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Monday, February 18, 2019

A Few of My Favorite Things

But first, a shameless plug for Ed Farrell's debut novel with Dark Ink Press:
White Angel. Clergyman Mickey Powell has been accused of murder...

And that's all I'm going to give you. The book is stunning, set at General Seminary in New York, which coincidentally has appeared in numerous episodes of Law & Order. Mickey Powell is the perfect embodiment of the human side of an Episcopalian minister, desperate to clear his name and solve a murder he most definitely didn't commit.

Ed has also entered his book into the Santa Fe Writer's Project's 2019 Literary Awards! I may be a bit biased since I published this book, but I think it's a winner. Hopefully, guest judge Carmen Machado will think so too.

When I was first assigned to SFWP for my internship I didn't know what to expect. Would I be treated as an equal, or a lowly MFA student who couldn't do much more than proofread emails? I wondered whether I would be happy with my internship and learn anything valuable, or if it would be just one more thing I'd resent having to add to my schedule.

A few weeks before the semester started and our internships officially kicked off, Andrew sent out an email asking if Beth and I would be interested in starting our internships early. Of course, we both said yes because who wouldn't? I jumped in on social media and helped straighten out the Instagram account which, prior to the start of the semester, consisted mostly of photos of Andrew's weekends at the Mussel Bar in Bethesda. Of course the weekend Instagram crowd still loves the cocktail shots but it's been a blast creating and posting a variety of content that helps promote the current catalog, new releases, the literary magazine, and the contest. I've also found that grammar humor goes a long way for the reading crowd! Who knew?

What I love most about this internship is I was allowed to slide right in and start working as if I had been there all along. There was no awkward "getting to know you" phase, no moments of feeling measured up or judged. I was just accepted as part of the team and allowed to operate using my best judgment. I was given access to all of the social media accounts after Andrew joked that it wasn't worth stealing his identity or personal information, and I am constantly being sent items that can be posted. I'm never at a loss for content. If anything, we have far more than we'll ever have an opportunity to use.

The best part of working with Andrew is being able to tell him what I want to accomplish and he provides me with everything I need to do it, including sending me hard copies of books and connecting me directly to the authors he prints. He's even given me the opportunity to do small projects for the authors above and beyond my media work.

I've also gotten to be chief reader on the contest entries that we get in which has actually been a blast. I love reading people's work and seeing what they've decided to send out into the world, knowing that it's one of the scariest things a writer can do. I'm pulling for each and every one of them while occasionally being astonished by the patent lack of preparation some writers put into their submissions. All I can say is, don't submit until your piece has been edited to its best!

Now I'm embarking on a final read of a manuscript that will be coming out in the fall and prepping the media for that novel. I'm also prepping media for the two releases coming out in May which both just earned favorable Kirkus reviews which was really exciting.

All in all, I think it would be really difficult for me to find something I DON'T like about this internship...

Saturday, February 2, 2019

All Good Things

I'm taking a break from everything by watching a psychological thriller called All Good Things with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. I do this a lot while working on my thesis to help ground me in my work. The movie is based on the real-life disappearance of Kathleen Durst, wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst. It's live action creative nonfiction in a way and makes me think about my tone and my approach as I'm writing. I also watch a lot of documentaries. A favorite is Cropsey, a doc about an urban legend that grew from the foundations of the abandoned Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. Rewatching Cropsey actually helped me re-form the beginning of my thesis.

I thought that writing my thesis while doing an internship (plus working and running my own press) was a recipe for stress and possible disaster. Funny enough, I've never felt more organized and settled. I fell into a groove with my internship that was like slipping on a favorite sweater. Andrew welcomed me onto the team as if I had always been there, had always been a part of the team. He assumed I knew what I was doing and treated me as such. So far I think I've done well proving that his confidence in me was just.

It didn't feel like a beginning of any kind, more like a continuation, even though this year has been a new beginning in many ways. I started my married life, transferred to a new school, started work on two new books.

But it was also a continuation of things. Continuing on the path to my MFA, continuing to work on the house.

Then there were the restarts. Picking up my art again. Then striking a deal with a publisher to restart the first book I ever wrote ten years ago, prepping it for a relaunch.

So here I am, learning the ins and outs of SFWP which is the press I would most like Dark Ink to look like, and I'm having a blast. I've had the opportunity to learn more about marketing, evaluating full-length pieces for a contest, and pulling marketing material from the short pieces that will make up the current issue of the Quarterly. I've gotten to see how a strong, effective team of readers and writers works together to make the press run smoothly.

I've also gotten to watch, first-hand, Andrew's passion for the books that he publishes and the authors he works with. Even though his own work is part of SFWP's catalog, he's more concerned about getting his authors as much exposure as possible and that their work is handled with the utmost care and enthusiasm.

This week he sent me a small collection of works that I had requested from him so that I could start taking some staged photos of the books like the large publishing houses do. My favorite bookstagram feed is Putnam books. Every image is carefully taken and curated to highlight their publications in a smart, and marketable way. They create images that people want to share and that's what is most important in the world of social media marketing. You can't just catch someone's eye-- you have to make them want to tell the rest of the world about what they've seen.

Stupid me, I went and looked at their feed and just got distracted for a good ten minutes. I also may or may not have entered a contest for a free copy of The Editor by Steven Rowley.

What was I talking about again? Oh yes. Beginnings.
I'm beginning to appreciate even more that books, reading, writing, and teaching all of the above were all the right choices.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Intern(al) Affairs

All I want for Christmas...
...Is two weeks of my life back. Rather than celebrating the holiday with my family in the comfort of my home, I celebrated it in a fog of anesthesia and painkillers. The weekend before our last week of school leading up to vacation I found myself in the emergency room doubled over with a stomach ache that felt a lot like a small dumpster fire right below my rib cage. It was 4:00am when I woke my husband up and dragged him out of bed to take me to the hospital. By 11:00am the next day I was in surgery having my gallbladder removed. Turns out it was four times its natural size (not that I know what that is but it sounds bad) and super infected. Next time my stomach hurts like that I'm just going to go play in traffic.

The best part of the whole scenario is that I had never had surgery before and it turns out I'M A GIANT BABY. I left my husband in my room when they wheeled me down to the OR but the minute the nurse started explaining the surgery to me I started to sob. Uncontrollably. Ugly crying with no way to wipe my face because I was connected to every machine they could find. I was so freaked out they had to call up to the floor and have them send my husband down.

So they give me the sedative as they're wheeling me out of prep and down the hall to the operating suite and I remember asking the nurse how old the OR was because it had that cool old turquoise tile on the walls. She said it was about fifty years old, then asked me why. That was about the time the sedative started to kick in and they got me on the table. The last thing I remember is the nurse asking me if I knew anything about Belchertown State School. I think I mumbled something about it being my favorite and may have mentioned my thesis...

The moral of the story? Even under anesthesia I still babble about asylums.

A few weeks before I had elected to start my internship with the Santa Fe Writers Project a little early. I agreed to take over doing social media marketing as the press wasn't seeing the level of interaction the founder, Andrew Gifford, had hoped for.

As authors, most of us have discovered the value of an active social media presence. As much as we might hate it, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become necessary evils. Luckily SFWP has a lot going on right now, making it really easy to create content and post daily. The press just opened up their annual literary awards contest which is one of the largest events the press hosts. This year Andrew was hoping to increase the number of entrants so we took to social media to do it, reviving the press' Instagram feed.

Even though Facebook is currently the largest social media platform with the greatest number of users, Instagram has overtaken Facebook in relevance. The algorithms that allow Facebook posts to reach a tailored audience are complicated and can't yield any kind of marked results. Instagram, on the other hand, has simple algorithms driven by hashtags, much like Twitter. Many social media users have actually abandoned both Facebook and Twitter in favor of using just Instagram which multiplies engagement opportunities exponentially. All that is a long-winded way of saying there's already been a major increase in traffic to the SFWP feed, most of it direct interaction with the posts and the individual authors whose work is being tagged and shared.

Starting this week I'll continue to work with SFWP's social media accounts but with a greater focus on the next issue of the Quarterly. The contest is open and running until July 15th so I will continue to post about the contest but I will also be working to solicit submissions to the Quarterly, post Kindle daily and monthly deals, and promote the spring releases which I'm very excited about.

Since I'm already in the swing of things, I know that I will be getting a great deal of experience in marketing and working with a team to create engaging content. I also have the pleasure of working closely with Anne Pinkerton, a Bay Path MFA alum! Andrew will also be having me read some of the contest entries and some of the Quarterly submissions which I'm also very much looking forward to.

I'm sure that my understanding of this internship will continue to grow and change as the semester goes on but right now I'm really having a great time watching the interaction and the excitement that SFWP stirs up in writers and readers alike.

Signing off for now but I insist you go check out SFWP!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Book Store Desert

To steal a phrase from one of my MFA classmates, I live in a bookstore desert. One would think that in a place like Springfield where there are nine library branches that there might also be a bookstore but there isn't. We have a new casino, but no bookstore. The Mass Mutual Center, but no bookstore!

Once upon a time, in a city long, long ago, there was an oasis in that desert: Johnson's Books. When my grandmother was young she would walk from her house in Winchester Square down to Main Street just to go to Johnson's so she could buy art supplies. That was in the late 1940's when she was a student at the High School of Commerce (where I now teach creative writing). Then, forty years later, when I was just a tot, I remember my parents taking me to Johnson's and plopping me down in the basement where they had a children's section and play area. They would go upstairs and shop for books while I played with the other children under the watchful eye of the children's bookseller.

I don't remember the exact date that Johnson's disappeared from downtown Springfield (WGBY's Gone But Not Forgotten tells me it was in 1998; I would have been a senior in high school), but I do remember feeling its loss keenly. Of course, by then there were bookstores in the Holyoke Mall. We had Waldenbooks and Borders, eventually a Barnes and Noble in the plaza that sprang up behind the mall. As long as I had a place to buy books, I didn't really think twice about it.

It wasn't until I self-published my first book in 2006 that I began to see the distinct difference between the indies and the big chain bookstores. Broadside in Northampton was the first store willing to carry that book (which was terrible by the way, but Bill still managed to sell it); Borders at the mall was the second. Even though it was a chain store, Borders operated very much like an indie. Each franchise manager had a great deal of freedom in event planning and they chose to support local authors as often as possible. Sometimes I wondered if that wasn't what contributed to their eventual demise.

Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, wanted (and still wants) nothing to do with self-published authors. They are willing to deal with indie authors as long as they stock their books through a warehouse service like Ingram Spark. Because they're more concerned with the bottom line than with discovering the next great writer, B&N will only carry a book if they can get a deep discount by buying wholesale. They also want the option to return unsold copies of the book and get some sort of return on their investment which is not something that indies do.

Having been on both sides of the fence-- as both indie author and now indie publisher- working with bookstores like Broadside, Blue Umbrella in Westfield, and Book Club Bookstore in South Windsor makes my life a whole lot sweeter. Jess Martin at Blue Umbrella was my greatest supporter when my first novel came out and again when I launched my independent press. She ordered as many copies of my book as possible and offered great consignment rates, knowing that I would likely reinvest a good deal of my profits back into the shop (she knew I couldn't walk out without buying at least one book for myself). Later when I launched Dark Ink Press she hosted book launches for my authors, talked up their books, and even made sure that there was media coverage for each and every book.

Independent bookstores have become the nexus of the communities in which they reside. Blue Umbrella was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Westfield and on its coattails rode the burgeoning art community that has now made Westfield a destination. Broadside has been an anchor on Northampton's main drag since 1974. Johnson's, though defunct for many years, still carries with it the memories of an entire city. My mother still has a Johnson's bag tucked into the cabinet under her sink. Some of us (ahem) even collect Johnson's memorabilia. And, in a giant twist of fate that can only happen in the world of books. my business mentor is none other than...Mr. Charlie Johnson of Johnson's Books.

And with that supreme book nerd moment, I leave you to run out and patronize the nearest indie bookstore you can find.
Bon chance!


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Meet the Press

As part of our Intro to Publishing class, I had the opportunity to talk with Beth Collins, Production Manager at Beacon Press. Having majored in English and minored in film, Beth had initially planned to make documentaries. A few years after finishing her undergrad at Mount Holyoke, she went to Boston University for television production but found it difficult to find jobs that weren't freelance, which is certainly a common complaint amongst documentary filmmakers. Eventually, Beth started working as a temp at Houghton Mifflin while still making documentaries on the side. Thus began her road to publishing.

After realizing that she wanted a home in publishing, Beth found that Emerson College offered a certificate in publishing and she completed the program, adding some crucial publishing skills to her repertoire. Soon after finishing the program at Emerson, Beth was hired at Beacon.

As a production manager, Beth works closely with the finished manuscripts to get them through publication and ready for marketing. After a manuscript has been edited, Beth's department has to book for up to nine months, prepping it for printing. At any one time, Production may have up to ten books in different phases of production and each book may be in a different phase on any given day.

The production team, with Beth's guidance, works to ensure that the edits have been input correctly, that the covers look good and the jacket copy is correct, and that the finished product is ready for manufacture. Prior to production, cover designers have chosen a font package that will be used throughout the book and the cover itself is created. All of this is fed into InDesign and the book layout is finalized. The manuscript is then sent out to be typeset and printed to one of the group of printers that Beacon works with consistently. The production director (Marcy Barnes) is responsible for maintaining the list of printers as they do change frequently. If the book will become an eBook or Audiobook, those services are outsourced to companies that specialize in those formats.

At Beacon, authors can be certain they will be working with the same production specialist throughout the entire process, ensuring continuity through the entire project as production is where all the finishing touches happen. In many cases, Beth says, the books are rather straightforward academic texts that don't vary much in layout, making the process relatively simple to streamline. On occasion Beacon also produces books of poetry, in which case the author is generally responsible for directing the layout and appearance of the book as poetry takes its own form in the printing process.

As a reader, Beth says she's excited about a couple of Young Adult titles that Beacon will be producing which is something they haven't done before. The books have quite a few images and text boxes and Beth says she is looking forward to seeing what that process is like. Knowing my interest in mental health, Beth recommended The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease by Jonathan Metzl. "I was a production assistant at the time this book was published so I just reviewed the page proofs and jacket, but it’s stuck in my memory," Beth said of the book. Now Beth has a great deal more responsibility but says she greatly enjoys being a part of the production team at Beacon and having a hand in producing meaningful works of nonfiction.