Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good News and Bad News

As a short-story writer and aspiring novelist who has been trying, without any measurable level of success, for the last roughly eighteen months to get the attention of a literary agent and/or small/independent publisher, I am a subscriber to and loyal reader of Publishers Lunch.

This is a daily (more or less) email that is free and is packed with news to make a writer:

A) Jealous - There is a section called "Deal News" that is, well, exactly what you would think. It gives details on some of the contracts that have been signed for work to be published, as well as the agent(s) involved in many cases.

B) Informed - There is a section that deals with trends in the marketplace. Unfortunately in this economy, more often than not the news is bad. Bookstores that have been around for decades closing, pubishing houses consolidating, you know the drill.

C) More informed - There is a "People" section that details the comings and goings at publishing houses, literary agencies, the big bookselling chains, etc.

If you're like me and you are trying to get your foot in the publishing door in order to kick it open and you haven't yet subscribed, you might want to reconsider. I've learned a lot since I started reading my daily "Lunch," and it has two really cool things going for it.

1) It only takes a couple of minutes to read, especially since you can scan through the stuff you don't care about and only concentrate on what you are interested in, and

2) It's FREE!

If you're interested in subscribing, just follow this link.

Anyway, I mention all of this because included in today's issue of Publishers Lunch is the "Good News, Bad News" (at least for me) that I mentioned in the title to this post.

The Good News: From the Wall Street Journal comes news that some Borders superstores in Michigan have "created expanded sections...focused on teen shoppers, providing graphic novels, fantasy and young-adult books together along with non-book merchandise focused on teens, and expects to roll-out the concept throughout nearly all of their superstores nationwide in August."

Great news for anyone who looks at the BIG PICTURE! If the printed word is not to simply survive but to flourish in the coming decades, it is critical to get and keep the attention of the youngest readers. I'm not even fifty years old yet, but I remember a time when the only real competition for reading a book on a rainy day was television - and we only got four channels, even though I grew up just thirty miles outside Boston!

Now there is HDTV with limitless channels to pick from, there are video games so real you might think you stepped inside a movie set, there are CD's and DVD's and iPods and iPhones and Blackberries and...well, you get the idea. So devoting more space to teen books and merchandise can only be a good sign for everyone who wants their words to be read.

The Bad News: I don't write young adult books! From my (strictly selfish) perspective, a much better plan for Borders and every bookstore would be to expand the spaces in their stores devoted to the categories of Thrillers/Suspense/Horror Fiction. Then, more books in these genre would be required, leading to more opportunities for, well, you know, me.

But anyway, I like to think it's a reason for optimism that the biggest corporate chains are opting to try to develop the interest of the people who might make or break the literary world over the next half-century or more, as all of the changes that are coming in the world of publishing begin to take place. They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't think they could make money at it, which I view as a good sign for authors everywhere...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Letters I'd Like to Receive

As someone who spends a lot of my time - too much time, some would say - stringing words together in interesting and (hopefully) entertaining ways, there are some combinations of words I never seem to see. Here are a few of those combinations in the form of emails or letters that would really appeal to me:

1- "Dear Mr. Leverone,
After reviewing the submission of your full manuscript titled [The Fixer/Paskagankee/Final Vector/Hard Target - any of them would be fine, I'm not that fussy], we here at [take your pick of any reputable literary agency, I've queried most of them and as we've already established, I'm not that fussy] are pleased to offer representation to you. We believe strongly that your work offers nearly unlimited sales potential, and look forward to working closely with you..."

2 - "Dear Mr. Leverone,
We here at the IRS have completed an exhaustive review of our internal record-keeping procedures, and have determined that you have consistently overpaid your income taxes by several thousand dollars per year over the last twenty years. After adding interest and the penalties we are charging ourselves for not catching our record-keeping error, we have determined that we owe you $500,000. We have included a check for the appropriate amount and will be in touch if we discover you are owed more..."

3 - "Dear Mr. Leverone,
As a high-ranking member of FAA management here in Washington, I would like to personally apologize to you and all air traffic controllers in the FAA for our shabby treatment of you over the last three to five years. The way we handled the contract 'negotiations' three years ago - refusing to give in at all on any issue and then imposing the highly restrictive and unfair work rules which we laughingly insisted on calling a 'contract' when we walked away from the table - was insulting and juvenile on our part.

The way we bullied a group of hard-working professionals over the most ridiculous issues (forcing people who work inside a dark room surrounded by barbed-wire fences and protected by armed guards to dress in 'business casual' clothing, refusing to allow controllers to leave their facilities during the work day even to get food or coffee, arbitrarily changing the pay structure and rules on training and time off) was short-sighted and wrong.

We adopted the mantra of 'Run It Like a Business,' even though most of our managers have little to no business training or experience and couldn't be trusted to manage a lemonade stand. Plus, as we all know, air traffic control is not a business but a service enterprise in which safety should be valued above all else, including cost-cutting and bullying employees.

We have learned our lesson and hereby pledge to end the autocratic management style we have employed for the last half-century or so. We will work in a cooperative manner to accomplish the changes this agency so sorely needs to make..."

These are just a few of the emails or letters I would love to receive. Of course, I'm not exactly holding my breath, but you never know, right?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Twitter? Me? Really?

I'm not someone that you would ever consider to be on the leading edge of the world's technological advancements, okay? I know how to use my computer, sort of, at least for the things I use it for: Writing, researching, maintaining my website, and getting my daily dose of Myspace and Facebook. But it's not like Stephen Jobs is ever going to ring me up and ask my opinion on anything.

So maybe it only makes sense that I don't understand the latest sensation, the Twitter craze. Maybe the light bulb will go on with me someday, typically a couple of years after everyone else, and I will begin tweeting like mad, updating my thousands of followers on every facet of my fascinating existence.

But the problem with that is, what the hell am I going to tweet about?

I guess I can kind of understand normal folks following the every move of famous people in our celebrity-crazed culture. It seems there are plenty of people who want to be updated the minute Britney buys a new pair of panties or Tyra Banks throws another camera at someone or any Hollywood superstar says something vacuous and stupid (Any time, in other words).

Sure, there's a market for that. Who doesn't want to be informed when Brad and Angie are going out the front door to attend a $10,000 fundraiser in support of some nutty politician or the latest PC craze?*

But that doesn't mean anyone wants to hear about my life.

"Getting ready to eat lunch. Should I go with the fish sticks or the mac and cheese? Hmm. Can't decide." Or maybe, "Saw 86 vanity license plates on my drive to work today! A personal best!" Or I could blow my followers away with this one: "Feeling a little gassy after that lunch of fish sticks and mac and cheese - clear a path to the men's room!"

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating what it would be like a little bit. I don't even like fish sticks. But still, who is going to follow my Twitter updates? I can admit it, I'm a pretty boring guy. I work forty hours a week at a job I've done for twenty-seven years, I try to raise my kids the best I can, and I write. I love to write. Exciting, isn't it? I know, it's sending chills up and down your spine.

Oh well, like I said, maybe I'll get the attraction of Twitter in a few years. When I do, watch out; you're going to learn my every waking thought. Yikes.

*I admit it - I have no idea whether Brad and Angie are even still together or whether they have ever attended a $10,000 fundraiser to support some nutty politician or the latest PC craze. I was just playing the odds.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Things I Wonder About

- Why was Michael Jackson known around the world as the "King of Pop," when he hadn't produced a bona fide megahit in, what, twenty years?

Shouldn't someone else have been given that title eventually? Say, when he started being accused of doing inappropriate things with young boys? That might have been a good time for a palace revolt. Or is Michael going to be like Elvis, another King given the royal treatment even after his death?

Has anyone stopped to think maybe that's why Prince gave up his moniker, preferring to be known instead as a symbol? Perhaps he realized he would never ascend to the throne so he gave up his position in the royal family. Then he reconsidered, and decided being a prince might not be so bad, after all, given the alternatives.

No offense intended to Michael Jackson fans, just wondering.

And when Michael named his son "Prince," was that because he was a big fan of the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince? Or was it because he was known as the "King of Pop," and so now with his death, his son should be renamed "King?"

Again, just wondering.

- Why was it such a big deal when the news came out that American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert was gay?

The "American Idols" tour got under way this past weekend, and it made me think about the breathless coverage that was given to Lambert's admission concerning his sexual orientation a few weeks ago. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed kind of, I don't know, obvious.

And who really cares anyway? The guy can sing, that's for sure, and he's a natural showman, so he's got a bright future, it seems. It's not like you were going to date him anyway.

- Is it really true that you're as young as you feel?

Because, I have to tell ya, that sounds like a lot of happy-crap bullshit to me. I think it's the sort of thing old geezers tell other old geezers when they don't want to own up to the fact that they have to get up six times a night to pee and it takes thirty minutes every morning to limber up enough to climb out of bed. After all, it wasn't a twenty year old in that commerical screaming, "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

I only mention this because I turn (shudder) fifty in a couple of months and I'm not quite sure how to act. On the one hand, I will become eligible for my AARP card, and we all know what kind of political power that special interest group wields. Plus it will be kind of cool to get my Dunkin' Donuts coffee at a discount.

On the other hand, I remember how bummed out I was when I turned forty, and now forty years old seems practically like a teenager. Granted, that was like ten years ago, so I barely remember it, but still, I figure I'm going to be plunged into an even deeper abyss of depression at being fifty. After all, if a picture of health like Billy Mays can't survive past fifty, what chance does a couch-potato slug like me stand?

These are just a few of the things I wonder about. Undoubtedly there are others, but with impending old age staring me in the face, I seem to have forgotten what they are, which I suppose could be a good thing. Don't worry, though, I'll fill you in on the others when you're standing in line behind me at Dunkin' Donuts. I'll be the elderly gentleman with the confused look on his face.