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Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

On The Desperate Need To Not Write

In behavior, business, culture, Media, work on October 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm
A lake surrounded by trees and some wood

Image via Wikipedia

When you lie in bed — seriously — and are blogging in your dreams, and writing the headline.

I’m in northern Ontario for the moment, staring as I write this out the window at pine trees overlooking a lake. Two grizzled black dogs snooze on their beds. The sweetie is snoozing in a chair by the woodstove and our host, my best friend from high school, is making ribs for dinner.

The sweetie planned to play golf but (really!) came home after running into snow squalls, only to discover all the carts were being put away for the season.

So it’s a blessed afternoon of eat/sleep/read/repeat. Pat dogs. Stare into fire. Admire the autumn colors.

Not writing!

My brain is frazzled and fried: finishing up the final revisions of my memoir; blogging for four sites; planning events for the book’s release next spring. Like a farmer’s field that needs to just lie farrow for a while to re-generate its fertility, this week is desperately needed downtime for my weary head.

Soon…within three or four days…I’ll be up and running again.

The Cost Of Candor — $3,150

In behavior, business, Media, Money, news, politics, religion, science, sports, Technology, work on October 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm
Albion Press printing press

Image via Wikipedia

That’s the quote I received this week for the liability insurance I plan to buy. It covers my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Penguin/Portfolio, April 14, 2011) and freelancing for print and blogging for this site. It carries a $5,000 deductible.

While three grand is a petty sum to many people, it is not to me. It is a bloody fortune. But the drama and stress of being sued is so not worth it to me.

The fear of being sued is why most blogs are all about puppies and kittens and sex and recipes — safe stuff no one will come after you for.

Which is why most blogs have this effect on anyone hungry for serious, in-depth news, analysis or reporting: zzzzzzzzzzzzz. No one in their right mind is itching for a lawsuit and Americans are deeply addicted to the lottery ticket of a big fat win.

Not to mention the fear of SLAPP suits. These are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, aka muzzles. If you piss off just about anyone, they can come after you and sue you to shut you right back up. Freedom of what?

In an era of staggering, growing income inequality, you can rest assured that anyone eager to rake muck is making a whole lot less money — maybe 1 percent? — of the people they might want to write about critically. This is, hmmm, how you say, de-motivating in the extreme. Do readers even know this?

Do they — you — even care?

Very few writers of any ambition want to keep biting their tongue, self-censoring, sitting on what they know to be a potentially explosive story. But, why bother? What’s the upside of being the writer or blogger best-known for becoming a cautionary tale? Oooops, s/he took a risk. Look what happened!

The irony is that everyone now thinks that being able to blog at will means being able to say anything you want. Mwahahahahahaha.

As if.

It really means you have all the freedom in the world, certainly if you have little to no understanding of media law, to get your ass sued.

It used to be said that freedom of the press belonged to those who owned one. Now that freedom only truly resides in the deep(er) pockets of those who can afford to get sued and defend themselves — people who work on staff for major news organizations with in-house counsel. More importantly, their copy is “lawyered”, vetted carefully before print or broadcast to avoid such debacles, a luxury — when top New York attorneys can command $700+/hour — most bloggers and freelancers can only dream of.

So, instead of muckraking and investigative work, the sort of thing you’d expect from someone independent, free of corporate ties, most freelancers are stuck cranking out polite, celebratory crap.

This is progress?

At 20, College Student And Mother Becomes Mexican Police Chief

In behavior, cities, Crime, news, politics, women, work, world on October 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm
Coat of arms of Mexico.

Image via Wikipedia

Check this out for bravery:

So now the new chief in Guadalupe, a town of 10,000 residents near the Texas border, is 20-year-old college criminology major Marisol Valles García.

Public officials have increasingly become the targets of assassination as Mexican cartels try to tighten their grasp on the country. Just this year, 11 Mexican mayors have been slain, including the former mayor of Guadalupe, who was killed in June. In the small town, “police officers and security agents have been killed, some of them beheaded,” according to the AFP.

Valles tells a local paper that she took the job to help the town’s people become less fearful. “Afraid? Everyone is afraid and it’s very natural. What motivates me here is that the project [to make the community safer] is very good and can do a lot for my town. I know that we are going to change and remove this,” she said.

As someone who has lived in, loves and has visited Mexico many times, and a passionate feminist, I’m proud as hell of this young woman. But I sure hope this doesn’t soon become her premature obituary.

No one else applied for the job, so she got it.

A young photography intern was shot and killed recently, another victim of the drug wars there:

Still wearing press badges and with their equipment handy, Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, and fellow intern Carlos Manuel Sánchez had just learned camera tricks at a workshop. They were about to get a bite to eat.

Instead, Santiago was riddled with bullets about 2:30 p.m. as he was driving a silver Nissan sedan in the parking lot of the Río Grande Mall. The mall is in the busy commercial Triunfo de la República Avenue area in north Juárez.

I admire young passion and idealism but I don’t want to see talented, committed men and women dying for it.

What do you think of her decision?


Men, Don’t Wear This!

In behavior, design, Fashion, men, women on October 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm
Image of me, larsinio wearing a Lacoste polo s...

So NOT this....Image via Wikipedia

Shallow? Moi?

Hell, yes.

And I am not alone in this respect. Two popular blogs, this one and this one, recently weighed on on the deeply important issue of things men wear that make women cringe and flee.

Writes Vanessa Lawrence:

An ill-fitting suit or an ugly pair of shoes or a Silicon Valley–worthy bag signifies not what bodily imperfection he might be hiding but who he is on a more cerebral and existential level. Artsy frame glasses: intelligent, sophisticated, well-educated. A Savile Row creation: exceptional taste, drinks his scotch neat, financially stable (or loaded). A perfectly rumpled button-down and Levi’s 501s: easygoing, likes a good beer, open-minded worldview.

With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that every woman has her own opposite-sex style dealbreaker, an instantly registered faux pas that inspires revulsion and, in some cases, fight-or-flight vital stats. I know one girl who shudders at the mere thought of a popped collar. And many ladies are self-described “shoe people,” keeping their gazes resolutely directed downward for flagrant footwear offenses. (Sandals of any kind, bulky orthopedic sneakers and cowboy boots come to mind.)

I was tickled to see that the sweetie brought home the latest version of GQs Style Guide, and we had a great time looking through it. I can’t say I’m too excited about the trend toward very tight-fitting men’s suits and I really dislike almost all hats on all men, including (sorry) caps.

Especially caps.

I feel lucky to be with a guy who enjoys dressing well and whose classic sartorial tastes — tattersall, cashmere, thick wool, a Barbour jacket — echo mine.

(I’m lucky, of course, he appreciates my style. Not every man would want a second date with a woman who wore a turtleneck sweater to their first date. But that’s me.)

I still recall exactly what the sweetie wore the night we first met. I liked all of it, from the vintage gray wool trenchcoat to (yes, definitely eccentric, but it worked) the red silk Buddhist prayer shawl worn as a muffler. As someone lucky enough to have grown up with a Dad who — still at 81 — is an extremely snappy dresser, I admit to having my male style-o-meter set early and high.

Good-looking clothes don’t have to cost a fortune. (Vintage shops and consignment shops carry much great stuff.)

They do need to be spotless, fit well and flatter your shape and complexion. I fell head over heels for my ex-husband when he was a penniless medical student, and still recall a thin white cotton shirt of his I liked.  I have a thing for white cotton on men. Few things are as hopelessly sexy as a pristine white man’s shirt.

Especially when you give it to us….

Don’ts:

Pleated pants.

Cuffed pants.

Pleated, cuffed pants.

Baggy-bottomed trousers of any description.

Too-tight trousers.

Square-toed shoes. Thick-soled black or white exercise shoes worn outside a gym. Ditto white athletic socks. Clogs, shoes with tassels, hiking boots.

Synthetics. Prints. T-shirts with logos. Anything with logos.

Baggy/striped golf shirts and polo shirts and all athletic clothing worn as default casual wear.

Do’s:

Lovely grooming. (Not the baby chick, too-much-product-in-your-hair thing.)

Well-fitted crisp cotton shirt, tucked in, ironed. Maybe even starched. Probably uses collar stays.

Leather shoes with leather soles, polished to a gleam. Heels with new(ish) lifts. Suede shoes well-brushed.

First-name acquaintance with  a tailor, barber and store clerk whose taste you trust.

A clear idea which colors and textures best complement your hair, eyes and skin color. Having the guts (if unsure, which is unlikely) to ask someone whose style you admire to help you with this.

Avoiding most trends for the innate elegance of simple, well-made garments. Think Cary Grant, not Bret Michaels.

Men, what do you hate to see on women?

Ladies, what’s a style dealbreaker for you?

20 Lessons New Authors Learn

In art, behavior, business, culture, design, Media, work on October 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

 

Simon & Schuster headquarters at 1230 Avenue o...

Simon and Schuster's NYC HQ...Image via Wikipedia

 

My second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, a business memoir to be published in April 2011 by Portfolio/Penguin, is now in production. The assembly line is moving toward publication.

There are few pleasures more satisfying than selling your proposal and writing a book, and few moments as exciting as holding the first fresh copy of your book in your hands. Selling a book catapults the first-time author into a world filled with surprises, some lovely, some less so.

The things I’ve learned along the way! Here, for those who hope to publish with a commercial publisher, are a few of them.

Yes, there are always exceptions to all of these, but much of this is fairly standard for a new and/or mid-list author:

Your advance will be much lower than you hope and takes forever to arrive

I did make more for my second book than for my first, but not nearly as much as we’d hoped. C’est la vie. Book advances, (from which your agent cuts his or her 15% share first), are now typically paid out in three or four installments. It can be six to 12 months, or more, between those payments. How will you meet all your regular expenses plus the research or travel costs of your book? I spent $5,000 for my first book traveling to report firsthand from Texas, Ohio, New Orleans and Massachusetts. For the second, I needed to pay two researchers to help me gather data and sources more quickly.

You have zero control over the pricing or discounting of your own book

As Pocket (the paperback arm of Simon & Schuster) has done with my first book, published in paperback at  reasonable and democratic $13.00 in 2004, they might almost double the price of your book — with no additional income accruing to you.

Life crises can destroy your carefully planned writing, research, travel or revision schedule (and budget)

One friend is on deadline for her book but her husband is terminally ill and her book requires travel. While I was in Dayton, Ohio in August 2002 researching my first book, my mother was diagnosed with a huge (removable) brain tumor. I had to get from Dayton to Vancouver, Canada as fast as possible, alone. This year, with a book deadline of September 1, 2010, I lost four months to a (resolvable) medical emergency seeing five specialists, oral steroids, months of physical therapy, even having to use a cane or crutches for months. Good thing I was able to do other work on the book (reading, interviews) and get back to writing it when my head was clearer.

Plan for chaos.

You’ll pay to create and maintain your book website

Not your publisher. The second your book is sold, register its title as a domain name.

You’ll pay for your book tour

You’ll pay for your book trailer

You’ll pay for your video press kit

See the pattern? Start saving up a wad o’ cash now to promote the thing or it will disappear fast.

You’ll create most of your events and signings

Actually, I find this part a lot of fun as the book is now good to go and everyone’s excited about it. I’ve already reached out to universities, business schools, companies, stores and others across the country to help me set up signings, talks and events.

If you’d like help with this book tour — April through June or July 2011, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me.

Your publisher will forget to send galleys to key players

Galleys or ARCs (advance reader copies) create buzz for your book months before publication once they’re in the hands of people who will talk it up to their audiences. Make a huge press list of everyone you think might review or discuss your book. But stay on top of it as some publicists zone out and don’t follow through.

They’ll pulp your book and won’t tell you

It’s basic courtesy to offer authors the chance to buy back any unsold copies of their book before destroying them. I didn’t get that chance. Keep an eye on your copies.

They’ll make it POD and not tell you

That’s “print on demand” which means no one can find my first book in any bookstore. Amazon, yes.

Your editor may quit mid-stream

Or get sick or be fired. It happens. We all dread it.

So might their replacement, and theirs

Your book then becomes an orphan. It’s happened to some of the best-selling books out there and it’s rough. You need your editor to care a lot about your book and be its in-house advocate.

Editors are really busy

When you get an offer, ask how many books the publisher puts out each month and how many will come out the same day, week or month as yours. How many other books is s/he working on? Does s/he prefer to contacted via email or phone? How often is too often?

Agents are really busy

After your book is sold, you and your agent usually won’t have a lot to talk about until it’s accepted. That’s cool. They’re busy making money. Don’t ask them to hold your hand.

In-house publicists are really busy

As much as you crave their undivided attention, it’s unlikely they can give nearly as much of their time or energy as you’d like. Find out what they can do and then start working around it using your own time and resources.

Book doctors are expensive but possibly necessary

Your agent can’t work on it and your editor may not be giving you all the tools you need to whip your book into publishable shape. A book doctor can cost $5,000, but it might be an investment you need to make.

You have six weeks, max. to make your mark before books are returned to the store

Bookstores don’t buy your books in the standard way we buy something, i.e. you own it now. They buy them with a return policy and one they quickly use if the merch isn’t moving.

Having your book on bookstores’ coveted front tables is totally beyond your control

I’m always so jealous of authors whose books get laid out in those thick piles on bookstore tables, the ones people look through. Those books get there through the use of “co-op” funds. You can ask if this is a realistic use of their funds for your book, but don’t expect it.

Your student/intern/researcher or nemesis from grad school will publish before you (and get much better reviews)

Oh, yeah. Maybe even a front-page New York Times Book Review rave. Ouch!

How I Sold And Wrote My Memoir

In art, behavior, business, work on October 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

 

Forever Books

Image via Wikipedia

 

I’ve been having lunch with a good friend every week as she recently lost her job of five years. She’s worked in and around journalists and authors her whole career, but, like some people, still finds the actual process of getting from an idea to a finished book — where do you find all those words, she asks? — mysterious and hard to imagine.

I’m in awe of writers who create fiction. I think that a non-fiction book, once you have a clear idea what you want to say and who your readers might be, is not as overwhelming.

You need a clear understanding what the scope of your inquiry should be, how you’ll access the material you need — archives, letters, libraries, interviews, firsthand reporting — and how much time, money and travel this will require.

What I love about writing books is the time to deeply and carefully explore a subject. This is so rare! Unless you are in academia or policy work, no one is going to pay you to learn, synthesize and analyze an issue you find utterly compelling. Nor will you have the time to write, revise, think and repeat as necessary, for many months.

I love having the time to start to see patterns and relationships between the data I find, feeling my understanding start to develop.

Oh, and, yes, to write at length, not hemmed in by standard newspaper story lengths of 700 to 1,200 words or a magazine’s maximum of perhaps 3,000 words.

For this one, I hired two researchers, neither of whom I ever met, one in New Jersey and one in San Diego (both came highly recommended by colleagues) who helped me by finding data, setting up interviews, conducting some interviews and sending me the raw audio.

Here’s how my new book took shape:

September 2007. I take a part-time retail job selling clothes in a suburban mall.  I need steady cash, something manageable, and hope this is the right choice. I’ve never worked retail, and know it will be hard work. My writer friends all think this could make a great book, partly because I’ll be able to describe that world firsthand. I’m dubious, but listen to them nonetheless.

I’m too busy training to think about it much — but on the strength of their advice I do keep detailed notes of those first weeks.

March 2009. I speak on a panel in Manhattan about writing. A lively young woman in the audience turns out to be the assistant to an agent and suggests I write a memoir. She asks me to contact her boss.

June 2009. I sit down with the agent, a woman my age, who — unusual in my experience — takes more than an hour to explore this idea. She sees much more depth in this job and its narrative potential than I had previously considered.

Listening to her flesh it out as we talk it is like watching Batman’s car doubling in size and power. Wow, maybe there is a book in all this.

July 2009. I start writing a three chapter proposal which bounces back and forth with my agent several times to edit and polish it. It’s hard to do so much hard work without any income or even a guarantee this book will sell. That’s the price of a book proposal!

She’s a veteran and I doubt would waste her time, or mine, on something with few prospects. It takes a lot of trust on both our parts.

September 2009. The proposal is making the rounds. The rejections are pouring in — 25  of them. Ouch! She sends them along for me to read until I cry uncle and ask her not to. “Are they bothering you?” Yes. “Someone is going to buy this book. We just haven’t found them yet,” she says.

And someone does! We go into Portfolio/Penguin’s offices to meet the publisher, editor and publicist. It’s all pretty terrifying knowing I can blow the deal by saying the wrong thing (which is…?)

We have a deal. Cool!

December 2009. I quit the retail job now that I have my first payment on the advance. I start writing.

February 2010. I turn in 47,000 words. My editor finds them “whiny and negative” but knows this is “an early first draft.” Actually, it wasn’t. But I started too soon. I haven’t waited long enough to start trying to process this material from the events I’m describing, and it shows. I need more distance to be able to decribe it much more thoughtfully, not simply emotionally.

I can’t rush this.

January-May 2010. My arthritic left hip goes crazy. I can barely walk across the room and see five specialists, none of whom can explain why. I take powerful painkillers — managing to transpose the street address of a crucial interview subject (oops!) — then oral steroids. Life becomes a distracting blur of X-rays, MRIs and medical opinions. Writing a book is a lot tougher when coping with pain 24/7 , veering between painkillers (foggy brain) and exhausted lucidity.

Not what I need right now!

March-May 2010. Too intimidated to come back to this material right now, I read ten books on low-wage work and retail, and interview others about their retail experiences.  I’m still making good progress while gaining a deeper, wider understanding of the industry. But I still have to produce a total of 75,000 words by September 1. I will have to get back to it soon.

I can focus entirely on reading and thinking because my researchers, two young journalists, are keeping the material coming into my email inbox. It’s a huge relief to be able to delegate and to find terrific help even at $15/hour. The several hundred dollars I spend for their time is worth every penny for my peace of mind and ability to focus on other things.

My partner is trying not freak out. He knows I can write quickly and that I write best with a deadline staring me in the face.

May-June 2010. Writewritewritewritewrite. Forget social life and housework. I turn in the book at the end of June and take a two-week vacation.

July 2010. My editor has given me six pages of revisions to make. Can I do it? Do I have the skill? I talk to friends and my agent who all offer tough love and encouragement. The editor loves the last two chapters and suggests I use them as models for the rest. Luckily, her suggestions are all clear and helpful, about 80 percent of which I follow.

August 2010. Revisewriterevisewriterevisewrite. Cut the boring bits.

September 2010. Done, in, accepted. Whew!

(Start planning marketing, events and speaking engagements.)

It’s Tuesday. And You’re Happy?

In animals, antiques, art, behavior, business, cars, culture, design, entertainment, Fashion, food, Health, sports, Style, travel, women, work on October 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

 

alcoholic drinks - minibottles

It can come in very small bottles, too...Image by jekert gwapo via Flickr

 

The London School of Economics has started a new study to link happiness to physical location, time of day and other factors.

If it’s Tuesday, they’ve discovered, people are least happy — and at 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, they’re feeling their best.

Another new study says six things make most people happy:

It turns out that you can be happy — without worrying — as long as you get enough sleep, spend quality time with your family and get home from work at a decent hour.

According to a new study, it’s the simple things in life that make us content: home-cooked meals, trips abroad, a night out once in a while. As for money, well, The Beatles said it “can’t buy me love,” and it doesn’t seem to do much for happiness, either.

On the list citing the keys to contentment, cash didn’t even make the cut.

Experts doing a study for Yeo Valley, a British dairy company, quizzed 4,000 adults on their lifestyles and asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5 — 5 being perpetually happy exercise guru Richard Simmons and 1 being Oscar the Grouch. The result was a formula that includes one night out a week with a partner or friends and a 20-minute commute to work.

According to the study, happy people have four alcoholic drinks a week. They also eat four portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Here are some of the things guaranteed to leave me grinning, no matter what the day:
Road trip! It can be almost anywhere

Travel, preferably overseas. Preferably Paris or Corsica. OK, anywhere in France! Using my passport makes me really happy

Hanging out with a dear friend over a great meal (or cold beer)

Cold beer — Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, Grolsch, St. Ambroise, Griffon…

An authoritative G & T made with original recipe Tanqueray

A very good pedicure

Scoring a treasure at a flea market or antique show

Watching the red hawks soaring over our balcony

Setting a pretty table and serving dinner to friends

Getting a book finished and into production

Patting a friendly dog

Looking at gorgeous art and well-made objects in a museum or gallery

Hitting to the outfield

Wearing cashmere

A cuddle with the sweetie

A very ripe peach, mango or strawberry

The smells of dried, sun-warmed pine needles, Oeillet-Mignardise or Hesperides soap; horse; ocean; leather; “First” perfume; old stone

The sounds of a halyard clanging against a sailboat mast; water lapping against rocks; wind in the trees; laughter

Here’s one blogger’s list of the things that make her happy.

How about you?

Literary Siblings

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Media, work on October 11, 2010 at 11:34 am

 

Seated man reading a book

Image by National Media Museum via Flickr

 

That’s what I call them anyway.

I grew up an only child (I now have three step-siblings) so never had to fight for my share of my parents’ attention.

Now, as an author, I get a kick of knowing who my agents’ other writers are and watching their successes. Jealous? Sure, it would be nice to make The New York Times’ best-seller list or get short-listed for the hugely prestigious Booker Prize.

But I also know that writing success is a wild mix of talent, hard work, luck, timing, persistence, discipline. It’s not, as so many would have you believe, a zero-sum game — you win, I must lose. There are always many extremely determined competitors our there; some have helped me and vice versa. Score!

I see two sorts of what I call literary siblings — both the other authors sharing the same agent — and those who are published by the same house, maybe even by the same editor. (Which does she like better?)

I heard an author interviewed on the radio recently who is also published by Penguin/Portfolio, who will issue my new memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” on April 14, 2011. Some of their authors have had huge best-sellers, like Seth Godin.

I root for every writer I like but also cheer for those on the same editorial team, even if I’ll never meet them. Our successes will (I hope!) keep our agents and our publishers thriving.

That’s a win for all of us.

Ten Reasons Rejection Won’t Kill You

In behavior, business, culture, design, entertainment, Fashion, Media, Money, music, photography, Style, women, work on October 7, 2010 at 2:32 pm

 

Photograph of American poet Walt Whitman in th...

Mr. Whitman. Image via Wikipedia

 

It’s interesting watching how people react to criticism of their work or their ideas.

Too often, they mistakenly conflate a rejection of these for some more general loathing of them as people, whose real and enduring value to the world extends far beyond their professional definitions or creative aspirations.

Here’s a wise take on it from a fellow blogger on WordPress.

We all, as Walt Whitman wrote, contain multitudes. When someone (other than an editor paying me for it), hates my writing, I laugh. It’s one opinion, even if shared by thousands.

I’m still a loving daughter, a generous friend, a loyal partner, a talented photographer/athlete/cook/artist, world traveler, formerly nationally ranked athlete. My words aren’t (only) who I am.

Hate my words? It happens. They’re one part of my identity, and as carefully chosen and edited as any other of my public presentations.

If someone swoops in and flays you for yours, then what?

The same idea can be applied to virtually any creative endeavor, whether poetry or photography or cooking or designing a room.

A creator or innovator expresses their vision. Theirs. But it’s easy to forget that:

You are not your ideas. If you can’t divorce the two, you’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Your choice. What will you do and how will you feel when people reject them/you out of hand and possibly very rudely?

People have no idea what to make of the truly original. If an idea is so new or radical or game-changing as to challenge the current paradigm, it will scare, theaten, piss off or annoy people currently deeply invested — emotionally, intellectually, financially or all three — in it. They will shred you. This “rejection” is quite possibly then, about them, not you.

Rejection of an idea may require re-tooling it. Just because this iteration isn’t working out, maybe the next version will. (See: The Wright Brothers.) That’s why artists working on paper have A/Ps — artist’s proofs — to see how it actually looks. It might be lousy. Maybe you need to re-think or fix it.

Are they rejecting the idea or its execution? Many people now, unwisely, conflate effort with success. They did X so X must, simply because you made it, be amazing. No. Some Xs require training and practice to be(come) truly excellent or appeal to a wide(r) audience.

What (hidden, unknown) obstacles lie in its path? I had a brilliant new idea, (I hoped), and ran it past some people in that industry who know its specific obstacles. They liked the idea but explained why it might never fly — not because the idea is weak but because the execution of it is far more expensive that I realized. Now I know!

Feedback is merely information. Take it or leave it. Freaking out is a total waste of time. Take what will help you achieve your goal most effectively and leave the rest. Don’t personalize feedback.

Define your goals clearly and with a timeline and a measure of progress. You want to show your photos or art in a commercial gallery or local library? What steps have you taken on that path? Rejection along the way stings far less if you have aimed for a specific few goals, can be a little flexible about “success” and keep on plugging.

Timing matters. A lot. Many stunning works of fiction and non-fiction simply disappeared from public view, criticism and potential success because they were published on…Sept. 11, 2001. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that, but it hurt many people’s longed-for dreams as the world shifted focus.

You may be offering your work to the wrong audience. Every community has deeply held beliefs about what is valid, important, worth listening to and validating. If your ideas are consistently rejected and demeaned within a community you thought worth joining, find a better fit. Others exist. Make one!

You need the courage of your convictions. Allowing total strangers on-line who shout, shriek, curse — and rally others to their cause to join the chorus — to intimidate you gives them way too much power. Unless they can cost you your livelihood, health, home and/or the safety of your loved ones, (which is when lawyers and law enforcement come in handy), why surrender your peace of mind to the bullying of a bunch of ghosts?

I was lucky. I grew up in a family of people who earned their living — and a good one — through writing, directing and producing material for print, television and film. No one has a pension. No one had a “real job.” We all had agents, learned to negotiate, to live within or below our means because a steak year — success!! – could easily be followed by a hamburger year.

We all know the marketplace is fickle and frightening and so we all developed thick skins, back-up plans and f—k you funds so we can walk away from work and projects that are a time-suck and talent-killer.

Rejection? Hah!



Finding, and Keeping, A Literary Agent

In behavior, business, culture, design, Media, Money, work on October 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm
Books Books

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Some of you have asked advice on how to find an agent for your writing. Having been through seven of them over the years, I have some experience with this.

So, here are some of my thoughts, albeit most suited to writers of non-fiction, as I do not write fiction. Most agents represent a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, children’s and young adult material. Read their list carefully and don’t submit any genres they don’t handle.

How do I know when it’s time to get an agent?

Do you have a manuscript ready? Or a full-fledged book proposal? (If you don’t know how to write one, read this book.) If all you have is an idea, or several, you’ll need very strong writing credentials, a platform (i.e. thousands of people who know your name and will possibly be eager to buy your book), media savvy, and the willingness to undertake the writing of a book proposal.

Why do I have to write a book proposal?

How else will the agent know what you hope to accomplish? In a few cases, an agent you are introduced to through a trusted contact may sit down with you to hear about your project — and if they’re intrigued they’ll ask you to produce a proposal. If they want the project, they’ll work with you on it. They are not paid for this time, nor are you. It’s a lot of work! Do it cheerfully and diligently. Even if that book does not sell (and that happens), you’re learning how to write this crucial document and will do it better next time.

How much work will an agent do on a book proposal?

As much as s/he thinks is worth it. They may love you and your idea, but they only earn a living when they sell a book and close the deal. They can only invest so much time on each project and writer. Don’t take it personally. Find someone to help you polish and edit the proposal if necessary. It is not unusual for a proposal to take months as you send it back and forth to your agent until they are totally satisfied with it. It’s their name and reputation that intrigues and attracts editors, not yours.

What do agents do?

They help you prepare a proposal and decide which editors at which publishers are most likely to find it of interest. They submit it and hope. If someone shows serious interest, they will come with you to the meeting with the publisher — which is common now so they can check you out in person. If an offer is made (or several) they will negotiate with the publisher and editor to get the best offer they can.

Do I have to pay them to read my work?

No. If an agent wants to work with you they will take 15 percent of your earnings after the book is sold. They will also take a percentage of all ancillary sales, such as television, film and possibly speaking engagements.

How should I treat an agent?

With respect! They are not your BFF or your Mom or your writing coach or English professor. They know what a tough game it is to be a writer, but they’re not especially eager to hold your hand. They expect professional behavior even if this is your first book and it’s all totally new to you. They will help you understand this new world, but don’t abuse their time and goodwill. I tend to check in every few months to say “hi” and hear what they’re up to on other projects once I’m mid-book. But once your book is sold, you’re essentially on your own.

How do I find the right agent for my project?

Consult the Association of Author Representatives. A reputable, experienced agent is likely to be a member. This site also offers a fantastic wealth of information; and this list of FAQs.

The way many writers find an agent is through their friends and colleagues who will recommend someone to their agent. The way for a new writer with few or no such contacts is to read a number of books similar to the one you hope to write and read the acknowledgments; authors always thank their agents. Write to a few agents whose authors’ work you admire and tell them why you and your work are a potential fit with their list. Read their websites and see what sort of people they tend to take on — Academics? Politicians? Celebrities?

One of the best ways to find an agent who might be a fit is to attend writers’ conferences like this one, where they often speak. You can quickly get a feel for their personality and can probably slip them your card.

What if my agent is new to the business?

This can be an advantage. New agents are hungry for new clients while (much) more established ones have their pick.

What if turns out to be a poor fit?

It happens.  Initial enthusiasm, on both sides, can pale. They can take too long to reply to calls and emails or sending out your work. They need to communicate with you clearly. There are others out there. Don’t stick with someone if it’s really not working well for you.

What should I be looking for in an agent?

Someone whose personality will work well with yours. They may be skilled and experienced and have a Really Big Name, but if they’re too brusque or intimidating or hurried or busy, move on. Someone who really gets who you are and what you do best and are excited by your project. I want someone who’s been around the block a few times, who won’t waste my time encouraging things that won’t sell. I think you want to like them enough to work with them, but they’re not your pal. They’re a business partner. Feeling cosy with them, however personally comforting, is less important than feeling certain they have your best interests at heart.

What sort of books most excite them? Sell well for them? Ask to see their list of authors and recent projects.

If you read it with a thoughtful eye, you’ll notice patterns. I saw that one agent’s list was heavy on academics — he likes smart and informed think-y books/authors (who doesn’t?) — but I saw in that a warning. Professors have salaries and crave acclaim from a wider audience, and can afford a tiny advance. I have different goals and need an advance I can survive on. Another had a list studded with celebrities and one-book-wonders. I want an agent who wants to run with me for years.

Here’s how I found the agents I’ve met and either worked with or considered:

1) Can’t remember. A NYC agent. Deal fell through after I flew all the way to Australia to do the reporting. Ouch. Costly error, fun vacation.

2) An adult student in one of my NYU writing classes knew an agent who gave me three names. One became my first agent.

3) A friend in Toronto, a former newspaper colleague, sent me to someone highly regarded there. She demanded 15,000 words and then blew me off after reading them with one sentence. Dick.

4) I play softball with a bunch of fellow suburbanites. One, the pitcher, is an agent. He read over a few of my non-selling proposals and diagnosed why they were going nowhere.

5) A friend whom I have yet to meet face to face (we met through an on-line writers’ group) sent me to his agent. She’s terrific and we discussed one proposal but I back-burnered it. This book is too similar to one of hers (a NYT best seller) so she had to decline it.

6) A friend admired an essay of mine and sent me to her agent. Not a good fit. One email was enough to show me this.

7) I spoke on a panel in NYC about writing and a passionate young woman in the audience asked a few questions. She was then the assistant to my current agent and suggested I write a memoir. Now I have!

My current agent is Kathleen Anderson. She’s my age, bloody brilliant and even harder-headed than I, which I didn’t think possible. We’ve had shouting fights with one another and equally fierce hugs. She’s got a NYT best-selling author right now short-listed for the Booker Prize, Emma Donoghue, author of “Room.” Cool!

Like dating, finding an agent can be a little challenging. It  can be a fantastic fit or a disaster. Or neither. I’ve learned not to be in awe of them. They’re people. They work hard. They love writers and ideas. They advocate for talent. If you find a good one, treat them well!

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