Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, September 28, 2007

This Week in Publishing 9/28/07

New York City here I come!! Next week I will be living and working in our fair epicenter of publishing, having meetings, eating lunches, commuting on the 6, arguing about which pizza place is the best (DiFara and I don't even want to hear otherwise), yelling at taxi drivers, debating which subway line is the worst, and demonstrating that I am a seasoned New Yorker by saying things like, "I remember when that bar used to be another bar before this neighborhood was trendy and it was so much more authentic and actually I even remember when the bar was a paint store and the guy who ran it was totally insane so how you like me now??"

It's going to be great.

I'm not sure when I'll be able to blog next week, but I will keep you posted on everything that has changed since the time when I lived in Brooklyn and worked in the NY office. It will be riveting I'm sure.

Meanwhile, this week in publishing:

First off, an addendum to last week's This Week in Publishing. Chronicle Books tells me that the Newsweek article was incorrect and they will not be receiving a fee from Blurb when they refer authors to the self-publisher, and it's not going to apply to all of their rejection letters, just ones they feel would be appropriate. It's really just a mutual referral plan. So there you have it. Blurb and Chronicle are both San Francisco companies, and I'm guessing they just happened to find themselves on a cable car together, confessed how much they love each other, hatched the referral plan, and then had sundaes at Ghirardelli Square. At least that's how I like to imagine it.

This post from The Millions is seriously awesome. Not only did the author of the post talk to a nail polish executive about how and why they name colors of nail polish things like "Moscow nights" and then asked their naming committee to suggest some titles for her short story, she also links to this blog post from Virginia Quarterly Review in which they list the ten most common titles of short story submissions. I'm seriously shocked that "darkness" and "rising" didn't make their list, but the word "revelation" is definitely creeping up my most-common titles list.

Jonathan Lyons is back with a great post on whether you should revise your work based on an agent's recommendation. He's also going to be starting a list of websites writers should avoid, so please send him your suggestions.

And finally, faithful reader Jordyn was concerned that I had not talked about the Hills for a while, so here goes: I continue to love everything that comes out of Spencer's mouth, and frankly, a few episodes back when he was having dinner with Heidi's parents and said to them "What an angel" in the most insincere and fake manner you can imagine when Heidi walked away, I nearly died of giddiness. But the last episodes have been focused on LC and Jason, which were a tad underwhelming. Where is Justin Bobby during all of this?? Was he kidnapped by pirates again? Has he started a renegade hair stylist union for hair stylists with bad hair? Has he washed the very dirty white t-shirt he likes to wear or is it still a mess? I NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Guest Blogger: Kim Long on Researching THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION

As I mentioned in Tuesday's post, my wonderful client Kim Long's new book THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION, SCANDALS & DIRTY POLITICS is now in stores.

Every time I pick up the ALMANAC, besides chuckling merrily at our history of political malfeasance and skulduggery (however bad today's scandals seem they were 1,000 times worse a hundred years ago -- see Potter, Robert) I am just awed by the amount of research that went into the ALMANAC. How does one go about compiling the most important (and somewhat hilarious) political scandals in the past 300 years along with some of the best political cartoons and pictures? How does one even find out that a politician once tried to annex Ireland and that a New Jersey State Senator elaborately faked his drowning by leaving oxygen tubes on the floor of the Caribbean?

I asked Kim to blog about how he researched the ALMANAC, and here's what he had to say:

My most recent book, the Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals, and Dirty Politics, will be published in September by Bantam/Dell. Nathan Bransford handled the sale, and provided useful input during the proposal stage. At 368 pages, this project attempts to span the history of political corruption in the United States with a chronology of various people and events that make up this story, a different approach than the thousands of other titles, almost all narrative nonfiction, that have covered the subject. I have written other books using this type of almanac format and find it an engaging way to present information, from serious topics to trivia.

But with politics, various complexities compounded the task of research, organization, and writing. Most of the effort here, as with many nonfiction book projects, was expended in the former category, finding information and answering questions. What comprises corruption in the history of politics? Who was involved? What happened? The “big” stories -- Watergate, the impeachment of President Johnson, the Teapot Dome scandal -- are so well-covered that they present a problem of too much information. In a project such as mine, room has to be made for lots of entries, so reducing large stories to digest-sized items often took as much time as researching smaller stories from scratch. As journalists and reference professionals know, condensation is a tough slog.

However, most of the research involved combing published sources for lesser known stories, with newspapers, periodicals, and books my primary sources. With few exceptions, this meant relying on published indexes or online searches of full-text archives. Browsing was one method, hunting for topics that met my criteria in a discovery process without strict rules, as in “you know it when you see it.” The other method is searching, the quest for answers when specific information is already known, such as proper names, geographic locations, or other keywords.

Online databases make the former method practical, but not always straightforward. Consider the range of keywords that might link a politician to a misdeed: “arrest,” “indictment,” “sentence,” “fine,” “accused,” “parole,” etc., not to the mention the dozens of potential activities that might have been involved: assault, murder, bribery, fraud, kickbacks, larceny, misdemeanor, felony, public nuisance ... the list is lengthy.

The multiple keywords defining politicians also added complexity to both browsing and searching. In order to do a thorough hunt, other alternatives are necessary as well, including, “mayor,” “governor,” “senator,” “congressman,” “representative,” and so on. Even these narrowed alternatives might miss opportunities to uncover a scoundrel, as early newspaper accounts, which were typically partisan, might skip the official title altogether in favor of an insulting adjective, derogatory nickname, or party affiliation. And sometimes, merely, “The Hon. ...” Ultimately, it was combination of keywords that produced results, some combinations being more successful than others.

To ensure further discovery, another avenue I employed was to find shortcuts, previously published accounts that included names, events, and specific misdeeds. The muckrakers of the late 1800s provided one such field as did scholarly publications that focus on a single issue, such as bribery or election fraud. Here, thanks to the demands of academic publishing, potent details are often included, leading back to Internet searches armed with specific keywords. A single newspaper article could also be a gold mine, as when the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post assigned a reporter to provide historical perspective on a contemporary misdeed by a local politician. An article on yet another alderman sent to prison in Chicago, for example, might provide a list -- a long list -- of previous escapades involving other aldermen.

At the other end of the research spectrum, some characters defied uncovering. Either because their actions were local and did not make it to the readily-available archives for national publications such as the New York Times, or they were truly obscure and lost to history. Felix McConnell is one example. I stumbled across a short newspaper article announcing his death while scanning hundreds of entries turned up in a browse for “congressman” and “suicide”; he killed himself with a pocket knife in December 1843. But despite being a national politician -- he was a Democratic representative from Alabama -- there was little else about his life until, by accident, I discovered an illustrated history book published in the 1940s, in which McConnell was depicted brandishing a knife on the porch of a Washington, D.C., hotel, an event that was newsworthy at the time, and enough to make him eligible for an entry in my book.

Unfortunately, without being able to track down a source or permission to reuse this illustration, I was left at the last minute with a hole in the page where his entry was placed, and not enough time to repaginate all of the pages that would be affected by simply closing up the text to replace the graphic. Luckily, in a second search of historic texts in a local academic library, I found a juicy bit of information I had missed the first time around. It seems that McConnell’s one claim to fame while he was in Congress was to propose that the United States annex Ireland.

Research can be tedious, repetitive, and benumbing to the brain, but the payoff is discoveries both significant and trivial, the browsing incidents and search accidents that end up populating my books.

And, in the case of political shenanigans, there’s always tomorrow’s morning newspaper.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How Did You Hear About the Book You're Reading?

Ladies and gents, Fall TV is back, which means you will soon be subjected to Bachelor and ANTM references and generally be made to wonder how it is that I can be a literary agent who loves Ian McEwan and Melville while also being a tad too obsessed I mean fascinated by questionable-at-best reality television. I heart Fall!

But let it not be said that I am reading less because of all the good TV that's on -- I figured the debut of "Gossip Girl" on the CW was excuse enough to read the eponymous YA novel. Have to say -- I really enjoyed it. Such attitude! Such dish! Such bad human beings! I loved it.

Meanwhile, back in book land, the little ole publishing industry often gets accused of not doing enough market research on its customers. Some people think we should be more scientific and, you know, figure out what kind of advertising works. Well! Let's change all that. This is a HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC survey of REAL READERS that will result in some NEBULOUS ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE.

So here's this week's You Tell Me: How did you decide to buy the book you're reading? Friend recommendation? Advertising? Book club? Random impulse buy? Debut CW series produced by Josh Schwartz featuring teenagers behaving very badly? (guilty - although I've been meaning to read it for a while. Which I guess is kind of worse.)

Let's show those "scientists" where they can put their "formulas." I bet they made all that stuff up anyway. Can't fool me! Quadratic formula my foot.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Publication Alert: The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals & Dirty Politics

You may be interested to know that in the 1800s there was a politician named Robert Potter, who, after losing an election bid for the North Carolina House of Commons, challenged the victor to a duel. Failing to bait the winner into a fight, Potter's supporters subsequently brawled with the victor's supporters, leaving one dead and several injured. And he won the election the next year!

But wait, it gets better. While later serving in Congress, Potter suspected a Methodist preacher and a cousin of being "too familiar" with his wife, and he kidnapped and... castrated them. ("Potterize" is still used as a slang term for castration in some parts of the country)

Potter subsequently ran a successful House of Commons campaign from prison, but was eventually expelled for cheating at cards -- I mean castrate people, yes, but DON'T CHEAT AT CARDS. But Potter was not finished. He moved to Texas, where he was one of the original signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and was appointed secretary of the Texas Navy. He was finally assassinated in 1842.


Also, did you also know that George Washington was the subject of a sex scandal? That Ulysses S. Grant was allegedly issued a ticket for driving his horse and buggy too fast?

All of this and much much more (including an indispensable list of American politicians killed in duels) can be found in THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION, SCANDALS & DIRTY POLITICS by Kim Long, on sale today!!

Harper's Magazine recently featured a really fascinating interview with Kim Long in which he talks about the history of American political corruption (it predates the founding of the republic) and some of the better scandals. Definitely check that out.

One thing that strikes me every time I crack open THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION is the sheer massiveness of the task of researching the misdeeds and compiling the vast amount of information (and pictures, charts, newspaper articles, etc.) that went into THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION. On Thursday we'll have a guest blog from Kim Long on how he approaches the task of research just in case you are wondering how nonfiction writers do it.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION, SCANDALS & DIRTY POLITICS!! It's quite delicious.

Also, I should note that today is also the publication day for friend-of-the-blog John Elder Robison's LOOK ME IN THE EYE, his memoir of living with Asperger's Syndrome and Maya Reynolds' BAD GIRL has been out a few weeks. Check those out as well.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Common Sense and Decency Rule

As you may recall from the MATSUTAKE!! post (I was just itching for an excuse to say that again) I've lately been trying to do a little pushback on the blog about the way in which the query "rules" and things like that will be bent or broken for the right project.

I'd like to take that one step further. I think we blogging agents may have helped create a query and client acquisition culture where people are twittering with abject fear that they are going to break one rule or another in the query process and look like a rube or worse. I don't think it's quite fair to people, particularly since every agent has their own set of preferences and there are no rules written anywhere -- how can someone really be expected to follow every rule out there when everyone has a different rule?

Sure, I have as many biases as the next person, but when dealing with me, there is only one rule that matters: have some common sense, use your good judgment, show consideration for me and my time, be polite, and you'll be fine. I'm not going to cast ye out of the garden of publishing for breaking a rule, unless it's the common sense and decency rule (which, actually, is broken astonishingly often)

Can't we all just get along?

Tomorrow's post will be about how I absolutely loathe it when people refuse to single space their query letters I mean WHAT ARE THEY THINKING???

Just kidding. Actually tomorrow's post will be about the publication of my wonderful client Kim Longs' THE ALMANAC OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION, SCANDALS & DIRTY POLITICS. Get excited!!

UPDATE: Marti was decent enough to point out that I misspelled "decency" in the blog title. Whoops.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

This Week in Publishing 9/20/07

This week in publishing...

Mushrooms!! Actually no mushrooms in this week in publishing. Sigh.

Via Publishers Lunch, fellow San Franciscans Chronicle Books are embarking on a venture with self-publisher Blurb to parlay their slush pile into a "mutual referral" plan whereby Chronicle will recommend the people they reject to Blurb and if/when those Blurb books become successes Blurb will repay the favor with a heads up to Chronicle. Symbiosis! Not just for whales and barnacles anymore.

Slate literary editor Meghan O'Rourke re-read A WRINKLE IN TIME and wrote about the experience, which may be of note to those of you who are doing the same. Of course, I also would be remiss if I didn't point you to Slate's video history of the laugh track, which has nothing to do with publishing but which is quite awesome. My love of Slate has recently moved from borderline unhealthy to kind of creepy to outright obsession. I just can't help it, Slate, you're just so amazing! Who else is going to give me a visual history of prefab houses??? I know you were only kidding about the restraining order!

The New York Times reported recently on the enduring legacy of Ayn Rand (who happens to be one of the many groundbreaking authors Curtis Brown Ltd. has represented over the years. You go, Curtis Brown!)

And finally, via GalleyCat, Hillel Italie reported that IF I DID IT publisher Beaufort Books went back to press for another 50,000 copies, bringing the total to 200,000 in print, and it is currently #2 on Amazon's list of bestsellers. That sound you hear is me banging my head against the wall.

Have a great weekend!

UPDATE: Chronicle Books says that the information in the Newsweek article is incorrect -- Chronicle does not receive a fee for recommending Blurb. It's really is just a mutual referral plan if either Chronicle or Blurb thinks a project would be right for the other. So there you go.

Digging for Mushrooms

Watch out, because I'm about to get all metaphorical on you.

I recently read a New Yorker article on mushroom pickers (bear with me here). There are these people who go into the forests in Oregon to pick matsutake mushrooms, which are very popular but difficult to find. You see, the matsutake doesn't grow above ground, so the mushroom pickers have to look for small mounds in the ground in certain places near certain trees and dig to see if there's a matsutake there. So there are these people who will see an almost imperceptible mound of dirt and yell out, "MATSUTAKE!"

(I especially like to imagine the part where they yell out "Matsutake!", which I completely made up. In fact I just like saying, "matsutake." I think I'm going to use that when I finish a book or find a good manuscript. The end MATSUTAKE!!)

Anyway, the whole matsutake search is just like being an agent. Mostly. Kind of.

As anyone who has worked in publishing knows, there's a huge psychological difference between reading something as a finished book and reading it in manuscript form. With a book, not only is the reading experience completely different, but when the book is published by real publisher you are absorbing the implicit endorsement through the binding -- someone out there believed in the book and invested in it and thinks the book is good and will sell. Sure, not everyone will like the book, but it still carries that implicit weight of endorsement, particularly one that has already been branded a "classic." It's a mushroom that has already been dug up and cleaned off.

But when the book is just a manuscript, especially one by an unknown author, it is really, really difficult to read something and decide if it is good or will resonate with readers. Really difficult. Finding a mushroom in a small mound of dirt difficult.

Which is why I cringed when I saw the recent New York Times article that highlighted Knopf's old rejection files and readers reports, including the rejection letters for classics like THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and THE GOOD EARTH and LOLITA.

Let's be honest, people love playing the schadenfreude game with rejected books that went on to be mega-successes (to be fair, the Times article is very balanced). It's extremely tempting to laugh at publishers and agents who missed the big ones, and similarly tempting for publishers and agents to kick themselves when they miss said big ones. But there's a good reason this happens: it's really, really hard. It's subjective. It's slippery. Heck, sometimes an agent or publisher just wasn't the right fit, and even if they had repped/bought the book it might not have caught on like it did because they didn't see what someone else saw in it. The right fit can be everything.

So sure, everyone who has spent much time in publishing has missed one, but it doesn't mean we're stupid. At least I hope not. No one said digging for mushrooms is easy.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What Are You Reading at the Moment?

I posed this You Tell Me once before and I thought it was really fun to hear about what people are reading. Well, some time has elapsed and so here's a repeat, this time with feeling:

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I'm reading WELCOME TO THE WORLD BABY GIRL by Fannie Flagg, getting in touch with my small town roots.

What about you?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Importance of Originality

Agent Kristin Nelson is on quite the roll lately. Not only has she been posting an invaluable series of posts on her author/agency agreement, she also just had some big deals come down the way. But best of all -- she is sharing the original query letters and her pitch letters for these now-completed deals.

If you aren't reading her blog regularly you'd better have a darn good excuse, buster.

In particular, though, I'd like to direct you to the original query letter for DEMON'S LEXICON, which happens to begin with a rhetorical question. I KNOW.

So. Would I have pressed the reject button on this query letter because it started with a rhetorical question, and in the words of Kristin Nelson, the letter is "far from perfect"? Honest answer: I don't know. BUT. I will tell you what I really like about the letter, and why I don't believe I would have been scurrying for the rejection button -- the letter is very original. The opening rhetorical question is answered in an unexpected way, the relationships are presented in an interesting fashion, and you just get the sense that although this is a genre novel, this is something different.

Or, in the words of the omniscient Kristin Nelson: "It’s more important for a query concept to be original than for a query to be perfect."

I think it's very easy to get hung up on the query letter portion of the manuscript process because it's something you can control. It's something we blogging agents can be specific about and offer handy-dandy pointers and preferences and we can be biased against things like rhetorical questions, and authors can work to death on the letters and get them into shape and it's one of the more scientific parts of the process because there's more or less a query formula.

On the other hand, "Originality," "marketability..." these things are all so slippery and difficult to pin down. I know originality when I see it, but I could never tell someone how to go out and write an original manuscript. So we don't talk about it much. Well, I blogged about it once, but it tends to get lost in the query obsessive culture we've created.

My query "rules" go straight out the window when I smell an original idea. Rhetorical questions, spelling my name wrong, obviously mass-mailed... BRING IT! I've requested all kinds of manuscripts that broke my rules. I don't think it's a good strategy to break these rules because it reduces your odds, but I'm also not going to sweat a few errors when there's originality at stake.

Great writing is important, it's important to know how to jump through the query hoops and to respect that process, but there's really no substitute for an original idea and a fresh take on an established genre.

As a wise man once said: You can teach a camel to write a query letter, but you can't force him to drink from the waters of originality.

Think about it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

And the Winner Is...

Before I announce the winner, I'd like to first just take another moment to appreciate the amazing entries -- the voting was very close and there were plenty of write-ins, which just goes to show how difficult (and subjective) it is to pull a favorite from so many great entries.

But we do have a winner. And yes, the first line is stupendously ultimate.

The Winner of the First Annual (and Probably Last For a While Until I Have Taken a Vacation or At Least Have a Week Where I Don't Stare At a Computer Screen for 16 Hours a Day) Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge is......

Stall... stall.... stall....

Wait for it...

Wait for it some more...

"That summer, the arsonist struck every home on the block but ours." -- jeanne

Congratulations, jeanne! You have won yourself a partial manuscript critique. If you need one. I really want to find out why the arsonist spared that house.

Also, I think we have ourselves a little arsonist zeitgeist in the book industry right now -- not only was jeanne's first line the most voted-on entry, but the very critically acclaimed book AN ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND just came out this month. Coincidence? Well, the fire department sure hopes it is.

We'll be back with regular programming tomorrow. Thanks again for participating!

Friday, September 14, 2007

This Week in Publishing 9/14/07

Wow. Wow wow wow. What a week.

Thank you so much to everyone who entered, followed, voted on, talked about, breathed on, or was vaguely aware of the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge. It's been a whole lot of fun, and something we'll have to do again. Someday. When I'm well rested. And have a big bottle of bourbon at my side.

If you haven't already, please write-in your vote in the comments section of yesterday's post announcing the nominees. It's neck and neck! A dead heat! Also, please refrain from open campaigning for the nominees here or elsewhere on the Internet -- I know it's fun to root for your friends but let's keep this as fair and objective as possible and let everyone decide on their own. Voting will close Sunday evening and the stupendously ultimate winner will be announced on Monday.

MEANWHILE, there was publishing news this week.

As noted by many, author Madeleine L'Engle passed away last week. 26 publishers passed on A WRINKLE IN TIME before it went on to become a classic.

The winners of the Quills were announced this week. "What? already?" Yes! Already! I'll give you one hint about who won for fiction: his name rhymes with Shmormac ShmcMarthy. Personally I am extremely concerned that the combined weight of the awards he has won this year is going to create a black hole in the vicinity of Santa Fe, New Mexico that will swallow us all. Don't say I didn't warn you.

As first reported by GalleyCat, James Frey landed on his feet with a new book deal with noted piano maestro Jonathan Burnham. (Seriously, the man is an amazing piano player.) Oh, and Jonathan happens to be the publisher of HarperCollins, too. Frey is writing a novel this time.

And finally, 101 Reasons to Stop Writing has issued its September de-motivator, which is just pure genius. I particularly like the pensive man in the blue shirt in the middle, who I like to imagine is trying to forget that someone may have used an evil albino as a villain in the past.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And the Nominees Are...

E-MAIL UPDATE: My work e-mail is now working again, so please feel free to e-mail me queries and other work-related matter. Thanks for your patience. My incoming mail from the past day should still reach me despite the error messages you received, so please hold off on e-mailing me again unless you don't hear from me by tomorrow morning.

Now for the SUFLC.

Before we get to the nominees, I'd first like to thank everyone who entered -- this was a ridiculously difficult job Anne and I had, and we were both very impressed by the quality of the nominees. So give yourselves a big round of applause, pats on each other's backs, and heck, a few rounds of "For he/she is a jolly good fellow/lady" wouldn't be unwarranted either.

Speaking of Anne... how can I thank Anne enough for helping me with this huge task?? Have I mentioned Good Girl Lit? THE BOOK OF JANE? CONSIDER LILY? EMILY EVER AFTER? Let's see what else... Oh! I promised Anne everyone's firstborn child. Hope that's ok.

So. What makes for a good first line? GOOD QUESTION. Anne and I tried to judge these genre-appropriately and went with our gut instincts about what grabbed us. You will see from the finalists that they are on the shorter side -- I'm not opposed to longer first lines, but word choice and flow is just so important and I found that it was harder to maintain over a longer first line.

But really, in describing what makes a great first line, I think Anne said it best in one of the many e-mails we sent back and forth trying to narrow down the list:

"In looking over the finalists, I realize I tend to like the ones that leave you wanting to know what they mean. They don't necessarily ask a question, but pose a situation that you want to know more about. I guess that's what a first line is supposed to do—draw you in—but it's interesting to see how it works."

Couldn't have said it better myself. In fact I didn't say it better myself.

Without further ado, here are the nominees. Remember, please be an honest voter and also post in the comments section who you voted for and why. Write-in votes need to be non-anonymous. Voting will be open for three days and will close whenever the widget decides it's time to close -- sometime Sunday. Thank you again to everyone who participated!!

I'm going to list the nominees here because the voting thingie limited me to 100 characters and one of them had to be shortened to fit. In no particular order:

"There's this girl I've never met that I know everything in the world about." - Eric

"His hands just looked dirty to casual eyes, a slight darkening on the knuckles, a shadow on his palm." - Conduit

"Brooklyn didn't know very much about me, which was exactly what I needed in a friend." - CC

"That summer, the arsonist struck every home on the block but ours." -- jeanne

"When Earth exploded we knew there was going to be trouble." - JD (Myspace)

"Some people have to try really hard to be a princess, but I am lucky because I was born one." - Renee (Myspace)

"I'd only been in love with her for ten minutes when everything turned to shit." Derek

"The footprints ended abruptly, just as the boy's parents had said they would." - anon

UPDATE: I'm switching over to write-in votes due to irregular activity. Sorry for the inconvenience. I'm all for spreading the word on the Internet, but it's not fair to the nominees when so many people are coming to the site from one specific place. This should be a contest based on merit -- if you are spreading the word on the internet please do not tell people who to vote for. Hopefully this will work. Anonymous votes will not be counted.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

SUFLC Update #2

Well now.

We are fast approaching 450 entries between blogger and Myspace (or roughly three times the number I was anticipating), but I am undeterred! I am ready! I am prepared! Mostly!

And despite one half of the stupendously ultimate organizational committee of two getting cold feet and claiming that she had, um, this "thing" tonight (I'm not naming names but it was Anne Dayton), I have successfully bribed Anne back into the fold and tonight we will decide on the finalists. Please show your appreciation to Anne by visiting Good Girl Lit, buying her very wonderful novel THE BOOK OF JANE and sending her bizarre apocalyptic religious paraphernalia. She'll love it.

Also many thanks go out to the divine Miss Snark for stopping by and mocking my task ahead. Your schadenfreude brought a nostalgic tear to my eye.

Now for the update: this evening Anne and I are going to decide on a slate of finalists (probably 5-10, but that will be determined tonight), and tomorrow's post will include an electronic voting widget thing so you can decide on the ultimate winner (with one write-in vote available to those who have a blogger account or have posted on this blog with a non-blogger username in the past -- no anonymous write-ins!). While the system will not allow unlimited voting, I am going to rely on the good nature of the finalists to follow the honor system and not try and pull any electronic funny stuff -- frankly, if there is cheating on a for-fun contest on a semi-frequented blog I might just lose faith in humanity altogether. MY OPTIMISM ABOUT THE WORLD IS HANGING IN THE BALANCE!

But still, I will also be monitoring any irregular activity and the best way to ensure fairness in the voting system is if everyone votes and encourages others on the Internet to do so: one time, fairly, and honestly. Oh, and if everyone also says who they voted for and why in the comments section of tomorrow's post we will get a clearer picture if someone is getting a suspiciously disproportionate share of the vote.

Please enter the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge if you haven't already, and don't forget to check out both Myspace and Blogger for the full list of entries!

Best of luck to everyone. But especially to me and Anne. We're going to need it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

SUFLC Update

My thoughts upon waking up this morning: "Gee, I wonder how the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge is going, let me open up..... Holy Spicoli!!"

Needless to say, I have already started shying away from the monumental task of whittling down the entries into a list of finalists and have enlisted the help of thrice-published author Anne Dayton of Good Girl Lit, who doubles as a book editor and thus knows a thing or two (or a gazillion) about first lines.

Anne and I will take a look at all of the entries on Wednesday evening (the cutoff time will be earlier because Anne is on the East Coast) and come up with a list of finalists. Voting will commence on Thursday, hopefully with a handy-dandy electronic voting thingie, and you will also have the opportunity to exercise the power of the people with the ability to write in votes in the comments section.

Some have already expressed concern about voting fraud (in America?? No!!), and to alleviate these concerns I have enlisted the same accounting firm who tabulates the votes for the Oscars to ensure that there are no irregularities, and I have authorized the full use of tasers to enforce the rules. (Actually we're going to use the honor system with some additional safeguards.)

Keep on entering the SUFLC if you haven't already, and I hope you're enjoying reading the entries as much as I am.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge

You have been waiting for years and years for this. Ok, two and a half days. And now it has arrived.

As stated in Friday's post, the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge's rules will be ill-defined and the winners subjectively chosen, so let's all just take a deep breath and agree that we will not get angry at the stupendously ultimate contest organizational committee (which has one member) and will enjoy this contest for the good hearty fun that it is -- in fact, I've just been assured by the surgeon general that participation in this contest counts as three servings of vegetables.

The rules -- er, on second thought let's call them guidelines:

1) All may participate, whether agented or unagented, published or unpublished, living or unliving.

2) Leave in the comments section one (1) first line to a novel, memoir, work of nonfiction or other such matter intended to be the opening of a book -- it may be your work in progress or something you have crafted for the purposes of the Stupendously Ultimate First Line Challenge. A second line may be included if it completes the first line, however aforementioned second line's necessity will be judged with great scrutiny since this is a first line contest (and a stupendously ultimate one at that).

3) Entries may be made between now and sometime late Wednesday night Pacific time. In Thursday's post I will put together a list of nominees for the grand prize and you the readers will have an opportunity to vote on the ultimate winner, which will be announced on Monday. (That is, if I can figure out how to enable voting.)

That's it! New rules will be introduced haphazardly, so keep an eye on the comments section.

And now the prizes. The prizes!! The grand prize winner will receive the satisfaction of a job well done, the esteem of his/her fellow blog readers, and...... a partial manuscript critique from the stupendously ultimate contest organizational committee of one! (Or some other equally stupendously ultimate non-cash prize if the winner doesn't need a manuscript critique.)

It was a dark and stormy night. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Who will add their first line to the ranks of the greatest opening lines in literature? Let's find out.

Friday, September 7, 2007

This Week in Publishing 9/7/07

This week! Publishing! In!

As predicted by frequent blog reader and commenter (and noted seer) Sex Scenes at Starbucks, now that you have been warmed up by Wednesday's You Tell Me on the best first lines in literature, get ready for the ultimate... the stupendous... the magical... the probably not as good as "Cats".... Ultimate First Line Challenge!

Um, that will be next week. So start polishing those first lines. As with any contest on this blog, the rules will be ill-defined and the winners subjectively chosen.

I can feel the excitement in this room.

Meanwhile, there was a week, and by golly the publishing industry decided to join in.

The Booker Prize shortlist is in (thanks to Galleycat, who was on it like a saucer of milk). Good luck to the nominees! Keep working on that pensive look, which you'll need when the camera pans to you as they're saying "The Booker goes to..." And then you have to look happy for the winner even though you want to kidnap them and administer death through paper cuts. It's a tough job being a writer, I know.

Also via GalleyCat, Rosie O'Donnell has declared war on the nation's copyeditors. I don't even have a joke here, except to say that I hope I'm not caught in the crossfire.

On a more serious note, one that features nuanced discussions on the vagaries of the book industry and culture at large (this is The Millions we're talking about after all), aforementioned book blog The Millions has a breakdown of the latest articles about the decline of newspaper book pages. In particular I'd direct you to former LA Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman's really interesting article on the same matter, which is a thing that made me go, "Hmmm."

And finally, faithful lurker Cassie Whitener was the very first to point me to this article about the case of Polish writer Krystian Bala, who thought it a good idea to write and publish a novel about a murder he actually committed. Whoops. A lot of people have joked about this already, but here's what I'm outraged about: isn't this the oldest murder mystery cliche ever? Police tracks crime author using clues from latest novel? Come on, Krystian Bala. I've seen Insomnia. I fell asleep. Geez.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

I Like Queries

I tend to be an overly logical person. I can't listen to the song "Whoomp! (There It Is)" without cringing every time Tag Team raps, "These three words when you're gettin' busy/Whoomp there it is." It's four words. FOUR WORDS!! 1) Whoomp 2) There 3) It 4) Is. Geez. Come on, Tag Team. Get it together.

And yet every now and then I like to shock my fiancee by buying a lottery ticket, such as when I spontaneously bought a Mega Millions ticket even though I had a better chance of being immediately beamed to Pluto by space aliens -- someone has to win, right? There's something about beating the odds that appeals to me.

All of this is to say that I really like queries. I like them a lot! Yes, I have to reject virtually all of them, it takes a huge amount of time, and the odds aren't good. But I really enjoy reading them. I like the good ones, I like the bad ones (except these), I particularly like the ones that don't make any sense whatsoever. It's anything but a drag, and I swell with a rosy hopeful feeling every time I start to read a query. I'm always hoping someone is going to beat the odds.

I'm telling you this because lately I have been receiving quite a few queries where the author thinks it best that we both first acknowledge how horrible the query process is and how much time we're wasting before we get to the actual part of the query where the author tells me about the story.

Things like: "I know you're probably slogging away and it must suck to read all these queries, believe me, this sucked to write too, but anyway, here's my story, not that you're probably reading past this because reading queries is so boring, but hopefully since I'm acknowledging how horrible it is to read queries and demonstrating my self-awareness about how much this process is ridiculous you'll actually read my story." (I made that up, but it's not far off)

Look: no apologies necessary. Maybe people have gotten the idea from some blogs that we literary agents sneer at every hopeful author who crosses our desk, love to skewer the bad ones and laugh maniacally every time we press the reject button. But I'm here to tell you: queries are not unpleasant to read. You're not going to find a sympathetic ear with me if you want to complain about the query process, because I find that it is an incredibly effective mechanism for weeding through submissions, and I don't mind the time I spend reading them. Respect the process, people.

If you want to sneer at someone, I have three words for you: sneer at Tag Team.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What's Your Favorite First Line?

Before we get to this week's You Tell Me, I have a request, nay, a plea. Please please please don't forget about the blog archives -- they are down on the right side of the page, just itching to be clicked on. The older posts get lonely and they need friends, and then they start getting depressed and they turn to the drinking, and pretty soon I have a bunch of drunken old blog posts blathering about how people have forgotten all about them and confuse them with old Miss Snark posts and that gets them to fighting and I really don't need a riot on my hands. (Those of you wondering about how to query trilogies and series, please visit this post from July). Thanks for your understanding. They're crazy, I know.

So for this week's You Tell Me, I've been wondering: What is your favorite first line in a novel? And why did it hook you?

I'd have to go with the old standby: "Call me Ishmael." So simple, so awesome. Also because MOBY DICK happens to be my favorite novel.

What's yours?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mini Query Stats

Hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day weekend. It was so nice of the sun to stop by this weekend -- it sometimes forgets we poor San Franciscans exist in the summer.

As promised by the subject line: query stats! A special Labor Day edition of query stats. Get excited.

Let's quickly get our mandatory Tuesday The Hills breakdown out of the way: I think I could watch Justin Bobby talk to Audrina for... I don't know, a really long time. Hours. It's transfixing, sort of like how I imagine it would have been watching Picasso paint, only if Picasso looked like a pirate and drove an El Camino. Meanwhile, Audrina likens her relationship with Justin Bobby to a "roller-coaster ride." Yes. Quite. Sort of like a roller coaster that only goes downhill, repeatedly ditches its passengers mid-air, and bursts into flames at the end. Oh, and the roller coaster doesn't want to be called a "roller coaster" because it's not into labels.

Ok. Whew. On to the query stats. These are from the three day weekend, during which I received 47 queries.

Suspense/thriller/mystery: 8
Fantasy: 8
Young Adult: 8
Literary fiction: 3
Science fiction: 3
Memoir: 3
Middle grade: 3
How-to/Self-Help: 2
Religion/New Age: 2
Women's Fiction: 2
Historical fiction: 1
Male Ennui: 1
No freaking idea: 3

Of these, I requested.... one partial. From a regular blog reader and commenter.

How many of the 47 were personalized? Only nine. Nine!! Out of 47!! Meanwhile, 4 were addressed to "sir" or "To Whom it May Concern," and 2 more were obviously mass-mailed (and several more than that were semi-obviously mass-mailed but with a better macro).

Some more fun stats:

Queries beginning with rhetorical questions: 2
Queries for trilogies (or longer): 5

And there you have it.

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