Apparently even Stephenie Meyer is sick of vampires.

Heh heh heh.

As I often say: if I still accepted paper queries, I'd treat their storage space with garlic.

It's 94 degrees, very humid, and Gatekeeper is feeling a little wilted. The AC's on full blast; I've started brewing tea and popping it in the fridge for later--and I'm a little worn out from waiting, all weekend, for a Don Draper moment. Happily, said DD moment is for a client who's so cool that, when she called this morning, and I said I was waiting for such a revelation, she replied, "Oh yes! Like the Kodak carousel!" (I also dreamt of Mr. Draper this week--but that's another story.)

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.
A confession: I'm finishing every last bit of PPW before it goes to Amazon. It's Trashy McTrash--totally un-PC, in many ways ridiculous--but, for days so hot I want to camp out in the refrigerator, it's like reality television without the "I just spent my day watching what?" aftertaste.

What are your favorite beach reads?

Perfect Town or Awesomesauceville?

You and the beginnings of your manuscript are standing in Grand Central, probably just under this clock:


It's just before rush hour, and the station is filling. A train leaves about every four minutes. Now you have to make a decision: do you and your manuscript want to go to Perfect Town or to Awesomesauceville? They're on completely different train lines--so you'll have to choose. 

Let me back up. Pull up one of Grand Central's faux armchairs (I think they're plastic):

 

I've said on numerous occasions that you should chill about tiny mistakes--a misplaced comma on page 157 is not going to get you a No. What will you get you a rejection, however, is prose that's afraid of itself. 

In other words--put away your composition books: this is not English 101. 

If you write with the constant fear of being wrong--if your sentences evidence a word-by-word, micromanaging quality--if we can picture you writing with a normal pen in one and hand a red pen in the other--your nervousness will come through. We'll get antsy. And then we'll start looking for tiny errors, too. 

We don't want to be looking at what's wrong--we want to be dazzled by what's right. 

You can always go back and correct errors. You can't go back in and add awesomeness. 

_______
Full disclosure: GK is writing this after receiving a series of comments like, "You misspelled 
'stationery.' " So I did. I think you'll live. 

PPW

If you can read to appreciate sentences--their rhythms, nuances, sounds--if you can read focusing only on these things, zipping over the words and phrases thinking, "How cleverly constructed! How energizing! That paragraph would be beautiful in any language I don't know!"--that is, if you can read a string of words without thinking too much about what they mean--you'll find that Prospect Park West is very well-written.

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.

Gatekeeper's current reads

Writing a memoir? This month's Writer's Digest is especially awesome--and available for instant-gratification download. I found myself taking notes--there's an excellent how-to about creating a good hook (hint: it often has to do with de-cluttering your concept of your work), an article on how to create a strong narrative arc (after all, the very best memoirs read like novels that happen to be true) and the pièce de résistance--a guide to the legal issues facing memoir writers.


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.

--Summer Gatekeeper

It Just Isn't Done.

Even Emily Post--or a modern day Post scholar--would have trouble articulating the nuances of proper Publishing etiquette--what's acceptable and friendly and what just isn't done. One learns by example and intuition. I learned early on from my boss that, for example, one is never to send one editor two projects at once (not even two projects from two different agents at the same agency), that one always uses euphemisms when discussing the amount of an advance or offered advance--that, even with email, certain conversations are always over the phone--and that there are rules for the timing of these discussions, be them with editors, publicists, contracts departments or authors. There are e-mail rules, too, and often formulas for what goes into each email at each step of a transaction.

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.)

Her: "No."

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.
Kindle and Nook are, as we speak, in a price war that will likely bring them down to the cost of an iPod. A refurbished Kindle is now going for $169 (at time of writing)--twenty dollars more than an iPod nano.

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.

But there are a number of industry components over which agents and editors have control. Why shouldn't we consider implementing changes to our part of the industry? Surely we can't stay the same while the market digitizes. 

In the coming weeks, I'll be exploring a number of hypotheticals--arguments in favor of a proposed change. We'll talk about new sites that could exist for selling ebooks, changing the way agents submit to editors and writers submit to agents, and the possibility of getting books from writer to reader faster. What will it mean when ebooks reach 30 percent of the market--or 50? What if we could just have a standard contract for everyone unagented--available online? What if books--even books by the big six--could go from author to reader in a month (with the understanding that there may be mistakes that will be fixed in the first print edition): would the quality of literature decline? What happens to branding (the brand of bookstore, publisher, and author) when suddenly everyone can upload a PDF to Amazon and be, in effect, published?

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. 

C12-H22-O11!

You know those books (Sugar Shock!, Potatoes, Not Prozac) that make you feel like, if you so much as look at a chocolate chip, you'll immediately puff up into spherical shape, die ASAP of diabetes, and your mood will be sour the rest of the day? Well. I dutifully read them, dutifully cut back on everything, down to the catsup, that is sweetened or white-flour-ed.

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.)

The world is conspiring to make me a sugar fiend. I think this is a message from The Universe. (I've just read a recent article about how that's the polite way, now, to refer to the divine in mixed company.) It's saying: sugar is good.

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?

Just so you know: there are a number of people in the industry who--in public, with writers, even sometimes when dealing with agents and editors--prefer to be seen as tough, even bulletproof--someone who is not to be messed with. But they are, when you get know them, very sweet and benevolent. One such editor sent a present to one of our authors--on the condition that we wouldn't tell anyone.

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.

While on the subject of cake...

I think this is quite amusing:

Loser Cake. 
Here's a great recipe if your life sucks and you want it to suck more.

LOSER CAKE.

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

While on the subject of cats...

I'm catsitting for a friend's very handsome tabby--a delightful occupation not only for the obvious reasons, but also because I love tasting everything in the refrigerator (yes, I have permission) that I haven't heard of and/or wouldn't buy myself--and reading her well-chosen books and magazines in her beautifully padded armchair. (I could have a whole post about reading/writing furniture, but I'll save that for another time.)

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.

--Gatekeeper Mobile
I am straight-up obsessed with this book:


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.

Perhaps I will make a lemon cake on the occasion of its arrival.

Another book everyone is talking about (also, too slowly, on its way to me): The Passage. I read the first page yesterday and thought, and said, I have to read this. See agent Suzie Townsend's review here.
Today I referred to an editor as, "You know, what's-her-face" to my boss, after a flurry of manic work. We have a ton of projects just now--which is great!--but it means we'll be experiencing a crunch until August, when everyone flees the city, and for good reason. (It's hot and humid--though nothing, I've discovered, compared to June in DC. Goodness! I can certainly believe it was once swamp.)

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.
Bad times to send a query or manuscript (situations in which you have no control whatsoever):
  • 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. 
Surely you can think of a few more examples.

Good times to send a query or manuscript (again, something you have no control over):
  • 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.)
If you have a specific genre/timing question, post below and I'll weigh in.

Also note, again, that we're people. As such, we like to be treated like people, rather than like soulless automatons--or, worse, as meanies who happen to be necessary to your publishing career.

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. 
Bad opening lines (again, all are real): 
  • (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:


Isn't that cute? I don't have a cat, yet, but I swear that the moment I do (likely a nice orange one with green eyes and white paws), it'll be plump and fluffy. Kitten is getting butter in his food, if that's what it takes. 

The Talent of the Room, Alone, Together

A writer wrote to me that, sometimes, she feels crazy for writing. I found this both saddening and hopeful--saddening in that, in our culture, it's considered totally normal and sane to watch hours of television a night, but considered crazy to write for that much time--and hopeful--if someone who writes this well has this worry--well, then, I suppose a lot of talented people feel this way, too.

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.

*
Excerpted from Michael Ventura's "The Talent of the Room": 
“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.



Here's Paula making deep-fried macaroni and cheese.

Diet Pepsi, Game Change, Courses, Conferences and Our Nation's Capital

Gatekeeper is off to a conference--a one-day conference--but, of course, it's never quite so simple. I'll be staying with family in the suburbs, crossing fingers that suburban taxis are as reliable as NYC ones (this has not always been the case--plus, I have to be at the opening breakfast at 7:30 am--again, really--don't they know we're writers?!), and theoretically seeing friends I haven't seen in years. It's funny how that works: meet someone out of town, and suddenly they are more memorable.

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.

If you look very closely, you can see Gatekeeper and her soda. Hey, a girl's gotta keep awake through nine hours of pitches (and then the agents and editors after party) somehow. 

Bear delivery!

Today's delivery on an old-fashioned mail scale

So, I stroll into the office with a major case of the Mondays. There's a box from Amazon waiting for me, and since I've been a bit of a book glutton lately (ooh, Amazon Prime, you are a formidable foe), I assume it's one of the many things I ordered. 

But then I pick up the box--heavier than any book I've looked at. (I'll admit to preferring portable tomes. When one must carry all reading material all day, with nowhere to leave it--that is, in subway, versus car culture--all purse contents must be carefully chosen.) 

So I slice it open, and it's...gummi bears. Six pounds of them! Enough to not only make up the cast of a manuscript, but the crew and entire production team as well!

(Little known fact: it is perfectly all right to freeze bears and all members of the gummi animal kingdom. Just be careful, if you have an especially cold freezer--sometimes they get too hard and can be dangerous to teeth. But, in most freezers, they're a new, added chew-challenge--like extreme gummi sports.) 

My intern is going to flip out when she sees them.

So, though I generally advise against gifts, this one was well-executed on many fronts:
  • 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. 
Again, gifts are generally not advised. But, for the aforementioned reasons, this was not only fun, but delightful. I've been staring down the bears for more than an hour...trying to wait until lunchtime. We shall see...

Snarky was here!


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

Throwing a fabulous party is a skill that benefits everyone involved--and can be especially gratifying for the host/esses as appreciative emails come pouring in: What a wonderful night! Because of you, we met editor _____, who ended up buying _______. Can you imagine? Your thoughtful event-planning helped bring a book into being. How great is that? Well, it happens all the time at these parties (and has happened to yours truly). This is why so many of us choose work parties over whatever we had planned that evening. 

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.


Acoustics should be carefully considered. The building was beautiful, and had excellent ceiling medallions. (Gatekeeper is a little obsessed with architectural detail.) But it was also a story and a half (that is, the top level was half as wide as the bottom one) and there were many open doors--sound got trapped in strange ways. When I entered the party, it was a dull roar--one had to nearly shout every word. This is somewhat awkward when making business acquaintances.

Speeches are not advised. Toasts, sure. Speeches...no. If you must make speeches, they should be short and obviously relevant. If you must make long, and not obviously relevant speeches, it's a good idea to have a working sound system. (I was ten feet from the podium and could barely hear.) 

If something goes wrong--like, for example, you're making a long, seemingly irrelevant speech and the sound isn't working, and half the room can't tell you're talking, so they're still talking--keep this in mind: tones and admonishments generally reserved for loud, naughty kindergardeners do not generally go over well with twenty-something professionals. 

Also, if you have a catering staff, please advise them not to yell at guests. If they must  yell at guests, please advise them to keep their complaints short and to the point. When Snarky dared carefully (not touching anything else) pick up a lone item without tongs (of which there was only one pair per table), a woman gave him an angry talking-to about how if everyone picked up things that way, everyone would get everyone's germs. "You're in public. This is public food. Don't you know you can't behave that way?!" she went on. 

Snarky glared (his unimpressed glare is pretty scary) and the caterer smartly went on to her next victim--and then the next. But Snarky was not pleased. As we left, he made jokes about ripping car doors off of cabs, Hulk style. Cab doesn't stop for us? Snarky smash!

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.


This is how the party could have gone. Snarky would have pulled a Clark Kent-to-Superman, left his business casual somewhere, and transformed into the Hulk. And, no, cabs aren't generally allowed to drive up onto the park in front of the building--but, then again, Snarky is neither monstrous nor green.

This is, in fact, the building where the party took place. Note the concerned edit-staffer on the stairs. 
There's a tiny shop on Second Avenue between 83rd and 84th that sells antique mirrors, solid apartment-sized furniture (my friend just bought a table she'd been lusting after for a year--and it was delivered to her fourth-floor walk-up as quickly and easily as a pizza--thank you, Manhattan), framed vintage art and small, square art prints. The store is so tiny that there is only a small, foot-wide path for tiptoeing between the floor-stacked canvases. One of them had a neon picture of Madonna and a quote about anticipation that leapt out at me: it only makes what you're waiting for more worth it, the art print said.

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.