beginning. It's time for New Floey to either kick behind or be trampled, utterly, in the process.

Cringeworthy but wonderful. Four stars, one subtracted for issues having to do with the strength (or lack thereof) of the love subplot.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggggffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff-kerfuuuuuuuuuuuuuuffle.

This is the sound Gatekeeper makes after the fifth "so close yet so far" paranormal YA manuscript in one morning. (All got "I like this and you have a good chance but not quite right for me" notes.)

My brain hurts.

Luckily, I have these. Anything with ricotta, lemon zest, and large quantities of sugar = highly recommended.


C12H22O11.
Yum.

Update: I'm reading, now, literary fiction that rocks my socks. So far. More than makes up for it. 

The OTHER italicized section

What's your stance on inner monologues (especially those in close 3rd person)?

Italics or no italics? I keep getting conflicting advice and examples out there in the world of literature.

I'm pulling my hair out. My favorite authors do it differently and my favorite writing books conflict on this.


It's largely up to you. There are many ways to do this correctly. Depending on the length of these inward asides, some writers use parentheses, some use italics, some treat the inner voice like an outer voice (ie, using the punctuation of dialog) and some even change fonts, though I wouldn't recommend this. (Many agents have a habit of formatting e-submissions in their favorite fonts, anyway, so there goes that--and its correctness of this tactic is debatable.)

That said, be very careful. Inner monologues, blog posts, diary entries--all often italicized--and subplots that involve perspective changes--all of these, if not done well, simply take me out of the story. Most of the time, when I see a work with multiple perspectives, I prefer one and wish the other didn't exist; with inner monologues, I often think they serve only to take me out of the story.

So, in that case, I selfishly like that they're italicized--so I can easily skip them and get back to the real story.

This isn't to say that these devices are inherently bad, only that that they're difficult to make work.

Two books that use them well--I Am the Wallpaper (where the protagonist's diary is an integral part of the story) and The Mists of Avalon (yes, I was one of those).
Here's a study of advances for SF and Fantasy novelists.

Quantitative data galore.

And, bt-dubs, this is not far off from what I've seen and heard about for other genres.

The Italicized Section

So. Let's say you're just starting out your writing career. You may (or may not) have a book ready to go. You may (or may not) know where you're going to send it. Most likely, you're partway through something, partially happy with it, and you've already cleaned the gutters on your house--twice--out of procrastination desperation.

What now? Well.

Here's one productive thing you can do to switch gears for a bit.

Some writing teachers talk about The Dual Document System, which pretty much means keeping two Microsoft Word documents open at a time--the thing you're working on, and a document that you can write all of your I hate this I hate this I'd rather be fixing the driveway by hand why is writing so hard ahhhh this sucks what's on tv can't go watch tv can't think of anything how long has it been only eight minutes????? There's probably Desperate Housewives on, love that Bree bakes everything, hey, maybe the lover can sneak the letter into a pie, yes, yes, that might work, but will it get soggy? What if she eats it and dies...? and then back to what you were working on before. The point? Keeping you sane and keeping you typing.

I suggest taking it one step further: start yourself writing articles for magazines. The topic? Totally up to you. Maybe your book is about dieting but you want to write about butters the world over for a culinary publication. Maybe your book characters are killing each other in really original ways and you'd like to put some of your research on rare weaponry to good use in a piece for Sword Buyers Digest. There's no shame in writing for online publications--they have fewer space limitations and, therefore, your chances are better (plus, you never have to specify that your work was for the online version of a publication unless, of course, that publication is strictly online-only). Guest-blog. Write essays. Stretch yourself.

Keep in mind that, when you pitch to magazines, you should remember all of the query tips--the most important being that the first line should always be tailored to the magazine. When I worked at a small radical magazine, the editors hated letters that could have been copy-pasted to every magazine in the known world.

Also note that many require exclusive submissions. The rules are different for each publication, and markedly different from manuscript submission. Read them carefully.

Assuming this goes well, not only will you be saner, but you may--as a pleasant side effect--get paid enough to buy that desk you've been dreaming about. You know, the one with the roll top? The antique-looking key that'll keep your kids and their peanut butter fingerprints off your iBook? Yes. That one. Or, you know. Money for bills. All good.

And another good thing: in general, one needn't invest as much time in an article as one would in a book.

But the best thing about exploring this option is that your italicized section--the section of your query, the paragraph just above that part where you say "I look forward to hearing from you"--will grow. And what does that mean? That other professionals liked your work enough--pulled it out of their slush piles and were willing to risk the reputation/brand of their publication--on you.

One of my friends, when she worked for a major publishing house, told me that her boss looked first at the italicized section and--if not impressed--rejected the work.

Now, that's pretty hardcore. I don't think most editors will do that. But if a query is ho-hum and the italicized section impressive, it will certainly make me take another look.

It makes you look like a professional--not just someone who thought, one day, "Why yes--I think I'll start a book today"--but someone who has been doing the groundwork for years.

Does it take time? Yes. Is it necessary? No. It's extra credit.

But you may be amazed by how many varied publications there are out there. Pick up a Writer's Market at the library and take a look. You are a multifaceted human being, and there are publications--many of them may be new to you--seeking work on many of your interests.

And there are so many works on how to write articles. I've heard good things about the Handbook of Magazine Article Writing. 


Have you written anything for a magazine? What are your favorite tips, your favorite books? Is it worth it, or is it too much trouble? Was it more or less fun than writing your book?

Inquiring Gatekeeper minds want to know.

Should I include a link to my blog/Web site in my query? 


Yes. Just realize that this is considered almost a digital extension of your query--and make sure you're posting something agent-appropriate in the time that they might be reading it.

We receive a lot of queries that simply aren't enough information. How can you easily, without going over the one-page limit, have a contingency plan for filling in the gaps? That's right--insert your URL.

If I'm not sure about a query/writer and there's a link, that's the first place I go.

If you don't have a Web site up and running--and you're not a web guru yourself--it's easier, cheaper, faster, and just as effective to start up a blog. Choose a template and have at it. And if you want to get fancy, buy yourself a domain (ie, YourFullName.com) and set it up to forward to your blog.
When you request a manuscript, do you usually read the whole thing? Or do you press the reject button as soon as you stop liking it?

Ha! There's no "reject" button--if there were, I'd probably be much faster at responding! Most manuscripts get at least a few tailored sentences in response.

I do stop reading when I'm certain that a work isn't for me--so that I can spend more time on the projects that are, or have a good chance, or that I connect with. As you may have noticed, we're very busy. Mountains of paper. Before you say, "But that's irresponsible! How can you give them all a good read?" the answer is, "Well, would you rather I said no to you, so that I could spend more time on the ones I have?" Of course not.

How do I do it?

That's what weekends are for.

But even if I spent every moment of every day (including commuting time, eating time, errands time--I suppose I could have the Kindle read to me, ditto for social time, though that'd be rather rude) on them, and gave myself an exact 7.5 hours of sleep, it wouldn't be possible to read every page of every manuscript that comes in.

And there's no need to do so. I've been reading manuscripts solidly since 2004, and have never read the first fifty pages of something, disliked it, read the rest, and said, "By golly! I'm taking this on right now!" What's the best indication of the future? The past. What's the best indication of the following 150 to 350 pages? The first 50.

For several weeks, just because I was curious and like the quantitative data, I took notes on the number of pages I read before sending work back.

Note that these numbers include unsolicited manuscripts--and we do get a lot of those, and they're almost always--well--quite obviously of a different...style than those requested. Sorry, but when you're killing people in the second person in your very first line (wouldn't "I stab you in your sternum--and then I rip out your hairs one by one" make you somewhat uncomfortable, too?), averaging four poorly-chosen clichés a paragraph, and splicing commas as you splice intestines...I'm putting it down.

And you know how your math teacher would show you, in doing averages, that a few very low numbers would radically alter the otherwise good average? (Say I read 200 pages, 250 pages, and 300 pages--and then 1? I'll get 187.5, lower than 3/4 of the actual numbers.) Um, yeah.

When I averaged everything, the resulting number was in the high thirties.
A wonderfully amusing post about Valentine's Day, contrived affection, and bears from A Day in the Wife.

13-year-old Prodigy at Paris Fashion Week

Have you heard about 13-year-old Tavi Gevinson taking the fashion world by storm?

Gatekeeper is hardly a fashionista. (I was still wearing leggings in 1996. Yeah. Think about that for a minute.) 

But I'm so impressed. 

She's also just written this piece for Harper's Bazaar. At thirteen. I'm sure it was edited, but--geez. 

She's witty. Here's a bit from an article about her (yes, the free part--was I going to buy the whole article? Um, no):

Tavi Gevinson sat in a west suburban cafe consuming cheese pizza, hot chocolate and a fruit roll-up – the type of meal you’d expect from a 13-year-old...

“As you can see, my fame is extraordinary here,” Tavi said, her 4-foot-6 frame barely visible behind the table. “Seriously, no one around here has any idea who I am.”

Her blog is here.

Project "try every branch library in the system"!

I started this post last night, and then was distracted by the opening ceremonies (that French bungee-jumping! With the digital meadows! And those fiddlers...!), a fruity little Chilean white, and a friend who--stranded in the cold, waiting for a date in my neighborhood--realized I was within a few blocks and stopped by to defrost.

And then, what should I find this morning? Lauren at D&G (and no, I don't mean the company that makes glorious handbags) has written on a very similar topic: browsing the aisles of bookstores.

One grows--not used to; it's hard not to be amused by it--but more familiar with synchronicity when living in the city and working in publishing. (See my post from a year ago about ridiculous coincidences in our incoming mail.)

For my purposes--as I mentioned a few posts ago, I'm on a publishing budget!--I was writing about libraries.

I'd argue that the New York Public Library is one of the best systems in the world: there are 43 branches in Manhattan alone, and one's allowed to pick up (excepting holds, of course), and drop off, at any location in the system. Does this result in toting all soon-due books around just in case I run into a branch in my daily errands? Yes--at an average of four hardcovers, Gatekeeper will soon be a hunchback.

Best argument I've heard for e-books yet--plus, the E-NYPL supports them. You can get in line to "borrow" a book for three weeks, at which point you are the only one with that purchased "copy." It involves physically plugging your device into your computer's USB (no "forward the .doc manuscript to your Kindle's email" here), but hey, it's cold out and this is faster.

There are also blogs. I'm reading this one, which is a YA book club at the Jefferson Market branch. (And yes, I'm tempted to write and ask if I can join.)

See below. Think we're spoiled yet? Yeah, me too.

Here's how the Jefferson Market branch looks now: 

And here's an image from the early 1900s, when it was a courthouse:


I know. Drool. It also has a winding, stone spiral staircase and many stained-glass windows. 

My NYPL journey began with the main branch, five big stories connected by elevator, escalator, and stairs. The Mid-Manhattan branch never requires one to speak a  single word to anyone. (To Manhattanites--and those afraid of screaming librarians, and yes, some exist--this is a great convenience.) There's a machine that scans your card and books and prints out a receipt, and a drop-off box for new books. This is excellent. But it's out of the way, and plunked right in the middle of busy midtown--convenient but crowded.

Mid-Manhattan branch:



But then I discovered the branches and rediscovered browsing. How did I discover much of what I've read recently? Uh...like that.

Today, my friend Marissa and I went to the Ottendorfer branch, which sports a dark red exterior with faces carved into the stone, a teensy, rickety spiral staircase, lots of computers, and a lofted YA section.

Unfortunately, said YA section has a glass floor. Vertigo ensued. That said, their collection is extensive, and even included an entire shelf of graphic novels. Sweet.

Ottendorfer branch:


Note faces.

My favorite YA section lives at the Riverside branch, on the Upper West Side. I suppose it makes sense; this neighborhood is known for having a disproportionately large number of literary folk per capita.

Amazingly, it feels like a small-town library--it's quiet, there aren't mad rushes or long lines or lots of chatter. Everyone seems quiet, calm, and there to read. There are also chairs that are between armchairs and beanbags. Yay.

They also do a very good job of leaving a cart of recently returned works for each genre in easily-accessible places. This is how I found a number of the works I've loved. I find that I'm finding authors I'd never know about otherwise. Do book covers help in this process? Of course. So does placement--anything at eye level gets more attention.

One simply doesn't hear about everything that's good. There are too many good books, and if we rely on our friends, on GoodReads, on newspaper and radio and B&N's front tables to advise us, we'll get a very narrow picture of publishing indeed. In fact--if you read the books that no one's talking about--you'll probably feel better about the business in general.

Here's what I've checked out for this week, all of them shelf finds (though I'd heard about Admission on NPR):

  • How to be Popular by Meg Cabot
  • You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn
  • Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  • Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell


Tell me--what, to you, makes a good library?

Just for fun

Being a fan of 1) musicals, 2) jokes about hipsters, and 3) Gwen, who sent this, I give you: "Listen Sister, Don't Date a Hipster."

A-hem. Yes. For mature audiences only. Define "mature" as you like.

Via Rachel at Dystel & Goderich's blog: NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest. Sweet.

Deadline is 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 28, 2010.

A Dissenting Opinion, or: Every agent's new motto should be: We're Agents: We're Not Responsible.

Because there are so many questions involved in this post, I'll answer as I go. Italicized is the poster, Marcus; non-ital is Gatekeeper. 


So what ARE agents responsible for?

They're not responsible for:

books on the shelves
bad books



True. Once we say no to a book, we don't have any power over whether another agent says yes to it and sells it or not. 

bad agents

Also true. Same with most professions. Lawyers can't control the behavior/professionalism/talent/ethics of other lawyers. 


lost or damaged manuscripts

Also true. The postal service isn't perfect; neither is cyberspace. There have been manuscripts stuck in spam filters, and manuscripts that arrive torn up by the USPS. And yes, in my years of doing this, I've spilled tea on a few. (I apologized profusely, of course; the writers seemed to forgive me and/or didn't want their pages back anyway.) 


not selling books (that's the editor's fault).


I wouldn't say it's the editor's fault. But it's hardly 100 percent within our control--or their control, either. No one ever has complete control, whether selling manuscripts or rugs. We've done research, chosen excellent work to send out, sent it to the editors most likely to want to buy it. (After all, you wouldn't send a blue rug to a buyer who hates blue.) Sometimes we take on work because we love it, and not because we're sure it'll sell for a gazillion dollars--if at all. Since it's just as subjective for editors--plus the complicating factors of what their companies are up to, what books they have on their list, what other books have sold recently, what their ed board thinks of the work--it's silly to place blame on the editor.

outbursts for pity



Not sure what you mean here. 

the "imperfection" that makes publsihing perfect



Also not sure what you mean, but I think you're getting at the fact that it's not a completely objective business. I believe the same could be true for any industry, but especially those that are creative. Do you find gallery owners looking at a piece and saying, "Hmm, this painting has 78 internationally recognized and agreed upon objective goodness points, but this one only has 45. We'll go with the 78, of course"? Er, no. 

Writers ARE responible for:
selling books



To some degree. This has worsened for writers in recent years--there used to be a much greater budget for promotion. Now, very few writers have tours paid for. It's frustrating for agents, too--we have to help our authors get out there without putting themselves out too much. (The degree at which it becomes too much is of course a case-by-case basis.) Each book has a different promotional budget. Most books get something, even if it's small. 

writing books



Yes. Unless you're a big-time celebrity type/expert and you pay someone to do so. 

writing self-abandoning literature



Again, not totally sure what you mean here. 

but making it mass-market



No. But if you mean work that has a broad enough audience that more than three people in the country will read it...yes. For example, if you're writing a prescriptive how-to about what to do when you're divorcing someone with a rare skin condition (something 30 people in the world have) while balancing a skydiving career...we'd probably suggest it become more of a memoir, so more people would be interested and feel included in the text. 

perfect formatting



Ha! No. I don't care. I change everyone's font and make the works double-spaced, if they aren't, since we get e-submissions. It takes two seconds. If it's hard copy, all I care is that it's double-spaced with page numbers. Half the time I can't open documents, so I do the "open as HTML" thing, copy and paste, and format it to my liking from there. 

perfect first pages



Again, not perfect--compelling. But it should be among your strongest pages. 

perfect queries



Ditto. Though we know that writing queries is a skill separate from writing manuscripts. 

lost or damaged manuscripts



I wouldn't say responsible. But it is your responsibility to check in if you haven't heard from us--we aren't sitting around thinking, "Did I receive _____ from ____? No? Well, then they're a bad writer! I should have had it by now! It's been TWO DAYS and the hard copy hasn't arrived! I don't care that they live in Fiji! Grrrr!" Um, no. 

and other bad writers



No. I assume you mean other bad writers' behavior; you'd posted about that before. Any profession that deals with the masses tends to put up walls to some degree. You'd also mentioned that I should have thicker skin. Thank you, but I like being as open as I can be. You're also presenting a bit of a contradiction: you want me to have thicker skin but still be open to all things all writers have to say. One can't be both: by developing a thicker skin, one necessarily cares less about the feelings of others and therefore spends less time on what those who are not directly benefiting business have to say. 

Every agents new motto should be: We're Agents: We're Not Responsible.



Can I make a t-shirt? 


Kidding. Sort of. 


That said, read the protocol for engaging in most anything these days. Download software? Check a box saying that you agree it's not the software's fault if your computer explodes after installation. Start an exercise program? Read through a disclaimer. Go kayaking? Sign a waiver. The world is overly litigious, in my opinion--Californians still love to tell the story of the guy who fell through a skylight while robbing a house, fell on a knife, sued the owners of the house for leaving it out, and won--has anyone seen this on Snopes? It just seems impossible--but why do we have things set up this way? Why are there are so many contracts and protocols that deflect responsibility? Because we want you to know that, though it isn't likely, bad things happen. Manuscripts get tea-ed. Poorly written books become bestsellers. We're not all-powerful. 
Is it any wonder some writers lose their tempers?



No, not at all. But if I were you, I'd be more frustrated by other parts of the submissions process: the fact that young people in their twenties can reject people with incredible platforms. That you never know for sure that the person reading your work has the worldly experience to understand it, or how much of it they read. And that there are so many gatekeepers in place, you're never quite sure who read your work and when. There's also quite a long delay between sending your work off and hearing back, and there's no clear protocol for checking in. 


A writer starts a blog after a couple hundred rejections, and moans about agents, he or she is promptly told to STFU and work.


I assume this happened to you? I disagree: you need to vent. That's like saying that you shouldn't do anything (sleep, eat, exercise, do chores) until you've written an entire book. If you were that disciplined, you'd die of exhaustion/poor nutrition/immobility, and your house would be a wreck. There are a lot of communities of writers online. I'm sure you'd feel better if you spoke with some of them. 

An agent starts a blog and moans



I wouldn't say "moans," but so be it. Complains when grumpy? Yes. Gets snarky? Yes. Types up poorly-planned writer phone conversations? Yes--I feel a little bad about that. But everyone interprets written voice differently. Most of the time, while typing up this blog, I have a small bemused smile. I like writers. I like readers. I like publishing. I want you to learn from others' mistakes, so you have the very best chance of getting your work out there. 


about mean writers and having to say no while sipping gourmet coffee 


Are you kidding? Gourmet? I'm on a publishing budget! All of the lattes are homemade, thank you. French press + milk foamer = awesome. 


and getting over being white, 


Ha! Sorry. You made me laugh. Sure. We all have various issues. If I were rich, I'd have rich guilt. If I were a Harvard grad, I'd have guilt about that too. Incidentally, I loved stuffwhitepeoplelike.com


that agent is fauned over by would-be writers.


I don't think anyone's fawning--but, um--thanks? 

I don't hate agents. I read their blogs. I am more than sure they earn their money, but look at what gets written on the blogs. It's nonsensical sometimes.

Dissenting opinions allowed?



Of course. Like I said, there are a lot of people out there who agree with you. I know I always enjoy finding like-minded folks, whether in person or online. There are many, many, many writers in your exact position. Thousands. Many of them online. Go find them. You'll feel better. You'll get to talk about your experiences--good and bad. You'll decide what next to do. 


Look. Not every writer wants, needs, or should have an agent. Some writers have terrible experiences. I just heard from a writer whose agent told her she was "too f-ing busy" to pass on the message that an editor basically wanted to commission a book. There are some really shady types out there. Also, given that there is so much going on in terms of technological advances--you don't need us to get your work out there. You don't even need a great deal of start-up money. For what you'd spend on overnighting (not that I'm recommending it! Don't overnight stuff; it's too expensive!) your work to a few agents, you could have your book set up with a print-on-demand service. If the audience is there, they'll buy it. You can use all kinds of new internet stuff (social media being just one example) to advertise virtually for free. Then, if the book does well and you want to, you can say, "See, Rejecting Agent? This book sold 5,000 copies. Want to reconsider?" And they may. 


Again. Dealing with agents at all is a choice. Soon you'll be able to deal directly with digital book presses, and have your work available on Kindles everywhere practically instantly. Some argue agents are a dying breed (I tend to strongly disagree). 


But your options are opening up. 


If you really want to go with a big, perhaps corporate traditional publisher--yes, it will be easier if you have an agent. But there are a lot of us out there. Maybe some promise they'll reimburse you if they harm your pages. Maybe some actively fight against the other things you'd mentioned and say, Yes, Marcus, I am 100 percent responsible for anything that might happen. 


The sad thing is, most of the agencies and publishing houses I've seen that do make unusual promises--if you read Publish America's site, for example, you'll see that they address and (in my opinion) manipulate common writer feelings--there's another catch somewhere down the road. Maybe they aren't a real agency. Maybe they e-blast books to editors without knowing anything about them, so the editors begin to consider them spam. Maybe they charge you fees or insist on owning the option to your next book. 


I often find that writers' standards for the publishing process are much higher than the standards expected for other businesses. Is it understandable? Of course! It's our art; in an ideal, fair world, there wouldn't be all these hurdles. We're therefore more sensitive about it than the standards for, say, software, lawyers, kayaking or even (sometimes) health professionals. But it's unrealistic to expect that things simply work in Publishing that no one expects from other businesses. 

Don DeLillo, tonight!

For those of you in the NY area, Don DeLillo is reading at Book Court in Brooklyn tonight.

163 Court Street (between Pacific & Dean)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 875.3677
email us: BookCourt@gmail.com

I can't go, but I sure would love to hear about it...!

This is excellent.

From The Rejectionist: "Don't Fuck with the Assistant."

A blurb:
You know all those "experiments" wherein various persons send "queries" that are summations of canonical works of literature to agents and publishers? And then, when said queries are summarily rejected, promptly deride the idiocy of the Many-Headed Hydra of Moronity and Back-Asswardness That Is the Entire Publishing Industry Especially Agents Who Are All, As We Know, Personally Responsible for Twilight/That Lauren Conrad "Novel"/Whatever Book You Hate Today, and Cannot Even Recognize Great Literature When It Hits Them Over the Head With a Shovel?
Well, here's what ACTUALLY happens...

Another note: no one bothers to mention that perhaps these queries are poorly written. I mean, had Melville (chosen because of the amusing Rejectionist comments referencing Moby Dick) emailed us with, "Dear Sirs, I dislike agents, but I guess I have to have one. See attached file for query. This is the best thing ever. Ships. Whales. Ishmael. Note that I've CC'd everyone else in the business and my email is IHateAgents@aol.com. This will be the biggest bestseller ever," well, we'd have said no.

Hang on to your cheesy bread!

Here's an official Scholastic blog announcement for forthcoming Mockingjay.

The Hunger Games: Book Three, Mockingjay

Personally, I think rock stars' fans get all the fun.

I, for one, would happily camp out--perhaps in a tent, perhaps overnight--to make it to the bookstore to be one of the very first to get a copy of the third Hunger Games book (assuming there'd be a midnight release). I'd pack snacks, tote a mocha in a thermos, huddle in a down coat and chat with other line-waiters--Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale? Dude, I'm so Team Gale, he's so hardcore. 


If I were feeling organized about it, I'd try to recreate some of their dishes (minus, of course, the puking serum) and bring them in little tupperwares (the orange ones from the seventies, because they're way better) with plastic forks. And yes, were there a Hunger Games cookbook (though I suppose that sounds unappetizing), I'd buy that, too.

So, last night Scholastic released the cover and title for the third book--Mockingjay. I like it. It's due out August 24. I'll start working on my recipes.

What, of all the food mentioned in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, would you most want to eat?

The Publishing of Imperfection

Can anyone tell me how there is so much published literature out there that is no where near perfect? I just don't get it. 


Works don't get published because they're devoid of flaws. They get published because somebody, for some unquantifiable, partially intuitive, completely subjective reason, loves them.

It seems it's the nature of art that when you strive for problem-free perfection, you tame your work. Strive for something
interesting, however, something that stretches you and scares you and makes you look back and think, "Really? I wrote that? I guess so--but where did all that come from?"--that pieces really work, really inspire passion in their readers. It's been my personal experience that it's spontaneity, not premeditation, not giving your internal editor free rein as you write, that makes something great.


Let's say you're an agent. You have three works on your desk. One is something that, logically, you think, "Well, this really should work. Just enough books--but not too many to saturate the market--like this have done really well. There's nothing really wrong with it." One makes you think, "It's totally solid--there's absolutely nothing wrong--no reader anywhere could consider any part of it incorrect--but I just don't love it." And a third: "I'm in love I'm in love I'm in love I'm in love with a wonderful manuscript! And, yes, there are problems, but because I intuitively understand the work, I know how to work with the writer to fix them, and then we'll have something really really special."

Which one gets your attention? The one you love. 

Publishing is, by nature, subjective. Happily, there are a lot of people, with a lot of very different perspectives, making those subjective decisions--thus increasing your chances. The trick is to find the right one--and that can be difficult, because new agents and editors are popping up all the time--much too quickly for them to be in the yearly publications that list them. 

And when it comes down to it--do you want someone working on your book who sees it as merely a project,  a money-making entity? Or do you want someone who loves it and nurtures it and sends you emails from her phone with new ideas on Saturdays? 

The latter, of course. But that's a terribly subjective person, not an objective, fair, "My work week is from 10 am Monday to 6 pm Friday" perspective. (Yes, much of publishing is from 10 to 6. I know. I love it. Editors often work later.) So, in other words, like all things, publishing is unfair. But when you do get someone who loves your work, it's more than fair, and in your favor. 
And there's a SONG. Dude.

It begins:


The list

Intro: D A D A G

      D
I'm sitting in the minivan, it's about 1 am
  A
I can't believe I'm hanging out with Margo Roth Spiegelman
       D
She hands me a grocery list, and I say: 'what is this?'
       A                             G                   
She gives me a hundred dollars and says: that should cover it...


More here: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/tabs/h/hank_green/the_list_crd.htm

Margo Roth Spiegelman and The Omnictionary

So, I was Googling "Margo Roth Spiegelman" to check the spelling--for those of you who've read Paper Towns, you'll know this is the love object of the protagonist--a girl who mysteriously disappears and who is known to use a site called Omnictionary.

One of the comments on the last post had to do with catfish. "It's either that" (put up with swearing in books) "or feed them to the catfish," Ally wrote.

"Or, if you're Margo Roth Spiegelman," I was going to reply, "feed them to a catfish, throw the fish into a girl's car, and lower the seat until it explodes."

Snarky (Agent Man) and I were en route to a Saints game (er, superbowl) party this last Sunday and I find that Snarky's giggling next to me. "What is it?" I ask. "Catfish," he replies, holding up the book. And soon I'm laughing like an idiot in public again because of this work.

But. Here's the thing. I've always wished for a book that would mention a web site and then actually create it.

And...

The Omnictionary exists! Most of its posts have to do with Margo, but it exists! It's so cute! I'm so delighted.

You can find the Omnictionary here. 

Critique Partners, the Cursing, and You or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the F-Bomb

I have a sincere and humble question. I am in the middle of writing my first MS, A Contemporary Romance, about a Philadelphia Irish Catholic Family and their summers on the Southern New Jersey Shore, I say South Jersey as not to be confused with "the Situation" going on with the Northern Jersey Shore. Us Philadelphians cringe when people confuse our beaches with theirs.


Anywho.


I digress.


So, my Irish Catholic cops swear, curse like truck drivers, it's a part of who they are. Now, my crit partner feels I shouldn't have them cursing at all, imply it in narration, with body language, and the like. As an agent and in the know, what is acceptable when it comes to the f-bomb and other four letter words? Do I mask them with words like mother-flipper, shut the front door, shugar, but that feels like such a cop out. *Sigh*

Sincerely Friggin Frustrated,
Charli

*

Dear Charli,
I would not recommend that your characters Shut the Front Door, and I can see why you'd be friggin frustrated.

Rather than make them sound silly, I think it would be best to reserve your F-bombs and the like for truly important moments. That is, cut out some of them. Use them only when truly necessary. Like explosions and exclamation points, such words lose their emphasis over time.

If an agent/editor likes your story (and doesn't think it ridiculous for too many such words), he/she can ask for more/fewer of them.

Are we talking four F-bombs a page? Forty?

I think you should limit this to one every few pages--less often, if possible. But I am somewhat on the prim and proper side of things.

Male editors/agents will probably be more okay with this than I will.

But I think most of us forgive such things if we are really drawn in by the story. Prove that you can do the highbrow literary [stuff] in the first few pages, and we'll forgive (nearly) as many such phrases as you like.

All best,
AG

PS: "Cop out"! Ha ha ha...just got that. Clever. :)

Small, small, cramped publishing world

I've just returned from a party in Brooklyn Heights (aka the part of Brooklyn you live in when you can afford Manhattan but would rather include the coolness factor of a Brooklyn address) where there were probably 100 people crammed into the tiniest three-bedroom I've ever seen. (We're talking 950 square feet, max, most of that hallway.) While leaning backwards over the stove, trying to make as much room as possible as people passed by (and we were stacked five deep in a hallway four feet wide) without setting myself on fire--after all, I've long hair and the burner knobs were at my back--I realized I was standing next to two people who work under the same publishing umbrella as Macmillan. Henry Holt, actually. (There was also someone who'd just had his second interview to work for one of the higher-ups at Penguin.) This is the thing: work in publishing in New York, and every time you go out, you better look presentable--you never know when you'll run into someone you'll send a manuscript to someday.

Amazingly, the Amazon-Macmillan upset sounds like it was far more exciting for the outside world--our speculation, our fruit baskets--than it was for those on the Macmillan inside. Their "buy" buttons are activated on Amazon. They were scared, briefly, but now don't--as a lot of us outside do--feel triumphant. It's back to business as usual.

Strange.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

When you wake up and your very first thought is of the book you're reading...well, then, you know it's good. I've just finished The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Does it have problems? Um, yes. I'm amazed no one took the author aside and said, You know, if you keep using "the ocean" as your hit-us-over-the-head obvious symbol for "hope outside the current situation"--and don't insert any other such symbols--and repeat it every other page--you're going to annoy some readers.

This is one situation in which I'd like prefer an e-version of a book--just to search it and see how many times the phrase "the ocean" pops up. Oh, goodness gracious. It gets a bit ridiculous.

That said, the book is really compelling--the protagonist lives in a village in the center of a forest, with only a fence to protect them from the Unconsecrated (aka all of the zombies and former-humans-turned-zombies that inhabit the place). The Sisters, a sect of religious/political women who set rules for the village, have told everyone that there is nothing in the world beyond their walls--except, you know, monsters that will eat you/turn you into them. But then the protagonist sees evidence of a young woman from another village, who the Sisters go to great lengths to hide. And thus the story really begins.

Oh, and there's a love subplot too, but it's pretty lame.

That said, I read this in 1.5 days, rather enjoying myself as I did. Proof that you can love works, just like you can love people, without them being perfect. And yes, I would have said yes to this. With edits.

* * *
An addendum, from the comments. Tahereh mentioned that the whole book is so hopeless, it's a rather difficult (unpleasant) read. I agree.

Um, SPOILER ALERT! So:

I also really disliked that whole bit about how she should have seen that Travis was better than any ocean. Isn't that like saying, "That's okay, girls--give up your dreams. Didn't you know that you can find everything you possibly want in your husband/boyfriend who was about to let you marry his brother? [I would argue that means He's Just Not That Into Her.] Who needs the world out there--be locked with him in a house/fortress/tree house/canned goods storage unit! Let him make inane comments about photographs and don't let it bother you! Waste a ton of valuable weaponry/communications devices shooting at Unconsecrated even though there are more than you can ever take down! And--most of all--never tell the reader if you're sharing a bed or *sharing a bed* with the totally built-up love interest--for months! [Goodness, their scene locked among the *nuns* was hotter than those--what--four months?] Ocean, smoshen. Stay home, try on dresses, and cook."

Uggh.