Eating the Paste on Facebook

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.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Time Travel

"Imagine yourself as a young twenty-something who would like to work in a large publishing house."  

When I was applying to college I told my parents I wanted to major in English because I wanted to become a writer. Here's how that went:

Me: I want to major in English.
My mother: ......
My father: .......
Me: No really. I want to be a writer and I need an English degree for that.
My mother: .......
My father: What the hell are you going to do with an English degree? You can't make money as a writer. You need a backup plan. Like teaching.

And so, that's what I did. I went to Elms with the intention of majoring in secondary education so I could teach high school advanced placement English and creative writing while I wrote the great American novel in my spare time.

Then came my early 20's when I accidentally fell face first into special education. It's a long story, and one that involves getting a mechanical pencil jammed in my hand (see earlier posts) but I found myself working at a residential treatment facility and researching my first nonfiction book (even though I didn't know that's what it was at the time).

Even though I was enjoying teaching and applying to grad school for special education, I still occasionally crept through the job postings in the publishing industry. I was never brave enough to apply for them but I certainly dreamed. I thought I wanted to be an acquisitions editor, slogging through the slush pile to find that one diamond in the rough that would become the novel of the year, of the decade, the voice of a generation. I pictured myself kicking off my Jimmy Choos and propping my feet up on the desk in my cubicle while I read manuscripts. Later I thought I might want to be an editor, going through manuscripts with my red pen, helping to shape a book the way Max Perkins did with Thomas Wolfe.

Then I discovered that I hate editing. I hate reading raw material. I also discovered that I'm much better at interacting with authors and helping them build a platform for their already finished book. Eventually, I also discovered the production aspect of a book, creating a schedule for a book's creation and launch, writing jacket copy, having input on the cover design. Laying out a book and formatting a text gives me a much greater sense of accomplishment than editing does. In fact, I've discovered I have neither the attention span nor the patience to edit a manuscript.

I still enjoy the thrill of meeting a new author who has something to say and hearing them pitch their work. I love discovering writers who have an incredible story that wasn't right for other publishers but might be right for a small indie press that can devote more time to the work. But most of all I love being the last person to touch a book before it's released, the person who coordinates all the moving parts and makes the author's vision a reality. Production is the behind the scenes machine that makes the book an actual thing, a product that we can put in a reader's hand and say, "Enjoy".

I'm still teaching and still an idealist when it comes to publishing. I now have friends in the industry and I love listening to them talk about the authors they're working with or the great manuscript they found that they hope the editors will love. I still sometimes wonder what that would be like. But I'm also a realist and I know that I want to be on the other side of the fence, behind the curtain, working to put the finishing touches on a book. Just call me The Wizard....


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Mistakes Were Made

This week we were asked to take a look at some common publishing terms and reflect on our understanding of the business jargon.

The word of the day kiddies:

And no, I didn't choose it because it sounds like erotica. Get your minds out of the gutter.

In publishing errata is a loose sheet detailing errors found in a printed book. It's a literal accounting of your failures as a writer even AFTER having gotten published. Now isn't that a slap in the face.

I find a certain kinship with this word because this list of errors reminds us that at every step of the publishing process we are all human. Even though there is a team of professionals working tirelessly to make your work the best it can be for public consumption, nothing can ever be 100% perfect.

When I wrote my first novel I assumed I would just edit it myself. I would print it out, chapter by chapter, and line edit my own work.

Then one day my eyeballs exploded and my brain liquefied.

No, not really. But that's what it felt like. So I hired an editor and I thought, now it will be perfect.

I got it back and my head exploded a second time.

My editor and I swapped that manuscript back and forth at least four times and likely could have done it more (if I hadn't gone broke) and still found more errors.

Once it was published, what's the first review I got on Amazon? One star because the book was "loaded with errors".

That's it. I quit.

No, not really. But my first thought was, how the hell could this book still have errors? I've been staring at it for SIX YEARS. It has to be right by now! But it will never be right. It will never be 100% because the human brain can't pick up every error every time. There will always be mistakes and I've come to the conclusion that these are what makes the book human and reminds the readers that there is a real living, breathing person behind those pages. A whole team of them in fact! And none of them is perfect.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying, don't pick on authors when you find errors in their books. Even the largest publishing houses miss typos or small grammatical errors.

And no, your author friend WILL NOT appreciate you handing them your own carefully constructed errata after you read their book. If you do this, you will no longer have friends.