Monday, September 19, 2005

How Much Is Your Career Worth?

I met an author at BookExpo who was all upset because her publisher had been sitting on her manuscript for more than a year and wouldn't give her a pub date or tell her what was going on. Should she bail, self-publish, or what? I told her that I'm a consultant and gave her my card. She called a few days later, wanting my advice. I told her that I charge $75 an hour. "Seventy-five dollars! Ohhh, I don't know..." Then I told her that I offer a free 15-minute initial consultation. That was fine by her. When would she like to schedule an appointment? The next morning, "but it has to be early because I'm going into New York to have lunch and see The Producers."

Which got me thinking...

How much is your career worth?

You spend $1000+ on a computer & printer; hundreds more on a sturdy desk & ergonomic chair, stationery (gotta have nice paper to send out agent queries!), business cards, postage, toner, internet service, computer programs, etc. All those are considered as the cost of doing business in the 21st century.

But what about the other stuff?

1) Do you belong to the Authors Guild?
If you earn less than $20K a year from your writing, dues are only $90 a year. That's $7.50 a month -- the price of a breakfast special (if you don't leave a big tip). And it's tax-deductible as a professional expense. For that you get free legal advice on contracts, a free web page and the AG's excellent quarterly bulletin, which always has useful information (an article on FOIA requests and the write-up of the January symposium on publicity were alone worth this year's dues), plus other perks.

2) Do you belong to other writers' organizations?
Examples: Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, National Book Critics Circle, American Society of Journalists & Authors, press clubs, etc. They are invaluable for making connections (and friends even!), learning the tools of the trade and publicizing your work. Also tax-deductible.

3) Do you subscribe to Publishers Marketplace?
It's only $20 a month (one latte & a cookie per week), for which you get a daily email news digest & weekly book deal digest, plus access to the stupendous database of book deals, agents, book reviews, job board, rights postings, etc. Again, tax-deductible.

3) Do you pay for professional advice and assistance?
Confused about how to deal with your publisher, agent, editor, or publicist? There's only so much help you're going to get from friends and family. ("I hate it when writers talk to their friends," an agent recently confided to me. "They have no idea how the book business works.") Pay for knowledgeable advice, even if it isn't from me (though of course I'd prefer it were). What's the price of an hour or two with a consultant when your publishing career is at stake?

You want an opinion on your just-completed Great American Novel before you send it out to agents? Leave your friends, family & fellow writers alone, and find a freelance editor or manuscript doctor. An author I recently consulted with, whose first book is coming out in January, told me that she paid $300 for a line edit of the first chapter. She said, "My friends were horrified that I spent the money, but it's the best thing I could have done." The editor got her going in the right direction and the author was able to clean up the subsequent chapters without any further help. BTW, that book is the first of a 3-part series, with the others following in Feb & March, and the author has a deal for another 3-part series.

If you are too busy and/or inexperienced to do your own publicity, pay for someone to do it right. And pay that someone enough to do it right. I was mortified to learn that an author friend I'd referred to an independent publicist asked her whether she'd give him a "divorce discount" (and not only because I didn't know that he was being divorced). I'm sure he didn't ask for a divorce discount at the supermarket or the gas pump, or from his plumber. I'm also sure he wouldn't have expected less work for the lesser rate, either. An author who took my workshop hired an out-of-work cousin as a publicist, who put up an abysmal website larded with fake blurbs, including one from me that credited me as a reviewer for the New York Times (as if! I mean, I tried, but the little guy in the plaid shirt & big specs was So Not Interested). On the other hand, another debut novelist who took my workshop used her advance to hire a top-gun publicist, who squired her to an awards dinner and introduced her to the NY press, plus pitched the book like crazy to media and reviewers. Consequently it got a lot more media attention than other "midlist" novels and made it as an Amazon pick and a Readerville featured title.

Monday, September 12, 2005

When Worlds Collide 3

After nine years of marriage, yesterday I decided that it was probably safe to finish consolidating my 1 shelf-foot of vinyl records into Darling Husband's 14 (plus one hundred or so 45s). They're organized alphabetically by artist, which resulted in Miles Davis ("Bitches' Brew") nestling against Doris Day ("Greatest Hits"), something that I'm sure (I hope!) never happened in real life. I called out to Darling Child to expect an explosion in the record shelves, and why. His response: "Who's Doris Day?" Whereupon I played snippets of "When I Fall in Love" (which he naively thought would be the Beatles' "If I Fell") and "Whatever Will Be, Will Be." Whereupon Darling Child started gagging, and threatened to fall on the floor in a fit. So I've done my duty: Another generation has been scarred by "Que sera, sera!"

I started wondering how I could have married someone who even posseses a Doris Day album, but consoled myself that maybe it was a joke, or had belonged to his parents. The important thing, I kept telling myself, is that he also has two Fugs albums--which he even plays from time to time. To my surprise and relief, when I recounted the above incident to Darling Husband, he said, "I have a Doris Day album?"

Looks like we're good for another nine years.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Noshing Around London I

The incomparable Poon's, London

When I was planning my Yiddisher Britisher Tour back in June, I left a phone message for long-lost cousin Larry in London, asking whether we could meet. I knew that he and I were going to hit it off when he emailed a response that began as follows:

Picked up your message as just about to go in to see Yoko Ono on the South Bank therefore more alive to the unexpected than usual - though believe me an hour was plenty (it must have been very wearing for John)...

He then further secured a place in my heart by suggesting that we meet for Chinese food. However, not knowing Larry's tastes or London restaurants, I was a bit apprehensive about his choice: Poon's, off Leicester Square. When I mentioned this to his sister-in-law Lorraine, she told me that Poon's is one of his favorites, and assured me that if Larry recommended a restaurant, it was guaranteed to be: 1) inexpensive and 2) really good. I asked her whether Larry was, you know, frum. "Oh no!" Lorraine responded. "He's like the French--he'll eat anything that moves." I took this as high praise, though her tone of voice didn't entirely support my interpretation.

Poon's wasn't quite as easy to find as Larry had led me to believe. Leicester Square was far larger than I imagined, as well as choked with hordes of clueless tourists, making it quite a challenge to find someplace "just off" the Square, as Larry airily described it. The address I had was on Lisle Street, which wasn't on the map I had. Eventually I found my way into Chinatown--"just off" the Square--and struck gold when I asked a Chinese shop proprietor for directions.

And so, not two hours back from my sojourn in Kent, I was hunkered over a bowl of hot and sour soup at Poon's. It was thinner and much more chili'd than its American cousin, though unfortunately had just as much MSG. I wasn't impressed. However, the entrees (seafood something and duck something) were out of this world. And the fried rice was like nothing I'd ever had: ungreasy and light in color as well as texture, with little bits of crunchy green onions. I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it. Oh, right...I haven't had lunch yet. Wish I could have it at Poon's; will have to settle for what's kicking around the fridge.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Life intrudes

What with the horrendous news from New Orleans, schlepping to the doctor with Darling Child in the a.m. (stomach pain from as-yet-undiagnosed ailment), and then to the emergency room with him at 6 p.m. (who knew he'd developed an allergy to apples?), I'm in no humor today to prattle on about my fabu travels or the State of Publishing. For the record, I can think of few more depressing places--other than the Superdome--to have watched the NBC Nightly News than the E.R.

However, Bloomsbury USA saved the day somewhat with a review copy of a debut YA novel by Rick Yancey, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, which I found on the front porch on the way out this morning. Darling Child dove into it and was laughing aloud by page 2. (Unlike his doting mama, he can read in the car without getting nauseous.) He read all 339 pages through without stopping. Lest you get too impressed by his reading prowess, he noted that the type is large and there's a lot of leading between the lines. But still...Looks like another winner for Bloomsbury USA's impressive list. Incidentally, for those needing escapist fare, whether young adult or old, I heartily recommend the Stravaganza and Faerie Wars series, both Bloomsbury imports from the UK.