So I'm sitting in the office with my ice-cubed tea, and suddenly I get this email from another client--this awesome surfer dude in San Diego. "Can I call you?" he writes. "I have this AMAZING idea!"
His idea is, in fact, amazing.
He's so bouncy, in fact (the very first time I talked to him on the phone, he was throwing a nerf ball against a conference room wall), that now I can't help but be enthusiastic.
It's so wonderful to hear from people who are totally psyched about what they're doing. Soon we were laughing, and my huge to-do list (longer than I am tall--though that's not saying much) was momentarily forgotten.
"It's going to be GNARLY!" he says of his next work, after scaring me for a second by saying it'd involve "Vampires, drugs and gangs--JUST KIDDING!" After this punking, I know to get skeptical after "vampire."
Happily, there will be no blood-sucking creatures.
I can't wait.
What are your favorite beach reads?
I confess we change our reading styles a bit--that is, the slush pile trains us. We read more for rhythm, word choice, energy, tone, feeling, voice, unusual sentence construction (you've no idea how many writers pick one simple sentence and repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it), and not quite so much for comprehension. I've certainly lost details of how things happen or why--even in manuscripts I've liked very much. Why? Because my focus is elsewhere. I'll pick up, of course, on things the average reader would get--but I'm not circling motifs, tracking coincidences, or going beyond the text, as I would with a work I was reading purely for me.
And sometimes this habit comes home with us. Prospect Park West is a perfect example. I bought it after reading the first page, which is very well-constructed (and also based on its reviews). I get home and see the industry reviews are much more positive than those on Amazon--uh-oh. It's okay for a few pages--and then I back-up: she wrote what? Wow. Really? Wow.
To Amazon's used books section it goes.
This is one of the most common questions we get at conferences (second only to the inevitable, "So, now that the Kindle is making books obsolete and everyone who rejected my book is going to get laid off...?"), and no one ever seems to have a good, thorough answer that doesn't take up the panel's whole hour. Well, this piece does.
Also, let me throw my Gatekeeper hat into the ring to say that The Passage, so far, is every bit as good as its hype--and the hype was pretty big. I'm liking the feminine subplots better, but that's to be expected.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is everything I anticipated--and more. Bender has always been great at picking up on the poignancy of everyday moments--now she uses them to build on each other in a fantastic, inspiring manner. I haven't finished yet but, after A Reliable Wife, I think this is the greatest thing I've read in a long time. Then again, my tastes are quirky. If you want straight-up fiction in worlds with no magic, look elsewhere.
Also, to round out the reading list, I just picked up Prospect Park West, which is reputed to put the cleverness of Desperate Housewives to shame. I actually used to live off of this sort-of avenue in Brooklyn (though not in the schmancy part this book details), and I fully intend to take the book to the first cafe the work mentions and sit and read until something delicious happens.
Also, in terms of blogs--this is perhaps one of the most amusing writing/publishing blogs I've ever seen.
Hope you're well, happy, and writing. Over and out.
There are so many little rules, in fact, that one could not possibly know without being in the industry and learning them from someone who does. I'm lucky to have an example who is not only gracious, but willing to discuss with me why a rule exists and I cannot break it. (GK is not one for rules that do not make sense.)
I've only seen these rules broken once--quite thankfully it was no one in our office or one of my friends--but the consequences were dire. Because of a breach of etiquette, an editor, her imprint, and an agency no longer speak. This was a relatively large rule, but still. I was at an editor lunch when I heard about this (from the offended editor) and, not wanting to be rude, didn't ask for details--but it sounded as though it was an agent who had set up shop without a mentor and, possibly, simply didn't know. That gaffe would still be an example of poor common sense, but--can you imagine? That agency knowing they can never speak to that imprint again? (Of course this was never stated explicitly--that, too, would be rude--but I'm sure they've figured that out.)
The hardest rule for GK? Agents do not send authors gifts. We can take authors out to lunch (in fact, we always do--editors pay for agents and agents pay for authors--but that requires them being in the same place at the same time). But no gifts.
I'm one of those people who is always thinking of, and sending, rather clever, inexpensive gifts. (I also feed everyone, but that's another story.) It's a problem. There are people I really shouldn't send gifts to (new acquaintances), even if they're things I picked up on Amazon for a penny and a few clicks. But if the gift is just perfect, I often can't resist.
This week, one of our authors had not only her release date, but announced an NYC launch party.
"Oh!" I said to my boss. "Could we bring her a vintage [thing related to the book]?"
My boss: "No. Agents do not send gifts."
Me: "Oh. Yeah, I know, but..." (And closing Ebay windows.)
She's not being unkind; she's avoiding a breach of etiquette. In the long run, she says, it's better for the agent-author relationship if there are no gifts. I'm just going to have to trust her on this--she's been right about everything else. Maybe when I've had twenty-year author-agent relationships, I'll think so too.
Okay, but then I hear one of my authors is doing this nifty event.
Me: "Hey! Could I have a bouquet of [flowers from the book] delivered? I'm sure if we paid them extra they'd bring them right to her at--"
My boss, who's probably tuned me out from "My author's doing this [niche event] and could I..." and has made a major deal while I'm chatting about florists and chocolates: "No."
There are a few exceptions. When a book goes to auction and the losing editor(s) fell in love with it, it's only kind to send them flowers (large bouquets, if it ended up being a major deal).The notes usually say something about how we so appreciate their passion and their work, and how we can't wait to work with them on something new. (Even if there is a formula for what one must say in each circumstance, it's always, also, true.)
And if our authors have babies, my boss has been known to send their children presents. There are a few other examples, but--in general--it just isn't done.
Sigh. Okay, GK. Step away from the One-Click Order button.
Let's think about that a moment.
It's a given that this will change the industry--and we have no control over it, short of letter-writing and fruit basket-sending campaigns. Even then--too late.
Again, I'm not for or against any of these ideas--yet. But they are issues that are likely to come up.
Have any more questions? Proposed changes? I'm sure you do. Ask and/or comment below.
I was finally getting used to it (making exceptions when I eat away from home, of course--or I'd probably die) and then--six pounds of gummi bears arrive on my desk. And now--six pounds of Hershey's kisses! (The fancy ones, too--special dark, hugs, and caramel.)
You know that feeling you get when you set down all your stuff after a long day and curl into your favorite chair with a good book you've been looking forward to? I feel like that. Mmm. Sugar calm. Very enjoyable.
It's a good day to be a women's fiction writer in my inbox: everything with that (yes, it's pink...) tag is getting first priority. And nothing dreadful has happened--my clothes still fit; I'm not asleep at my desk; I don't--yet--have diet-based ailments.
"We have to change the website!" my boss said, eyeing the purple-foil-wrapped candies as I tossed them in the office freezer. A bag opened and they were spilling out by the handful. (The site does, quite accurately, mention chocoholic tendencies within the office.)
Well, if I'm to be addicted to something (plus caffeine), sugar's not so bad...right?
I've seen two explicit "Please don't tell people I'm nice" requests, and several more are implied.
I know it seems a strange tactic, but there are reasons. Just know that, when the industry seems impersonal, there is often someone there thinking about that letter they're sending--who would, in any other circumstance, say a lot more.
Here's a great recipe if your life sucks and you want it to suck more.
It doesn't taste bad or gross, just not very good. But because it's Loser Cake and it's sitting in front of you, you eat every goddamn crappy miserable bite.
The specific ingredient amount really doesn't matter because, like losers, Loser Cake doesn't measure up.
Here's what you'll need...I guess:
Flour - a cup or two...or three...it doesn't matter.
Butter - sure...
Read more here.
One of her magazines, Writer Magazine, had an intriguing idea: use your rejection letters to line your cat box, just under the kitty litter.
Now, I know paper rejections are going out of style, but--what do you do with yours? Hit delete? Print them and use them as kindling?
I've been thinking a great deal, lately, about what it really means to be a writer--the incredible commitment of time and hope--and can only imagine how each of these letters feels. (I also take issue with the "You must write a full novel before you send a query" rule, but again--another post.)
The cat, a delightful shade of marmalade (yes, like the Cindy Wheeler books) has just taken up residence near my feet and started to purr. His Granny Smith peel eyes are on the strange device in my hands, the tiny, appleseed-sized keys. I must go.
I suppose what I mean to say is this: know that there are agents who think about these things, even with every distraction and reason not to. We care about you, even if you don't always get to see it.
Okay. Over and out.
I've loved Aimee Bender from the very first sentence of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. I liked An Invisible Sign of My Own--thought it fascinating to watch this very talented, unique writer make the transition into longer works. And now--well, I can't help but believe this will be nothing short of a delicious triumph.
There is a mail-ordered copy on its way to me--but, yesterday, I found myself visiting a copy in the Strand. A dear friend, a film reviewer, said she couldn't help but imagine the Strand featured in a scene of literary rapture--shot after shot after shot of books, a woman's eyes getting wider and wider. Close on: yellow cake cover. Cut to: dust jacket slowly removed to reveal a gorgeous sky blue interior.
I very nearly bought the book and canceled my evening plans. I didn't--thankfully--but I thought about it.
Someone at the conference this weekend asked me the worst times to send material. Well. Right now. (Not to worry, everyone is still getting a fair read. It's just not ideal.) And...
Bad times to send out a query or manuscript:
- August, or just before August.
- Monday, or over the weekend, unless we know who you are. Otherwise, you'll be one in a stack of (on average) 100+ queries. Not ideal.
- Friday, late afternoon. We're already thinking of our drinks plans, and don't have the energy to get excited about something new.
- Winter break.
- If you're sending a romance novel, your chances pretty much go ka-put the day after we break up with our significant others. Sorry.
- If we just got sick from a weird ingredient, we're not going to be psyched about a weird-ingredient cookbook. (The opposite: if we just heard about a weird ingredient as the new, awesome thing--yes, we'll totally want to take a look.)
- If your protagonist reminds us too much of someone we don't like (who we just saw on Facebook) erm...no. Sorry. Unless bad things happen to them.
- Let's say we've got a manuscript and it's proven to be more work than most--needs more editing, more research, more editors than the average manuscript bear. Everything else in that genre will look less appealing for a few weeks.
- When we're cranky.
- On a day that we've just said NO to a ton of people. You're more likely to get a Yes after a Yes; you're more likely to get a No after a No.
- When we're hungry, delicious food books look great. Send them to arrive just before lunch. Most of us are on EST.
- When we want a kitty, cat books have a better chance than usual. (See below.)
- When we have an issue in our lives--or questions in our lives--that your book answers, well, yes, you're going to get priority.
- Let's say it's early summer and we NEED a vacation but haven't planned one yet. Great time to send a travel book. (Hint. Hint.)
A few hints from the conference:
Good opening lines (yes, all of these are real):
- I love your pie charts!
- I get to meet the Gatekeeper!
- Good morning! Isn't it beautiful out?
- That was a great opening speech, wasn't it?
- Wow! Look at this! So many kinds of tea! I hear you drink tea, too.
- (After I'd said, "Good morning, Mr. _______, what are you working on?"): "Actually, it's DOCTOR ______." Well, harumph.
- "Why are you down in DC? Are you on, like, a little road trip or something?" (Note: I may look like someone of road trip age but, I assure you, I'm not.)
- (After I'd said I represent literary fiction): "And you aren't embarrassed to admit that?" At this point, I was well into my bagel breakfast (NY habits die hard) and snapped, "Actually, that's no longer considered embarrassing." A cool girl at my table, a college student who's already written two books, started laughing. Yes. I told him. Don't piss off the gatekeeper. The rest of our breakfast, I couldn't pay attention to how he described his book (at great length) because I was so busy thinking of all of the things I'd like to say but, as a professional, wouldn't. And won't.
(As a side note, yes, four or five years ago, literary fiction was embarrassing, as there were so many out and about talking about their love of the genre. It was just too easy. Yeah, I know, there's always one hot genre, which is fine to talk about at the beginning and rise of its popularity, but decidedly unpopular as it declines. Branch out, readers. Branch out.)
Here's a delightful non-sequitur:
A lot of behavior that goes with writing is not generally considered normal--scribbling in notebooks the moment you get an idea, for fear of it leaving (and ideas do evaporate if they aren't immediately trapped on paper)--well, it won't make you any friends on the subway.
When do we get to stop feeling crazy--that our strangeness is justified? At the time of getting an agent? When we have a book deal? How many copies must we sell before our insanity becomes creative, productive eccentricity?
It almost seems like there should be an online support group: Talent of the Room, Alone, Together.
In that vein, should you have any stories of being seen as crazy for normal writing behaviors, please share.
Anonymously, if you like.
“The only thing you really need,” I tell these [writing hopefuls], “is the talent of the room. Unless you have that, your other talents are worthless.”
Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room.
Before any issues of style, content, or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many years – how many years – can you remain alone in a room?
This came up again at the conference I attended this weekend: Can you give up what you like to focus on what you love? a presenter asked--meaning, I imagine, giving up things like television and other time-wasters to make time to write. Can it be done? Well--let's see.
In the meantime, television confession: Gatekeeper has started pairing each show as an antidote for a certain type of day. Stressful day at work? Madmen. Everything seems crazy? United States of Tara. Boy drama? A certain show with a protagonist named Ali and a cute guy named Frank. Hungry? Cooking shows. I don't think they're for education, but entertainment. Who doesn't love watching Paula Deen add yet more butter? Her glee is contagious.
I'm listening to Game Change, which is an excellent travel book--the narrator really gets into it--and, given that my destination is the nation's capital, it's quite fitting. In terms of my opinion of the book, well--it's fun. Fact-checking must have been a nightmare. But is it balanced? I'm not sure--and this coming from (as I usually put it when unsure of the leanings of my dinner party company) someone who lives in New York City and works in publishing.
In other news, I'm teaching a new class, which is now available for online course description perusal. Should you be in the Texas area in early 2011, send me a message and I'll give you the deets.
Also--let's see--it's been such a busy week! Well, I've discovered Diet Pepsi. I don't know how it hasn't happened until now (I used to avoid all things carbonated and fake-sweet), but...wow. All those girls who swore it was addictive--I think it just may be.
- I'd already had several pleasant e-mail conversations with the sender, and this is her second manuscript she's sent me. That is, I know who she is and like her. When I saw her name, even though it was a much more formal version that what she goes by, I recognized the sender immediately.
- She'd joked with me about gummi bears after reading this post.
- The note is short and, of course, sweet.
- The gift is straight from a distributor, not from a home address. Even if something were sealed, I wouldn't eat anything from a sender I don't know. There are a lot of angry writers out there.
Now, the Snarky we know and love has an alibi--he was sitting in a leather chair sipping a Maker's neat when I found this scrawled on the wall of an Upper West Side ATM.
That said, we both found this very amusing.
As for what's scrawled under "Snarky was here"--that's anyone's guess. I assume it's, "No, Mishy, no food!"--but that's up for interpretation.
Breaking News: Cheese Plate at Brooklyn Mingle Excellent, OR: How to Throw a Successful Publishing Party
Snarky and I attended a delightful soirée in our favored borough, Brooklyn. The setting, food, people and location were beautiful. But something was off--we found ourselves shouting, and not (though it could have been) from frustrated-guest-itis. Here are a few party-planning tips we learned throughout the evening.
1. It's good to have a check-in table. People in publishing attend these parties to meet other people in publishing, and like knowing that everyone else in the room is likely to know the rules--the way things are done--when approaching potential business contacts. This helps them relax, knowing no one will rudely monopolize them for the entire evening or demand to know why they didn't want to buy their client's manuscript. Also, people in publishing are, on the whole, sensitive, kind, warm, smart and not of a murderous persuasion. One can't guarantee the same for people who just walk in off the street.
2. Name tags are essential. People in publishing are generally introverts (though friendly introverts) and pretty bad at putting names and faces together. To add to the confusion, a lot of people in publishing look and/or dress alike. Especially at events with a mix of agents, editors, copy editors, publicity people, marketing people, book sellers, book buyers, bookstore staff, distributors, and people who just walked in--name tags are a must. They prevent the social awkwardness that comes from, "Hi, I'm ______. I work at _____. You're--oh. You just walked in off the street. Uhhhh...lovely party, isn't it?" and "Excuse me, are you _____? I think we had lunch a few months ago--oh--ah, you aren't--um...lovely party, isn't it?"
3. Carefully consider your food. There was an excellent cheese plate at the party. I very nearly took a picture and posted it with the title, "Breaking News: Cheese Plate at Brooklyn Mingle Excellent." You know, important news first. There were (just from memory) cubes of swiss, sharp cheddar, fresh mozzarella, provolone, white cheddar, and two others--plus figs, dried apricots, and grape tomatoes. Arugula as garnish. There were also mini-sliders with brie and sun-dried tomatoes, an excellent selection of fresh veggies with Ranch and hummus, and adorable little brownie bites. Yum.
Though I kind of like the image, and Snarky soon calmed down, there were a lot of "WTF eyes" made throughout the evening.
Do, as a host or hostess, attempt to minimize those. The cabs will thank you.
A year ago, I met a writer at a conference who struck me with her story and elegance--some people just exude that calm and grace that comes from being well-organized, even if they juggle a million prestigious elements in their weekly schedules. She was very pleasant, told me she had a chapter ready, and would I be willing to take a look?
Was I ever--it's an amazing memoir that blends a difficult (for anyone) situation with the romantic lightness and humor usually reserved for women's fiction. It masterfully goes between the two, somehow sensing when things are getting too dark or too light.
Well. That was a year ago, and I just got the full manuscript today. Kindle and I are finding a quiet corner and probably will not be disturbed for hours--even though I have a birthday party, a dinner guest, and a complicated roasted cauliflower dish to prepare (for). (To any low-carb-ers out there--you can steam cauliflower and puree it with butter or butter substitute to make something not far from mashed potatoes.)
I should be thinking of birthday presents and B&N in-store pick-up, but I can't move. For the next few hours, I will be capable only of reading (and blogging about how much I like what I'm reading).
Hope all of you are well and enjoying the sun that, this live satellite says, most of us are enjoying.