Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book Publishing for Dummies

Kelly Powers of Obie Joe Media forwarded me an article by Howard Kurtz in today's Washington Post that had me shaking my head in disbelief/dismay:

Dennis Kucinich has an autobiography out, but very few people know about it.

That's because the Democratic presidential candidate has barely mentioned the book. In fact, he never signed a contract with his publisher....

"I've been exceptionally disappointed in the man," says Michael Viner, chief executive of Phoenix Books. After printing 20,000 copies and spending more than $100,000 on promotion, he says, he has seen the book sell 500 copies in two months.
Seems that the Ohio Congressman didn't like the contract because it--gasp!--required that he give Phoenix an option on his next book, and that he "would receive no profits until the company had recouped its expenses." (House rules prevent him from receiving an advance.)

It gets even better.

Kucinich also didn't deliver the book that the publisher expected. THE COURAGE TO SURVIVE only covers his life till age 21, and has nothing about his recent career (nor his gorgeous young redheaded Amazon wife, which is what we really want to read about). Nevertheless Viner rushed it into print for a November 1 pub date and paid for an outside publicist, who said that Kucinich had "recently apologized to her for his lack of effort."

The money quote is from Los Angeles agent Mike Hamilburg, who once represented Kucinich :
"I've been in the business a long time, and I just couldn't believe this was the case and why the publisher went ahead without a contract."
Which brings to mind the old joke:

Q: How do you make a small fortune in publishing?
A: Start with a large fortune!

And look at the cover:

I can't tell what the book's about--an interracial friendship maybe? (Is that little Barack Obama on the right? At least he knows to look at the camera.)

Somehow I don't think that John or Jane Q. Public, who may have had An American Tragedy shoved down their youthful throats, will be attracted by this blurb:
"Beautifully written, hypnotically good as Theodore Dreiser."--Gore Vidal

Nor by PW's summation on Amazon:
"This view on youth in the 1950s and the making of a conscientious leader should be of interest to a wide audience, regardless of personal politics."

Oy vey iz mir.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bella's Faves of the Year

I've been thinking of doing a list of the new books I most enjoyed this year. Then I belatedly saw A Year's Books Worth Curling Up With in today's New York Times, and was ignited into action. Great minds think alike: NYT critic William Grimes had two of the same faves (#1 & 2 below). Six of the books are by Brits and/or set in England*; apparently I'm an Anglophile. And six have Jewish themes*; apparently I'm Jewish.

The lucky 13, in random order:
  1. TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN by Lynne Olson*
  2. THE INVISIBLE WALL by Harry Bernstein**
  4. KALOOKI NIGHTS by Howard Jacobson**
  5. PARDONABLE LIES by Jacqueline Winspear*
  6. MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin*
  7. LANDSMAN by Peter Charles Melman*
  8. DIZZY CITY by Nicholas Griffiin*
  9. LOOK ME IN THE EYE by John Elder Robison
  10. NO PLACE SAFE by Kim Reid
  11. LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan
  12. FORESKIN'S LAMENT by Shalom Auslander*

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Dumbest News Story of the Year

Headline & first graf on front page of today's Denver Post:
White Christmas chance is 50/50

A white Christmas — at least like the ones we thought we used to know — is as unlikely in metro Denver as a sane shopping mall experience.
Why this is dumb:
  1. We had a blizzard just before last Christmas, so it was very WHITE.
  2. As of yesterday, we had ca. 4" of snow on the ground, which
  3. IT'S SNOWING LIKE CRAZY RIGHT NOW. There is at least 5" of new snow, which is--you guessed it!--WHITE. (And of course our street hasn't been plowed, which further jeopardizes our plans for dim sum & flick.)
New Year's resolution #1:
Maintain subscription to the
New York Times.

However, there was this priceless jump hed in the Post's print edition:
BELLS: Pet pig ate Gift's chime sheet music

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Spook in the House. Who Knew?

In late 2001, I received an ARC of a book that made me laugh so much my face hurt: 10TH GRADE by Joseph Weisberg. I read it to the Boy Wonder and he loved it too.

After I did much pushing & prodding of his inhouse publicist, Joe came to the Virginia Festival of the Book in March 2002, during which he had guest stints at the Boy Wonder's school and Charlottesville High School. (Several of the kids wrote glowing recommendations of Joe and the book on Amazon right afterwards, which I'm sure helped sales.) Joe stayed at my house during the festival.

Subsequently we saw each other a few times in NYC and he spoke at a couple of my Book Promotion 101 workshops. Then we gradually lost touch.

A few months ago I saw the Bloomsbury USA fall/winter catalog, and there were Joe's name and picture alongside the title of a new novel: AN ORDINARY SPY. I knew he'd been writing, and had occasionally wondered when he'd be published again. So I was thrilled for him. But wait: what's this in the book's capsule description? "A former CIA case officer’s novel..."

WHOA!!! My funny, charming friend, who shares my love of Dim Sum Go Go and even helped arrange for me to meet his mother (described by Malcolm Gladwell as a "connector"; alas, the meeting fell through at the last minute), was a CIA spook?!?!?!

One just never knows, do one?

Read Motoko Rich's glowing review and interview in today's NYT: From Undercover to Between the Covers, and Joe's opinion piece in the Washington Post a week ago: With Spies Like These . . .

Unfortunately I was unable to snag Joe again for VaBook. But I can't wait to read the book!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Things Could Always Be Worse

Daumier: Le Malade Imaginaire

My primary goal for my trip to Maine, apart from helping my ailing mother and stepfather, was to stay well. I thought I'd accomplished it, then Tuesday night I came down with fever and chills. Those were followed a day later by what I'll term the "weight-loss phase," which still continues, albeit with less ferocity.

Yesterday, looking a bit peaked and green, I had a 2nd appointment with a surgeon who's going to remove what my orthopedist termed a "big-ass tumor." It's a lipoma, an apparently benign fatty mass about the size of a duck's egg, nestled amidst layers of muscle under my right shoulder blade. It was discovered during a CT scan after my equestrian fiasco 1-1/2 years ago, but I was told I could ignore it for a while, as there were several urgent injuries to deal with. Now it can't be ignored any longer, so it's coming out on January 2. For those keeping score: this will be surgery #7, medical facility #6 (3 hospitals, 2 surgical centers, 1 endodontics office).

Fun, huh? But wait, there's more!

This morning at 7:00, I was lying on my side in bed and shifted my hips a fraction of an inch, which caused an explosion of pain in my lower back. How well I recognized it: a herniated lumbar disc that's flared up several times in the past, usually in December during or after a viral illness. I thought I'd pass out when I had to walk all of 15 feet to the bathroom, clutching the doorframe, towel bars and sink for support.

In a footnote to yesterday's post, I wrote that one of my mottos is, "When the going gets tough, the tough go to bed." So that's where I am--flat on my back, a pillow under my knees, Max cuddled under my left arm with a paw resting on my hand. Good thing I never dipped into the Valium while in Maine, as threatened, because it's the only thing that eases the spasms. (The disc flared up when I was in France several years ago, and I was popping those little yellow pills like Pez. I called it my "Valium de Loire" tour.)

Edit 12/21:
Per my D.O. today, the spasms emanated from my sacrum, not the herniated disc. I've been up & about for several days now; traded the Valium for popcorn & chocolate.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Much Wailing & Gnashing of Teeth

Two months ago, an author friend graciously agreed to blurb a consulting client's debut novel, which has a similar theme. I was happy, my client was happy. She was told not to send out any ARCs herself; her editor would take care of it. So she did as she was told.

Then last night I received a chatty email from the author, at the end of which she mentioned that she'd never heard back from my client.


I shot off an email. My client responded today, chagrined. Seems her editor never sent the ARC, as promised. The book is off to press soon, so it's too late to put any blurbs on the jacket. Besides, she wrote, her agent (at Big Agency) and editor (at Big Publisher) "got all defensive when I asked them to please send out to authors, saying, ‘Nobody reads the author reviews on the back of books anyway.’"

My tactful reply: "That's a load of crap."

Darling Husband's response: "Big Publisher's new policy is not to use blurbs by other authors on their book jackets? Oh really?"

My advice:
Email the author with apologies & ask if you can still send her the ARC. Then do it yourself. You can use blurbs in press materials & on your website; they don't go to waste. You can bet if some big-name author writes a glowing blurb, Big Publisher will splash it at the top of their press release in a New York nanosecond.

From another client with another Big Publisher, who was told that the ARCs for her June book would be ready soon after Thanksgiving:
Found out on 12/11 (after emailing my editor's assistant as to when are galleys coming, since editor said they'd be soon and wanted to discuss blurbs, yet hasn't responded to 2 emails) that, "Oh... sorry. I'll be sure to keep you in the loop from now on! They've been pushed back to 2/21!"
Moral: The world is filled with wankers.* But do not yell at them; send effusive thanks & holiday goodies instead. You want them to feel guilty, not resentful. (And if you haven't heard back after 2 emails, pick up the phone.)

*One of my mottos. Another is: When the going gets tough, the tough go to bed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Now, Let's All Take Deep, Cleansing Breaths...

The NYT has a story today, In India, a Rare School Shooting, which contains this arresting sentence:
The boys had been quarreling for several days, Mr. Balan said, so much so that the principal had called their parents to school and recommended meditation.
Now there's an enlightened school principal! (More likely an unenlightened--or nonexistent--proofreader.)

I Agree with a Hard-Core Evangelist!

Insulin shock: the front desk at Babyland General Hospital.

The Denver Post is full of stories about the weekend shootings at area churches. One, Shooter's lessons strict, rule-driven, details the "ultra-religious home-school curriculum" endured by gunman Matthew Murray.

Seems that Murray's parents adhered to the tenets of evangelist Bill Gothard, founder of The Institute in Basic Life Principles. (Check out the pic of smiling white guys in white polo shirts on the home page.) According to the Denver Post:
[The IBLP curriculum] advises young men and women to live at home until their parents release them and counsels parents to choose marriage partners for their offspring....

Gothard's teachings have been criticized by other conservative Christians who allege he has deviated from true Bible teaching and that his stand against rock music — even Christian rock — suspicion of modern medicine, belief in spiritual roots of disease, and opposition to women working outside the home and "evil" toys are wrong.
My response: EWWWWW!!!

But here's something I agree with, though for the wrong reasons:
Gothard warned followers in a 1986 letter that Cabbage Patch dolls can cause "strange, destructive behavior."
Twelve years ago, I and the Boy Wonder (then almost 6) visited my long-lost eldest sister in the mountains of Georgia. As a lark, she took us to BabyLand General Hospital, where Cabbage Patch dolls are "born" (under mock cabbage plants) and "adopted" (by suckers, including what appeared to be men) for upwards of $200. The BW and I were exhibiting much destructive behavior by the time we exited, gasping for fresh, unsweetened air.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wildean Wisdom...and Idiocy

Oscar Wilde was an excellent companion during my trip back from Maine two days ago. Here are some more quotes for the ages.

From An Ideal Husband:
...when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

I am always saying what I shouldn't say. In fact, I usually say what I think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.

Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman.

All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.

Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear. Just as vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people. And falsehoods the truths of other people. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
From The Importance of Being Earnest:
In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.
However, the following lines in An Ideal Husband--the first was spoken not once, but TWICE-- made me groan aloud:
A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses....A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We just got 4+ inches of snow and I'm not driving anywhere today, as the Denver Sanitation Dept doesn't believe in plowing all those pesky side streets--like mine. They should send their workers for training to Portland, ME. Those guys REALLY know how to clean up snow in a hurry.

Hanukah's done tonight--not that we've done anything about it this year, what with my 'rent duties & Darling Husband's business busyness. Just two weeks from today it's Christmas, and this year I'll be singing--and eating--along with Brandon Walker. Watch:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hanukah Yoks

A friend sent me a link to My Menorah. Ya gotta see it, especially if (like me) you heard more than you ever needed to of The Knack.

A Snatch of Conversation

I'm back from my dutiful daughter detail in dark and snowy Maine. Didn't know what I was going to write about next, and then I read today's batch of deal announcements in Publishers Lunch. This conjures up many mental images, all of them hilarious:
Dr. Marie Savard with Carol Svec's CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR VAGINA, an informative and entertaining guide to women's health that combines snappy, on-point opinions with hard core facts about sex, libido, hormones, and other medical facts of life, to Mary Norris at Globe Pequot, by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (World).

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bella's Sense of Snow

OK, so I didn't totally hate it here in Maine, as you can see from these shots of Royal River Park, Yarmouth, where I used to walk my late, lamented dog Katie.

But I'm sick of winter already and it's barely begun. After several days of balmy weather, it's snowing in Denver, just in time for my arrival home tomorrow.

NOTICE: I am done with shoveling snow this season; now it's up to the menfolk at home.

Quote for the Day

I'm making my way through one of my stepfather's two copies of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (he also has multiples of Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad, and probably a few others). Here's an ever-fresh tidbit from "A Woman of No Importance":
Mrs. Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die, they go to Paris.

Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?

Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.

Kelvil: I am afraid you don't appreciate America, Lord Illingworth. It is a very remarkable country, especially considering its youth.

Lord Illingworth: The youth of America is their oldest tradition. It has been going on now for three hundred years. To hear them talk one would imagine they were in their first childhood. As far as civilisation goes they are in their second.

Bella on the March

I took my stepfather to the doctor the other day and passed the time in the waiting room by reading The Notes, the free weekly rag published in Yarmouth, Maine. It was full of the news of the recent passing of 95-year-old founder Ken Larrabee, whose economic views, as columnist Bob Jorgensen fondly recalled, "embraced a philosophy that was somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun."

But the really important news is that there were ads for:
  1. BELLA By The Falls in Yarmouth, offering "card reading, crystal & integrated energy healings and much more!"
  2. CicciaBella slippers, for sale at Meredith's Stationery & Gifts in Yarmouth.
And in Freeport, I saw a sign for Isabella's Stickey Buns Cafe.

However, I can't say that I'm overjoyed by my name being associated with integrated (or even segregated) energy healings, butt-ugly booties or a typographically challenged coffee shop.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Why I Left Maine V

7:10 a.m.

Wish I could observe Pearl Harbor Day in...oh...Pearl Harbor instead of the aptly named Gray. Maybe I'll just go out for Japanese food; the wasabi will heat me up.

P.S. 11:45 p.m.
I brought my mom some sushi--the perfect antidote to nursing home food. With my Pearl Harbor Day duties done, for my own lunch I had pad thai with a friend from high school days.

Quote for the Day

Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
--Oscar Wilde, "Lady Windermere's Fan."

Wilde could have been writing for the current batch of presidential candidates--or most any candidates, actually. I think The Astounding Stupidity of Optimism is as catchy a title as The Audacity of Hope.

Why I Left Maine IV

8:30 a.m. Heat wave! It was 2°F an hour earlier.

Looking on the bright side, this was the one day I didn't have to worry about the mosquitoes or poison ivy at Scarborough Marsh (below), where I went for a walk so the 'rents could be alone together for the first time in nearly two weeks. BTW, those low rays are from the noon sun.

P.S. It's 2°F outside again; I dread what it's going to be in the morning. Oh, and snow showers are predicted for Friday evening. Sure hope they don't keep me from kicking up my (lug-treaded) heels with friends in Portland.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why I Left Maine III

View from the front door this morning, 15 hours after plowing & 3 inches after shoveling. A lot more of both has been done since.

Current temp in Gray: 20. ARGH.

Current temp in Denver: 68. SOB!

More snow is forecast here for Friday. Sure hope it doesn't:
a) prevent me from leaving, or
b) follow me back home; last year's blizzards are all too fresh in my memory.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Why I Left Maine II

3:15pm yesterday in Scarborough (left) & today in Gray.

I've shoveled my way down the stairs and walked a half-mile through the snow to pick up the mail. My reward: Dark chocolate and cranberry liqueur!

Tomorrow my stepfather's supposed to come home. My reward: Valium!

P.S. It's still snowing, driveway remains unplowed.

Hot Maine Action

Better than TV: the view outside, as painted by Mom.

Ayuh, it shoah is snowin' out thay-uh. Translation: I'm staying in today. I cleverly left my camera in the car, which is down a gazillion steps (did I mention that the 'rents live in the House o' Stairs?) and 50 feet away, so can't take pics of the busy scene just out the window. Instead, above is a watercolor Mom did of it last spring (her paintings are for sale here). The only difference now is that the goldfinches are in their dull winter plumage, and go one at a time inside the feeder to hog it to themselves.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Driving in Circles

The Grand Tour: Gray to Topsham to Scarborough to Portland to Gray.

Mom was transferred to rehab yesterday, after having knee replacement surgery on Wed. She had a list of three facilities she wanted to go to, all between Gray and Portland. None could take her, so she ended up in Scarborough, another 15 minutes further from home.

Meanwhile, my stepfather (age 77) is still in Maine Med in Portland. Monday morning he's having angioplasty and a stent put in a coronary artery. He was thinking that:
1) he's going home on Tuesday.
2) he'd drive the car home after I pick him up at the hospital.

I told him:
1) "We'll see." (His favorite response when I was growing up.)
2) "You've gotta be kidding!"

Also meanwhile, yesterday was Baby Brother's birthday. He recently moved from Gray to Topsham, so I was invited to visit him and family in their new house.

And even more meanwhile, the weather predictors have been trumpeting a forecast of 6 to 12 inches of snow, starting late tonight thru Monday, with more snow showers on Tuesday. To me, snow is God's way of saying, "Stay home!" Which means that I'm going to be sitting tight in Gray on Monday, and maybe Tuesday too. Which means that I had to go see everyone TODAY.

And so this morning, after raking up some of the masses of leaves and pine needles from the parents' parking area (at the end of a 50-yard sand driveway, off a 1/2-mile private sand road), I set off on my rounds. First stop: Topsham, 45 minutes northeast, where we stuffed ourselves at the brunch buffet at the Sea Dog Brewing Co., in an old mill overlooking the swirling Androscoggin River.

Second stop: visit with Mom, an hour southwest. She's also in a lovely location, right next to Scahborough Mahsh (Maine speak for Scarborough Marsh). I left at 3:30 because IT WAS ALREADY GETTING DARK (!!!).

Third stop: visit with stepfather at Maine Med, 15 minutes northeast.

Fourth stop: dinner in Portland with old friend and wild man painter George Lloyd, just 5 minutes from Maine Med. (Everything in Portland is nearby; as I noted during my first visit years ago, it's just like a city, only smaller and cleaner.)

Fifth stop: Hannaford's in Portland, for essentials (Earl Grey tea, lemons, honey, chocolate chips) in case I get snowbound, 3 minutes from George's.

Sixth stop: back to Gray, 30 minutes northwest. The nice lady at the I-95 toll booth told me that the forecast is for 12 to 18 inches of snow. GACK! I lined up the cars at the edge of the parking area so as to make optimal room for Johnny the Snow Plower. Fueled by green tea and a post-dinner venti Peppermint Mocha, I raked up the rest of the pine needles and leaves, and placed three snow shovels (2 big & 1 little, just in case) by the front door.

Let it snow.*

*But let the power stay on.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Why I Left Maine

View outside the kitchen door at 4:53 PM. Note pitch darkness beyond.

I nearly got blown off the road while driving Mom's car to Maine Medical Center today. In Gray, it was 11˚F at 10:00 a.m. The temperature didn't get much above 20˚ in Portland, with winds gusting to 30 mph. Every step outside was a cryogenic dermabrasion session.

My stepfather asked me whether I missed Maine, which made me wonder whether he should be in the mental ward instead of cardiac. My answer: "Not in winter!" And that was before the sun started setting; by 3:30 p.m., it was just clearing the treetops at the horizon. As you can see from the photo above, it was totally dark before 5:00. UGH.

And--oh joy!--here's the WGME weather forecast:
All Eyes On Our Approaching Storm
Our artic [sic!] cold front moved through Friday night ushering in the coldest air of the season so far.... This will be a classic Nor'easter... Expect 6"-12" right at the coast and 8"-14" inland and mountains.... If the storm tracks just a little more to the East we could all see 12"+ of snow.
On the bright side, while rooting around the kitchen, I found a stash of dark chocolate and a four-year-old bottle of Mom's incomparable cranberry liqueur. So if it snows, I'm well stocked.

Pitching Agents IV: Online Resources

For more info and advice on how to pitch your work, see:
For how NOT to pitch, see:

Pitching Agents III: The Slam

A wonderful literary agent offers advice on what to do during a pitch session:
  1. Relax. This is a conversation between two polite, professional adults.
  2. Do your research. Read the Web site and otherwise carefully research any agent you're going to talk to, so you know if they're someone who might even have a chance of being right for you (and vice versa).
  3. LISTEN. After your initial pitch listen carefully to what the agent has to say. Don't argue. You can ignore what you hear later if you want, but for the moment you're getting free consulting from someone who makes a living in publishing, so take advantage of it.
From other agents:
  1. Agents and editors, for the most part, who offer to listen to pitches at a writers conference do so by choice. They want to hear the author’s pitch; they’re looking for, or are open to discovering, a new author and talent. So don’t be shy or scared.
  2. Open up your session with a one-sentence description of your book and its audience. If it's a novel, you could also discuss the arc of the storyline IN GENERAL.
  3. You may be asked for other book ideas you are working on, so be prepared to talk about them.
  4. Whether requested or rejected, use any remaining time for questions. This is really an opportunity for authors to interview agents and find out if it's the right agent for them. Ask about the agent, the agency or general publishing news.
Naturally, the last word goes to Miss Snark:
If an author finds himself trapped in an elevator with me, the only thing I want to hear is, "I've got a bottle of hooch and I want to share."

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pitching Agents II: The Wrong Way

Agents Never Want to Hear:
  1. The words “fiction novel.” [Several agents mentioned this first, which means it happens a lot. I've heard it from wannabe authors my own self. Oy.]
  2. The word “novel” attached to a nonfiction project. A novel is fiction!
  3. “I'm putting the final touches on the proposal.” If you need months to prepare something for me to see, why are we here now? It's confusing, irritating, and potentially creates conflicts. I want to hear that the proposal is locked and loaded and can be emailed to me pronto.
  4. A play-by-play of the action of a novel. That makes my mind go numb. Pitch sessions can be done successfully in five minutes.
  5. That you're a better writer than Hemingway. Modesty IS a virtue.
  6. “It would make a great movie!” Take ONE step at a time.
  7. “This book will appeal to all readers.” If you think the audience is everybody, it's a sure sign it's going to be nobody.
  8. Hyperbole and exaggeration: “This is going to be a bestseller...” “This is the best novel ever written” – I swear that I’ve seen that in queries!
  9. “I've written the next [fill in the blank, say Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter or Oprah Pick] and it will sell millions of copies.” This shows that the author hasn't done their homework.
  10. That you're going to quit your day job because you're sure you're going to make so much money from your book that you'll never have to work again.
  11. “I’ve already sent this to 20 publishers, and am now looking for an agent.”
  12. “I’ve already sent this to 100 agents, and can’t find representation.”
  13. That you’re looking for new representation for a book that a previous agent has already shopped.
  14. Your disgruntled story about how much you’ve been rejected.
  15. The hardships you’ve survived in your life, unless that’s specifically what your book is about.
  16. Put-downs of your genre.
  17. “I'm the author of six unpublished novels” (and they’re under your bed) or “I've written many books that haven't been published.”
  18. That you have two or three sequels in mind for a book that has sold 2,000 or 3,000 or 5,000 copies.
  19. That you have twelve projects you'd like to pitch.
  20. What compelled you to write the novel, or too much other personal information. I only want to hear background info on the author or book if it’s relevant to positioning or selling the book.
  21. How much your mom, best friend, cousin and co-worker loved your book. Biased opinions don’t count
  22. Excuses or apologies: “I know it starts slow, but the book really gets going in the second half.” “I know it's too long, but it's...."
  23. “I am 93 years old and this is my last shot to be published.”
  24. “I've just been released from [fill in the blank] and need to get this memoir published.”
  25. “People have always told me I should write a book about my life.” You may have had a very interesting life, but most people know nothing about what publishers are looking for, nor what really has a chance of selling in today's tough marketplace.
  26. “I was hoping you could nurture me and help me develop my writing.” Sorry, that's not our job. That process can take years, even decades. Come to us when you feel your work is fully formed; not before.
  27. “I'd like to pick your brain about something.” PLEASE! Not only does that clumsy phrase conjure nauseating, even painful images, it also means that the next fifteen minutes are going to be spent dispensing free advice to someone I barely know when I just don't have the time to do it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ill-Bred Idiots Go National

This just in from radio essayist & author Janis Jaquith, who supplied the above title caption:
I'm listening to Oprah's radio show on XM Satellite radio, and she's talking to Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of SIMPLE ABUNDANCE. The book came out over ten years ago and Oprah had the author on her show at that time.

Oprah said she remembered that Sarah sent her a thank-you note after her appearance on the show--thanked her for helping to sell a lot of books. Oprah then said, "I can count on one hand the number of people who have sent me a thank you after a show, that have thanked me for helping them sell their books. People never thank me."

Can you believe that? My mouth is hanging open in amazement as I type this!
Alas, I can believe it; too many people forget their home training. As I say in my Author Behavior Guide:
Grandma was right! ALWAYS send a handwritten thank-you note to the event organizers--whether you were at a glittering awards ceremony or a gritty preschool story hour. You will stand out for expressing your appreciation promptly and graciously.

Pitching Agents I: The Right Way

A few weeks ago, I taught "Prep to Pitch" workshops at the Backspace All-Agent Seminar in NYC. As part of my preparation, I emailed every agent who was going to be at the conference, plus some others I know, and asked them what are the three things they do and don't want to hear from authors who are pitching their work. Here's a compendium of their responses, starting with:

What Agents Want to Hear
  1. A fabulous 2-3 sentence description of your book that entices me to read more! Being concise is a good thing—keep your description short, sweet, and clear.
  2. Optimism. A negative attitude doesn't serve anyone well.
  3. A willingness to work hard in partnership with the agent and future editor, and to do all that's necessary to sell and promote your work.
  4. The book’s genre, i.e. thriller, memoir, narrative nonfiction, a self-help parenting book. That helps me focus on the book immediately. If it’s nonfiction, what’s new that readers will want or need. If it’s fiction, what authors are similar; i.e., if you like Don Delillo, or Nora Roberts, you might like my book.
  5. That your idea is fresh and original, and what makes this book unique.
  6. Who is the market (useful for nonfiction), and why a large potential readership for your book exists.
  7. You know something about how publishing works and have realistic expectations.
  8. You are confident and a serious writer.
  9. If nonfiction, why are you the perfect person to write it? What are your credentials?
  10. That you already have a well-established platform (i.e., you're on the national lecture circuit, you have a weekly column, you’ve won a prestigious prestigious writing prize, you have a popular website, etc.), or have concrete plans THAT YOU HAVE BEGUN TO EXECUTE for creating/increasing your platform.
  11. About projects that you are already working on, not ones that you hope to someday work on.
  12. You’ve revised your manuscript or proposal—i.e., you’re not sending us a first draft.
  13. That, if you have a novel or memoir, it has already been THOROUGHLY workshopped and, perhaps, professionally edited AND proofread. We don't want to see your work until it's in absolutely the best, most finished shape. And that means no misspellings, punctuation errors, or awkward phrasing.
  14. That you’ve been published before in newspapers or magazines. If you’ve been published in book form, that your previous books have sold well (because authors tend to be held hostage to their track records); so know your sales figures.
  15. “I've been published successfully and am working on a new book and need an agent.”
  16. “I am writing the definitive work on the subject and have had access to rare sources that will make this a welcomed contribution to the marketplace.”
  17. “I'm looking for constructive feedback on my work.”
  18. “I've been reading in my genre for years, and I appreciate authors such as (fill in the blank). I feel that my writing would appeal to a similar audience.”
  19. What your book is like—comparisons/contrasts to published works/authors/movies, etc. can help me get a handle on where the book might "fit." However, these should be realistic and timely.
  20. That you have done your research, know what I represent and want me for your agent. “I’ve looked at your website, and think we would be a great match because …”
  21. How your book is similar to a book that I represented, or in the same vein. It shows me that you researched my tastes.

Holiday Hooks

I'm jetting off to Maine to do the Dutiful Daughter Thang, as both 'rents are in the hospital. To keep you occupied in the meantime, here's a helpful piece by book publicist extraordinaire Adrienne Biggs, Biggs Publicity & Special Events.

Off-beat & Alternative Hooks for Holiday Pitching
(and several good reasons to take the day off)

by Adrienne Biggs

Books are published with seasons in mind. “Important” books are published in the Fall, “new year/new you” books in the Winter, Lifestyle books in the Spring, and “beach reads” in the Summer. Likewise, the media expect to receive pitches for “serious” books for Fall, holiday book pitches for December, romance and relationship book pitches for February, Mothers' Day book pitches for May, Dad and Grad book pitches for June, and BBQ and Grilling cookbook pitches for Summer.

And every publicist knows a good hook is important. But how do you set your holiday book apart from the competition, or how do you turn your non-holiday book into a book worth celebrating?

There are hundreds of date-specific “holidays” that invite unusual pitch ideas and which provide unique hooks for publicists, media, and retailers. For example, everyone knows most new diet books are published in January but you may not know that January is also National Hobby Month, National Soup Month, National Hot Tea Month, and that the "Today" show and "The Simpsons" both premiered on January 14--in 1952 and 1990, respectively.

Lots of people know that April is National Poetry Month, but who knew it was also Alcohol Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Dog Appreciation Month, Month of the Young Child, National Garden Month, National Welding Month, National Fresh Celery Month, and National Anxiety and Stress Awareness Month?

The biggest holiday in July is Independence Day, but did you know that July is also National Anti-Boredom Month, National Peach and Blueberries Month, National Tennis Month, and Tahiti and Her Islands Month, and that July 3 to 9 is Nude Recreation Week, or that July 11 is World Population Day (the anniversary of the day our planet became home to 5 billion people)?

A few years ago I discovered these gems in one terrific book: Celebrate Today by John Kremer, which features 3,200 special days, weeks, months, and anniversaries that publicists can use to promote their books (or find an excuse to take the day off). At the time, I was assigned to do publicity for The Cheers and the Tears, a book about youth sports and sportsmanship, and I was having trouble coming up with a good “hook.” The book was coming out in early March, after the springtime youth sports season was already in full swing, and although the author had top credentials there weren’t any relevant news headlines to connect the book to.

I had to get creative if I wanted this book to catch the attention of the media. I started to wonder if media response would increase if I hinged my pitch to a specific holiday or unusual historic date. And I became curious to find out if a holiday existed in early March that might tie into the theme of the book.

Sure enough, in the index of Celebrate Today, I discovered that March 7 was National Sportsmanship Day, a day designed to encourage athletes and others to discuss ethics, sportsmanship, and fair play on the field and in the classroom. The day is celebrated the first Tuesday in March at more than 7,000 schools nationwide.

I had hit a home run! I used this date as my hook, expanded my media list beyond parenting publications to include sports columnists and sports radio, and the media was very receptive—I even secured a feature in a nationally syndicated newspaper column read by millions of people. The publisher was pleased, the author was ecstatic, and the book sold through most of its first print run. And then Oprah and the New York Times called.

So the next time you’re looking for a creative promotional hook for your book, why not shake things up and offer the media a holiday or season tie-in they don’t expect, when they least expect it? And when you’re daunted by having to make a heavy load of follow-up calls, or in the middle of leaving yet another voice mail pitch message, remember to be grateful for the answering machine (which was invented September 27, 1950!).

CELEBRATE TODAY: Over 3,000 Boss-Proof, Tamper-Resistant, Undeniable Reasons to Take the Day Off by John Kremer (Open Horizons Publishing, c 1995; book and Special Events Data File available by calling 10-15-15-800).

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN: A Chronology of Life & Events in America: An Essential Collection of Facts & Dates From 986 – Today by Gorton Carruth (A Signet Book/Penguin, c 1991)

A Dictionary of Dates by Cyril Leslie Beeching (Oxford University Press, c 1993)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Emulate This!

On the 15th, literary agent Kristin Nelson, Darling Husband and I met LOOK ME IN THE EYE author John Elder Robison and his wife Martha for dinner in downtown Denver. Right afterwards, John spoke at Tattered Cover LoDo, and in so doing made himself my poster boy for author self-promotion (CHAMBERMAID author Saira Rao is still my poster girl).

The subtitle of John's bestselling memoir is "My Life with Asperger's." He has Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties with emotional expression and appropriate communication, and thus with interpersonal relationships. A salient symptom is not looking people in the eye when speaking or being spoken to; hence the book's title.

Through force of will, John has overcome many of his problems. (He used the phrase, "I taught myself to think that..." which I haven't encountered anywhere other than in Anthony Trollope's novels.) John still doesn't look people in the eyes much, but WOW, can he ever give a great presentation! He's a terrific raconteur and, as I noted in my post BEA Serendipity, he sure can close a sale. All of which had the audience of at least 60 eating out of his hand. See Karen DeGroot Carter's excellent account of the event on BEYOND Understanding; scroll down to "Beyond FINESSE: John Elder Robison" (Nov 16).

Agent Kristin also posted about the event on Pub Rants; scroll down to "More Than Just a Signing" (Nov 16). She wrote:
...John’s terrific presentation just reinforced again for me how important it is for an author to be a good presenter—to make the event more than just a book signing.

John didn’t just read from his memoir and open the floor to questions. He engaged us in his passion... it was very powerful and in doing so, made everyone in that room a lot more interested in buying the book right then and there....

...John didn’t let [Asperger's] stop him and he got savvy at public speaking because he was determined to share his story and his passion...

I can’t stress it enough. If you are an author, master this skill because you never know when you might be presented with many opportunities to share your book, your passion, and your vision with the world.
An anonymous commenter wrote this:
For novelists, it's a plus, not a must. There are plenty of novelists who loathe speaking in public...and let their books speak for them....don't freak out about public speaking if it's something that terrifies you. It's not crucial to success as an's a plus, not a must.
I couldn't disagree more, and so was most happy when John responded (better than I could):
I don't know if I agree with the comment "speaking is a plus, not a must."

I think it depends on how far you want your writing to take you. If you want to sell 500 copies of your book, then fine, let your book do the talking. If you can get someone to pick it up.

With all due respect, how far do most books get when "they do the talking?"


In today's world, you are not going to get significant, timely book sales without promotion of some kind. It's hard to set up promotion for authors that are not presentable in public.

With every passing day, the importance of public speaking and mass media are becoming more and more apparent to me. Any aspiring author should have his/her eyes on both those targets, as both are essential for almost any significant success in the publishing world of today....

Never a Dull Moment

Last month, I went to see the orthopedist who'd done the second surgery on my arm last year, Davis Hurley MD. He's the one who nearly gave me a heart attack by phoning the night before surgery to ask if I had any questions. Imagine that: A surgeon who actually calls his own patients! No wonder he was in 5280 magazine's list of the best doctors in Denver. He restored the use of my first and second fingers, plus he bears a striking resemblance to one of my painting instructors Way Back When, on whom I had a most unrequited crush. So I'm always glad to see him.

Well, almost always glad. I'd gone to see Dr H about having the plate taken out of my upper right arm, as it still hurts and I have pain, dysfunction and numbness in my hand. He sent me for Xrays and MRIs of the upper arm and shoulder, to see whether the humerus had healed enough for the plate to come out, and whether I'd need rotator cuff surgery.

Good news:
Rotator cuff's OK; looks like bursitis.

Not-so-good news:
Bone may not be healed enough for plate removal. I'm going for another opinion.

Totally unexpected, get-out-the-Kleenex news:
The egg-sized lipoma (benign fatty mass) under my shoulder blade that was discovered when I was smashed up by Gomez the horse 18 months ago is now, in Dr H's technical assessment, a "big-ass tumor" and has to come out ASAP. And the lipoma is so large and so stuck between layers of muscle that Dr H doesn't feel comfortable excising it himself. So he sent me to a tumor removal specialist at Colorado Limb Consultants (who knew? but this is the land of ski injuries), Cynthia Kelly MD--the only female orthopedist I know of--who's going to do surgery in mid-December.

Yesterday, referred by Dr Kelly, I saw hand specialist #3 to see whether carpal tunnel surgery is warranted (it would be done during the shoulder op). Dr. H said it is, another hand guy he referred me to said not. This one said maybe, and shot my wrist up with steroids to find out. If things get better, surgery would help; if not, then not. Along with hand guy #2 and my D.O., I'm thinking not, as the shot made the median nerve ache at the site of the original fracture in my way upper arm, while the hand feels the same as ever.

BUT WAIT...That's not all the excitement!

On Sunday morning, my mom in Maine called to tell me that my stepfather had landed in the hospital at 3 a.m. with atrial fibrillation, possibly a heart attack. (He got electric shock defib yesterday, same as Dick Cheney, but guess who got all the media coverage.) AND Mom's going into the same hospital on Wednesday, as previously scheduled, for the first of two knee replacements.

So instead of chilling out at home before my own surgery, as of Nov. 29 I'll be chilling out (literally) in the evocatively named Gray, Maine, for 10 days. Which means: running errands, shuttling between my mom's & stepfather's rooms at Maine Medical Center, tending to their enormous cat (17 lbs! with long hair that makes me sneeze), visiting with old friends, reading lotsa books (I'm stocking up at the Tattered Cover tomorrow) and writing.

I fled Maine's cold, damp winters for Virginia 12 years ago on Nov. 30, vowing never to return in winter. Hahahahaha...never say never.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Laugh of the Day

I just got a holiday newsletter from author & BP101 alum Karen Quinn. In honor of the writers' strike--or so she says--Karen recycled tidbits from holiday newsletters past. This one, from 2001, cracked me up:
This year, we lost our beloved cat, Kitty Quinn, who thought he could fly, but found out the hard way that he couldn’t. [Note: After Kitty died, the custodian in our building wrapped his body in a black plastic bag and threw it out. We weren’t able to find the body despite some serious digging. Husband Mark was traveling and I told him over the phone that Kitty had died. He thought I said, “Mimi died.” Mimi was my 95-year-old grandmother who was in a nursing home in Texas.]

Mark said, “That’s not so unexpected. What happened?”

I told him, “She jumped out the window.”

“What?!” Mark said, “So it was suicide.”

“You could say that,” I said.

“When is the funeral?” Mark asked.

“That’s the terrible part,” I said. “There won’t be a funeral. They wrapped her body in a Hefty bag and threw it in the trash.”

We then realized that we were not talking about the same loved one.
Bella's Note:
My NYC cat, Sheila, a tiger calico picked up on the Bowery (pre-Whole Foods), was a true aerialist. I had a screen in the fire-escape window to prevent her running downstairs to attack other cats in their own apartments. She got around that by leaping out the unscreened window--six flights up, with 10-foot ceilings--and through the bars on the fire escape a good six feet away. I soon put up another screen, to save my life as much as hers. I thought I'd have a heart attack the first time I saw her leap--then I had to grab her off the fire escape before she went gunning for the neighbors' cats again. P.S. She was felled by kidney failure at 13.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Keep a Lid on It

Max makes like a dog. (Jenny, who's a real dog, prefers to pull used Kleenex out of the waste baskets.) Darling Husband made the above image into a lolcat.

Lucy, our last cat (also black, but only 8 lbs.; Max is 14), used to drink from the toilet too--till she fell in, to our uproarious amusement. She tried to act as though she'd done it on purpose, but we all knew better.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thankfully Going with the Flow

From Kathryn Jordan, to my knowledge the only author to successfully combine hot sex, humor, and a discussion of Hannah Arendt with a red Lamborghini:

Like most authors of “first” novels, my story is not without pitfalls. Yet nearly two years after my novel, HOT WATER, hit the book stores and my promotion frenzy started, the bumps in the road now seem small. Mostly I am overwhelmed with gratitude at where the path has taken me. And especially grateful for Bella’s Book Promotion 101.

Here’s what happened. After three "practice" novels written in early morning hours while teaching high school English full time, I decided to write a book so sexy, fun and smart that no one would turn it down. HOT WATER sold in three weeks to Berkley/Penguin. I retired from teaching.

Soon after my agent, B.J. Robbins, called with news of the sale, I attended Bella Stander’s Book Promotion workshop in Los Angeles. In one long, productive day [make that two long days--she attended twice] I absorbed tons of priceless marketing tips, including the idea to pitch HOT WATER as the "Ultimate Spa Novel." It IS every woman’s fantasy: A midwestern housewife escapes her stifling life for a weekend at a lush spa resort, where she rents a red Lamborghini and hires a hot male escort (a combination of Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp with a philosophy degree--hey, I did say fantasy). And what better niche market than spa resorts! Just for fun I added what I call "HOT WATER House Parties." (Like lingerie or Tupperware, only with me and my hot novel).

It worked. Grassroots word-of-mouth marketing. I went on the road, touring spa resorts from California to New Mexico, with stops in Colorado, Texas and Florida. Oh yes, and the Aladdin and Paris hotel spas in Vegas! Tough job, but someone has to do it. I even did an event in Bisbee, Arizona, at the Hot Licks Barbecue & Saloon: "HOT WATER at Hot Licks on Hump Day," complete with a woman sitting on the bar singing sultry love songs, belly dancers, a sexy lingerie show, and me pinching myself--an author doing readings to a packed house in a bar!

Books sold like least compared to the four bookstore signings my publicist at Berkley set up. Four! Women loved the book, read it in one sitting, passed the word. Since January 2006 I’ve done more than 80 events--at bookstores and book clubs, parties, libraries, festivals, blogs, and, best of all, spa resorts. I’ve returned to the Oaks at Ojai four times. They comp me room and meals. Some spas even carried the novel in their gift shops. Still do.

Now for the bumps. A month before the novel was released, my editor at Berkley passed away. Leona Nevler was a veteran, nearly 50 years in the business, one of the first women to run a publishing house. Terrific lady; I flew to New York and had lunch with her. Three months later she was gone. Berkley assigned me an editor whose name I won’t mention (no longer with the company). She never connected with HOT WATER, wasn’t interested in STEAM, our proposed sequel. With a 13,000 print run, sales were decent, but not spectacular.

Last summer, Anne Weston of Gross & Weston Productions contacted me about a HOT WATER movie for Lifetime. They loved the book, really wanted to do the movie. They had great credentials: over 30 films, many for Lifetime. Wow! Rebirth, I thought. But Lifetime said the novel didn’t have a big enough name, not a bestseller. I guess #2 on a bestseller list in the San Luis Obispo Tribune (with DA VINCI CODE at #4) didn’t cut it.

Never mind, by then I was well into a new novel. One day when I was delivering copies to the resort where the story takes place--Two Bunch Palms, near where I live--I met a man named John Walton, the son of silent screen star Gladys Walton, who was also Al Capone’s girlfriend. He asked me to write a novel based on their story. Who could refuse?

Today I sent the final draft to my agent for submission. THE GLAD GIRL: A Novel Based on the True Love Story of Silent Screen Star Gladys Walton and Al Capone. Now there’s movie material!

What an adventure it’s been. Follow the flow. And be grateful. I am, eternally.

Thanks from a Sweetheart

From Dianne Ochiltree:
Having been a published children's author for nearly ten years now, I've got a lot to be thankful for--mostly for the wonderful people I've met along the way. Although we all come to the business from a different angle, we all share a passion for the well-written word, the illustrated page and the children who ultimately read the fruits of our labor together.

I am thankful for the editors who have cared so intensely for my words that they wanted to publish them...and have cared so tenderly for my writer's ego along the way to publication.

I am thankful for the illustrators who have so brilliantly brought my words to life.

I am thankful for all the publicists, both in-house and independent, who have worked with me to help bring my books some attention in the marketplace. Your continuing support as cheerleaders, strategists and (sometimes) a professional shoulder to cry on, has helped me weather many a media storm.

I am thankful for the booksellers who have been so enthusiastic about my work that they have told others about it, or have invited me into their stores to share it with their customers.

I am thankful for the parents, librarians, teachers and kids who have taken the time to tell me that they love my characters.

I am thankful for my fellow authors and illustrators. I am grateful that we consider one another comrades-in-arms rather than competitors. I cherish my writer friends for their generously shared information, critiques, business advice, and more. No one understands the ups and downs of the writing life than another writer.

I am thankful for the internet, and the blossoming of blogs about writing and publishing. Thanks be for Bella, who has shared so much valuable insight and so many updates over the years!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanks to Godparents

From The Pajama Gardener and author Carleen Brice, whose debut novel, ORANGE MINT AND HONEY, will be published in February.
When I was working on a pseudo-final draft of my first novel, I asked my then-new friend Marisol (author of The Lady, the Chef and the Courtesan) to read it for me. I couldn't for the life of me think of a good title. I gave her a list of almost-there-but-not-quite ideas, and asked for some help.

Well, not only did Marisol read my book, but so did her husband Rob. Then they did a little brainstorming and came up with Orange Mint and Honey, which I loved! (The closest I had come was Orange Mint Tea--boring!) But even better than the wonderful title was how Marisol presented it to me: on a sheet of paper printed with the words "a novel" and my name just like they would be in a book. It was the first moment I felt like this dream could actually come true.

I'll always be grateful to Marisol and Rob for believing the draft they read would become a book, and for helping to make it so by giving it such a lyrical title. I call them my book's godparents now.

Her Majesty Gives Thanks

From debut novelist Jenny Gardiner:
Of course I am most grateful for my family and friends and many of life's good fortunes. Without these things, nothing else would matter, would it?

But with my efforts toward publication finally coming to fruition, there are so many exceedingly generous people for whom I am dreadfully thankful. (I always wanted to sound like the Queen---once I saw her on a news clip thanking some schoolgirls for knitting her a sweater that she said was "horribly lovely.") Without them my book, SLEEPING WITH WARD CLEAVER, would no doubt have languished amidst a mounting stack of rejections and a broken spirit.

First person for whom I am ever so grateful is the guru herself, Bella Stander, who, besides allowing me to frequently pick her brain, pointed me to the awesome Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Management, one of the kindest people in the publishing industry. Despite having a plate overflowing with to-do's, he took the time to help this relatively clueless greenhorn, and ultimately hooked me up with my lovely agent, Erin Cartwright-Niumata, who has been wonderful.

My appreciation for my editor, Chris Keeslar, is boundless. After all, he "got" me! When you find an editor (and an agent) who understands your voice and believes in you as a writer, it's just such a great experience.

My endless thanks to my publicists, Erin Galloway at Dorchester, Nancy Berland and Elizabeth Middaugh (thank you, Bella!), and to Brooke Borneman who believes in this book and wants so much for it to sell well.

To the delightful and talented Kristy Kiernan, who invited me to take over the grog she started last year, The Debutante Ball, along with a rocking group of debut authors with whom I share the blog.

And to the iconic Meg Cabot, who had no reason to help me out but chose to do so, simply because she's a really nice person.

All of these people and so many more have been so instrumental in helping my dream come true, so this Thanksgiving I have that much more to be thankful for.

Thankful Tales

Once again, I'm posting tales of gratitude in time for Thanksgiving. Send yours along! Email: {bella at bookpromotion101 dot com}

From YA author & Book Promotion 101 alum Sally Nemeth:
Though my first year of book promo has been up and down, with some seriously epic snafus, I am MOST grateful for all the other authors I've met along the way--at the fests, at your workshop, the fabulous LAYAs (Los Angeles Young Adult writers), and through other writers.

They've kept me sane, with tales of their own less-than-perfect promo experiences; given me amazing advice, straight from the trenches; and more often that not, kept me in stitches. Without them, I'd have crawled into a little cave of woe and possibly never emerged.

So, many thanks and a turkey leg to all of them!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quote for the Day

Confessing your wishes, your real wishes, even to yourself, is dangerous. If they can be realized, which they often can, stating them confronts you with your fear of trying. In other words, with your own cowardice. So you prefer not to think about them, or you tell yourself they're impossible, and grown-up people don't wish for impossible things.
-- from Reasonable Doubts by Gianrico Carofiglio (Bitter Lemon Press), translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Crush Those Dreams!

"I'm really mean," I told the attendees at my "Prep to Pitch" workshops at the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar last week. "If I can crush your writing dreams and have you crawling out of here on your bellies, my work will be done."

I wasn't completely serious, though there were a few there who needed a basic writing class, not one on pitching agents. And people left smiling (some even sent thankful emails), so I failed as a meanie if not as a workshop leader.

Nevertheless, I'll be the first to sneer that there are wannabe writers whose work shouldn't be inflicted on anyone other than themselves. (Ditto musicians, visual artists, singers, etc.) But if writing gives you pleasure, and keeps you off the streets and out of the pool halls, who am I--or anyone?-- to say, "Give up, you're wasting your time"?

This morning I was talking with Steve Bennett, the mastermind behind AuthorBytes. (Small world: Book Promotion 101 alum Julia Flynn Siler, author of HOUSE OF MONDAVI, is a client.) Steve sent me links to some of their other recent creations, one of which is the relaunch of Chris Bohjalian's site. The Q&A page has the ultimate dream-crushing story; scroll down to:
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Princess & the Pea

On the first two nights of my recent 9-day New York sojourn, I stayed at the gracious home of Alice, an old high school friend in Westchester. For dinner Saturday night she made roast chicken and petits poids (possibly--eek!--canned).

As usual, I was talking while eating. Then suddenly I was choking because I'd inhaled a pea and it was stuck in my windpipe. After much coughing and gasping, I was able to breathe somewhat freely. I joked, "Watch, that pea'll come out my nose," which was much appreciated by the two teens at the table.

I didn't know till Alice picked me up at the train station on Friday that she was hoarse and congested with a wicked virus. So I kept my distance all weekend and washed my hands frequently. When I took my leave on Sunday afternoon, Alice got a wave and her husband a hug. I fervently hoped she was correct in assuring me that she was no longer contagious. The last thing I needed was to get sick (again!) while I was in the city, especially since I was going to stay with an elderly friend.

Monday morning, I woke up tired and a bit draggy and congested; Tuesday more so; Wednesday even more. When I breathed in, I could hear a little wheeze and feel a slight rattle in my chest. Noooo! I couldn't get sick--my birthday was the next day and I had social engagements planned from breakfast thru dinner.

I got into a blasting hot shower and took big breaths of steam. Then I was overcome with paroxysms of coughing. I was sure I'd bring up a lung, or maybe my guts. Nope, just a lot of mucus...and a very small pea, which went right down the drain.

I had a happy, healthy birthday, during which I took care to (a) chew thoroughly and (b) not inhale my food.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Rumors of Reading's Demise Are Greatly Exaggerated

Like others in our widely scattered clan, my second cousin Aaron Stander is a writer--also an English prof, kayaker and carpenter. He's self-published a couple of mysteries set in northern Michigan, where he moved after spending many years in Detroit. This morning he wrote me:
I've got to tell you about a recent Saturday evening. I was invited to give a talk about my books and writing at a small community library in one of the poorest little towns in the region. The main street is two blocks long, and the only businesses still operating are a bar, a small grocery, and a restaurant. There's also a VFW hall, and one church. There are a few dozen houses in town, most built during the lumbering years.

There was bingo at the VFW, about ten cars at the bar, and about thirty people showed up at the library. Most of them had read one or both of my books. After the talk they had cake and coffee. I had been asked to talk for thirty or forty minutes. They kept me there for more than two hours.

What an amazing experience. In spite of all the doom and gloom about the decline in reading in America, there are still people out there who love to read and talk about writing.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bella's Back

Today is my birthday and I'm in my hometown of New York, so I am thinking of my childhood, especially the first name I was saddled with. When I was growing up, there were plenty of grandmothers named Bella--mine, for instance. (I've since learned that it's an old family tradition to be named after grandparents, as were my father and his sister, who suggested my name). But there were no other kids. I didn't even meet anyone named Bella till I was eight: a young Welsh woman at a party in London.

The girls I knew all had names like Suzie or Kathy or Linda or Debbie. I asked my mother countless times why she didn't give me one of those names. She countered that Bella meant "beautiful," and she thought I was the most beautiful baby in the world. Obviously the drugs she'd been given during childbirth affected her perception; plus she was terribly nearsighted. For not only did I look like my father, but my head was misshapen and pointed from the forceps that all obstetricians insisted on using then (unneccessarily in my case; I was born so fast that all he really should have had to do was catch). My only consolation for the endless puns and jokes about "Bella" that I was already being blasted with by the tender age of five--I've heard them all since then, trust me--was to name my dog Suzie.

Then a few years ago, I started running across dogs named Bella; there were four in Charlottesville, VA, alone, from an ugly little mutt to an enormous Great Dane. Last week I met another Bella dog in Denver. All of them are glossy black, so at least they share my fashion sense.

I'd seen grandparents' names like Jake, Max, Hannah and Sophie start with dogs, then make the jump to children. So I predicted that Bella would be next. And I was right: After not even breaking the top thousand since 1931, Bella went from #748 in the list of most popular baby names in 2000 to #181 in 2006. Isabella was #4 in 2006. So there are A LOT of Bellas (or, sadly, Izzies) starting to run around.

Bella has jumped to business too. Bed Bath & Beyond had a Bella bedding line; there are also Bella Notte and Baby Bella linens. Last night I walked by a downtown flooring store with Bellawood products and had dinner at Bella Cucina on upper Lexington Ave. Today on Columbus Ave. I passed Bella Luna restaurant and made dinner reservations for Saturday at nearby Isabella's.

P.S. And now there's Bella the movie, winner of the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Horror Story #8: Tears on the Podium

A little fiction-writing bird who attended a fall conference at the Vermont Studio Center reports:
Fifty people are there for every session, about ten of them writers, the rest visual artists. The visiting artist shows slides of work, the visiting writer reads.

The first visiting writer of the September session, one Bernd Heinrich, a nature writer, had a packed house. He spent almost all of the allotted twenty minutes reading fan letters about his memoir, THE SNORING BIRD: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology, and weeping at them.

Swear to God. And the book was unreadable.
I pointed out to my correspondent that the LA Times and NY Times reviews of THE SNORING BIRD were favorable. The latter described the book as “a cross between a Darwinian parable and a Nabokov novel: an absorbing scientific saga rife with uncanny twists and fraught with quandaries over the primordial tussle between nature and nurture.”

The birdie replied:
Heinrich has written good nature/science books, apparently, therefore I would expect the LA & NY reviews to be respectful.

This was not a nature book but a memoir about his father, of whose third marriage he was one of two children. The father and mother put him and his sister into AN ORPHANAGE for several years while they were out chasing ichneumon wasps or something. The father sounds like a real monster, the son so injured emotionally he doesn't know how to feel, thus the tears. The fan letters evoked the grief (and masked rage) the father should have evoked. It was a real study in psychology.

The next day Heinrich was quite harsh to the lone nonfiction writer who signed up for a conference. (He refused to confer with fiction writers; that was OK by me, he was a stick.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Horror Story #7: Hold the Phone

From a nonfiction author, who is now with another publisher:
When my first book was published by Simon & Schuster, I was the keynote speaker at THE event in my genre (I got the gig on my own).

After my talk to over 1000 people, the bookseller at the event told me, "You know, I called your publisher several times and requested to buy books. They never returned my calls. Too bad, because a LOT of people wanted to buy your book after your talk."

That was ten years ago, before authors knew how proactive they need to be.
Moral: Always make sure that your inhouse publicist knows about your upcoming events, and informs the sales force of same.

Horror Story #6: Train Wreck avec Poisson

From an independent publicist:
Can eating too much fish ruin your brain? You be the judge after this story.

I just finished working with a health book author who sold about 20,000 copies over the course of the 6 months or so we worked with him. Since he had never been in the public eye and had been out of the health business for more than 10 years, we did what any normal firm would do: we media trained him, we coached him, we did mock interviews and we made him feel comfortable speaking in front of a camera.

Now "Train Wreck," as we jokingly referred to him, maintained that the key to healthy eating was enjoying a diet rich in salmon (2x a day, 7 days a week), dark leafy greens and fiber, and as many fruits as you desire. When I asked him about all that salmon and the mercury associated with it, he just laughed and told me that his studies showed there was no effect from mercury.

However, when after being media trained five weeks in a row, we began to suspect that maybe, just maybe, all that salmon was giving him Alzheimer’s. During the first round of media radio interviews, he started to "forget" the studies he researched, the foods in the book, the diet he was on, what he ate for breakfast. In fact, by the time we got through the second round of TV satellite tour interviews, he couldn't seem to remember the name for the vegetable he was holding in his hand during the interview.

I know you must be thinking, "Wow, he is having bad stage fright. The poor guy! How could his publicist call him Train Wreck?"

So we go back to the drawing board. We retrain him. He seems coherent. We start to feel better.

The third round of media includes feature interviews with national magazines. After a wonderful email interview with a high-circulation health publication, we start to feel like things are falling into place.

"He's getting more secure. He's gonna be fine," we assure ourselves.

Two months later, the editor calls me in a panic: Train Wreck hasn't returned calls from their fact checker and the story is slated to run in the next issue. I email him and ask if there was a problem, and why he didn't call the fact checker back. Train Wreck responds that he doesn't remember talking to anyone from that health magazine, and accuses me of doing the interview without him, behind his back, giving them wrong information and making him look stupid.

I respond by sending him the email interview that he completed and cc'd me on. He still has no recollection. Beyond the fact that he doesn't remember, he maintains that all the research quoted in the interview answers given to the writer was incorrect, AND that he never wrote that email.

After that situation, we called his agent and suggested that Train Wreck see a neurologist to determine whether all that mercury-laden fish could have possibly caused early senility. A sad but very true fishy saga.

Inquiring minds want to know: What happened next? The publicist responds,
After that situation, we called it quits with him. We were very concerned about his health. From my conversation with his agent, "Train Wreck" never went to the doctor. Instead, TW is in Europe traveling. We just hope he remembers how to get back home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Horror Story #5: The Queen Returns

Last year's Publicity Terror Tale #1 was by the self-proclaimed "Queen of Bad Booksignings." Alas, she has another horrid saga for this Halloween. We can only hope--as I'm sure she does--that she will soon be pushed aside by a more hapless author. (I know a strong contender for her tiara.)

She writes:
You'd think the Queen of Bad Booksignings would wise up, but every once in awhile, the isolated thunderstorm of terrible promotion attempts appears on the horizon.

Once upon a time, QOBB was invited to participate in a book festival. It was in a great community, and since it included a panel presentation, a reading and booksigning, seemed like it would be a source of positive PR vibes.

Wrong. Upon check-in, it was discovered that the panel presentation was to be held in a far corner of a huge theater, tucked upstairs in the balcony area. Said theater was down the street from the main tent and vendor booths--and signage directing people to the event was sadly lacking. To find out about the panel discussion, festival-goers would have to search the fine print in the program, and those brave souls would then track down the location on the map, trek through throngs, and climb two flights of creaky stairs. Not surprisingly, only about five people found the panel discussion. Every panel speaker had to introduce him/herself because the moderator didn't know a thing about them, or their books.

Every Halloween story includes some scary wind in the willows, and this one is no exception. The readings were held in a tent that was not up to the early spring winds blowing that morning. It rattled the rafters and knocked over empty chairs. Patrons were in danger of getting knocked on their heads when stray poster boards blew off display stands. Fortunately for safety's sake, very few people were there to hear authors read their book selections, as the reading tent had been placed right next to a vendor that had hooked up a very loud boom box blasting music non-stop in order to attract patrons to their spot.

Another shock awaited in the hospitality room, where there were stacks of logo tee-shirts on the table. When QOBB asked if they were for the authors and illustrators, she was informed, “No, those are for workers and special guests...but if you'd like one, they can be purchased for ten dollars each." Unbelievable.

There is always a spooky surprise at the end of every tale of terror--usually involving a bit of carnage. In this case, the surprise was the booksigning component. Instead of having the books available for sale/signing immediately following the author reading in the tent, festival-goers had to search through the festival map to find the bookseller tent, inconveniently located a block away. Author signings were scheduled about one hour after their reading, allowing patrons to forget about getting an autographed book to take home.

At the end of the booksigning slot later in the day, QOBB was instructed not to sign any books for stock...because "we can't return them."* Although bodily harm wasn't done, that one inflicted major bruises to the ego!

Appropriately, the directions to and from the event were not clear, so a twenty-minute detour searching for the highway was part of the day. However, QOBB came home grateful that she escaped the haunted event with the strength to promote books again when the moon is full.

*Not true, I responded to QOBB. She replied, "Yes, that was an eye-roller...there was no point arguing with the woman about the returnability of signed books."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Something Smells...

I just received an email entry form for the 2007 (!) London Book Festival, which allegedly celebrates "books that deserve greater recognition from the international publishing community."

I'd never heard of such a festival--not to be confused with the London Book Fair, which is next April. The email didn't have a link to a website, which I only found after some patient Googling. It also didn't have any information about exactly when--or even where--said festival is. One would assume it's in London, UK, but the postal address for entries is Hollywood, CA.

More oddities:
  1. Applicants must pay a non-refundable $50 entry fee per book.

  2. "Our grand prize for the 2007 London Book Festival Author of the Year is $1500 and a flight to London OR a flight to Los Angeles - your choice!" Since when does a book festival give out prizes? And what the hell is this prize for, anyway?

  3. From the Past Festivals page comes this fact, not mentioned elsewhere: "This is the inaugural London Book Festival."

  4. From the FAQ page:
    Q: I've never heard of this event. How do I know this is not a scam?
    A: We have been in business since 1999 and stand by our track record of first-class productions around the world. Please feel free to review past contest winners and events from our large inventory of past success stories.
I've been associated with the Virginia Festival of the Book for years, and have never heard of a reputable book festival that a) charges an admission fee, or b) gives out prizes for unspecified criteria.

You know the old saw about how a scammer always lets you know you're being scammed? I rest my case.

I knew I recognized that odor! Seems that JM Northern Media LLC, which operates the London Book Festival, also did the Hollywood Book Festival, discussed by Miss Snark 11 months ago in Crock of shit alert.

Horror Story #4: Silence at the Library

From a nonfiction author:

The new book’s been out for a year; sales are slowing. I decide to target a publicity blitz at all the libraries in the Florida area where we spend a few months each winter. One library, across the street from a famous spa, seems delighted about the idea of a real, live author coming to talk and sign books. The librarian puts up posters, announces it in the newspapers, has flyers on the checkout desk. Things look good.

I’m so confident of an overflow audience I even invite Dear Husband (who has heard this talk 12 times before) to come. We splurge and have a wonderful dinner at the spa. I feel sure I can call it a business expense and that it will be more than offset by the sales of books. We even order a good bottle of Pinot Grigio.

The talk is to be at 7:30. By the time I get to the library, there are only three cars in the parking lot – all in the “employees only” spaces. Not a good sign. The librarian has everything set up nicely and has even included coffee and cookies. She’s put my big poster of the book’s cover out by the front door. She and I and Dear Husband make small talk as we watch the clock’s hands move slowly towards eight. It’s no good thinking that the time was misprinted in the newspaper, as she shows me the announcement.

Finally we all admit defeat, put the books back in the box and head home. It’s the first time I've ever had absolutely no one show up for a signing. I try not to take it personally.

Fifteen minutes later, as we’re nearing our condo, my cell phone rings. It’s a woman who is furious to have found that, when she showed up 40 minutes late for the signing, I had left. She wants me to give her the talk on the phone and tell her how to get published. After listening briefly to her tales of woe: work, marriage, writing, I realize that she’s burning up precious minutes on my phone and politely tell her we are about to enter a “dead zone.” I hang up. She finds me via my website and writes a three-page letter. It dawns on me that I can just assign the letter to the spam folder. I do so.

Who was it that said selling books at book signings is about as effective as selling them from under a trench coat in a dark alley? They may have been right.

Horror Story #3: A Panel of One

From an author:

I arrived at my first-ever huge, well known, but shall remain anonymous book conference. I was thrilled because:
  1. my first book had come out, and
  2. I was on a panel and was going to share a table with well-known authors and editors!
I arrived early at the room. It was empty, but bit by bit filled with people who had come to see the panel. When the time came for the panel to start, I was the only one sitting at the table. My panel leader hadn't shown up. None of the panel members had shown up. They never did show up, and I never got an explanation why.

I looked at the rows of expectant faces. I was alone.

Thank heavens two authors in the audience saw my plight and jumped in, one posing questions I jotted down for her, the other sitting next to me and being absolutely fun and professional.

My opinion of those two authors soared. I buy every single book they put out.

My opinion of the conference plunged. It'll be a cold day in hell before I shell out my money to go again.