August 14, 2007
After Monday’s announcement that O.J. Simpson’s tasteful memoir If I Did It has found yet another publisher, it’s hard not to smile. I mean, someone should be giving the publishing industry a dozen gold stars. What effort and determination!
Not only did they encourage Simpson to write a novel about how he would have killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman (much to the dismay of the American public), but now they refuse to let the idea die. Because even though Simpson is completely innocent, I think we all sometimes wonder how an average guy envisions his first homicide going. If that’s not art, I’m not sure what is. Gawker thought maybe this.
Either way, yesterday morning Publishers Weekly released a report that agent Sharlene Martin has secured a company to back a revised version of Simpson’s book. The project will now include commentary from the Goldman family, who won the rights to the manuscript in a Miami bankruptcy court last month. The book is meant to satisfy some of the millions that the former NFL star owes because of a wrongful death judgment made against him in civil court.
The name of the publisher was originally supposed to be released today (according to Monday’s statement), but the rep for the Goldman family, Michael Wright, has postponed the announcement yet again.
So it looks like we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who the second-most insensitive publisher in the country is. The first-place prize goes to Judith Regan of ReganBooks, who initially supported the project back in 2006. Most of you are probably familiar with the public outrage that ensued, causing the cancellation of the book’s release. Regan was subsequently fired.
But I obviously wish the best of luck to the next in line. It’s good to know that this time around you have some of Goldman’s family members in your corner, ready to join in on the exploitation of his death.
August 7, 2007
With the internet and the publishing industry unapologetically intertwined these days, it’s no wonder that the Fake Steve Jobs is releasing his very own book come October.
For those of you unaware of the blog entitled “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs,” it began to create a stir within Silicon Valley over a year ago. Written anonymously since earlier this week, the satirical blog features posts by someone pretending to be Apple CEO and Founder Steve Jobs. Lovingly referred to as Fake Steve Jobs or FSJ by his fanatical followers, the identity of the blogger was revealed (or rather uncovered) by New York Times reporter Brad Stone on Sunday.
The notoriously tight-lipped Jobs is the perfect corporate mogul to impersonate, especially with the booming success of Apple over the past few years. The mocking, self-righteous, and sarcastic tone of FSJ’s blog is riotously funny and borderline genius. He has even got the real Steve Jobs reading his posts. Loyal fans had been pondering who the real FSJ was for months, as well as well-known faces within the IT industry that the blog reams on a regular basis. My personal favorite is when FSJ calls Bill Gates “Beastmaster” and Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz “My Little Pony.” A reference of course to his choice of hairstyle. There are videos out there. You can find them. Ok fine, here it is.
Either way, FSJ has been busted, and it appears that a senior editor at Forbes, Dan Lyons, was behind the blog the whole time. A relative unknown, so good for him, because now his name will be remembered for a good 10 to 15 days. His new book, written of course in the FSJ persona, is called Options. Da Capo Press in Cambridge is backing the project. One site predicts that because the mystery is gone, everyone will forget about FSJ, move on, and the book will flop.
I have my doubts, but even knowing Lyons’ identity, I still laugh uncontrollably at FSJ’s posts. I recommend taking a look at some of FSJ’s Greatest Hits. Here are some classics…
Watch out, elderly iPod users
Regarding our iPhone
The big secret meeting, complete waste of time
July 17, 2007
Let’s be honest. As Americans, we allow nudity to scare us. It’s an inevitable truth; it’s hard to even debate. All you have to do to confirm it is visit a European country and turn on a television there. If you dare to risk it, you will most likely encounter more skin during prime time viewing than you’ll find on the late late late shows of premium cable channels.
And so it appears that this philosophy of selective censorship (which we invoke only to save our children from corruption!) has extended into the book industry.
U.S. publisher Boyds Mills Press recently refused to print a German children’s book because of questionable illustrations. The picture, which was part of one of Rotraut Susanne Berner’s best-selling Wimmel books, depicted…are you ready for this…art in a museum. I’m not sure you can get much more scandalous than that. The images that worried the publishers included a nude woman in a painting and a minuscule statue, or what one article terms “cartoon breasts and a half-millimeter-long willy.” But I urge you to make your own decision about whether or not these pictures would have scarred our children. Here’s a close-up of the woman in question, and then of course the tiny man.
Boyds Mills Press requested that Berner remove the illustrations from her book, along with pictures of people smoking. The author refused, forgoing the chance to distribute her book to American children (at least for now). Berner disliked the idea of “invisible censorship,” with no black bars over the disputed images. She believes that, “if you’re going to censor something, then the reader should be aware of it.”
Berner’s books portray children and adults in their normal, day-to-day activities. The Wimmel stories have been published without protest in 13 other countries, reaching best-selling status in nearly all of these locations. Hmmm…is it possible that we overreacted? Or is overprotective, overbearing, and over-the-top just how we do things nowadays? I think so, and a headline from today’s BookNinja blog introducing this story (”Mini-penis scares North America almost as much as liquids in suit cases and nail clipper”) echoes my point.
June 4, 2007
2,000 exhibits. 1,200 publishers. 500 authors. An endless sea of books. For those involved in the publishing industry, or for those who simply love to read, BookExpo America resembles a modern-day Utopia. Or so one would think.
This year’s BEA took place over the weekend in New York at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and various literary blogs and publications posted their thoughts on the event this morning. Otto Penzler dons the many hats of writer, editor, publisher, and book store owner. And in an article he penned for The New York Sun about his BEA trip this year, Penzler indulges in a little nostalgia, recounting his first journey to the biggest book event in the United States, and the disappointing realizations that accompanied his visit 30 years ago.
Even in the 1970s, the enormity of BEA was palpable. Penzler describes his initial entrance into the event, a hall littered with thousands of publications, and the thrilling feeling that he had “died and gone to heaven.” But even as a self-proclaimed book aficionado, the bliss of stumbling upon his personal utopia was short-lived.
In his harried fall from grace, Penzler explains, “Then it struck me. I was there as a publisher with maybe a dozen titles on my list. How in the world would anybody notice my books and authors? The Mysterious Press, the company I founded in 1975, was a drop of water in the Pacific. No, it was a grain of sand in the Sahara. It was less than nothing because it wanted to be something.”
Although the author/publisher/book seller’s first encounter with BEA was a humbling one, he continued to make his love of books a way of life, and now runs an imprint at Harcourt Publishing that produces crime fiction. When speaking of the authors he represents, Penzler admits, “I desperately want them to have success, but I recognize the folly of that sad little wish…James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, and Nora Roberts will sell 100 million books this year, leaving a few table scraps for everyone else to chase after like starving hyenas after the lions have had their fill.”
Wondering if Penzler’s gloomy outlook is an unfortunate side effect of being a small fish in an increasingly gigantic pond? I’m sorry to say that similar to the actual BEA event, the press following the annual conference has reserved a lot of their copy for big (or at least recognizable) names. See New York Magazine’s “Book Expo Sightings,” an article on First Daughter Jenna Bush’s upcoming release, and USA Today’s recap of the weekend’s events.
Despite his pessimistic (and somewhat accurate) depiction of this year’s event, and of BEA in past years, Penzler confesses that worst part of the 2007 convention was that “when it ended, I kind of missed it. And looked forward to next year’s event.”
Seems that even the small fish can’t resist an endless sea of books.
November 28, 2006
This just in! Just because you can act/play football/have a cute nose doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a bestselling author!
Impossible as it may have seemed at the time, when all the publishers were jumping on the celebrity book train as if it were the last transport out of a war-ravaged state, many of this past summer’s celebrity stories have failed to sell. Combine this with the price tags placed upon many of these book deals, and you have the Celebrity Book Deal Hall of Shame. Or Fall of Shame. Both meanings of ‘fall’ apply.
For yes, even though Rupert Everett’s screen presence might induce innocent lovers of his work in historical comedies to go see a film that otherwise wild dogs could not drag them to (Next Best Thing, anyone?), only 15,000 copies of Everett’s book were sold. And as Little, Brown paid Â£1 million for the memoir, entitled Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, they are staring at a significant loss.
And Rupert Everett’s book was hardly the greatest flop, if slightly costlier. Former Home Secretary David Blunkett sold a little over 1,000 copies within the first three weeks in recompense for a Â£400,000 book deal, and Ashley Cole’s book, My Defence, sold 4,000 in six weeks for a comparatively scant Â£250,000 for its author. Indeed, the 37,000 sold copies of Wayne Rooney’s book does make it seem the runaway success of the season, until one realizes that Rooney is running away with Â£4 million for five books over the next 12 years. After five books, I rather imagine that it will be the bookbuying public executing the ‘run away’ maneuver.
Publishers have, in part, Jordan to blame. Her 2004 , Being Jordan, sold 900,000 copies, and set records at WH Smith for the most copies of an autobiography sold in one week. Amazon.co.uk joyously proclaims, “In fact it has turned out to be the surprise darling of the book trade!” Indeed. But the book trade can only have one, or possibly two, surprise darlings (provided each darling’s presence is concealed from the other), and with roughly 60 new celebrity titles last season, we are witnessing a microcosm of the larger, much-discussed publishing glut.
“The problem is over-publishing. Across the board, books are suffering,” concluded David Wilson, editorial director of Headline, Ashley Cole’s publisher. “They are not getting the shelf space in the shops. There are just too many celebrity books out there—and a lot of the major sports memoirs are basically celebrity books too. A few rise to the top, but you can never predict which they will be.”
Publishing commentator Danuta Kean defended the motives of the celebrity book craze with an agility more frequently seen in politicians’ press agents. Apparently, publishers released celebrity memoirs in order to show potential celebrity authors they they’re in the market for the next generation of celebrity books.
Maybe I’m slow, but this seems to me like showing other playground bullies that yes, you will hand over your lunch money without even requiring a thrashing. Congratulations, the precedent has been set for you acting like an imbecile! But Ms. Kean knows better than I, and she explains that “Publishers may make some dodgy judgements but they can do the maths and know how to operate in a tough market.” Well, that’s a load off of my mind.
I will not discuss what a shame it is that celebrities who have other not only viable but also voluminous sources of income (film, modeling, sports) have sucked away money from the publishing industry, execpt for in the first clause of this sentence. I will, however, mock their writing ability vicariously through The Independent’s streamlined summary of “the flops:”
Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far
DEAL: Â£4m for five books
SALES: 35,000 (published 27 July)
EXTRACT: “I was aware that my foot had landed between his legs… but it was an accident. I’ll go to my grave and still maintain it was a complete accident.”
The Blunkett Tapes
SALES: 1,000 (published 16 Oct)
EXTRACT: “The reader will make his or her judgement regarding the part I played in my own downfall - and also… regarding my contribution to making a difference.”
SALES: 4,000 (published 21 Sept)
EXTRACT: “My love for Arsenal was soured by what I see as neglect and resentment… The truth is, I felt that Arsenal had done jack-shit… to hold on to me.”
Living the Dream
SALES: 4,000 (published 26 Oct)
EXTRACT: “I paused at the top of the steps… Behind me was an eerie quietness, a deserted house, which for three weeks had been home.”
As an addendum to this discussion, I recently came across an absolutely fantastic post from “One Minute Book Reviews” (thanks to Critical Mass for pointing me to this excellent site). The blog’s author, Janice Harayda, was prompted by the inane prose of Mitch Albom’s For One More Day to run a selection through Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics, an optional part of the spelling and grammar check. With a false-start selection that judged Mr. Albom’s prose at a grade level of 2.8, she eventually determined that he writes at a third-grade level—3.4, to be precise. Her curiosity led her to check a comparable section from different authors, yeilding the following results:
Nora Ephron I Feel Bad About My Neck Grade 12.0
Alex Kuczynski Beauty Junkies Grade 10.3
James Boswell The Life of Samuel Johnson Grade 8.6
Stephen King Liseyâ€™s Story Grade 8.3
Danielle Steel Toxic Bachelors Grade 4.8
Emily Arnold McCully An Outlaw Thanksgiving, a picture book for 4-to-8 year olds by a Caldecott Medalist Grade 4.3
Mitch Albom For One More Day Grade 3.4
I will leave you to peruse Harayda’s blog article yourself for her smart questions about these results, and also for an additional pay-off which I will hint at only by giving you the post’s title: “Does Mitch Albom Think He’s Jesus?”
One Minute Book Reviews also tells you how to use Microsoft Word to determine a piece of writing’s grade level, so of course I needed to figure out how to apply this newfound knowledge. The answer was obvious: the Celebrity Book Deal Hall/Fall of Fame must be judged. Of course, I only had the tiny sections quoted by The Independent, as I am not among the few, the happy few, who contributed to the above sales. Had I a full 305 words, the answers might be different, but as they stand, they are somewhat suprising:
Wayne Rooney Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far: 5.9
David Blunkett The Blunkett Tapes: 12.0
Ashley Cole My Defence: 5.5
Chantelle Living the Dream: 4.3
Congratulations, Chantelle, you/your ghostwriter writes with more art than Mitch Albom.
November 3, 2006
Lest our admiration for Kiran Desai become tinged with some unnattractive jealousy, consider that it’s not easy being the youngest woman to ever win the Man Booker Prize, whose shortlist I discussed in an earlier post. Bring to mind the detractions of fame. When you become a famous film star, you never know when someone is going to leap out of the rubbish bin to snap a photo of you bending over to organise the recycleables with your hairstyle resembling a nest of no less than three weasels, and when you create literary history, the town you have immortalised may suddenly threaten to burn your book as a show of concern.
Desai won the Man Booker Prize for her second novel The Inheritance of Loss whilst I was away. Desai is following in the tradition of her mother, Anita Desai, thrice shortlisted for the Prize. (And she’s not the only one: the Man Booker comittee also followed in the ‘tradition’ of this year, staging a double-upset by not shortlisting the top people expected to win, and then not giving the Prize to the shortlisted people expected to win, either.) Kiran thanked her mother, to whom the book is dedicated, during her acceptance speech, saying, “To my mother, I owe a debt so profound and so great that this book feels as much hers as it does mine. It was written… in her wisdom and kindness, in cold winters in her house when I was in pieces. I really owe her this book so enormously. A minute isnâ€™t enough to convey it.”
In addition, the book is very much a product of the younger Desai’s cross-contintal life. Born in India in 1971, she went to school in Delhi and Kalimpong before moving to England at the age of 14 for schooling. Soon thereafter, she moved to the United States, attending Bennington College and studying creative writing at Columbia University. She now lives in the U.S., but spends part of the year in India; the author revealed that she wrote “the Indian bits” of The Inheritance of Loss in India, so that she “wouldn’t be too distanced from it.”
The novel itself, as all of this suggests, oscillates between Kalimpong, in the northeast of India, where orphan Sai encounters the movement for Nepalese independence while living with her embittered grandfather, and New York, where the son of the cook who serves Sai and her grandfather is struggling to find work as an illegal immigrant. Parallels between Desai’s life and that of her teenage heroine emerge: both have grandfathers who moved from poverty in Gujarat to Cambridge University; both attended a convent school in a Himalayan town. Desai’s aunt had a house in Kalimpong that served as in inspiration.
But apparently, its autobiographical resonance is precisely why, in the opinion of some, it must become kindling. “It is a one-sided account that tells you about [Desai's] fears about Kalimpong. The central character Sai is obviously a self-portrait and you can feel her estrangement from this dark, ominous place where Nepalese are just transient interlopers in the landscape,” said Anmole Prasad, a local lawyer.
The main argument and book-burning movement, which has been apparently circulating on that hotbed of rationality and clearsightedness the Internet Forum (some self-deprecation is included in that statement), is that Desai portrays the characters of Nepalese descent in an unsympathetic light. “Condescending statements” about Nepalese Indians apparently present these characters as “petty criminals, too stupid to do anything but work as labourers,” as reported by the Guardian.
The Nepalese rebellion, seen through the lens of the relationship between Sai and her Indo-Nepali tutor, is described in the book as the result of being treated “like the minority in a place where they were the majority”—which sounds like a reasonably sympathetic assessment of the town’s predominantly Nepalese residents. But others are complaining that the bloodshed of the rebellion is not sufficiently emphasized, and others are complaining, apparently, because you should only be allowed to write about things which you have experienced from the inside. “Really the book is just an outsider’s view of Kalimpong and the events that took place here,” said Bharat Mani Pradhan, a social worker in Kalimpong, dismissing the validity of the book.
Correct me if I’m misreading this: apparently, half of those angered by her portrayal of the Nepalese Indians object because it’s clearly autobiographical, and the other half are annoyed because it has no personal connection. On the other hand, as I have pointed out in similar situations, one also has to doubt the sanity of anyone who would propose the burning of a book, that he, ostensibly, purchased. The gesture seems to say to me, “Take THAT! And take your tiny but compiling royalty while you’re at it!” It’s hardly a cost-effective fuel, not to mention usage of time. As Penguin, the publisher of The Inheritance of Loss, waves off the complaints as “individual’s opinions,” and “not an issue for us or Ms. Desai,” defending the novel as “pure fiction,” it seems that the only solid conclusion one can make is that people rather enjoy getting annoyed about things.
After all, Kiran Desai is not following in her mother’s footsteps alone. At 35 years old, she outsed the former Youngest Female Booker Prize Recipient, Arundhati Roy, who won in 1997 for The God Of Small Things at the decripit old age of 36. The God of Small Things created a similar hue and cry amongst the residents and ruling communist party of her home town in Kerala, a state in southern India. Perhaps it is only an indication that you’ve written a good book.
Thanks to the admirable Booksquare, through whom I found the Guardian article; visit a thriving discussion of Desai’s Booker Prize win at SepiaMutiny; Modal Minority has a fantastic point about the book brouhaha that is even more artfully balanced than the lovely piece to which it responds—and furthermore wins my Undying Admiration for quoting Yeats.
September 28, 2006
In which Young Thomasina fancies the citadel of professional reviewers being dealt yet another blow with the battering ram of bloggers, and receives her comeuppance for use of overextended metaphors
Lest we fully believe that one can only become a national bestseller via online word-of-mouth if you are leant some help from Amazon.com (as was Keith Donohue’s nevertheless snappy book The Stolen Child), let us examine the newest book that has taken the publishing industry by surprise and by storm. Diane Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, has topped the U.S. Bestseller lists, once again despite a large amount of notice in the conventional press. It just warms the cockles of my book-loving blog-loving heart.
42-year-old Setterfield quit her job teaching French at Harrogate College six years ago, and began tutoring part-time instead, in order to give her time to bring her ideas for a novel to fruition. Diane and her husband Peter Whitall, an accountant, lived frugally in order to make ends meet while Setterfield scribbled notes and made plans for the novel’s story and shapes. A period of frustration in which she put the notes away was brought to a close by a creative writing class, and she began to compose the novel in earnest. Now, after over five years of scrimping, Setterfield finds herself an overnight millionaire.
The mystery, centered around a young antiquarian bookseller and an aging best-seller author who wants her biography written, edged out established authors such as Fredrick Forsyth, Jennifer Weiner, James Patterson and Anna Quindlen to surge to the top of the best-seller lists. Setterfield also holds title to being the first British novels whose debut hit number one in the United States since Nicholas Evans’ The Horse Whisperer in 1996—a book which had the significant boost of a pre-existing film deal.
Setterfield’s Cinderella story is precisely the kind about which all writers dream; with the book rights nabbed for Â£800,000 in the UK and more than Â£526,000 in the US, the promising author will now have the leisure to spend time doing precisely what she loves most: writing. “If you ask anyone who has ever thought of writing a book how they feel about getting their work published, they will tell you that nothing could be more thrilling,” Setterfield beamed. “Any serious writer would view it as an enormous privilege to be able to devote the best of their time to what they love and that is what I will now be able to do.”
One aspect of the Cinderella story is puzzling: the Faery Godmother only exists on one side of the Atlantic, and not the side where Setterfield herself lives. While it has sold over 70,000 copies in the U.S., last week it only sold 600 copies in the U.K. The fact that it has done so much better in the U.S. has begun to attract the attention of U.K. publications under headlines such as “British teacher becomes a literary sensation in the US.” The Times article suggests that blogging may be the cause of this discrepancy. “I suppose itâ€™s a new form of word of mouth,” Setterfield said of the blog publicity.
But isn’t the blog community basically a global one? If blogs are responsible, why should they only have affected the bookbuying community in the U.S.? I tried to do more research, and found that opinions about the verity of blog-powered purchasing are divided. Sassymonkey at Blogher.com is both excited and credulous—and for good reason: she first encountered The Thirteenth Tale on a blog. Conversely, Rebecca Swain Vadne at the Orlando Sentinel uses one of my favourite words, ridonkulous, in assessment of the possibility.
I was somewhat relieved to discover on Galleycat.com (though Rebecca’s site, Shakespeare’s Coffee) that Barnes and Noble placed the story as their number one recommendation, and that Borders ran similar promotions. On the other hand, with due respect, I’m not quite sure I’d place the Power of Blogging all the way at Ridonkulous; other things may be at work here besides paid marketing, and perhaps Americans are simply more swayed by blogs or more attentive to them. Or perhaps, as Galleycat suggests, “American people can only take one new thing per year,” and this fall, it’s The Thirteenth Tale.
In the end, however, I heard about this book on a blog. Unlike The Stolen Child, which attracted me via the patented Sell-to-Thomasina-by-Quoting-Yeats promotional scheme, and which I read utterly oblivious to the vast internet marketing campaign, I came by The Thirteenth Tale through precisely the forum which may have made it a success. And now I am planning to go out and obtain a copy, not to vindicate my Blogging Hubris (see comeuppance, above), but because it sounds like a novel for people who love books. Look for a review sometime after I make it through my current stack.
September 25, 2006
Part II in BookInfo’s aptly if uncreatively dubbed “Advice from…” Series brings an interview with a literary agent and some rough guidelines from an editor to the fore. Both are courtesy of the cornucopia of information that is mediabistro.com.
AvantGuild spoke to Ted Weinstein, who became a literary agent after fifteen years in the publishing industry, working in such fields such as marketing, business development, and writing. His agency, based in San Francisco, focuses mainly on nonfiction, working with journalists and academics, and finding out this kind of information about any agency that you are considering is paramount.
For example, the chief recommendation that Weinstein has in terms of submission etiquette is to do proper research and look at Weinstein’s website. Guidelines are available both for the kind of work the agency handles, and how best to submit. Nothing will eliminate you from consideration faster than failing to do basic research and consequently including material contrary to an agency’s wishes. And nothing could waste your own time, as well as the agency’s, more than submitting to an agency that does not handle your kind of work. Weinstein said that he only accepts one or two percent of unsolicited material, but largely because so much of what he receives is not in the genre that he represents. With serious writers who have adhered to the submission guidelines, says Weinstein, “the odds are better because the overall quality is generally better.”
Mediabistro also shares the experience of Bill Belcher, a travel and adventure writer who put forth his newfound knowledge after spending several months editing LA Weekly’s OUT THERE section. Belcher’s advice on “How Not to Piss Off an Editor” is a succinct list of a few things not to do, such as:
- Send in a “rough draft.” I only want to see your best, finished work.
- Send me a complete ms when I ask for queries (pitches) only. I can scan a pitch quickly and tell if it’s of interest and not something we’ve already done or already have in the works. I don’t have time to read the entire story to figure this out.
- Send me a 1,200 word ms when I’ve asked for 650 and suggest I cut it.
These are only a few of his suggestions; read the article for the full take. Becher’s ‘Do’ list is even more succinct, but very often Goofus is more useful than Gallant when it comes to literary submission etiquette. The unwritten post “How to Impress an Editor” often has the most to do with submitting a well-written piece—and that’s a whole different task.
September 21, 2006
Let’s face it: just because you can write a novel or a poem doesn’t neccessarily mean you also know how to write a letter to a publisher or a literary agent. You may have spent years mastering the art of literary composition well enough to send a polished first foray to the rather terrifying foreign shores of other people’s desks, but striking and insightful use of metaphor does not neccessarily translate to skill with cover letter composition. Overenthusiasm or ignorance, arrogance or insecurity may be secretly undoing you. And alas, there are no comparable workshops where your peers can tell you that “Dear Sir or Madam” sounds cliche. But we here at BookInfo.net are compiling the recommendations of a few publishers, so that those foreign shores don’t bear such a resemblance to charging uphill at Gallipoli against the machine guns.
My personal favourite of those I’ve come across so far, Ms. Whitfield’s Dictionary makes clear precisely how foolish common inclusions in cover letters sound by comparing them to equivalent come-on lines. She then follows up with an explanation as to why this potential tactic is a faux pas. Her amusing and consequently extraordinarily helpful advice runs through an entire potential cover letter, from:
You say: ‘I know you don’t usually accept unsolicited manuscripts, but please, just have a look at this.’
Dating equivalent: ‘I know you’re married, but please, just go out with me once.’
You say: ‘I know you don’t usually publish this kind of thing, but please, just have a look at this.’
Dating equivalent: ‘I know you’re gay, but please, just go out with me once.’
If they have a policy, it’s there for a reason, and asking them to change their minds will just feel like you aren’t paying them the courtesy of assuming they mean what they say. Half the letters they get are asking them to make an exception of some sort, and after too many such requests, they start to look depressingly unexceptional.
…through possibly less obvious errors (at first):
You say: ‘I’ve studied literature and have a degree/qualification/teaching cert in it.’
Dating equivalent: ‘I’m good at relationships - I’ve watched a lot of romantic comedies.’
Studying and doing are totally different things - and if you don’t seem aware of that, it increases the chances that your work isn’t good.
…to more obvious ones:
You say: ‘I’ve been seeking a publisher for many years.’
Dating equivalent: ‘I’ve been trying to get laid for many years.’
Doesn’t sound good, does it?
You say: ‘I know this book isn’t perfect and shows my inexperience, but I’m hoping you’ll recognise the raw talent within me.’
Dating equivalent: ‘I’m not ready for a relationship at the moment - you don’t mind staying single till I am, do you?’
Sorry, but if the book isn’t ready, they won’t want it. Publishers and agents aren’t there to nurture raw talent: you have to work on your talent until it’s up to publishable standards. If you need someone to support you through the process, find a teacher or join a writing group, but there’s nothing a publisher can do with work that isn’t up to scratch yet.
The clever author and former editor also has an example of a good cover letter, which is equally useful if signficantly less hilarious. Be sure to read the entire article—it’s worth making into a poster, perhaps as “All I Need to Know in Life I Learned from the Publisher-Dating Dictionary.”
September 18, 2006
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The announcement of the Man Booker Prize shortlist and the subsequent uproar has left me not quite certain about for whom I should feel more sorry—the slighted authors that everyone expected to make the list, or the authors who made the list who are now described largely as being ‘unknowns,’ ‘unexpected,’ ‘contentious,’ and so on. I can imagine them clipping out the articles (or printing them out, in this our modern age) with a hint of a sigh.
Nevertheless, the projected winners of the Prize are now out of contention. David Mitchell was the favourite, for his novel Black Swan Green, followed by Peter Carey, Booker-Prize winner in 1988 and 2001, for Theft: A Love Story. Nadine Gordimer and Barry Unsworth were also longlisted authors who had previously won the Prize. Waterstone’s also pointed out that Mitchell “would face stiff competition from Sarah Waters and Andrew O’Hagan,” according to BBC News.
Of all of these favourites, only Waters remains, and she has consequently been crowned Most Likely to Win. Her novel, The Night Watch, about love and loss during WWII, is joined by five other books on the shortlist: Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, an epic that traverses the author’s native India and New York; Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, about an Australian penal colony in the nineteenth century; M.J. Hyland’s Carry Me Down, a story about the troubled childhood of an unsual Irish boy; Hisham Matar’s semi-autobiographical In the Country of Men, and Mother’s Milk, Edward St. Aubyn’s depiction of an affluent and dysfunctional family.
The Independent points out via the time-honoured horserace metaphor that the gallop to the Booker generally involves both well-known favourites and unknowns, and that in this regard the inclusion of ’surprising’ authors is a downright Man Booker tradition. On the other hand, the percentages are far greater this year, and half of the shortlisted authors are relative newcomers to the field: both Kiran Desai and M.J. Hyland published only one novel prior to the one currently on the list, and Hisham Matar was nominated for his very first book. The majority of female writers is also a rarity, and this is the first time that two Australian authors have made the shortlist.
Hermione Lee, famous literary critic and chair of this year’s judging panel, explained the shortlist decision: “Each of these novels has what we as judges were most looking for: a distinctive, original voice and audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of storytelling and a historical truthfulness.”
But Lee’s search for “audacious imagination” will not consitute the sole deciding factor, as it was recently announced that the Man Booker organisers have selected six book clubs around England to participate in the judging process. (Or, in the words of The Enquirer, they chose “to pluck six remarkable groups from relative obscurity to join their distinguished panel,” thus corroborating the Remarkable Things Plucked from Relative Obscurity theme beloved by either the Man Booker panel, the press, or both.) Groups similar to the Heaton Library Book Club, comprised of 23 women, will read the six shortlisted novels and catalogue their thoughts in journals and diaries, before voting on the group’s preferred winner and sending their results on to the national panel in London.
The Man Booker Prize has been open to writers from Britain, Ireland, and the Commonwealth of former colonies since its inception in 1969. The winner of this year’s prize will be announced on 10 October, and will receive a Â£50,000 award.
Thanks to Rebecca Swain Vadnie of the Orlando Sentinal, through whom we discovered one of these links; visit her blog post about it here.