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By Peter W. Sinnema
Self-help isn’t what it used to be. At least, its early renditions were cast in a style alien to the contemporary ear.
The concept was first named (and voluminously expounded) by Samuel Smiles in his 1859 best-seller, Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct, and Perseverance. Erstwhile apothecary, railway secretary, newspaper editor, and biographer, Smiles’ birth in Haddington, Scotland marks its bicentennial on December 23. If this populist Victorian sage is worth remembering for anything, it must be for his original self-help book, translated into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Danish, Japanese, Croatian, Czech, Arabic, Turkish, and various native languages of India within his own lifespan, and purchased by more than a quarter-million readers by the time of the author’s death in 1904.
Smiles’ own moral and professional diligence embodied the cardinal virtue of his homespun philosophy: perseverance. He outlined his gospel of “energetic individualism” in refreshingly simple terms, encouraging humble mechanics and beleaguered artisans to own and cultivate the “power of self-help, of patient purpose, resolute working, and steadfast integrity” as they struggled to improve their lot in the new age of mass industry. Smiles promoted self-help as practiced or habitual independence, a disciplined husbandry of the inner man “effected by means of … action, economy, and self-denial.”
Given that Smiles published his aphoristic opus at a time when the nascent welfare state was represented by the grim apparatus of the workhouse—that infamously unpleasant asylum for the destitute reorganized under the oppressive Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834—present-day readers may be taken aback by the animosity with which Smiles condemned all “help from without”: states and statutes could do nothing to “make the idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober.” Smiles denied the power of institutions to ameliorate individual vice and ignorance, and in anticipation of Margaret Thatcher’s notorious declaration that “there is no such thing as society,” he regarded nations as nothing more than aggregates of individual conditions. The remedy for social evil and decay thus resided “not so much in altering laws and modifying institutions, as in helping and stimulating men to elevate and improve themselves by their own free and independent individual action.”
Smiles ran with his self-help idea for some forty years, enjoying social and commercial success with books on related themes such as Character (1871), Thrift (1875), and Duty (1880). Dying only three years after the state funeral of Queen Victoria, Smiles was quickly typecast as a spokesman for the worst hypocrisies of his era. In his socialist masterpiece The Ragged-Torusered Philanthropists (1906), Robert Tressell lambasted Self-Help as bourgeois propaganda “suitable for perusal by persons suffering from almost complete obliteration of the mental faculties,” while more recently E. J. Hobsbawm added Smiles to his list of “self-made journalist-publishers who hymned the virtues of capitalism” (The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848: 1961). Surely these are justifiable indictments of a man whose best-known work opens with the parsimonious bromide, “Heaven helps those who help themselves”!
Before we relegate Smiles’ invocation of self-mastery and laborious endurance to the dustbin of history, however, we’d do well to recall the singular contribution made by his account of “indefatigable industry” to our contemporary culture of self-help. True, Smiles’ highly repetitive and at-times cumbrous tribute to the “spirit of self-help” can read like a naïve, even perverse plumping of mere doggedness in the face of a hostile world. But then, repetition is of decisive rhetorical importance for Smiles, just as it is for any effective self-help author of the twenty-first century.
Smiles’ secular hagiography of “labourers in all ranks and conditions of life, cultivators of the soil and explorers of the mine, inventors and discoverers, manufacturers, mechanics and artisans, poets, philosophers, and politicians” derives its affective grit, its capacity to inspire and reform, from iterative structure. Self-Help’s biographical exemplars (there are literally hundreds of them, from Charles Abbott and Peter Abelard to John Ziska and Francesco Zuccarelli) are invariably martyred—to unsympathetic wives, malicious priests, ruthless state functionaries, failed technologies—but ultimately to the requisites of gripping narrative and readerly pleasure. In the end we want to emulate these suffering stalwarts because, as Smiles himself pointed out in his revised 1866 preface to Self-Help, the redundant plotline of affliction-perseverance-success “proved attractive … by reason of the variety and anecdotal illustrations of life and character which it contains, and the interest which all more or less feel in the labours, the trials, the struggles, and the achievements of others.”
Even the most erudite self-help guru must embrace the compositional obligations of repetition and (auto)biographical exemplarity that originated with Smiles. Kathleen Norris’s moving exploration, at once recondite and unsentimental, of the acedia that grips our Western culture, the spiritual torpor that is self-help’s universal, symptomological object, is a case in point. Her study of the “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today,” driving millions to the bottle or the therapist’s office, acquires its poignancy from her insistence that the pressing question, “Why care?” can only be answered “by relating [her] personal history with acedia, telling stories from … infancy, childhood, and adolescence” (Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life: 2008). Norris’ self, exposed, diagnosed, and at least partly healed through the telling of personal history, is the modern-day version of Smiles’ paradigmatic, self-motivated individual in expectant pursuit of “elevation of character, without which capacity is worthless and worldly success is naught.”
Peter W. Sinnema is Professor of English at the University of Alberta. His teaching and research focuses on Victorian literature and culture. He is the editor of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Self-Help by Samuel Smiles. A bestseller immediately after its publication in 1859, Self-Help propelled its author to fame and rapidly became one of Victorian Britain’s most important statements on the allied virtues of hard work, thrift, and perseverance.
For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.
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Image credit: By Samuel Smiles (d. 1904) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Reading a Moby Lives article this morning (fantastic blog BTW) and they posted two surveys taken by author Nathan Bransford where he asked people what they thought an ebook should cost if the hardcover retailed at $25.
He ran the first survey on June 14 2010:
And then ran the exact same survey again on February 2, 2011:
The polls are entirely unscientific but it appears that all the $9.99 pricing pushes that have been going on for the past year or two are really leaving their mark.
One of our bookselling partners, ChrisLands, is having a birthday this month. It has been ten years since they opened up shop as tool for independent booksellers to set up their own e-commerce websites (ie: sites which can take credit card details and sell online). James, the site's creator, just sent us a note mentioning that as part of their celebration they are having a special offer for booksellers
In their 10 years, ChrisLands established themselves as a well-respected member of the online bookselling community. Well known for understanding the needs of independent booksellers, they continue developing their base product, updating old features, and adding new features based entirely on booksellers’ needs.
As their birthday gift to you and to celebrate 10 years in business, ChrisLands has a special birthday sign-up offer of 50% off the signup fee for new stores from now until June 30th, 2011. Don’t miss this opportunity to get your own online bookstore. Visit ChrisLands.com to learn more about the features and benefits of this company and to see examples of great ChrisLands sites.
At BookFinder.com we think it's great because every time a bookseller opens a ChrisLands account it means that there are more interesting books available online for all of us to find when we need or want them, and remember this is another good way to make your books searchable by BookFinder.com if they are not already.
[Now Reading: Indignation by Philip Roth]
By: Scott Laming,
Blog: Bookfinder.com Journal
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How much do you think a good story is worth? I don't mean a book necessarily since books can be collectible and that's not what I am getting at here, but how much do you think a novel length story is worth?
When deciding this you might compare the value of the read vs. other entertainments such as the cost of a movie rental? The price of a video game? The cost of a newspaper or magazine? The drop in fee for a local gym or that knitting class at the community center? For me the value varies wildly depending on how much I enjoy (or expect to enjoy) the book.
With that in mind I have been thinking about the current "race to the bottom" debate in e-publishing that has been raging on the blogosphere. For those of you who are unaware it essentially boils down (in an inelegant way) to publishers claiming that self published authors are going to ruin publishing by offering eBooks at rock bottom prices; while the self-published authors are claiming that large publishing houses are bloated profiteers.
From the publishers side: two years ago I posted a rough breakdown of what the costs of printing a book might be for a traditional publisher. Based on these figures you get closer to understanding the $9.99 price point that publishers seem to be trying to stick with for an ebook. Shave a little here and there and then knock off the additional costs associated with a physical book and you are close to that figure. Everyone takes a bit of a hit in total values but I can see where they are coming from.
On the other hand it's now very common to see self published ebooks for sale for as little as $0.99-$2.99. You may also see these self published authors explaining that they are in fact making money at this price. So why do the publishers need to charge more?
Now that authors can self publish without having to front the serious amounts of cash to physically print their books they are less likely to need a publisher to bankroll the project. Couple this with the fact that an author can now act as or hire a publicist and designer on a piece meal basis to cover most of the basic marketing needed for a book launch and you can see why some mid and backlist authors choose to self publish.
I am making the suggestion that now a publishers greatest value is not to the average author but to the reader. Publishers do help separate the wheat from the chaff. By helping readers find quality writers they can save them from that feeling of wanting those last few hours back.
I am willing to pay a bit more to know that the novel I am about to read is at least going to be well written and hopefully interesting but exactly how much more I am willing to pay for that is what publishers need to figure out. I kind of wish I could tell them.
I just found out via Boing Boing that the city of Boston has shut down it's 78 year old print shop in a cost cutting effort and is now auctioning off its equipment in 200 lots. The auction is being held on Feb 24 at 11AM estern and will be simultaneously conducted in the factory at 174 North St. as well as digitally.
There is all sorts of great old printing gear so I suggest any pamphleteers, zinesters, and print shops take a gander at the wares on offer. In the Boston Globe they described an old-fashioned platen press with a hand lever and foot pedal and a Linotype machines that stand 6 1/2 feet tall as two of the pieces.
[Now Reading: Old Mans War by John Scalzi]
Two things have popped up this morning so far on Twitter that make me sit on edge. And both have to do with the potential for carelessness that comes with the writing and querying process out there.
First, is the lovely National Novel Writing Month. The infamous NaNoWriMo. Where you start AND finish an entire novel in one month. Second, queries sent from mobile devices.
Now, neither thing is particularly offensive, but both can lead to some undesirable outcomes. I'm not anti-NaNoWriMo. I actually think it can be pretty great for getting your butt in the chair and making you finish something. Deadlines are incredibly helpful for that. But the product of NaNoWriMo should not be treated as a final product. It's hard not to see the bump in my queries in December and January from these submissions.
You need to then put the book away, come back later, edit it, read it again, show it to your critique group, edit it again, and then maybe go out on submission with it. Like anything else, good books are not rushed. Take your time, get it right.
As for the queries sent from mobile devices, I already had 2 writers argue with me on Twitter that this is okay. The content of the message is matters--not the medium. Point taken. And I'm not saying DON'T do it. But I want you to think about it. Mobile devices are not meant for intensive, detailed work. They are meant for on-the-go keeping-an-eye on things. I have both an iPhone and iPad, and I use both frequently for productivity. I'm cool with that. But I know for myself that I am more prone to typos and errors when using those devices than on my computer.
Also, my files aren't on my mobile devices. There are here on my laptop, neatly organized, alongside my tracking spreadsheets so I can keep good records. I would never pitch editors and send out manuscripts from my iPad. Would you want me to?
It's possible more of the problem is that I can see the "Sent from my mobile device" signature. So a simple solution is just to delete it before sending. But, I'd encourage you to think about your process and whether the mobile device best suits it.
My point? SLOW DOWN. Everything is rushed these days. We seem to think if it's not moving fast it's not good enough. I say we begin a counterrevolution to bring back care, diligence, and contemplation. Who's with me?
A recent article in The Guardian, "Jodi Picoult Attacks Favouritism to 'White Male Literary Darlings'," has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention in the book world. Lesley McDowell, author of Between the Sheets: The Literary Liasons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers, knows the feeling all to well. She shared her thoughts on the article--and how she thinks demographics can affect the gatekeepers of publicity, book reviewers--below. Thanks, Lesley!
When I stepped out of the world of academia in 1997 and into literary journalism, I had a mortgage and bills to pay. I needed to make money. So I took a look at the literary pages and thought, hmmm. No-one’s going to let me review the latest Martin Amis. Or the latest Salman Rushdie. Or the latest Ian McEwan...I could see I just didn’t have the right equipment for the job, despite a PhD on James Joyce.
Fortunately, though, I did have the right equipment to review the latest Jane Smiley. Or Carol Shields. Or Alice Hoffman. The women writers that the boys won’t touch with their barge poles. But that was fine by me – what they didn’t want, I took gratefully and all those reviews of all those superb women writers paid my mortgage and my bills. They still do. And I still don’t get the big boys to review – the latest Amis or Rushdie or McEwan goes, by and large, to lead male reviewers. I didn’t care, back in 1997. I built my own little ghetto and I was just fine with that. I needed the cash, plus I got to read some of the best literature that the late twentieth century had to offer.
And now? I do occasionally review a book by a man. Just as some male critics do very occasionally review a book by a woman (of the 26 reviews I’ve received for my own book, Between the Sheets, four – yes, 4 - have been by men). But I like pushing for the women writers – I see it as my job to give them attention they might otherwise be denied if a literary editor can’t find another female critic to review them in time. The financial pressure is still there, but I don’t see my reviewing, or the books I review, as part of a ghetto any more.
And yet that sense of a ghetto is still there. I’m guessing that Michiko Kakutani didn’t face quite the same financial pressures I did, when she began building her career as a major literary critic. I’m guessing she could afford to badger for the boys’ books, maybe wait till that important male reviewer was off sick and she could steal the latest Amis for herself. I’m not saying I never reviewed a lead title, but the lead titles are invariably by male authors, so if you want to be a major reviewer, you tend to have to concentrate on the boys. And so, I’m guessing, that’s what Kakutani did. It got her the status she has today.
So why would she take a step down and review the latest Jodi Picoult? Jodi Picoult, for heaven’s sake! What does she know about family drama? Nothing that Jonathan Franzen doesn’t know much, much better, it would appear. Women have been writing about the family for decades, and been castigated for it, marginalised as frivolous, domestic, local. Occasionally a woman writer is accorded proper status – oh, how it pains
Orbit Books reports a 25% decrease in Swords and a 20% decrease in "Glowy Magic" on fantasy book covers. I think this spells danger for the genre!
This is the best book news story of the week, I don't care that it's only Monday, nothing will top this.
This blog post has been brought to you by the power of Twitter. It can alternately be titled "If You Liked It, Then You Should Have Put a Ring on It."
Something that's been known to happen both between authors and agents, and then agents and editors is the revision request without a commitment of a representation offer or a contract. Mostly, the request for a revision is a good thing. It means the agent or editor sees potential and wants to develop it.
I myself have asked an author for an exclusive revision on a few occasions. What usually happens is that I'll see something promising, read it, know something's there, but not feel confident enough to take it on without fixing those nagging areas. Part of this has to do with wanting to make sure you're also taking on an author who is CAPABLE of revision. Part of it is just making sure you can make it fit the market.
Whenever I ask for a revision, I do it with the best of intentions. I WANT that project to work. More often than not, this has had good results for me. I have several clients who I did an exclusive revision with first, and then offered representation after seeing the finished product. Those have also gone on to sell to publishers.
My process is usually to offer the writer this trade: I will give you my notes, and in exchange you will give me first look at the revision. And if I don't choose to take on the project at that point, you are then free to take that revision anywhere you like.
I like to think that's fair. Because I don't want to spend a lot of time giving you notes for you to take my effort and give it to someone else first. And I want you to be free to take a hopefully stronger project elsewhere too. I don't usually set a time limit on it, since I can't dictate how long your revision process should take.
Sometimes it just doesn't work though. And these cases are always really tough. Sometimes the project can't evolve past "potential." Sometimes the author just isn't skilled enough to fix it. Invariably I feel a little guilty if I pass on a revision. The idea isn't to make the author jump through unnecessary hoops. It's to make sure we're getting the right projects signed. Our hope is always that even if the revision doesn't work, the project is still stronger and someone else might have luck with it.
This happens on the other side of the table too. And I've admittedly been just as frustrated when an editor has asked for an exclusive revision on a client's book, loved it, and then declined to offer. That happens too. So I understand why writers might hesitate without us offering to make anything official.
But I think at the end of the day, someone taking interest enough to want to see where it can go is a good thing. And this industry requires such collaboration, that any input is inevitable and will help you. So just keep your expectations in check, and you should be in good shape.
Just a quick note from the trenches today, to send you over to Twitter to follow a great thread: #whatitmeanstobeanagent
Started by superstar Jason Ashlock, many luminaries and minor luminaries (i.e. me) have been contributing our thoughts on our job, from the sublime to the mundane.
Go enjoy! And learn something. Back to reading for me...
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By Kirsty McHugh, OUP UK
Geoffrey Jones is the Isidor Straus Professor of Business History at Harvard Business School. He researches the history of global business and has written extensively on the evolution of international entrepreneurship and multinational corporations, specializing in consumer products including beauty and fashion, as well as services such as banking and trading. His most recent book is Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry. In the original post below, Professor Jones writes about the boom in natural cosmetics.
Next month, on March 24-26, the leaders of the natural cosmetics industry will assemble at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in New York City to discuss the boom time for natural beauty. Or, at least, what many are betting will be a boom. The event is organized by Organic Monitor, which recently issued a report outlining how large companies have been paying huge sums to buy iconic brands in this market segment. It has been quite a gold rush so far. In 2006 global industry leader L’Oréal paid over $1 billion for Britain’s Body Shop. Soon afterwards the bleach manufacturer Clorox – implausibly – paid $925 for Burt’s Bees, a Maine-based company which had begun making candles from the beeswax created as a by-product of their honey business twenty years previously, and grown to make $170 million of sales of organic beauty products. In 2008 Estée Lauder, an early mover in this domain which had bought Aveda in 1997 and grown the brand globally, took a stake in the trendy Indian business Forest Essentials, an ayurvedic cosmetics company which makes its products by hand in a village in the Himalayas. And this year kicked off with Shiseido, Japan’s leading beauty company, paying the enormous sum of $1.7 billion for Bare Escentuals, the San Francisco–based company which has built the minerals-based cosmetic market.
The natural cosmetics boom has been a long time coming. Entrepreneurs began to experiment making cosmetics from plants rather than chemicals as far back as the 1950s. In 1954 Jacques Courtin-Clarins, a young medical student who had observed that when patients were treated for circulatory problems with massage their skin looked better, started a small business making botanical body oils. At the end of the decade Yves Rocher launched a company which made plant-based cosmetics distributed through mail order in the rural village of La Gacilly in Brittany. The big problem for all these ventures was to find customers, who stubbornly preferred products which employed modern science to make them look younger and sexier. Natural cosmetics remained for decades an activity for the unusual entr
I just found this and thought that some beginner booksellers or collectors might find this of use. The Alaska State Library published a manual on book repair. It is an e-book and can be downloaded for free from the Alaska State Library site. It also appears that you may print it out for your own use as well as long as you are not selling it.
Hopefully this can be useful to some of our readers.
All right, so some observation of my blog (in all its diverse interests, alas) has forced me to notice that some of my "focus" is being lost. Woopsies. This is, after all, supposed to be a blog about publishing.
I don't like reposting information because it's boring to people who've seen it before, but as we all know, bloggers come and go. So for those of my many friends who may have missed some of my early "articles" that are actually about, umm, publishing, I thought I'd post a little link-back cheat sheet.
Moonrat's Guide to Getting Published--this is pretty basic, and still the link I give to people who feel brand-new to it all.
Why You Should Never Submit Unagented to a Publishing Company--I know I'm basically preaching to the converted here. But please forward this to all your friends who think this is a good idea.
How Royalties Work--Just the basics, here. Lots of great comments clarifying things I missed, too.
Things You Should Be Able to Expect from Your Editor--Because there are some things it's ok to ask for! Here are some tricks for getting as much as you can out of the relationship.
Publishing by Omission--the [mostly] unintentional racism that happens in book publication, and what you can do to fight it.
Marketing Your Book--More tricks for getting the most possible from your publishing company in terms of marketing.
Why 40% of books printed are pulped--and all the background info you need to know about laydowns, sell-in, and cash-flow concerns that are the silly backbone of our industry.
Why it's super important to make your delivery date as an author
Book people are nice--a story about why it's more important to be nice than cool in publishing
What Makes a Dream Author--Because editors are neurotic, crazy people, and you never know what will make them happy or drive them into their holes in the ground--a little cheat sheet.
Why it's important to know your agent is following up with editors (from my editorial perspective)
My first print run is tiny! How do I save my book? Some solace (most first print runs are tiny) and some tips.
To cloth or not to cloth? My thoughts on paperback originals versus hardcover.
My open letter to Overwriters everywhere.
Hedging your bets--how every stage of publication is a gamble, and where you should pause to ask yourself about risks.
What's safe to syndicate online--my thoughts on this change and evolve, but here's where I'm at currently re: what to put up online if you're an author seeking publication, and what to protect and NOT put up.
Pre-editing--my thoughts on hiring a developmental editor before submitting to an agent or before your agent submits to houses.
Subrights--my thoughts on the advantages to either selling or retaining subrights (like foreign language translation, audio, book club, etc).
The Editing Cycle--a confession (from the editor's perspective).
What constitutes good sales for a literary novel? With all the lying we publishing folks do about print runs and sales figures, it's hard to even know which way is up. Well, here's my opinion.
An editor's thoughts upon the death of a difficult author.
An agent told me I'm not a great writer! How do I survive? My three tips on separating the publishing process from your creative process.
Less Is More--my manifesto on why publishing is failing as an industry, and some key ways I think we need to change.
For those of you interested in publishing, in whatever aspect, please remember I love and welcome questions.
For those of you who are shocked and dismayed to find out this is a publishing blog, fear not. I'll find an Asian pop video or a picture of a baby animal for you anon.
It's been hard to keep up with what's happening with the Google Book's settlement, but US Department of Justice recommending against the deal might have been the straw that breaks the camel's back. There is now a new deal in the works.
What do you guys think of this? A new Twilight-esque cover gets Emily Bronte onto the UK bestseller list. (via Sarah Weinman)
Click here to see a truly perfect photo Maud Newton took on her walk home. For any of those spoilsports who keep shouting that reading is dead.
Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden talks about ebooks and the future of publishing (focusing on sff). Much of what he says is stuff you guys have already read 1,500 times, since we're internet babies here. But I'd like to highlight a particular statement of his:
io9: Does it make a difference to you if an author has an online reputation? Does that go into your decisions to acquire books?
PNH: Obviously it makes a difference if an author has a public online profile of some sort, even just down to the level of having a moderately popular blog. Most books sell 5, 10, or 15 thousand copies. Most are midlist books. With those people, even a modest online presence can make a difference in sales.
So cheers to everybody here, since you're here because you're working on developing an online platform. Here, MJ Rose presents her idea for revolutionizing how authors get paid,
vis a vis how much (time and money) authors are expected to spend on their own promotion. Her major points are that authors not have to "earn out" the upfront money publishers pay as an advance but then which authors are expected to spend on their own promotion--wouldn't it be more honest if promotional money fell into a different category, something that didn't need to be earned out? (Back to my idea for marketing agreements instead of/alongside advances.) Also, she suggests that royalty percentages be higher if authors are expected to be their own advocates.
Yeah, I work in a house, and yeah, I don't imagine in the mainstream publishing industry much like this is going to change soon, but--yeah, I agree with you, MJ.
That's it for now. Thoughts?
By: Chris Whetzel,
Blog: Chris Whetzel Illustration
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Welcome back to the ol’ blog. Whats new? Well, the cycle continues.
New cards went out in July with a pretty good spike in web traffic; hopefully, this will mean some commissions to come. I have also gotten some good web traffic from my emails with several direct responses about the artwork. I even had a commission come from the last set of images, however we were not able to work out a suitable budget for the rights requested. It always sucks to turn down a job, and you get scared that it was a mistake. But if we do not ever say “no,” then we will never re-establish a value to the use of illustration.
You gotta value what you offer; I don’t mean you should be conceited or pompous. Don’t talk down to the client or insult them. Simply offer what you can at their budget and then state what you would need to charge for what they are requesting; this way, the choice is theirs. You aren’t “backing out;” you are providing options, and if neither option works, then the job dies with no one being at fault. I think some artists take offense at a low-budget offer, and then lash out at an art director; what purpose does that serve? Not only does it make you look like a big-headed jerk, but it also make illustrators in general look the same way.
I digressed; I wont rant about etiquette and manners today.
I’ve been a little behind on the blog posts again. Sorry. So this post features the creation of an illo for Matthew Bates, art director of SNEWS. This magazine is a trade-based magazine for folks in the outdoor/recreation field. Matthew is also art director for Backpacker; I had sent him promos aimed at work in Backpacker, and he brought me onto SNEWS, which he was re-tooling with better visuals. Confusing? Sorry!
The article was a profiling of several up-and-coming outdoor industry designers. Matthew wanted something bold and iconic, and he referenced several pieces on my site as well as some poster art that he thought would guide me in the right direction. Matthew was a pleasure to work with; he was really flexible as I was simultaneously working on other projects. We verbally communicated concepts, and we reached a point where only one sketch was needed:
I was working off of the phrase “giants of industry” which came into my mind while reading the article. I brought in specs that one would see on a blueprint or model sheet to re-enforce the industry aspect. I was really motivated by the phrase “outdoor industry,” and I wanted to somehow juxtapose the two words visually.
Matthew approved the sketch and I created two versions as he was not sure if his editors would want the “specs” or not. So I did one without (more of a portrait) and one with (more of a concept). Also, I hated the guy to the left so I re-drew his head:
In the end, Matthew used the version with specs, and that was a great relief as I felt the other version felt a little generic.
In the end, I’m not thrilled with what I did with this piece; some of the drawing isn’t my strongest. However, the artwork does what its supposed to do so it is a success. I sometimes think I lose sight of the forest for the trees. However, this piece has also inspired me to try my hand at more “group portraits” in the future. Planning is in progress so hopefully I’ll get to them soon.
Enjoy the Day,
By: Allison Winn Scotch,
Blog: Ask Allison
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Question of the day: I wrote a novel that I thought would be deemed "young adult." My agent read it and said it was "middle grade." What's the difference and does it matter?
Truth told, I am not an expert in anything YA. At all. But I asked my trusty agent, and here's what she said: "I'm not totally sure, but my understanding is that there is not a hard and fast rule. But my experience if the protagonist/audience is 12 or younger, it is middle grade. Of course, the content can determine it too. If it's dark, it's YA."
She suggested asking a YA editor, but since I don't write YA, I didn't really have any contacts from which to pool. To answer your question, does it matter? I do feel like off the top of my head, most of the break-out youth set books have been firmly YA, but then again, I'm not an expert. The good news is that I run a blog with a lot of readers who know things when I don't. :) So if anyone can weigh in below, please do!
I was reading though For The Love Of Books (the Blog for Biblio) the other day and they had a great article on cleaning and repairing ex-library books. Which, as they mention, is a great skill to have when you find books that are neat or interesting but don't necessarily have a great monetary value. The day I find an ex-library Hemingway first I’m taking it straight to a specialist but in the mean time I shall pay heed to these valuable tips:
Never forget that the more effective the cleaner, the more abrasive it can be, and the wearier the book, the more it must be spared abrasive cleaning methods. Start with the usual soft cloth, then move on as needed to the Artgum eraser and other famous brand names in the field.
If you're determined to remove a library pocket, you can try such products as un-du Label and Tape Remover, followed by a minute or two of low heat from a hairdryer. The multipurpose Document Cleaning Pad can help in removing residue.
Rehabilitate enough library books, and you'll become intimately acquainted with rubber cement. To cope with its removal, try a long-lasting crepe rubber eraser called Pik-Up, which works on many other adhesives, too.
Then they go on to describe some products and tricks for restoring dust jackets...
If you want more information on book care AbeBooks has an interview with Brodart Book Supplies and Littera Scripta also has a pretty good summary on book care.
If any of our readers have done any book restorations themselves and have before and after photos I would be most interested in seeing what an armature restoration job can accomplish.
[Now reading: Enders Game by Orson Scott Card]
Question of the day: Recently on the Dystel & Goderich blog there was a post that bemoaned the fact that agents are having a difficult time getting editors to read their submissions. I'm wondering if other agents are finding this also. Excerpt from DG blog: "Has EVERYBODY stopped reading? This last week a senior editor at a major publishing house received a proposal from us and rather than read it at all, she simply looked up other books in the category and decided that since they hadn’t sold, it wasn’t even worth reading one word of this author’s work. In another, rather shocking instance, a publisher of a very good house turned down material I had submitted saying that the fiction market was extremely difficult these days. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the note – the material I had submitted clearly stated that it was a memoir."
Well, I'm not an agent, but I do chat with my agent regularly, and from what I can tell, it's not that people have stopped reading, it's that acquiring has certainly slowed down, and thus, unless an editor really believes that what he/she is about to take a look at is really going to be worth her time, she's not going to devote said time to it.
One thing that is definitely happening right now, given slow book sales and the whole gloom and doom economy is that fewer books are getting bought and those books that ARE getting bought are selling for a whole lot less than they would have a year ago. I definitely even saw this when we sold The Happiest Days of My Life. Yeah, I got a very nice-sized advance, and trust me, I'm not complaining, but numerous parties involved noted that in a different environment, it would have been an even nicer-sized advance. But again, I'm not complaining. I'm happy to have had a healthy offer and a guarantee of a published book than nothing else, and yeah, these days, plenty of authors who would otherwise have a shot aren't getting them.
So are editors reading less? I'm sure. Because they're buying less. That's the real root of the problem here. Sort of like how in better times, I'd immediately open shopping emails (i.e, J. Crew) in my inbox just to see if there might be something that catches my eye. Now? I rarely bother because I'm not going to spend the money on something that I really don't need.
That said, I'm sorry that you got that "fiction" rejection for your memoir. That does feel sloppy and dismissive, but regardless, it's a "no" all the same, and I'd just try to forget about it. I don't know, maybe it's better to hold off on submissions until things are on the upswing? What do you guys think?
Every red blooded bibliophile will eventually admit that at one point they have dreamed of owning, or at least working, in a bookstore. The idea of getting to spend ones days bustling though the smell of the stacks, handling old books, and being able to recommend a book that makes the customer’s week are a fanciful notion. But is this actually how it happens, or is it just the romantic fantasy we bibliophiles hold on to about the professional bookseller.
If you ever wanted to know what it was like to work in a bookstore but aren’t ready to jump in head first here are a few reads that might help paint the picture for you.
Top 10 books about bookselling
1.Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry
Larry McMurtry’s novels are barely mentioned. They just don’t seem that important to him. Books: A Memoir is a book about being a bookman, being a book scout, being a used bookseller. Countless authors stress the importance of literacy and bang on about how books must never die, but how many open bookstores and get their hands dirty at the sharp end of this business – flogging used books?
2.The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, a Book Sense selection, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstoreé He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school to a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade—from the great Alexandria library to Sylvia Beach’s famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Rich with anecdotes, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the perfect choice for those who relish the enduring pleasures of spending an afternoon finding just the right book.
3. The King's English by Betsy Burton
Burton opened her bookstore in Salt Lake City in 1977, and this book explains the trials and tribulations of running an independent bookstore. From competition from national chains, censorship under the Patriot Act, strange twists in reading tastes, and even stranger tastes in visiting authors whose lists of demands read like those of rabid rock stars.
4. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Unlike the previous suggestions The Haunted Bookshop is a novel set in Brooklyn just after the end of World War I. The story juxtaposes a pair of middle-aged bookshop owners and two young lovers with a nest of German saboteurs, but more importantly for this list, the novel has a great insight into the bookseller’s trade.
5. Sixpence House by Paul Collins
This is Paul Collins account of his move, with his family, to the Hay-on-Wye book town (1500 residents and 40 bookstores) from San Francisco and the adventures he finds there.
6. Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. by Lynne Tillman
The behind-the-scenes story of one of America's greatest bookstores, narrated by Lynne Tillman and the customers, employees, and famous writers who frequented it.
7. An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books by Wendy Werris
This book is another memoir in the life of books and bookselling. Werris got her start in 1970 selling books at Pickwick Bookstore in LA. She talks about her time with small presses and independent bookstores.
8. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for… by Nicholas A. Basbanes
Not directly about Bookselling per say but any conversation where books about books are talked about Nicholas Basbanes will eventually come up. Basbanes has written no less than eight books about books, book collecting, bookstores, libraries and book culture and his works provide a great insight into the world in which booksellers live.
9. Shakespeare and Company by Sylvia Beach
In 1919 Sylvia Beach "opened an American bookshop in Paris called Shakespeare and Company. The shop became a publishing house for a majority of The Lost Generation. This book talks about how this little shop came to publish James Joyce`s opus Ulysses.
10. Left Bank waltz : the Australian bookshop in Paris by Elaine Lewis
Elaine Lewis left her home in Australia to open the first Australian
book shop in Paris. Elaine hosted events, book readings and encouraged
an exchange of ideas and a love of literature, as well as midnight
swims in the Seine! But when some bumbling and nasty French bureaucrats
threatened to close down the shop, Elaine and her many staunch
supporters were faced with a battle against the establishment that
quickly became stranger than fiction Left Bank Waltz is the spirited
story of an Australian woman's courageous decision to follow a dream
... I didn't include them on this list since they are not about bookselling per say but there is also a neat series of detective novels by author and bookseller John Dunning about a bookseller and ex-policeman named Cliff Janeway who solves crime. Start with Booked to Die and work your way though the series.
Question of the day: Was it difficult to create relationships with editors at magazines, and thus, create work through said relationships?
Hmmm, well, I guess it depends on your definition of difficult. :) The reason I say this is because creating these relationships is sort of like establishing your freelance career: they happen over time and eventually snowball, but there are a lot of factors that are going to contribute to your success (or lack thereof).
The first thing you have to remember is that you're going to have to be persistent. If you don't hear back (which you likely won't) from a query, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. If you have other ideas for an editor if she passes on your initial query, send them, send them, send them! Too many aspiring mag writers give up on an editor, and while sure, sometimes you should, many times, you shouldn't. You have to keep pitching until you find something that sticks.
From there, once you land the assignment, you need to nail it. By that I mean that you need to consider her instructions and deliver what you promised you would. Without careless fact-checking errors and typos and all of those easily-correctable mistakes that look sloppy. Your job as a writer is not just to hand in a great piece but also to help make your editor's job easier. Yes, I know this sounds sycophantic, but I don't mean you have to turn yourself into a slobbering servant, but yeah, you need to ensure that the piece really is the very best that you could make it.
After that, you need to be amenable to reasonable edits. These days, yeah, I hear about some ridiculous requests for revisions and no, you are not a doormat, but I consider two rounds of revisions fair game (this is just my opinion, of course), and even if the questions and red-lining are driving you crazy, that's part of the deal, and you'd be wise not to let your editor know. When I was really in the thick of my mag writing, I really did pride myself on the fact that there was very little editors could or would ask of me that I couldn't get done. And I think they knew this, which is part of the reason I was a go-to writer. (I am not talking about those last-minute 10PM "we need a total overhaul by tomorrow" requests, which I perhaps would conveniently not reply to until a reasonable hour the next morning. I'm talking about what I considered fair requests even if they were annoying and pains in the ass.)
Finally, I made it a point to be friendly with my editors. Not everyone is comfortable with this, but for me, it was only natural. I knew about their kids, I knew about their outside interests. And I really think it benefited me - not in a selfish way, like I was learning about their lives only to land work - but because it made our collective experience working together a hell of a lot more fun and enjoyable. You're a lot less likely to get irritated with an editor (or conversely, a writer) if you genuinely like her, and I really did (and do) like the majority of my editors, and I think they felt the same way. We enjoyed working together, partially for the reasons mentioned above (i.e, I worked my tail off for them) and partially because we had something in common other than the 750 words we were working on together.
So, all in all, was it hard? As you can see, yes and no. I also found that if I did good work for one editor, she was always happy to refer me to another, and from there, an entire network of business contacts AND friendships have been built. But it takes time and hard work. But yeah, it's entirely doable, in my opinion.
What about you guys out there? Easy or hard to build those relationship?
Question of the day: Do you feel the current state of the economy is dictating what books are being published? For instance, my second novel is about a mother caring for her adult daughter who suffers from a chronic illness. I am struggling to find an agent for it, although all my rejections are personal. You were able to write about cancer and yet didn't scare away agents, why is writing about diseases now so taboo? Everyone says that my writing is great, yet they say that the subject matter is a tough sell right now. Arrgh!! I wanted this to be my break-out novel and it's not breaking anything but my heart. I've written a third novel in the meantime and my publisher is gobbling it up, but I had hoped to have an agent by now to help me. What would you do, wait to see if the second book can find an agent or go ahead and sign the papers on the third book even though I'm sure the contract will be bad? Do desperate times call for desperate measures or is patience a virtue on this one?
I'll offer a third suggestion: since your newer book is the one that's generating the heat, why don't you shop that one around to agents? I wouldn't sign a contract that I know is going to be crappy, but an agent can certainly take a crappy contract and make it a better one, AND, hey, you never know what other offers an agent could get you. If your previous manuscript just isn't getting the job done, set it aside, and you might discover that as time goes on, your wound will mend...especially if you sell the next one. :) And once you've sold the other one, who knows, maybe it will open doors for the one you have your heart set on right now.
I think the key is not to get too, too, too invested in one manuscript, such that it can divert the trajectory of your career. A lot of us have had that ms, the one that we poured every ounce of ourselves into and that ultimately didn't sell, but I'll tell you what: I am so grateful that I didn't get hung up on that specific ms and that I moved on from it, because if I hadn't, my career would be DOA right about now.
As far as the first half of your question, I'm going to devote a separate post to it because I think it's a worthy discuss to have in and of itself.
Good luck and hang in there! BTDT. Other readers who have BTDT, can you weigh in and help her out?
By: Allison Winn Scotch,
Blog: Ask Allison
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Did you guys see this article in the New York Times on writer advances? I've mentioned a lot of the info before, but it's a very thorough piece and well worth reading.
By: Allison Winn Scotch,
Blog: Ask Allison
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Question of the day: Why didn't you try to be the screenwriter for Time of My Life? Do you care that someone else is writing it?
I get asked this question a lot, and to begin with, I didn't even entertain the idea of adapting TOML. For a few reasons: 1) I had no idea how to write a screenplay. I'm sure I could have learned, but at the time, it felt like selling the book was enough. 2) The various producers who were looking into acquiring the project weren't interested in using me, or so I assume. Producers like to vet their own "talent," work with people who have reputations or experience they're aware of, and I totally respect and understand that. And 3) the stakes were just too high. Selling this project and getting it made mattered to me personally but also, let's be honest, mattered (and matters) to my career. I didn't want to mess around by either not landing the producers we wanted or producing a screenplay that wasn't up to par. It was just too important that everything came together seamlessly, more important (to me) than writing the script.
So I guess, to answer the latter question, I don't care AT ALL that someone else is drafting it. To begin with, I totally trust the producers - I met with them several times, and my vision is very cohesive with their vision. But, that said, even if it weren't, it's a win for me to get this made, period. Even if the movie were total crap (which I don't expect it to be), that's no reflection on the original book. The book stands as it is. THAT was my work. The rest is gravy. A bad movie still sells more copies, a bad movie still raises awareness of the book. Beyond that...I don't feel any real ownership. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love this book, and I love the characters, but whether or not they're perfectly translated on screen...well, I have other things to worry about. (Really, I do!) I mean, sure, are there some actors who I might not want playing these roles? Well, yeah! But the fact that ANY actors are playing them is enough for me.
For the next book, if we're lucky enough to sell it, yeah, I might be interested in tackling that script. But I'm at a different point in my career than I was when we sold TOML, and I feel more confident with that challenge. And if they opt for someone else? That will likely be okay with me too. The good news is, is that by then, I'll hopefully have moved on to my next book, and with that one, there's always more possibility for another movie and another challenge and another option to write a screenplay...not to mention new characters who promptly make me forget the old ones.
Would you guys be okay letting your work fall into someone else's hands or do you think you'd be concerned over the implications?
By: Allison Winn Scotch,
Blog: Ask Allison
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Question of the day: Can you talk about the best way to go about asking authors for blurbs? How do you approach them? When is the best time in the process to do so?
This is a timely question for me, as I'm sitting here typing this with a stack of ten or so to-be-read-for-potential-blurb manuscripts and galleys on my desk. Sigh. I feel soooo badly that I haven't had time to read them all, but given where I am with my manuscript, it hasn't been possible. BUT, now that I've been on both the asking and the being-asked end of this question, I do think I have some insights.
First, I can't and won't blurb a book that hasn't been sold. A lot of authors feel this way, and there are several reasons for it. To begin with, as noted above, I have a long pile of books that HAVE been sold, and truth told, I just don't have the time to read a manuscript that might not see the light of day. That sounds terrible, I know, but it's honest. And I think understandable. Second of all, agents and editors advise authors not to blurb anything that hasn't yet sold for legal reasons: if the manuscript never sells and the author THINKS he sees something similar in your next book, who's to say that said author won't raise a stink about plagiarism, stolen ideas, etc? Again, I know, very unlikely, but people can do very weird things when they don't fulfill their dream and see someone else doing it, and it's not a chance worth taking.
So, let's say your manuscript sells. Hurrah! Congrats to you! What now? Well, once you have a finished ms, you can certainly start sending out notes to your favorite authors. If you're not in the galley stage, however, this means one of two things: that the author, if she agrees to read, will receive a bound copy of the ms (sort of like a bound term-paper/thesis that you might have made at Kinko's in high school or college) or the author will receive a 300-page print out of your book, akin to a loose ream of paper. You can guess which ones get relegated to the bottom of the pile. I do my reading at night or on the subway or in hit or miss places where I might find a few spare minutes. I simply cannot carry around loose pieces of paper, not to mention that it feels much more like homework than pleasure reading when you're reading a literal print-out.
BUT, sometimes, you can't avoid that, and it is what it is. If you really want an author, it might be worth asking, even if she receives a 10-pound lug in the mail. Most often, however, I'd simply advise that you wait until the galley stage. Yes, it's soooo wonderful and joyous and perfect to have blurbs on your galley, but unless you personally know an author, I really wouldn't have an expectation that she'll read those 300 loose pages.
How do you ask? You send a very, very polite email to said author, explaining why you'd like HER to blurb, why you think the book might resonate, and of course, being very, very understanding if she can't. I'd also make note of the fact that blurbs aren't obligatory, and when I was asking for blurbs, I never, ever assumed that someone would like my book OR would have the time to read it. If one did, bingo! And if she didn't, there were no. hard. feelings. You should also leverage your agent and editor contacts: they might rep or work with authors who are good fits and with whom they have an in. Authors always feel more obligated to read a ms if there's a connection.
Finally, don't take it personally if you don't receive a coveted blurb from a particular author. I can honestly say, now that I'm on the other side, that I am so, so busy, and I am trying to bust my way through all of these, but a realistic voice in my head also knows that's not going to be possible. I used to think: how hard is it to read one lousy book? But it's never one lousy book; it's a lot of them, along with juggling my own work, my own life, and ideally, my own reading for pleasure.
I'm also trying to be judicious: there are authors who blurb just about anything, and I don't think that's fair to readers. I'd like to think that I'll be someone who readers can count on to be honest in my endorsements, so if I don't fall in love with something, I just don't feel right tacking my name on. It's not personal. Hell, plenty of people didn't blurb me. And I get that. It made the ones that we DID get all the more sweet. And that's not to say I wouldn't go back to these authors and ask again next time. But when and if I did, I'd keep in mind their own looming tower of to-be-read manuscripts, and I'd recognize that one blurb won't make or break my book. Really. You won't believe it now, but looking back on it, I promise you that it's true.