Tuesday, May 27, 2008

On to LA!

Tomorrow I'm off to Los Angeles for BookExpo America, where as usual I'll be representing the Virginia Festival of the Book and promoting my workshops & consulting services. (Learn how to apply for VaBook 2009 here; deadline for authors is October 1.)

Darling Husband and I are having a 4-hour SoCal beach vacation on Wednesday afternoon. Alas, the forecast is for a high of 70F (June Gloom, hmpf!), so we'll pretend we're back in Maine, just facing the opposite direction.

BEA officially starts on Friday, but there are terrific educational programs the day before. I'll be attending:
  1. Media Matters sessions with Southern California TV producers, radio producers and magazine editors, led by publicist extraordinaire Kim-from-LA
  2. Strategies for New Publicity Opportunities in an Expanding Media Universe
  3. The Author-preneur: Balancing Authorship and the New Business of Brand-building
On Friday afternoon, there are 4 programs (2 at the same time, GAH!) that I want to see. Then I'm starting off the evening with an Authors Guild reception, followed by three more cocktail/munchie/dessert parties. To keep up my stamina, I plan to ingest lotsa B vitamins and fizzy water (and maybe a cocktail or two).

On Saturday, after a full day at the show, I'm only (!) going to 2 receptions, then dinner and the Lewis Black show at the Orpheum with DH.

On Sunday, I'm going to the 8:00am Book & Author Breakfast, moderated by John Hodgman, with Ted Turner, Azar Nafisi and Dennis Lehane. (I think I'll be drinking lotsa coffee.)

On Monday, I plan to collapse at home.

How's Your Website?

If your book is coming out this fall (i.e., Sept-Jan), your website should be up and in perfect order NOW.

Why? Because publishers' fall catalogs are out, and will be distributed en masse at BEA. (I've already received a few in the mail: UNTITLED is a popular name for forthcoming books at Simon & Schuster.) And a poky, amateurish site won't do.

Below are some sites to inspire you; note all the "extras" that hook your attention.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"You have to sell books"

That's the lowdown from Kassia Kroszer of Booksquare, in Life on Venus: Authors Do Market. She eloquently expands on what I've been telling authors for years: A book is a product. Get over it.
It is peculiar that some believe that authors should be exempt from marketing themselves. It’s expected for musicians — who have a similar relationship with their record labels (yeah, still call them records) — they book tours and sell merchandise. Yes, all obvious business differences are duly noted. While the labels are trying to get a piece of the action, musicians realize that they need to engage in marketing to be successful. Visual artists set up shows; nobody blinks when a photographer sets up an exhibit at a gallery. To say “this is not my job” is to say “well, you know, I’m not really serious about my career.”...

Writing a book is art, publishing one is business.

Thursday Disaster!

Thanks to Google Alerts, I just found out that someone posted a tribute to my father on YouTube, "Character Actors: Lionel Stander," a mishmash of scenes from the 1976 disaster pic The Cassandra Crossing. Dad plays a Swiss (!) train conductor named Max (also his character name in "Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Hart to Hart," and maybe others), with no attempt made to disguise or explain his New York accent.

The movie, with a screenplay cowritten by Tom Mankiewicz, is so God-awful that it's comical; "Murder on the Orient Express" it ain't. Even more fun is to be had in spotting the all-star cast: Richard Harris and Sophia Loren as a crime-solving couple named Jonathan and Jennifer (more shades of "Hart to Hart," some episodes of which were directed and written by...Tom Mankiewicz), OJ Simpson, Ava Gardner, Martin Sheen, Lee Strasberg and Burt Lancaster.

Enjoy groaning:

Duh...I never thought to search YouTube for the Old Man. Turns out he has five pages of vidclips (a distressing number of which are from "Hart to Hart"). Here's one that's intentionally funny, the trailer for Polanski's "Cul-de-Sac":

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Funny story...

This just in from independent book publicist Meryl Zegarek.

The Warren Adler Short Story Contest – Summer 2008
Theme is HUMOR
To enter: WarrenAdler.com

Suggested by the recent publication of Warren Adler's latest novel, FUNNY BOYS, the theme for the Summer 2008 Warren Adler Short Story Contest is humor. We're looking for humorous stories in all their varied forms. From satire to farce, from the whimsical to the uproarious, all writers looking to get a laugh (in a good way!) should enter. We are looking for the subtle and the pungent, the black and dark, the sporty, the salty, the waggish, or whatever can spark a knowing smile, a sly chuckle, or a hysterical belly laugh. In other words, anything goes, just as long as it falls into this category, however one stretches its elastic boundaries.

Entries must not exceed 2,500 words, and there is a minimum length of 1,000 words. As in the previous contests, all stories will be judged on the basis of character authenticity, plotting, narrative drive, and the skillful manipulation of the short story literary form.

Submissions will be accepted from May 1st to August 15th. Entry fee up until August 1st is $15. After August 1st, a late entry fee is $20.

Five cash prizes will be awarded.

The winning story will be awarded the $1,000 grand prize and a personalized first edition of FUNNY BOYS. Mr. Adler will also choose his top five for a People's Choice award that will also be awarded personalized first editions.

Although Mr. Adler will have already chosen the winner, five finalists' stories will be posted on the Warren Adler website on September 1st and the People's Choice winner will be determined by public voting. Warren Adler's top choice, along with the People's Choice winner, will be announced 15 September. Prizes will be as follows:
  • 1st Prize: $1,000
  • People's Choice Prize $500
  • Remaining finalists receive $150 each

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Book Publicity Blog

For an exhaustive compendium of book publicity info and analysis, check out The Book Publicity Blog, begun in March. I'll be reading it regularly.

The blog's writer, Yen, mentions that it pertains to his/her (unnamed) day job, and that s/he reads 2000 (two thousand!) headlines a day from a feed of some 200 blogs.

I'm wondering how Yen has time to:
  1. do "real" work.
  2. sleep.
Note: The above contains corrections made in response to a comment from Yen. I had erroneously attributed The Book Publicity Blog to Andreas Viklund, who designed its Wordpress template.

Quote for the Day

"If I wait for the genius to come, it just doesn’t arrive."

-- Ian Fleming, who wrote 2000 words in four hours each day, per Remember Fleming, Ian Fleming in today's New York Times.

Killer Mice!

Gough Island mouse with remains of an albatross chick.
Image by Ross Wanless.

Be afraid. Be VERY afraid...of evolution.

Per today's UK Guardian:
Whalers who visited remote Gough Island in the South Atlantic 150 years ago described a prelapsarian world where millions of birds lived without predators and where a man could barely walk because he would trip over their nests. Today the British-owned island, described as the most important seabird colony in the world, still hosts 22 breeding bird species and is a world heritage site.

But Gough is the stage for one of nature's greatest horror shows. One of those whaling boats...carried a few house mice stowaways who jumped ship on Gough. Now there are 700,000 or more of them on the island, which is the size of Guernsey.

...the humble house mouse which landed on Gough has somehow evolved to two or even three times the size of ordinary British house mice, and...has adapted itself to become a carnivore, eating albatross, petrel and shearwater chicks alive in their nests. They are now believed to be the largest mice found anywhere in the world.

...the supersized mice attack at night either on their own or in groups, gnawing through the nests and into the baby birds' bodies.

Note to do-gooders:
Import mouse traps--NOT cats, foxes or hawks.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Arabs to Give Up Golf, Go Shopping

An AP story hot off the wires:
Bush says Mideast peace needs 'tough sacrifices'

As you may recall, in 2006 the President exhorted Americans to strengthen the country by going shopping more. And the news last week was that he had given up golf in August 2003 to show solidarity with our troops in Iraq. Except he played a round with friends in October 2003.

To quote Furio in "The Sopranos": "Stupida fucking game!"

What's in a Name?

Would you eat Chinese gooseberries?

No? Then how about kiwifruit?

Ooh, delicious!

Funny, they're the exact same thing. Chinese gooseberries weren't selling until some New Zealand marketing genius rebranded them as kiwifruit. The rest is supermarket history.

And now we have sea cucumbers, the subject of an entertaining article in Polite Magazine.
A sea cucumber is a deep water Holothurian echinoderm that lives in dense communities on the sea floor, generally grows from four to 36 inches long, and, when harvested, cleaned, and deyhdrated, looks remarkably like a penis. “Pani pani de mahi mahi means ‘Sea cucumbers taste good.’ Don’t say that to a woman in the Marshall Islands,” says Erik Hagberg, who should know.

Hagberg, a 29-year-old New Jersey native, is the enthusiastic CEO of Pacific Aquaculture Cooperatives International, a small company that has developed a proprietary method for sustainably farming sea cucumbers in the remote atoll waters of the South Pacific....

Hagberg plans to familiarize Americans with his product by means of clever marketing—he has considered selling his product under the name “Ginseng of the Sea”...
Which brings to mind a dinner date during my wayward youth. We were at a Chinese restaurant in Lower Manhattan and there was an item on the menu I hadn't seen before.

"What are sea cucumbers?" I asked the typically crusty Chinese waiter.

"Thass sea srug! You awdah, you can't send it back!" Apparently he'd had this experience with other Big Noses. I ordered shrimp.

A couple minutes later, I saw a platter being delivered to a table of Asians. Laid out on a bed of greens were what looked like lines of giant snot.

"What's that?" I asked the waiter.

"Sea cucumber!" he snapped again.

I wish Mr. Hagberg the best of luck with his endeavor. However, sea cucumber/sea slug/Ginseng of the Sea remains in the #2 spot on my list of Things I Won't Ingest. (No. 1 forever is Super Blue-Green Algae; these lips will never touch pond scum.)

N.B. Check out the Wikipedia entry on sea cucumber, which notes under one photo that it "ejects sticky filaments from the anus in self-defence." Yum!

Saturday, May 17, 2008


It's the weekend, which means it's time once again to check in with Jenny's old friend Onslow in fabulous Schuyler, VA. Onslow's keeper Stefanie writes:
It wasn't long before Onslow became disillusioned with the slick, overproduced Disco style of napping. It was time to find raw power and intensity in the nap idiom.

So here is Onslow, Punk Napper. He has exchanged one accessory (Snickers, the hanger-on) for another (handsome green Mohawk). As a reaction against the synthetic beds of his Disco period, he is dispensing with beds completely. It's just the floor, the nap and him.

In case you are wondering about his influences, the most important one is the Ramones. Their "I Wanna Be Sedated" speaks to him, for some reason.
Onslow may feel kinship with the Ramones, but he's not giving credit where it's due: to Richie Stotts, original lead guitarist of The Plasmatics, who popularized the Mohawk back in the 1970s. (I'll never forget the time I saw him get on the subway at 14th Street, 6'7" and rail thin with the indigo Mohawk. Everyone in the car cleared a space for him; the looks he got from the other riders were priceless.)

Richie Stotts of The Plasmatics

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ready for the Weekend

Max (left) and Jenny (below) couldn't care less about publishing, or how much book reviewers are--or aren't--paid.

As you can see, they're in my office preparing to party down. (It's hard to catch Jenny napping; as soon as the hears the camera click on, she's ready to bolt. I got her to stay by telling her, "Let's see your belly.")

The "Gold Standard" Pays with Dross

"WHAT?!" I yelped when I read yesterday's GalleyCat item, Publishers Weekly Reviewers Now To Be Paid Even Less. ($25!).
So it's not like PW reviewers will starve now because the rate they're being paid is being slashed by 50%. But it still sorta sucks.
It more than "sorta" sucks. There was a time, 15-20 years ago, when a significant chunk of my income came from PW reviews, which I cranked out at the rate of 2-4 per week, at $45 per. During the sturm und drang over Tasini v. NY Times, I followed the advice of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, of which I was a member, and refused to sign PW's retroactive rights contract. It demanded that I hand over, gratis, the copyright for the hundreds of reviews, interviews and articles I'd written over more than a decade. Whereupon PW informed me that my services were no longer needed--not even for the biannual announcement listings, which I'd been doing for 10+ years.

So I caved and signed the verstunken contract. And my services were still no longer needed. Whereupon I found greener reviewing pastures, which not only paid 6-10 times more but gave me a byline.
"However, you will be credited as a contributor in issues where your reviews appear," reassures reviews director Louisa Ermelino in the email she sent contributors announcing the change. Also, she writes that "all of us here are also experiencing change but we expect that we will continue to be the gold standard in book reviewing."
Raise your hand if you think Ermelino and other PW staffers' salaries have been cut by half.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Exactly one month from today, on Friday the 13th of June, I'm having the third--and I hope last--surgery on my right arm as a result of being thrown by Gomez the horse on May Day 2006.

To recap: On August 15, 2006, I had a 6" steel plate screwed to my still-broken humerus (see Well and Truly Screwed), and on November 1 I had neurosurgery on the arm to regain function in my floppy fingers (see Surgical Fun & Pharmaceutical Fun). So for more than six months of that year I couldn't use my dominant right hand at all.

More than two years after the accident, my arm still hurts constantly, especially at the site of the break; my middle finger is almost completely numb, index and ring fingers are partly numb, the base of my thumb is atrophying and my grip is stiff and sore. For lack of any better options, orthopedist #3 is going to remove the plate and screws and do carpal tunnel release on the wrist.

Which means that I'm going to be exclusively left-handed again for at least a month. So I'm under intense (self-imposed) pressure to get all my two-handed jobs done by June 12. Therefore I've been out in the garden--when it's not snowing/raining/hailing/sleeting as it was most of today and part of Sunday--as it's now or never to pull up all the weeds and plant flowers and tomatoes. Pretty soon I'm going to have to get rid of the piles on my desk, if only to make room for all the new piles that are going to accrue when I return from BookExpo. (I cleverly scheduled the surgery for 12 days after I get back.)

I trained myself to type left-handed (and drive too), so plan on working on my Great American Potboiler while recuperating. My inspiration is mystery writer Jacqueline Winspear, who wrote most of MAISIE DOBBS left-handed after her right shoulder was smashed by a horse.

Because one must always dress for surgical success, I've acquired two pairs of cotton knit pants that I can pull on one-handed, and have made sure that my stretch knit skirts are clean and ready too. I'm sure I'll spend June 10-12 doing laundry, housecleaning, gardening and taking care of last-minute Book Promotion 101 business, after which I'll welcome being sedated.

I keep remembering the lovely dream I had a few days ago, in which I woke up after my operation with feeling restored to my fingers and no pain in my arm. I'm preferring to consider it as prescience, not wishful thinking. A girl can dream, right?

Book Video of the Week

If you've ever wondered what one of my publicity consulting (aka "publishing therapy") sessions sounds like on the other end, check out this painfully funny video by Dennis Cass, author of HEAD CASE: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain. (Thanks to Lisa Kenney for sending the link!)

What's Your Plan?

Time to let sleeping dogs lie for a while, and get back to one of the stated topics of this blog: publishing. I know I should be shockproof by now, but I am ever appalled at the stories I hear from authors who get decent--or even hefty--advances for their books and little to no publicity support from their publishers.

I recently spoke with "Jane," a well-established author with a lengthy track record, who got a low-six-figure advance for a nonfiction book from a Big Publisher. A few months before pub date, Jane and her agent sat down with BP's editorial, publicity and marketing folks and asked, "So, what's your plan for the book?" The answer, with averted eyes and foot-shuffling, was, "Well, we're going to send out review copies and see if that builds some word of mouth." Once she'd recovered from the shock, Jane, who has oodles of contacts, got herself national media attention, including morning TV and an excerpt in a major weekly magazine. Even so, BP wouldn't bump up print runs, push its sales force to get the book into more stores, pay for prime placement at the chains, or even send Jane on a regional tour. The paperback came out a couple months ago (with a blah cover and cheap paper) and--surprise!--BP let it languish. As you might imagine, Jane is feeling a wee bit angry and resentful toward BP. Meanwhile she has to play catch-up and figure out how to push the paperback so it will 1) reach its intended audience and 2) not end up in remainder bins in six months.

Another author, "Amy," got a nice two-book deal for her YA novels. The first one did OK, with minimal support from the publisher and maximum effort from Amy. Novel #2 came out in April, with good reviews but zero mention in the publisher's monthly email newsletter about forthcoming releases. Just today--ONE MONTH AFTER PUB DATE--Amy's editor (not inhouse publicist--WTF?) has finally gotten around to discussing publicity/marketing efforts. However, Amy, unlike Jane, had prepared a marketing plan of her own and put it in motion in good time. So she had a bang-up launch party, set up a regional tour and advertised through AuthorBuzz. Now she's scouting out publicists to help reach out further to media, librarians and schools. (YA fiction has a longer grace period than adult.) All this while Amy's working a demanding day job and writing novel #3.

Then we have "Regina," who, also unlike Jane, didn't need to live off her advance from a BP imprint. So she plowed most of the mid-five-figure advance back into her memoir: on consultation sessions with yours truly, fantastic website from an ace designer, top-drawer campaign from the Best Publicist in the West, media training, super-duper launch party, fancy cookies to editorial & publicity departments (that was my bright idea). All this made BP--and others--sit up and take notice. One of the chains is featuring Regina's memoir, for which BP obligingly moved up the pub date by a week. And instead of "local author appearances" (aka signings in her neighborhood), as originally planned, BP is sending Regina on a regional tour.

To sum up:
  • You MUST have a marketing plan for your book, no matter how big the advance from your publisher.

  • Start working on your marketing plan by the time you've signed off on final manuscript edits.

  • Have your plan ready to go at least four months before publication date (six months if you want coverage in long-lead magazines).
For a handy-dandy, reassuring guide to writing a marketing plan, see PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK! by Jacqueline Deval.

They Love the Night Life

Snickers (foreground) and Onslow have a ball in bed.

Breaking news from my friend Stefanie, artistic doyenne of Schuyler, VA:
I am happy to report that Onslow and Snickers have joined forces for at least one more project. Onslow persuaded Snickers that of late their naps were becoming too esoteric and too serious. The joy of the early naps was missing.

The time had come to kick up their paws. The result: "Disco Nap". (The disco soccer ball is a nice touch, don't you think?) It must be said that Snickers is looking a little pensive, perhaps not yet comfortable in his new funky incarnation. He need only look to Onslow and learn.

We hope that this latest nap will introduce a whole new generation to Onslow's and Snickers's oeuvre.
I'm sure everyone is relieved, as I am, that Delilah the bitch didn't succeed in breaking up the boys' collaboration. (Though it may be time for them to get their own blog.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Artistic Differences

Snickers (front) and Onslow (waaay back).

When last we checked in with my dog Jenny's old pals in Virginia, Onslow and Snickers, they were sharing Onslow's capacious bed. But now, my friend Stefanie (Onslow's keeper and Snickers's ever-gracious hostess) writes:
As you can see from the photo, Snickers and Onslow are going through a period of adjustment and, if truth be told, discord. They just don't have the same vision anymore when it comes to synchronized napping. Really, Delilah the corgi mix (otherwise known as Yoko Ono) has been having a wrenching effect on their collaboration. She keeps yelping that Snickers is the "real artist" of the duo. As if!

Anyway, we're very excited about their next--and possibly final--project. It's a portfolio of nap photographs called "The White Album." Although it features both dogs, it really may be considered two individual albums.

Wish them well during this period of transition.
We can only hope that the boys' separation is due to the springtime warmth, and not that pushy, manipulative bitch.

P.S. from Stefanie:
I know that their many fans would like them to stay together, but ever since Onslow started going to the ashram in Buckingham County, he realizes that there is more to life than money or even a huge bed.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My Vote's for Jane!

To celebrate the paperback release of CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT, author Laurie Viera Rigler writes:
Thought you might like to know that the Austen '08 campaign has produced its first ad. Enjoy!
I sure did! Watch:

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Great (Nasty) Minds Think Alike

I made sure to put the 4:04pm MST post time for the Kentucky Derby on my desktop calendar, with a 10-minute warning beforehand. I didn't bother to synch it up with my Palm, though, and merrily drove off at 3:40 to take the dog for a long walk in the park and then go grocery shopping.

Darling Husband got home around 6pm and said, "Who won the race?" I'd forgotten so completely that I answered, "What race?" Oops.

So I toddled upstairs to check the Derby results online. "Big Brown won by 5 lengths, from the #20 spot on the far outside," I called out. "And Eight Belles broke both front ankles and collapsed when she got over the finish line. She had to be put down right away." I told DH I was glad I'd missed the race, because I couldn't bear to have watched that. The memory of seeing Barbaro run on his floppy broken leg still gives me shivers.

Then a happy thought came to me. "Oh man," I said to DH. "Hillary said she was like Eight Belles and said, 'Bet on the filly.' So she's going to be beaten by the big brown favorite and will stagger to the finish, then be destroyed."

"You are really nasty," said DH with an amazed grin.

A couple minutes later, I clicked onto my latest addiction, Time's The Page by Mark Halperin. And look what greeted me:

Friday, May 02, 2008

French Toast?

For some fiction I'm writing, I've been researching the food and clothing of ancient Rome. I came across a late 4th century Roman cookbook, De Re Coquinaria of Apicius, translated into English in 1936 as Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome and reprinted by Dover in 1977.

Check out this recipe in Book VII:
Another Sweet Dish
Aliter dulcia

Break fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk and beaten eggs fry in oil, cover with honey and serve.

I also found several recipes calling for sow's womb, udder and paps; brains are a frequent ingredient too. Now I wonder if the Romans coined the slogan, "Everything but the squeal."