Friday, June 29, 2007

They Work Hard for the Money

As noted previously, I'm updating my address book. Wednesday at around 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time, I sent out an email blast to 170+ inhouse publicists, asking them to respond with their contact information.

Within minutes, I had a half-dozen personalized responses from pubs on the East Coast. Which means they were still in the office at 7:30 p.m.--long after they should have gone home, even with summer hours. (Many publishers close at 1:00 on Fridays; employees make up the time by working an extra 30-60 minutes the other days.)

At LAX after the last BookExpo in LA, I ran into a pub I know at a major NY house (incidentally one of the people who responded after 7:30). We had time to kill before our flights, and agreed to have lunch together at a restaurant in the food court. But first, she said, she had to check her office phone messages.

I waited and waited, but she'd disappeared. I started thinking maybe I'd imagined what she'd said, or that she'd invented an excuse to get rid of me. So I had lunch by myself. An hour later she found me and apologized profusely. She'd had SEVENTY (70!) PHONE MESSAGES--and she'd only been out of the office one weekday.

Now do you wonder why your publicist may not like to chat on the phone?

Makes You Wonder

As I was leaving the Cherry Creek Whole Foods yesterday, I noticed a door to the right of the exit. It was marked:

Customer Service Closet

Which got me thinking:
  1. Is the closet for complaining customers? I'm sure there are plenty; affluent people tend to be more demanding, as I learned during a youthful stint at the Pottery Barn (aka "Poverty Barn") near Bloomingdale's. The closet has a very solid wooden door; no one would hear the cries of a Lexus driver being given a time out.

  2. Is the closet for servicing customers? No one would hear the Lexus driver's cries of passion either.
I'm keeping an eye on that door from now on. A discreet eye, though, as the security guard hangs out nearby. (Hmm... Is he an enforcer of #1 or a lookout for #2?)

What's In a Name?

Now that the tale of the minister and the male prostitute has died down, my favorite tawdry Denver news story is the one about a Chinese couple who ran a string of whorehouses staffed by specially imported Asian women.

The wife's name is Kit Chi Ho.

You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Best Business Cards Ever

I'm finally organizing the 120+ biz cards I collected at BEA. First I'm alphabetizing them, then will update my address book. (Dorothy's observation about Oz holds for publishing houses too: "People come and go so quickly here!"). After that I'll neatly lay out the cards--still in alpha order, of course--scan them and email the scans to my masters at VaBook. Hey, it keeps me off the streets and out of the pool halls.

Here are my two favorite cards so far:
  • Copper Canyon Press -- The reverse has a quote from Kenneth Rexroth:
    "I've had it with these cheap sons
    of bitches who claim they love
    poetry but never buy a book."

  • Budding writer J. Tynan Burke -- A black box at the bottom of his vertical card has white type stating: "Tall, attractive recent Stanford grad; linen coat, striped shirt; met at BEA." Didn't remember his name, but as soon as I read the description, I said to myself, "Oh yeah, that guy!" (And he is tall and attractive.)

Quote--and Laugh--of the Day

In a serious setback for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, new research finds that the eldest children in families tend to have higher I.Q.’s than their younger siblings.
--The Borowitz Report for today

BEA: The End

Packed into the United terminal at LaGuardia, waiting to fly
the friendly skies back to Denver.

After bidding au reservoir to my lunch companions on BEA Saturday, once more I zoomed around to as many booths as possible. There were all sorts of educational and intellectual programs going on, but I bailed in favor of giving publishers the one-two punch: press kit for VaBook Festival followed by shiny! new! press kit for Book Promotion 101.

I was supposed to meet a workshop alum at the Sounds True booth at 4, then an author I'd been corresponding with at the Chelsea Green booth at 5, where I was also meeting up again with Digby Diehl. The alum had to leave, but kindly left a note for me with a mutual acquaintance. Then, even though we were probably spitting distance away, the author and I missed each other at 5. We were both too tired and punchy to think of whipping out our cell phones. And so it goes.

I told Digby that I'd go with him to a party, then went to Darling Husband's booth to wait. But as soon as I sat down, it was all over for me. My voice was completely shot, my feet, back and neck were killing me, and all I could think about was lying down. NFW I was going to any more parties, I announced to DH, then told Digby the same via cellphone. (He wound up at some fabu publisher party at Buddha Bar. I wasn't even envious.)

Whereupon DH, his colleague Sharon and I trudged many hot, hard and sweaty blocks to our hotel, as of course the taxi line at the Javits was horrific. (Never have I loathed the mall-ified Times Square and its clustering hordes of tourists so intensely.) Following a shower and the briefest lie-down, we went off to dinner with Sharon at Victor's Cafe Cuban restaurant (more mojitos, yay!), after which I was in bed with lights out by 10:05. God, I'm getting old, I thought in the 15 seconds before I lost consiousness.

After 9 hours of sleep, I woke up a helluva lot perkier on Sunday morning than I did on Friday or Saturday. Go figure. Then I zoomed around publishers' booths again till it was time to catch the shuttle bus to LaGuardia--which I did by the skin of my teeth, whilst pulling two wheeled suitcases containing my personal effects plus some 50 lbs of printed matter.

But BEA still wasn't over once I got on the plane, 'cause most of the way back I gabbed with EllynAnne Geisel, author of The Apron Book, who was sitting in the seat in front of me. Eventually, her husband switched seats with me so we could talk across the aisle instead of twisting over the top of EllynAnne's seat.

Next day, when I sifted through the 120+ business cards I'd collected, I realized that I'd never gotten to any booths in the lower level of the Javits. C'est la vie...

In addition to books and business cards, I also brought home a nasty respiratory virus that knocked me out for more than a week. (I'm still tired and slightly gloppy 3 weeks later.) At least I had plenty of time to start reading the many ARCs I snagged.

Monday, June 25, 2007

BEA Serendipity

John Elder Robison, author of the upcoming memoir
Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's.

Yes, one day (maybe today!) I'll finally finish recounting my adventures at BookExpo. This past Saturday's coverage in the Rocky Mountain News adroitly leaves out the show dates, so the uninitiated would never know it was three weeks ago. If the Rocky can still cover the show, so can I.

On BEA Saturday (that would be June 2), I had arranged to have lunch with Kim Reid, a consulting client and subsequent member of the Denver Literary Ladies Luncheon--and author of the marvelous No Place Safe: A Family Memoir (due in October). But then I ran into Charlottesville (Va.) LLLer Jenny Gardiner, whom I hadn't seen since March, and asked her to come to lunch with us. Well, Jenny had a few others in tow, whom she'd met at the Backspace Writers Conference the day before: Carolyn Burns Bass,
Kim Stagliano and John Robison (Augusten Burroughs's very big brother, as you'll see in the pic on Kim S's blog).

Proof once again that it's a small world indeed, Kim R had hung out with Jenny at the Backspace conf; I'd met Kim S through Miss Snark's blog and we'd corresponded a few times; Jenny and Kim S had met and bonded online through a writers' loop. Carolyn was a Backspace conf sponsor. John had been at the conf too, plus had signed galleys of his debut book, Look Me In the Eye, in the Crown BEA booth earlier that day.

Once assembled, we trooped into the lower level food court, but the lines were ridiculously long, and though we located a table, there weren't enough chairs to be had. So we scattered to various points to buy provisions (Carolyn and I went back upstairs for sushi), then reconvened in a BLISSFULLY QUIET corner of the ground floor atrium.

After a lovely respite of just munching and talking quietly--and complaining about how %@#$! hot it was in the Javits, especially in our greenhouse-like corner--we trooped back upstairs to get copies of Kim R's and John's books. As soon as we got to the Kensington booth, an impromptu line formed of people eager to get a signed ARC from Kim. Below is an enthusiastic fan with her much more subdued daughter (you have to imagine the
mega-preteen sigh and eyerolling); John is adjusting his lanyard in the background.

After that, we went to the Crown booth, where a publicist kindly fetched me an ARC of John's book from a secret stash. As an Aspergian, John may not be great with eye contact (hence his book's title), or have much expression in his face or voice; but let me tell you, he sure knows how to close a sale. While the pub was getting me the ARC, a passerby buttonholed John, and he promptly sat down with her and gave her a spot-on pitch for the book. "Normal" writers should be so articulate and eloquent--and this was without having had any media coaching.

Stay tuned, folks: We're going to be hearing A LOT about Robison's book this fall, and not just because he got a $1 million-plus advance and his kid bro will be promoting it with him. I've read a few pages and it looks like a real winner.

BEA Star Moment

Me & Darling Husband with a certain celebrity, more or less.

Up on the show floor after the Saturday Book & Author breakfast, I happened by the Grand Central Publishing booth, where Stephen Colbert was signing blads for his upcoming book, I Am America and So Can You. A harried-looking publicist told the scores of people waiting on line that they might not get signed copies. I asked him if I could get an unsigned copy and he gave me the one he was holding. Instant gratification!

Later in the day, Darling Husband (who was an exhibitor) and I went to the Grand Central booth, where we had our pic snapped with Colbert. He was lively and engaging on stage at the breakfast, but in the booth he was flat and cardboard. Exactly like.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

BEA: Saturday Book & Author Breakfast

The front of the line waiting to see Stephen Colbert et al.
at the Book & Author Breakfast. It was only 7:45 a.m.

As mentioned in the prior post, I attended the Saturday Book & Author Breakfast with my perennial date Baratunde Thurston. Somehow, he's always able to drag his carcass to the show hall well before 7:30 a.m.--even when, as happened this time, he'd been up late the night before after hosting a film awards ceremony downtown.

In Chicago for the breakfast moderated by Jon Stewart a few years back, Baratunde's early-bird tactics got us prime seats at a center table up close to the stage. But this time, when I got to the Javits at 7:40, the doors to the great room were still shut tight and Baratunde was hundreds of places back in line. That's the beginning of the line in the photo above; it went up the stairs and snaked through the atrium, where we were standing.

Once inside, we got seats at a table about halfway back in the room, though we had to turn our chairs around after the program started. Besides moderator Stephen Colbert (I Am America and So Can You), there were:
  • Ken Burns (The War: An Intimate History, 1941 – 1945)
  • Lisa See (Peony in Love)
  • Khaled Hosseini (A Thousand Splendid Suns) subscribers can view the program here.

Do I have to say how funny Colbert was, or how enthusiastic the audience?

I didn't think so. However, I will note that he brought the house down with this:
A lot of people have asked me this morning about the difference between doing late-night television and doing a book. There is actually one very interesting difference. In late-night television, WE DON'T DO ANYTHING AT 8 A.M. ON A SATURDAY. ARE YOU CRAZY?! My eyeballs are hemhorraging!
I will also note that this was the best Book & Author Breakfast--indeed the best author panel--ever. Even at BEA, too often there is at least one dud on a panel (e.g., Editors Buzz Forum). But this time, each and every one was stellar. Hosseini was surprisingly funny, and even broke up Colbert at one point when they went mano a mano. If Hosseini's writing career ever flags, he has a bright future doing stand-up comedy.

Want to know what it takes to be a top-tier bestselling author? Like it or not, it's about performing and connecting with the audience, along with writing well. Watch and learn.

One caveat: If, like me, you're distressed by violent images (I'm still suffering PTSD from my accident), skip Ken Burns's video, which features graphic WW2 footage. That was the only part of the breakfast I could have done without--plus the "food," of course, which I long ago learned isn't worth eating.

During the Q&A, an audience member began her question by plugging her self-published book, which had a ridiculously long title. I and many others were groaning loudly. She asked Colbert whether he ever interviewed self-pubbed authors on his show. Obviously she doesn't watch it regularly, as just a few weeks previously he'd interviewed the author of a self-pubbed book (I forget his name & the title) on how to use prison time for personal growth. As always, Colbert was quick and graceful, answering her: "Well, you're on CSPAN2 right now!" There was a remarkably similar author at the Jon Stewart breakfast. He made hash of her and her "Jewiest-sounding name ever." She camped out later by the press room and we Fourth Estaters avoided her like a leper.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Publishing

What's wrong with this picture?
Comedian & author Baratunde Thurston, waiting on line for the
BEA Saturday Book & Author Breakfast, bright & early at 7:45 a.m.

A couple of weeks before BookExpo, I received a fall catalog from one of the several publishers whose name begins with "H." (There are also a bunch that begin with "B" and "P"; one learns these things in the course of compiling PW's announcement listings for more than a decade.)

I pored over the catalog, dog-earing many of the pages to mark potential participants in next year's Virginia Festival of the Book. Every page had an author headshot as well as a bio. It was good to put a face and history with a book title, except...

When I got to the end of the catalog, I said out loud, "Hey, wait a minute!" I paged through again, only this time I paid special attention to the headshots. Yeah, they were in black-and-white, only there were no black faces to be seen. No Latino names or faces either. There was one East Asian and one South Asian. The latter was dark-skinned, but definitely Indian (an expat), not African. WTF?

I stopped at Publisher H's BEA booth, where I spoke to a male (!), black (!!) publicist--the only one I've ever met, perhaps the only one in all of publishing. I commented on the dearth of African faces in the current catalog. He rolled his eyes and sighed, then did his job and tried to put as good a veneer (I decided against "face") as possible on the list, which does contain some enticing titles. But we both knew that there are some things one can't--and shouldn't have to--spin in 21st century America.

The bigger picture is that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white. Don't believe me? See the photo above for Exhibit #1. That's Book Promotion 101 workshop alum (and Harvard man!) Baratunde Thurston, my perennial date for the Saturday Book & Author breakfast, holding a spot for me in the endless line (more about that in another post). Every year we joke about how easily I'll be able to find him in the crowd; every year the joke gets less funny.

A few years ago in Chicago, we sat together for the Book & Author Breakfast hosted by Jon Stewart. Baratunde's was the first hand up for the Q&A. Stewart called on him.

"I'm a comedian," Baratunde began, "and there's something that everyone is burning to know: How come you never have black people on 'The Daily Show'?"

"Because they're not funny," Stewart shot back. The room roared with laughter, including Baratunde, who knew he'd been gotten, but good. (He got to speak with Stewart personally later and gave him a copy of his book, Better Than Crying.) Now, of course, the show (finally!) has a black "reporter," the very funny Larry Wilmore as "Senior Black Correspondent."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

8 Things You Never Needed to Know

My friend R.U. (Experienced?) at RUminations tagged me with a meme. Here are the rules:
  • Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves.
  • The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed.
  • At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.
The penalty for not continuing the chain is instant bad luck, which means nothing to me. Considering my series of unfortunate events last year, to quote from "Born Under a Bad Sign," if I didn't have bad luck I wouldn't have no luck at all.

But here goes anyway:
  1. I flew from New York to London by myself when I was 8.
  2. I put a tack on my 4th-grade teacher's chair. It stuck in her girdle so she didn't feel it, but the class nearly died of suppressed laughter.
  3. My feet are size 12-1/2, so I mostly wear men's shoes.
  4. I went to Maya Rudolph's 8th birthday party.
  5. I didn't meet my three older sisters till I was nearly 40.
  6. I wrote the first press release for "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
  7. I loathe licorice, anise and fennel.
  8. I never pass along chain letters or memes.

One Gig Leads to Another

I just got back in touch with author Eleanor Herman (left), author of SEX WITH THE QUEEN: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics and SEX WITH KINGS: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge. She caused jaws to drop at the National Press Club a few years back when she showed up for my workshop outfitted in full regalia as 16th-century royal mistress Diane de Poitiers. (For the whole day, we referred to Eleanor, whose family tree includes Eleanor of Aquitaine, as "your majesty.")

I asked Eleanor what she's been up to lately and got this response:
Well I do have some great news. I am the new host of a History Channel show called "Lost Worlds." We filmed a show in Turkey last month about this ancient Roman city called Aphrodisias. I wandered the ruins interviewing archeologists. Next week and the week after I will be doing a Hindenburg episode in the Alps and riding around in a giant zeppelin.
And how did that come about?
It was a freak accident, really. Early May I got an email from Atlantic Productions London, hired by The History Channel to do "Lost Worlds." They were looking for a host with an American accent, and had used a presenter called Tessa somebody, whose radio show I had been on two years ago during the London book tour surrounding the marriage of Charles and Camilla. Tessa loved my book and my personality and recommended me. They wanted to see some TV work I had done and I FedExed them the Henry VIII show on National Geographic. And I really loved being on camera in Turkey, I was so enthusiastic and they said the viewer can get excited along with me.
I watched the Henry VIII show last year, and frankly Eleanor was the best thing in it. No wonder she was tapped for "Lost Worlds."

As soon as Charles & Camilla's engagement was announced, Eleanor got in touch with every journalist who'd recently written about them and/or who'd interviewed her about Sex with Kings, pitching herself as an expert on kings who'd married their mistresses. It worked: she was quoted in newspaper articles across the U.S. and around the world--and her book got a second boost, many months after it was published.

Moral: Be prepared, and ALWAYS put on a good show--you never know where it will lead you. Oh, and make sure there's someone handy to lace up your gown in back; royal dressing requires aid.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pic of the Day

Max with my favorite BEA swag--a Bella Distribution Services shopping bag. (Max wouldn't have liked the bull terrier on Bella Books' old logo! The only dog he tolerates is Jenny.) It's not often that my name is imprinted on anything, so I'm always happy to pick up goodies at the Bella booth (they gave me notepads too). I'm hoping that next year they'll have mugs; I make do with "Bellagio" ones that Darling Husband brought home from a trade show in Las Vegas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kill Dead Celebrities

This just in from the Authors Guild:
There's been a sudden and alarming push in the New York State Legislature to pass a bill that would create a posthumous "right of publicity" for anyone who died since Jan. 1, 1938.

The bills would give heirs the right to control the use of the "name, portrait, voice, signature or picture" of anyone who died within the last 70 years for "advertising purposes or for purposes of trade." The legislation provides for criminal penalties for unauthorized uses and gives heirs a right to sue for damages.

The two versions of the bill that have been introduced do not provide a clear exemption for literary works. Certainly a bill that would open up biographers and historians--and many fiction writers--to a new kind of liability shouldn't be undertaken without careful consideration.

Our sources in Albany tell us that the Assembly bill (A. 8836) could be voted on at any time by the full Assembly and that it would most likely pass. The Senate bill (S. 6005) seems to be on a slower track, although it is still possible that it will pop up before the legislature recesses tomorrow or when it is reconvened by the Governor in July.

We see no choice but to strongly and quickly oppose the legislation. The Authors Guild has already gone on record expressing its opposition. If you as Members want to register your opposition (and it would help the effort immensely we're told), please fax your letters or call the legislators listed below immediately:

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (phone: 518-455-3191; fax: 518-455-2448)

Senator Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn, Sponsor of Senate bill) (phone: 518-455-2730; fax: 518-426-6910)

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (phone: 518-455-3791; fax: 518-455-5459)

Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn,Sponsor of Assembly bill) (phone: 518-455-5462; fax 518-455-5752)

So, for example, the heirs of Frank Lloyd Wright could sue Nancy Horan for her new novel, Loving Frank; ditto the heirs of Winston Churchill et al. who are discussed and pictured in Lynne Olson's TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. Or I could get into legal trouble for what I've written about my father. And forget about publishing a memoir about him, or illustrating it with photos (never mind that some have been in my possession since childhood).

Sure, dead celebrities shouldn't be resurrected to sell products. But there's a huge difference between Fred Astaire dancing in a dustbuster commercial and his dancing across the pages of a work of literature.

(June 21) Further thoughts:
What about Frank Langella portraying Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon"? Would he be sued, as well as playwright Peter Morgan? And what about all those Elvis impersonators, and drag queens doing Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland, and Rich Little doing impressions of long-gone politicos and stars? (Hmm, maybe stopping Little isn't such a bad idea, judging from his performance at the White House Correspondents' dinner.) And what about those pretentious full-page ads in the NYT for the Sotheby's credit card featuring such art stars as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Author Websites

I look at jillions of author websites in the course of my work. I see some great ones, some good ones and many that need overhauling.

Here's what every site should have:
  • Nav bar with tabs labeled along the lines of About Jane Author, Books, Events, Contact Jane Author, Press, Author Q&A, Links.
  • On first screen of the homepage, the cover image of author's newest book plus an enticing tagline & blurb, PUBLISHER'S NAME (amazing how many authors leave that out!) & a link to the Books page
  • Books page should have: cover image; snappy descriptive graf or 2 (such as in publisher's catalog); publisher's name; ISBN; a blurb or 2; at least a one-graf excerpt and a link to read more (another 5-7 grafs) if there's info about more than 1 book on the page.
  • If nonfiction, the excerpt should include a take-away: recipe, helpful advice, profound insight, etc.
  • Bio page must have a GOOD headshot, preferably shot by a pro. Simple background that doesn't distract from face; simple jewelry ditto; no funny reflections in eyeglasses. No posing with darling kids or pets--unless author writes about kids or pets; and even then leave out the kids.
  • Author Q&A: A self-interview with 10 questions that will 1) attract readers; 2) be a good cheat sheet for interviewers who haven't read the book (i.e., most interviewers).
  • Press page should have: excerpts from recent reviews with links to read more (don't run complete reviews without permission); links for downloadable high-res (at least 300 dpi) headshot and book jacket; links to author's print, radio & TV interviews.
  • Contact info should include author's publicist. Email addresses must be encrypted or spelled out (janeauthor at janeauthor dot com) so web spiders don't pick them up and send endless spam.
  • Keep personal information minimal. We don't need to know the names of partner/spouse (unless famous), kids, or pets. They're only of interest to stalkers.
  • On Events page, move "upcoming" gigs to "past" as soon as they've happened. (See below.)
  • No cutesy stuff. If it doesn't belong in a resume or news article, it doesn't belong on a website.
  • No flash animation; it's distracting and takes too long to download.
  • No background music; it annoys the people in surrounding cubicles.
One more thing:
UPDATE FREQUENTLY! I just looked at an author site that said "Coming in January 2007." A certain bestselling author I know has a Big Book coming out this fall, and his website/blog is all about his first book--and hasn't had a post since last September.

P.S. Said author just informed me that he emailed his web designer this morning about working on the site. Am I psychic, or what?

Yet Another Quote for a Lifetime

There is no point in writing unless you have something to say and are determined to say it well.
--Alexander Waugh in FATHERS AND SONS: The Autobiography of a Family, quoted in a NYT review by Michiko Kakutani.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Matchmaker, Matchmaker!

Workshop alum Tish Cohen (Town House) sent me a link for the marvelous video she wrote and appeared in with fellow HarperCollins Canada author Leah McLaren (The Continuity Girl).

Over drinks at a cafe, the two discuss the potential for romance between their two deeply flawed main characters, Jack and Meredith, with hilarious results. Every book video should be this good.

And yes, after having dinner with her at BEA, I can attest that Tish is indeed obsessive about potential food allergies and is constantly dousing her hands with Purell. (Though maybe if I had done the same I wouldn't have come down with that vile virus afterward.)

Watch Tish Cohen Talks with Leah McLaren.

Wannabe Published? Read This! #5

An agent's advice on doing a "pitch slam" at a writers' conference:

Don’t talk the whole time during a pitch. You should be able to do your sum-up in under 2 minutes (and if you can’t, you know you have a problem). Then allow the agent time to ask you questions and to get to know you. We are just as interested in seeing if you, as a person, would be a good fit for the agency.

Yes, we know you’re nervous but treat the pitch like a job interview. Fake it till you make it with your confidence. You’ll come off professional and we won’t know the difference. We like professional, confident authors.

The pitch is not the start or the end of your writing career. Don’t treat it as so. It’s just one facet of this whole business.

Wannabe Published? Read This! #4

From an agent:

My main advice for newbies is to do their homework. Make sure they are targeting specific agents who represent the kind of book they've written. I HATE getting submissions for sci-fi, fantasy, screenplays, or other genres I don't represent. There are plenty of resources --guidebooks like the Jeff Herman book, acknowledgments pages, plus online sites--so this information is not terribly difficult to find.

What makes a writer stand out from the pack is if they've taken the time to investigate the types of books I do and write a personalized letter. I automatically delete email queries addressed to "Agent" or "Dear Sir or Madam" or "Yo." I also delete queries without any salutation at all, and believe me, I get plenty of them. (Truth be told I like those because I don't even have to take the time to read them, I just hit the delete button).

Writers should be able to describe their project in one short paragraph. They should not launch into a detailed description of the plot. The cover letter should be no more than one page and should include aforesaid description, plus some pertinent biographical information. Begging, pleading, apologizing, being cute and gimmicky generally does not work. Ass-kissing doesn't work either (well, sometimes it does, but rarely). The main thing for writers to remember is that they should always present themselves in a professional manner.

Wannabe Published? Read This! #3

From an agent:

Understand that if someone takes email queries, you're better off NOT just cutting and pasting your printed query letter into an email and hitting send. You have to write to a different rhythm.

People read differently on the screen. Actually move their eyes differently, in fact.

Short paragraphs, short sentences, lots of white space.

You can't double space between each line to create white space, so you have to construct your sentences differently AND lay them out differently on the page.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another Quote for a Lifetime

“No matter how much you can generate a windmill and a hype around a book,” Ms. Kamil [Dial Press v-p & editorial director] said, “in the final analysis what matters is if the book connects to the reader on the page.”
From an article in the NY Times about the video trailer for an upcoming novel by Holly Peterson, Manny and the Socialites: Let's Roll.

Father's Day

Dad & me at about age 8, in New York.

My father walked out on me and my mother when I was about three years old. She took me to the park to play and when we came back, he and all his things were gone. When she finally located him a week later, it turned out that he'd had an apartment of his own for some time.

She should've seen it coming: They'd been having difficulties and he'd offered/threatened to leave; he'd left two previous marriages when those daughters were three. But she was young (only 24) and naive. She soon wised up.

I don't remember spending a single Father's Day with Dad, who lived in Europe for some 15 years, or even sending him cards or presents. (I saved those for the stepfather who raised me from age 9.) I think I called him on Father's Day a few times in my late 20s and early 30s, especially after my son was born. He'd long since forgotten my birthday; his sixth wife handled all holidays and gift-giving.

The older I got, the less my father had to do with me. Still, he affected me deeply. When I was two, my mother took me to the doctor because my voice was raspy. She thought I had a bad sore throat; it turned out that I was trying to imitate him speaking. I miss his voice (always described as "gravelly") the most. Every odd now and then--in an elevator, on the street--I hear one almost like it, and my breath catches. I feel like a little kid again. Could Daddy be here? But then, with a sharp stab of disappointment, I remember that he's long gone.

I'll never again hear
"Huh-LO Bella!" in Dad's peculiar resonant rumble. But there are echoes of him in an elderly cousin I met a couple of years ago--though with his Liverpool accent he sounds like Ringo doing an impression.

He may not be saying my name anymore, but at least my father's distinctive voice isn't stilled forever. It lives on in movies and radio recordings--such as "Leo and The Blonde" from 1947 (years before my birth), forwarded to me by the generous and multi-talented Rupert Holmes.

Express Yourself LIVE

Saturday, June 16, 2007

BEA Party Girl: Weinstein Books

At the Chelsea Green party, I ran into GalleyCat Ron Hogan, which was happening so often that I was afraid his wife was going to start having suspicions about us. To give her more basis for jealousy, Ron gave me directions and the magic password to the Weinstein Books (formerly Miramax Books) launch party, which was conveniently launching at 9pm.

Ever the Party Guy to my Party Girl, Digby Diehl was game for more gallivanting. So after bundling our dinner companions into a taxi, he and I trundled just a few short blocks up 9th Ave. to the fabu Maritime Hotel.

As soon as we got into the cavernous dark bar upstairs and positioned ourselves under an a.c. vent, we were accosted by a succession of Comely Young Things of both sexes offering to take our (FREE!) drink orders. Woohoo! We had arriven!

Iced refreshments in hand, we made the rounds inside and out, and onto a deck that leads to a whole 'nother part of the establishment. There we bumped into my dear former PW colleague Mark Rotella, one of the people I had most hoped to see. Back inside we mingled and chatted--bellowed, really, as the sound system kept getting cranked higher and higher--with people such as Paul Slovak of Viking, a Big Editor whose name I can't remember (I'm sure he can't remember mine either, so we're even), a shmancy London agent (ditto), Ron Hogan (natch!) and a really nice YA author whose card I lost.

I am so blackmailing Ron Hogan (left) with this pic;
Digby Diehl is on right.

Digby got it into his head that the Weinstein brothers should be at their own party. We asked around, but they were nowhere to be found and we didn't see anyone of large enough girth to pass for either of them. They were probably at the New Yorker party.

Eventually my frayed vocal cords and aching head were no match for the pounding music, so I hoisted a goodie bag containing all of two ARCs--Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam (short stories about young doctors) and Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress (preteen historical fiction)--and shared a cab uptown.

And so to bed.

Digby reminded me that Big Editor was the nattily tailored Steve Rubin, president and publisher of Doubleday. Shmancy agent was Ed Victor--The Mr Big of publishing, per the UK Guardian, which has this priceless quote (my new mantra): 'I've always lived a life where people have said, "Look at him. Who does he think he is?" And who I think I am is someone living life to the brim.'

BEA Party Girl: Chelsea Green

After ducking out of the Editors Buzz Forum, I met up with Renaissance man Digby Diehl (author, reviewer, TV correspondent, former head of Harry N. Abrams, journalist, etc.), who was to be my date for the Chelsea Green party honoring Naomi Wolf, author of THE END OF AMERICA: Letters to a Young Patriot (coming out in August). Digby had an entourage with him: agents BJ Robbins and Rich Barber, and husband-and-wife authors Sid & Nancy (yes, I made the obvious joke) Kirkpatrick. I only had a plus-one invitation, but we figured what the hell and took off en masse.

The line for taxis was appalling at the Javits, so we walked to 9th Avenue, thinking our chances would be better there to catch a cab downtown. As did about 100 others, so we trudged another long block and oozed our hot and sweaty selves (did I mention how repulsively hot the Javits Center was?) into the subway.

After some touristy wandering back and forth across lower 8th Ave., we located the party site in a residential building on Gansevoort Street. The lobby was deliciously air conditioned, and some of us were all for staying down there. But we thought there'd probably be COLD DRINKS upstairs, so we trooped into the elevator.

We piled into the party, which was crowded, noisy and very very hot. (Does no place in NYC have properly functioning air conditioning any more?) I was swilling water till Digby led me to the table where a sweet young couple was dispensing wine sorbets. Ah bliss! There's nothing like getting tiddly on a snow cone...

We sought shelter in the much cooler living room, where I talked with Joyce Meskis of the Tattered Cover (my neighbor in Denver) and others. Then we were herded back into the kitchen area for a talk by Naomi Wolf (left).

And can she ever talk! That woman could sell shoes to snakes; I was ready to follow her anywhere. Per the catalog description: her book "exposes how the escalation of Executive Power has eroded the Constitution's core values and systems, limiting our Congress to make laws, and our courts to interpret them – a scenario that our Founding Fathers foresaw and warned against."

We were ready to storm the barricades after that; instead Digby, the Kirkpatricks, Barber, Chelsea Green rights guy Henry Poirot and I went storming into the streets in search of dinner.

After more wandering about, we settled on Pastis Brasserie on 9th Avenue. The Restaurant Gods must have been smiling on us, as walking in and getting a table for six at 7:30 pm on a spring Friday is nearly impossible. (I didn't know that Pastis is a sibling of Balthazar.) A half-hour later, the place was jammed. Someone in the group spotted Laurence Fishburne waiting for a table, but I didn't see him. Our table was right by the door to the toilettes, which have a common sink for femmes et hommes. We noticed a few people doing a lot of scurrying in and out of there, followed by nose wiping and sniffing. I remember similar activity at a SoHo boîte I used to frequent way back when. Le plus ça change...

BEA: Editors Buzz Forum

Buzz Forum as seen from the cheap seats; Sara Nelson standing.

Late in the afternoon on Friday, June 1, I attended the always much-anticipated "Editors Buzz Forum." In years past, it was called "Editor and Bookseller Buzz Forum." I wonder if the new title was supposed to underline, or just to reflect, the lessening importance of booksellers at BEA (formerly ABA--American Booksellers Association).

Moderated by Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly, in order of appearance the panelists were:
  • Daniel Halpern: Ecco/HarperCollins
  • Geoffrey Kloske, Riverhead
  • Margaret Marbury, Mira Books
  • Susanna Porter, Random House Pub'g Group (not Jennifer Hershey, as previously announced)
  • Marysue Ricci, Simon & Schuster
  • Elisabeth Schmitz, Grove Atlantic
( members can view their presentations, as well as other BEA programs, here.)

Nelson announced that each panelist was going to talk for no more than 10 minutes about just one book. Well, OK, maybe two books--but really mostly one, and really for only 10 minutes.

First up was Daniel Halpern, who apparently didn't hear the part about "only 10 minutes." He also apparently didn't practice his lengthy speech beforehand. Worse, he mostly read it in a monotone. Worst of all, the book he chose was a new poetry collection by Robert Hass--AND HE NEVER MENTIONED THE TITLE!!! (Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005)

"Why read poetry?" Halpern asked. "And further, does anyone?"

Why, indeed? Halpern sure didn't give a satisfactory answer--or at least none that I could hear, as he hadn't mastered the use of that newfangled contraption, the microphone. I doubt his presentation gained any new poetry readers either (not me, that's for sure). He certainly lost listeners; people were streaming out by 4:15.

The New York Magazine account of the program notes, "The rest of the editors did in fact remember to sell books." Thank dog! (TM, Miss Snark)

Next was Kloske, who in welcome contrast actually spoke to the audience instead of droning from a text. He told us about the author of his lead title--Shalom Auslander--then talked about the author's background, his earlier collection of short stories and how he came to write this book, a memoir about breaking with his Orthodox Jewish past. By then I was getting impatient to hear the title. Was Kloske going to pull a Halpern and not say it? No, he was just building tension so he could reveal it to maximum effect: "Foreskin's Lament--and it's not going to change," which elicited much laughter. Auslander's terrific trailer for the book elicited even more laughter. (You can see it here with Kloske's talk; crank up the volume.) He's some kind of advertising whiz kid and it shows; every book trailer should be so good. (Ian McEwan's people, take note.)

Then we had Margaret Marbury, who extolled MJ Rose's upcoming The Reincarnationist: A Novel of Suspense. I was wondering if maybe Mira had snuck in a ringer from the publicity department, because Marbury was a) audible, b) passionate, c) succinct; and most of all she d) answered the Three Big Questions:
  1. So what?
  2. Who cares?
  3. What's in it for me?
She showed a VidLit trailer for the book. Unfortunately it ran twice, which prompted a wag to call out, "It was reincarnated!" I'm very curious to read the book, as MJ told me a little about it (very little, as she didn't want to jinx it) over a lovely dinner in Denver almost a year and a half ago. So I grabbed two galleys just in case.

Susanna Porter was also unschooled in how to speak into a microphone, which is too bad, as her lead title, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, sounded like my cup of tea. At least I think it did; between her too-soft voice and the noise from the hallway, I caught maybe 1/3 of what she said. This much I do know: The book is historical fiction about the scandalous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney 100 years ago; inhouse enthusiasm is "incredible" and Ballantine is "pulling out all the stops."

Marysue Ricci didn't need to read from any notes, as she had her shtick down cold for THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs. He's the only author I can remember who's been featured twice--the first time was for his debut book, The Know-It-All. "I think he's done it again," said Ricci, who SPOKE INTO THE MICROPHONE and opined that this book is more saleable and appealing than The Know-It-All. "As a lapsed/recovering Catholic, I never thought I'd love a book about the Bible," she confessed. She brought the house down with these taglines: "The Bible Belt meets the Borscht Belt. AJ puts the 'ha' back in Hasidism, the 'fun' into fundamentalism. Thou shalt not be able to put it down!"

Elisabeth Schmitz talked about two books, only mostly not into the microphone so I mostly couldn't hear her. "Why should we care about the murder of a Guatemalan bishop?" she asked about Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder. Um...dunno. I also don't know why we should care about Sick Girl, Amy Silverstein's memoir of having an emergency heart transplant at age 24. After maybe five minutes I gave up and went into the hall, where I scooped ARCs into the thoughtfully provided BookTV tote bags and joined up with my escort for the evening's festivities. More about that later.


I just checked into the National Book Critics Circle blog, whose most recent post, dated yesterday, is What to do in New York Tonight. I was all prepared to feel sad and envious because I'd missed yet another big and exciting and important Literary Event.

Instead, I learned that McNally Robinson Booksellers on Prince Street (former site of a fresh-killed poultry monger that we in the old nabe dubbed "Chickenwald") was hosting a screening of the film for Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach, which I commented on none too favorably here. Admission: $10 (TEN DOLLARS! For a 20-minute bookfommercial!), or $5 with purchase of the book. Upon reading that tidbit, I exclaimed, "Give me a BREAK!" and rolled my eyes so hard they sounded like a windowshade snapping shut.

Of course, no one would pay money to attend a bookstore event that isn't hosted by actual, real live people. So NBCC president John Freeman and novelist Colum McCann, both of whom appeared in the film, plus director Doug Biro and author Kathryn Harrison, were on hand to do what McEwan refuses to do: meet with the book lovers who support--literally!--his work.

My Inner Bitch (OK, maybe my Outer Bitch) marvels at the irony of having Harrison, who wrote a novel and a memoir detailing the sexual affair she had with her father, lead a discussion about a novel that begins with the fumbling of two virgin newlyweds. I wonder if anyone pointed that out during the Q&A?

Now I'll have to find something else to be sad and envious about.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wannabe Published? Read This! #2

From an agent:

Most of us agents and editors are real schoolmarms when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. And usually--to be blunt--we know far more about these matters than the average aspiring author. IT IS ESSENTIAL that an author have the query letter, proposal, and sample chapters proofread thoroughly, preferably by a literary professional, before they send them in to us. Even that friend of yours who is the local high school English teacher, sad to say, is usually not good enough to accomplish this task properly. I'm not looking for writers who are going to require me to spend time correcting their manuscripts; that is not my job.

And if I sound pissed off about this, it's because after years of such submissions, I AM!

Wannabe Published? Read This!

Next Friday (June 22), I'm going to lead a "Prep to Pitch" workshop at Lighthouse Writers Lit Fest in Denver. I sent a one-sentence query to an editor who acquires nonfiction, asking "Is there anything you'd like me to tell the wannabe authors attending--maybe something that would sound too harsh coming directly from an editor or agent, but that they need to hear?"

Here's the fulsome response:

Authors AND agents should not expect publishers to provide "feedback" about their work upon refusal. There are times when I do my very best to compose a polite, clear refusal stating why we don't think the book will work for us, and then the agent comes back and says "can you give us some feedback on how this might be improved?" or "can you give me more information on why this is not a good match for your list?" Now what do I do? I have probably avoided saying something I don't want to commit to paper, and am now on the spot. And too busy to respond again to something I have crossed off my list.

In all honesty, we only have time to give that kind of feedback for projects we have high hopes for. It's a good month for me when I actually reject all the projects I have before me in a timely fashion. Providing detailed feedback would turn me into a college professor, not an acquisitions editor. I have seen editors give detailed feedback, but only when they want the author to re-submit.

That's all rather negative, eh? On the positive side, authors should be aware of the power of clarity and organization. It's a lot of work for an editor to bring a title forward as a potential acquisition. The more information you provide about yourself and your work the more likely an editor is to pay attention to your proposal: your bio, all of your previous publications and their sales figures, your marketing platform, teaching schedule, number of attendees at your events, the size of your email list- all of that is extremely helpful. And it doesn't have to include the entire book, but should have a detailed Table of Contents or outline of the content and a couple of solid sample chapters. But don't overinflate your comparison titles. Compare your book to one that is genuinely equivalent, not to the latest best-seller. We are smarter than that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Birthday, Jenny!

Jenny at Red Rocks last month.

Jenny, the Australian shepherd-golden retriever mix who lets Max encroach on her bed (but never her food bowl!) , is 11 years old today. As you can see, she's turned gray for me (now her silvery-purple tongue no longer clashes with her coat), which has saved me oodles of money at the hairdresser. Though as "the high-maintenance mutt," as Darling Husband calls her, we've more than made up for it at the vet.

She's slowed down in recent years--which means that now she tears around at high speed instead of hyperdrive. (Aussies, I quickly learned, are born to zoom.) However, unlike my last dog, a husky-German shepherd-lab mix, Jenny never got the hang of catching squirrels or rabbits. Which is a good thing, as here in Denver she'd be catching bubonic plague along with them.

Also HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Tim Schaffert , whose newest novel is Devils in the Sugar Shop.

What's Not to Like? Let Me Count the Ways...

Today's Washington Post has an article by Bob Thompson about the virtual tour of Ian McEwan for his new novel, On Chesil Beach, Take Him to His Readers: Booksellers Trade Paper for Film to Put Author on Tour.

"Virtual tour" means that a film of McEwan is being sent around to bookstores instead of the author himself. The brainchild of Powell's Books in Oregon, the film was unveiled at BEA and has been widely discussed in the trade and on blogs such as GalleyCat. Thompson went to the premier screening in Washington, sponsored by Olsson's, at the "funky" Warehouse Theater on 7th St.
The lights go down, the credits roll, and heeeeere's Ian. He's mild-mannered, soft-spoken and as up close and personal as he could be without actually being there....

What else does the film offer that you wouldn't get at an in-person reading?

Well, there are countless moody pictures of Chesil Beach itself, on the Dorset coast. And there are numerous commentators, among them McEwan's Doubleday editor, Nan Talese, who talks about being astounded at McEwan's insight into women's feelings. When she brought this up with him, Talese reports, "He was very sweet and said rather quietly: 'Oh, well, I've known a few women.' "

But for an author event to work without an author, both McEwan and Weich believe, it has to be about more than watching a movie.

"It's really what happens the moment the film is finished that matters the most," McEwan said at a recent publishing conference in New York, where he saw the finished Powell's product for the first time. It's "what readers then say to each other -- the idea of communities of readers responding to this."

I just viewed the trailer for the film on the WaPo site, which means that I watched:
  1. a commercial for Windows Mobile;
  2. a commercial for a film that's a commercial for a book.
My professional assessment: PUH-LEEZE!!!

The trailer is icky-sticky treacly, more suited to genre romance than "literary" fiction. From the outset, with McEwan intoning over soulful strings, "They were young, educated and both virgins..." I was rolling my eyes. By the time he read a passage describing Our Hero licking Our Heroine's nipple, I was squirming. No way I could watch the entire film without groaning, howling or laughing uproariously. Probably all three.

News flash: McEwan's a lousy reader, even after (presumably) multiple takes.
"The reader in me doesn't especially want to see this before I read the book," says [Susan] Coll, who seems the most skeptical of the three novelists [who helped lead a discussion after the DC screening]. And "at what point, I wonder, does it feel like an infomercial?"
Answer: Immediately.

Here's another news flash, per my previous post:
People don't want to be read to; they want to connect with the author. The audience in Washington was connecting to Susan Coll and the two other authors who spoke with--not at--them, not Ian McEwan.

Thompson concludes:

As for McEwan himself, he's a happy camper. After the New York screening, he pronounced the Powell's film "very lightly and carefully done,"....

Besides, compared with what he described, with restrained horror, as "the three-week stab around the United States and the 25 media escorts" -- well, what's not to like about a virtual tour?

Bella concludes: PLENTY!

Publishers, how about taking the money you'd spend on a fancy-shmancy bookfommercial (TM) and using it to send a real live author--with a real live personality--out on a real live book tour? I'm sure you'd get plenty of takers. I could even suggest a few myself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BEA: Care & Feeding of Fans

Lee Child & Debbie Macomber

On Friday, June 1, I attended "Care & Feeding of Fans: Author Remedies & Recipes," moderated by Carol Fitzgerald, empress of and its many ancillary sites and services. Panelists, seated from left to right, were:
I came in a little late and the room was SRO. For good reason: This was one of the best panels I've seen anywhere, and I've seen plenty. Fitzgerald was an excellent moderator and the panelists were fantastic--warm, witty and brutally honest. Though they'd never met before, they played off each other like seasoned pros and often had the audience cracked up.

I scribbled as fast as I could, but still didn't catch everything--such as what Fitzgerald's first question was, Patrick's disquisition on big hair, and the time Trigiani called into a Florida book club and they left her hanging while they got drunk (and didn't discuss the book). Now that I reread my notes, I see that they're rather telegrammatic. Oh well, here goes...

Kathy Patrick & Adriana Trigiani

Lee Child: The hard-core posters on my site forum are big-mouths--word of mouth has grown enormously. They hang out together, go on vacation together, travel all over the world together. They identify with the character Harry Reacher. It's a lot more socially acceptable to love a fictional character than a real person. [laffs] A British accent is the single most valuable thing for me in the U.S. People think I'm intelligent and refined, whereas when I open my mouth in the U.K., they know I'm a scumbag from Birmingham. [guffaws]

Debbie Macomber: I started with a mailing list of 350 people who'd written to me care of my publisher. I sent them a direct [postal] mailing of family Christmas recipes and got 300 letters back. Now my mailing list is 75,000. Every year I send a special pattern to the 25,000 knitters on my list. [No mention of what her postage costs must be!]

Fitzgerald: What's different now?

Adriana Trigiani: Online stuff helps; I answer 300 emails a day. I talk to 4 to 5 book clubs a week--at night, so it doesn't cut into the day. Have to have time to make the product. [laffs] People who read books are pretty smart. I made a DVD talking about books. Sometimes I take book clubs to lunch in New York, sometimes I meet them for lunch in other cities. [Macomber takes book clubs to lunch too; no wonder they both have adoring fans.]

Child: People are used to reading books with the idea of critical discussion. I talk about other books I like. I don't want to favor anyone, it's safer to talk about other people. [laffs]

Kathy Patrick: I kicked off the "Read This Book" campaign on the Diane Sawyer show. I wear clip-on hair for travel. [Tosses head; big laffs.] I run the largest book club in the world--it's in the U.S. and 8 foreign countries. I feature first-time authors. There are so many wonderful authors writing books that aren't seen. I run 3 book festivals: Christian [Books Alive!], Girlfriend Weekend, International Book Club Author Extravaganza. I can read and chew gum at the same time--the Southern Blonde. [guffaws]

Trigiani: The world is moving so fast now, it's insane. Every day you have to learn how to open something new...with pictures. [laffs] What hasn't changed is the commitment to our readers. Thank God I was an office temp! I knew how to put a mailing list together. It's a huge job. Reader loyalty has to do with access to you.

Macomber: When I'm going out on tour, I send postcards to everyone on my list within a 50-mile radius of the bookstore. I have a staff of three...Trigiani: THREE?!?!?! [guffaws]...for my mailing list.

Trigiani: People that read are on a journey.

Fitzgerald: Reading is one of the two most personal experiences.

Trigiani: I can't blog and answer emails. You've gotta pick what's most comfortable to you. Nothing interesting happens to me that belongs to be put on a blog. [laffs] You gotta have help, or there's no time to write. I call book clubs, take them to lunch.

Macomber: It's important to keep in touch with readers. Keep them updated on what's available. I send chatty newsletters from Cedar Cove with recipes.

Trigiani: I tracked down the girl that was kicked off "Project Runway." I got her tulle skirt and had a contest for it. That was huge.

Patrick: It's a better discussion if the book club has read the book. [laffs]

Fitzgerald: How about autographs?

Macomber: I send them a book plate. I'm not in the business of selling books, I'm in the business of writing books. I send readers to booksellers.

Trigiani: I offered a special holiday book plate. I signed 8,000 of them!

Fitzgerald: On your web site, you should have a nav bar item "For Book Clubs" and a form with time, date and place.

Fitzgerald: What's the biggest mistake authors make?

Trigiani: An author who won't speak to any readers, or look up. It's just rude.

Fitzgerald: I tell people to "lock and load": Lock eyes with the person and talk only to them.

Macomber: People come from great distances to come to a signing. Make it an event, develop a relationship with them. I used to pay my kids a quarter to bring someone to the signing table. [laffs]

Patrick: Be nice and charming. It makes all the difference in the world to be accessible. Some authors are terrible speakers and great writers.

Fitzgerald: At the Virginia Festival of the Book, someone in the audience asked an author on a panel what other work they liked. The author said, "I wouldn't recommend anyone coming up." [huge gasps] The room gasped just like you.

Fitzgerald: How do you deal with difficult fans?

Patrick: Answer everyone seriously. Tell them you're in the middle of doing a color [she's a hairdresser] and you have to get off the phone. [laffs]

Fitzgerald: What about hate mail?

Patrick: That was my first phone call after I appeared on "Good Morning America." I told her, "Let's talk," and she hung up.

Fitzgerald: How about events--do you do a reading, a spiel or Q&A?

I never read. I talk about myself and tell stories.

All: People don't want to be read to; they want to connect with the author. [I say this in my workshops ALL the time!]

Macomber: The best fan letter I ever got was from a guy in prison: "You can be my woman and I don't even care if you're fat." [mass hysteria]

Trigiani: Don't read Amazon reviews!

Audience member: I was looking for book groups for my book. I researched Newcomers Clubs (they're all over the country), and they all have book groups.

Quote for a Lifetime

"The publishing world is a business," he says. "You should really not make the mistake of thinking that writing and publishing are the same thing. Occasionally they will intersect, but they're completely different."
--Sam Lipsyte (HOME LAND), from a 2005 PW interview by Maria Simson

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What's In a Name?...or, The Devil Went Down in Georgia

A news story in today's Denver Post made my day:
Georgia judge overturns 10-year teen-sex sentence

Atlanta - A Georgia judge ordered the release Monday of a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17, a sentence that had been widely criticized as grossly disproportionate to the crime.

Several influential people, including former President Carter, publicly supported Genarlow Wilson's appeals, and state lawmakers voted to close the loophole that led to his 10-year term....
The poor defendant's lawyer is B.J. Bernstein. You can't make this stuff up.

Update: In the comments, I noted that Wilson must have been caught in the act to have been arrested. According to Wikipedia, the conviction was based on an amateur video tape (EWWW!), and that intercourse with the 15-year-old would have netted him just 5 years, as opposed to the 10 for "aggravated" fellatio. Oh, and he's black. The South rises again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quote of the Week

“Now everybody’s famous and nobody’s interesting."
--Tina Brown (channeling Oscar Wilde) in a NY Times interview by Michael Kimmelman, The Former Queen of Buzz Conjures a Golden Heyday

BEA Party Girl: LitBlog Co-op

All through dinner after the GalleyCat party, I kept making noises about being a Good Girl and skipping the LitBlog Co-op Party because my voice was in tatters and I needed rest. Blame it on the mojitos again, but I giddily piled into a taxi with Tish Cohen, Susan Henderson and Patry Francis, and decamped for Sheridan Square.

After some very clever sleuthing, we located The Kettle of Fish and elbowed our way into yet another crowded, noisy bar full of publishing types.

I said to a guy, "You look very familiar; I know I've seen you before. Who are you?" He said his name was Arthur Phillips, which didn't ring a bell. Then I remembered: "Were you on 'Jeopardy'?" Why yes, he was. "I was rooting for you!" I croaked. And I'm rooting for him even more, after reading his piece in yesterday's NY Times: My Dog Days. Oh yeah, and he also wrote Prague, The Egyptologist and Angelica.

I had a great conversation with editor-turned-agent Dan Conaway, aka "Mad Max Perkins" of the late, lamented BookAngst 101; pictured below (in glasses) with Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation.

I talked to a whole bunch of other people. Then by 11 (or was it later?), voice and legs shot, I tottered into the subway. My dinner dates were still going strong, but like Scarlett I was saying to myself, "Tomorrow is another day." A day I planned to walk, walk, walk, and talk, talk, talk.

And so to bed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

BEA Party Girl: GalleyCat

Outside the GalleyCat party: Susan Henderson, Bethanne Kelly Patrick, me (yes, I'm that tall!), Patry Francis & MJ Rose.

My original plan was to take a nap on Thursday afternoon, as I had a 3-hour break. (I bailed on going to MJ Rose's interview of founder and THE LONG TALE author Chris Anderson.) Instead I had a long, very late lunch with workshop alum Barbara Oakley (see our pic here), whose book, EVIL GENES: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend, is coming out in October. (Love that title!)

I got back to the hotel just in time to change into an all-black outfit (hey, I'm a native New Yorker) and cushy shoes before heading over to the Algonquin for drinks at 5pm.

Funny how these things metastasize...Originally it was going to be just me and MJ Rose. Then I heard from Kevin Smokler, now "chief evangelizer" for, whom we both know, so I asked him to join us. Then agents Kristin Nelson and Janet Reid wanted to meet for drinks, so I asked them to come along too, as that was the only time we all had free.

When I got to the Algonquin, the joint was hopping with overflow from the Backspace writers' conference. Our group of five was joined by Kim Reid (no relation to Janet), whose memoir NO PLACE SAFE is coming from Kensington in September; Joshua Henkin, whose 2nd novel, MATRIMONY also comes out this fall; and a passel of other writers whose names I can't remember thanks to the noise, dim lighting and powerful mojito I'd imbibed. I'm embarrassed to say that it took me days to get Kevin's joke that we were the Algonquin Square Table; I blame the mojito (my new favorite drink).

Kevin Smokler and Joshua Henkin at the GalleyCat party.

MJ, Kevin, Josh and I shared a cab downtown to the GalleyCat party at Lolita Bar way east on Broome Street. The place was crowded, hot and very loud. I'd forgotten to wear a protective sparkly pin, but happily no one clapped me on my sore right shoulder. I saw lots of people I know and lost my voice within an hour.

(Celebrity sighting: Miss Snark in scary stilettos, with Killer Yapp riding shotgun in a waiting limo.)

GalleyCat Ron Hogan (center) at his fab soiree.

I joined up with workshop alum Tish Cohen (TOWN HOUSE), Patry Francis (THE LIAR'S DIARY) and Susan Henderson of LitPark, and led the group to Les Enfants Terribles for another great dinner washed down with more mojitos--which, if they didn't restore my voice, made me not care about it.

Left, Soft Skull publisher Richard Nash & author Leora Skolkin-Smith. Right, Susan Henderson, Tish Cohen & Jason Pinter, The Man in Black.

BEA: Platforms to Pitches

The last program I attended on May 31 was "Platforms to Pitches: The Best Way to Sell Authors or Books to Agents, Publishers, the Media, and the Consumer!" presented by Kim Dower of Kim-from-L.A. Literary & Media Services.

I met Kim and her colleague William Applebaum after I'd been blown away by their "Perfect Pitch" program at BEA in Chicago a few years ago. Now I always have them speak at my LA workshops; in fact I schedule around their availability.

Following are my impressionistic notes--my hand was getting tired after scribbling for 2+ hours at the producers' panels.

Kim proudly quoted a writer who'd dubbed her "the enemy of literature" because she'd had the temerity to say that a book is a product. [It is. Get over it.] She stressed that as an author, you are a PARTNER with your publisher. [I tell authors the same thing.]

The first step toward empowerment is to know about the publishing process and how the industry works. The publisher and author have the same goal: To make money and to sell books. [All this stuff should be a no-brainer, but oftentimes it's big news to writers.]

Ask your editor:
  1. When is the book coming out?
  2. When do I get in touch with publicity & marketing people?
  3. Is there someone assigned to my book?
  4. Most important: Have you discussed hiring someone for publicity?
You want to know what the publisher's plans are. "We only have the budget to send out review copies" is code for "Your book is dead in the water." When you know what they're going to do, you'll know what to do.

You have to look at nonfiction hooks to get your book into the "news" category. While writing--even if it's a novel--every time something happens having to do with the subject, put a news clipping in a folder.

You are part of the product. Kim hates the term "platform" [so do I], but we all need one. Ask yourself:
  • Who am I more than a writer?
  • What do I have to say?
  • Do I have a personality? If not, how do I get one? [laffs]
For nonfiction, you must be able to write in one paragraph what your book has that others don't. Think of your book as a movie--write the "coming attractions."


People like to work with people they like, so be nice. [This should be a huge no-brainer too, but alas not.] The publishing business is based on relationships. What else do we have? It's not for the money. [Big rueful laffs.] People in publishing are wonderful. But they're overworked and don't have enough help.

Don't take anything personally. Give the publicity department energy, not problems. Treat them like anyone you want to get along with. If you hate everyone at your publisher, tell someone else, don't tell them. That's what agents are for! [guffaws]

Closing points:
  1. People buy books when they connect with you. So make connections.
  2. Ask WHY before planning HOW. The heart of the "why" will get you to what you have to do
  3. Write up a PRACTICAL publicity wish list. Match it up with your budget.

My First Meme

From Write Procrastinator:

• Grab the nearest book.
• Open to page 161.
• Find the fifth full sentence.
• Post the sentence.

OK, here goes...

The top book in my tottering bedside pile is TROUBLESOME YOUNG MEN: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save Britain by Lynne Olson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

US cover is above; I'm reading the UK edition (Bloomsbury), pictured in my Library Thing list below right (temporarily on the fritz).

Page 161
is in a chapter entitled "Retribution":
Bob Boothby, meanwhile, received a telegram from his association's executive committee expressing great concern over "your non-support of the Government" and ordering him to appear before the association to explain himself.
Boothby (in top hat above) was a Tory politician in the 1930s who had "spoken out of school" against party leader Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement of Hitler.

Ordinarily I'm not much for history--I prefer fiction and memoir--but Olson is a client and she handed me a copy she'd signed her very own self. So I started reading the book, and now I can't stop (I'm on page 287).

I'd heard and seen a lot about WW2, and vaguely knew that the war had gone poorly for the Brits at first. Olson shows vividly and dramatically why: because of the deadly dithering of prime minister Chamberlain and his enablers in Parliament, and the Government's ludicrous fear of "antagonizing" Hitler by going on the offensive--even after the Nazis had stormed into Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway and Denmark, and were decimating the British fleet.

Olson details events that were long ago and far away, and yet they have much resonance here and now. The emergency measures--including suspension of habeus corpus--that Chamberlain instituted have eerie echoes in the Bush administration's "War on Terror" policies. And Chamberlain's pathetic attempts to appease Hitler and Mussolini are reminiscent of the EU trying to talk Iran out of going nuclear, or various powers reasoning (ha!) with Sudanese rulers about Darfur.

BEA: Meet National TV Producers

Kristin Matthews, Patty Neger, Suzanne Williams & Elizabeth Shreve

Directly after the program with radio producers, Suzanne Williams (former publicity head at Pantheon; now a partner in Shreve Williams) moderated "Meet National TV Producers," with:
  • Patty Neger, Good Morning America/ABC
  • Kristin Matthews, Early Show/CBS
  • Jaclyn Levin - Today Show/NBC
This program was as well attended as the previous one. Ironically for an event about broadcasting, there weren't enough functioning microphones, plus there was fun with feedback. So Williams started off by having each producer stand at the podium to give a little spiel.

Patty Neger: On GMA, we have hard news 7-8am, softer news and books--at least one book a day--at 8:30. I meet with publishers a few times a year and send lists of books to the producers of the first and second hours. Often I don't know why they pass. I get 75-100 books a day, plus the ones from the publishers I discussed. It is OVERWHELMING. Pitch me by email [she gave out her address]. I always want to see video. Don't send original home movies; you won't get them back. I prefer to work with publicists--it's easier to say no. They also know the rules of the game and public relations.

WATCH THE SHOW! THINK VISUALLY! Two talking heads don't do it. The bar is really high: What made it on the air five years ago may not work today. You must be an expert in your field.
I hate long voice mail messages, someone reading a press release over the phone. Proofread your letters. Don't suggest we do the show on the plaza [that's the Today show]. I received an envelope addressed to Matt Lauer. [Gales of laughter from the audience as she hands it to Levin.] Tell me if you're pitching other shows.

We offer packages with our news magazine shows. We can put you on GMA Radio; put recipes, quizzes, etc. on our website; put digital video on ABC News Now and GMA dot com.

Kristin Matthews: The Early Show motto is "News you can use." Our anchors have specific interests, but also do various things. Give us 3 or 4 take-aways that make your book different. Send video footage. Pitch via email. Voice mail is useless--by the time I listen to your message, I've had 4 others come in. PITCH FOR A SPECIFIC SHOW. "Pass" from a producer is a victory--it's 4 letters. Most of the time it's just "No."

I'm a huge fan of fiction, but it's hard to get onto TV. Fiction authors don't translate well to the screen. Is the hook tied to something real? [i.e., in the news] The author must be a very good talker with an interesting angle. If we pass, you can pitch again if the books is REALLY relevant to current news. Breaking news trumps all.

We do 5 books a week, also the Saturday Early Show. Every good book section we do buys goodwill with the executive producer; every author buys an opportunity for another author.

Jaclyn Levin: Today is the #1 morning TV show. It's on air 15 hours a week, Monday-Friday. In September, it will be on 20 hours/week. Authors are very important; they serve as experts. I receive 100-200 books, emails and phone calls EACH DAY. [Gah!!!] Make your pitch concise. Know the show and who you're pitching to. If you want to be a guest expert, send pitch to me and Nancy Snyderman. Send DVDs and tapes. We're drowning in information. [Neger & Matthews heartily concurred.] I also book authors for Dateline and Weekend.

Q: How competitive are you?

Neger: We want to be the first network and morning show. We'll follow other magazine shows, but don't want to.

Matthews: Same. On rare occasions, we'll follow GMA and others if the story keeps growing.

Levin: Same. We'll follow if it's two months later. There are many books out there [i.e., they can get another author on the same topic]. We move very quickly; we have to feed the beast. We'll follow "60 Minutes" andOprah, but not the cable shows.

Q: What do you think of online press kits?

All: Pitch via email with a link to online video.

Q: What's your lead time?

Neger: We're looking at fall and '08 now. A November book must be pitched by August. It depends on the subject.

Levin: I prefer being pitched early, but you can do an embargoed book the day before.

Q: What about your websites?

Neger: is in conjunction with what's on air, but the others have their own producers.

Matthews: They're linked but growing.

Levin: may not get an author on air, but can be online.

Neger: All material you give us must be cleared for use online.

Q: What can turn No to Yes?

All: If something happens in the news and the author is an expert. Or you have an author who became a huge success later and there's lots of buzz.

Q: How do books make the cut?

Matthews: I read all fiction before I pitch it to the producer. There's no exact algorithm for nonfiction. Tape is more important than the book. Sentence structure is less important than whether the author is able to break down the book into 4 digestible points.

Levin: It's important to know what's in the books. I rely on publicists. If you don't know what's in your book, we're not going to know. I don't have an assistant; I get an NBC page to help me every 3 months. We look at every book. The most important details must be in the pitch.

Q: What sort of email subject lines get your attention?

All: Don't be too cutesy. Be factual. Give the name of author and the book title, so it's easy to remember the email and to find it again.