Maud Newton, who I know originally from my work with Narrative Magazine, talks about Wreckage of Reason II in her last New York Times Magazine mini-column this weekend, out online today and in the print magazine this Sunday. In her column, titled,”And for the Rest of Us, There’s Twitter,” Newton writes:
In her latest story, “How to Shake Hands With a Murderer,” published in the anthology “Wreckage of Reason II,” Elizabeth Bachner turns to ancient myth for inspiration, charting a modern katabasis — a tale of descent into the underworld. Borrowing from “Leda and the Swan” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” she creates a lyrical narrative about lost love and the lengths to which the lonely will go to recapture the feeling. “Wreckage of Reason” is a collection of experimental writing…” You can read the rest here.
This week’s stop on The Blog Tour, features a fascinating interview with Laynie Browne and Julianna Baggott.
Wreckers, keep on working it!
After spending the weekend with a wide representation of the writing and publishing community, I am more excited than ever to be a part of it. The SFWC has changed form even in the short time that I’ve been involved with it. Just a few years ago, the workshops and presentations focused exclusively on writing craft and traditional publishing strategies. This year it felt almost as though the offerings were heavier on alternative publishing routes and social media/self promotion strategies. Perhaps it is the sign of the wind going out of the sails of traditional publishing, or maybe it is a sign of the money and resources that are being funneled into self-publishing platforms. In any case, it is certainly a very dynamic place to be, with all the change swirling around us.
On the one hand, editors from traditional publishing houses and the agents who are the gatekeepers for them are still treated like movie stars, and getting them to read and acquire your manuscript is still presented as the capstone of the writing process. Talk of their demise still, too often, largely sounds like sour grapes. Yes, the trad model is being forced to change by digital options. Technology has always forced change. That’s the way it goes.
And, yes, on the other hand, this change is allowing for the democratization of publishing, and it is allowing more great stories to be made available to the public. All the financial benefits, if there are any, fall to the writer. It doesn’t take close to three years for a book to get to an audience. And. And. And.
Here’s one side of what I came away from SFWC with: Self publishing is still the less-favored stepchild, despite all the popular rhetoric to the contrary. Self-publishers (and the editors who assist them) are still seen as less trustworthy, even by the most outspoken advocates of self-publishing.*
Part of the reason for this is the same reason that so many writers flock to self-publishing. Anyone can do it. And with no gatekeepers, lots of shit gets through. Agents and editors at publishing houses continue to serve a valuable function when it comes to debut fiction–they filter a lot of stuff that is not ready to be read. They filter first drafts and keep them off of the bookshelves.
If you are a writer intent on publishing on Amazon, the onus is on you to help change the bad reputation of self-published books. I heard a lot of talk about this at the conference, and I loved to hear it, both as an editor (duh) and also as a voracious reader.
If I buy a book I want it to be better than the first drafts I am being paid to edit. I will only buy so many bad self-published books before I decide I won’t waste any more money. I have heard this a lot. Many people still don’t trust self-published authors.
If every wanna-be writer keeps publishing the books they write without the benefit of writing classes or critique groups or editorial services, the quality of the books…. An old rant.
The reason I’m excited to be a part of publishing now is that I believe this is changing. At SFWC I heard a lot about writers taking responsibility for the publisher role, and this means if you’re going to be a publisher you have to think like a business person.
Publishing is in a state of flux. Traditional publishing has to modify itself and knows it. Self-publishing really has nowhere to go but up. Ride with me on the front of the wave.
*I am basing this on the answer I received to a question I asked Alan Rinzler at the conference.
This has been a wonderfully busy first quarter, with a cornucopia of activities to keep me sharp.
I attended the California Writers Club and met Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who confirmed for me the importance of digital publishing and presented a convincing argument regarding the obsolescence of the old publishing model and its gatekeepers. While there, I ran into an author whose debut novel I had just downloaded to my Kindle, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, but had not yet started reading.
Uploading a correctly formatted document into Smashwords was actually more difficult than the founder purported it to be, but getting it to work was a technological learning experience that didn’t kill me and therefore made me stronger.
Completing a substantive edit on a statistics textbook for a non-native English speaker contracted to Wiley allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief, and confidently say that my comprehension of statistics increased tremendously! It also allowed me to use my APA knowledge, neglected in the fiction world.
San Francisco Writers Conference orientation was held in January and the event is next weekend, February 17-19. I’ll be there. Will you? Come visit me at the Cafe Ferlinghetti, where I’ll be hanging out early Saturday morning and throughout the afternoon on Friday.
I’ve got fiction manuscripts lined up all quarter; working with a 630 page suspense novel currently, and this will be followed right away by a suspenseful love story, then a contemporary fiction/social justice novel, then Brad’s sequel comes in to me, then a mystery. Phew! Gotta love it. Thanks to Mark Coker and others like him, there are a lot of people out there taking the bull by the horns and going for it. Thankfully, they are embracing the need for an editor before they put it out to the world.
You keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading. And writing.
I have been thoroughly enjoying receiving the RSS feeds of several blogs lately, and I’d like to share a few of these with you. Though it is true that a blog is just that, a blog, and shouldn’t ever be taken as the gospel truth, I always appreciate that certain credentialed professionals are willing to share their areas of expertise with others.
I receive a feed from Mark Fowler, a lawyer who is also a freelance writer and editor. He tackles those questions that often come up in discussions with other writers in his blog called Rights of Writers. This week’s entry is about truth (or fabrication) in memoir, and the legalities around it. His commentary is never dull and always contains references and sources that can lead his reader on an educational journey where they can get a good solid understanding of the topic at hand. Add to this the fact that he is a good writer, an entertaining writer, and you’ve got a winning combination in your RSS feed in-box.
Alan Rinzler, a true giant in the publishing industry —I know him from the San Francisco Writers Conference—always has great things to say. He is deep inside the business, and listening to him can’t be a bad thing. I’ve been sending new clients one of his blog entries that he titled, “Good Day Sunshine for Writers” about the new-publishing trend that allows and even encourages self-publishing as a way to find an agent— unheard of just a few years ago! He is at the forefront of big change at the big houses.
The Behler blog comes from a smaller place than Rinzler’s. Written by Lynn Price, the editorial director for Behler Publications, she writes lots about acquisitions—the contents of which often remind me of my time at Andrea Hurst Literary Management—what not to do in a query letter, etc. She likes margaritas, hawks purses, and has a beagle, who apparently also likes margaritas. Her blog is quite funny, and provides insight from the perspective of a (very) small publisher.
RSS feeds enable those of us who can’t travel to all of the conferences to grow our networks and gain insights. I am quite thankful for them.
Here are the details:
February 18-20 at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel. What a beautiful hotel at One Nob Hill, right at the crest of California Avenue, at the intersection of the California and Powell St. Cable Car lines. Unfortunately, the California line will not be running this February, but Powell Street, which really takes its riders more places, will be running as usual. (I’ll be across the street at The Tonga Room after hours.)
Keynote: Dorothy Allison, about whom I once wrote a story (This is how inspirational I found her when I saw her at a 2005 conference). That story was called “Today I fell in Love, Again.” She signed my copy of Bastard Out of Carolina.
Nearly 100 presenters—authors, agents, editors, publishers and book marketing professionals will be in attendance, including our very own Gordon Warnock. Check out
Gordon’s advice for attending a conference here.
My advice for conference attendance? Familiarize yourself with the headshots of those agents/editors who have an affinity for what you are writing. Definitely take the time to Ask a Pro, Speed Date an Agent, and Chat with an Editor. Make sure you know to whom you are speaking.
Why attend a conference? Education and exposure. Get a feel for the biz. When selling your book is your priority, when you have the craft of writing pretty much under your belt, a conference like SFWC is a great experience.
Here’s SFWC’s hook: “Learn from the experts. Meet the right agent & editor. Get your book published. Make it a bestseller!”
Now, honestly, I don’t know if it can do all that, but you’ll be closer than you would be if you sat at home buffing up your Facebook profile for certain. You will meet all kinds of people, maybe find a new improved critique group, a professional reader (like me!), and maybe (if your elevator pitch is good enough) get the go-ahead to send a senior editor your manuscript.
EVENT DETAILS & UPDATES: www.SFWriters.org
Look for me and say “hey” when you find me. I’m likely to be hanging in the Cafe Ferlinghetti.
I volunteered for the first time at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference at the Mark Hopkins Hotel over Valentine’s weekend and had quite a positive professional experience there. I would have blogged about it sooner, but at the tail end I came down with a nasty head cold that wiped me out for a bunch of days. I suppose I was due for a whomper— had been staying well despite everyone around me succumbing to it.
Anyone can learn about the conference at the website, www.SFWriters.org, so I won’t bore you with the details. I do want to mention some of the highlights for me, and end with a cautionary tale.
My first duty was hosting and timekeeping for a standing-room only workshop led by a woman named Philippa Burgess, an Entertainment Professional, who discussed the importance of branding and connected it, in particular, to a writer’s “elevator pitch:” that 15-35 seconds of selling what you’re writing about to a VIP in an elevator.
Going up, of course.
She convincingly led a few participants’ dull elongated tales of what they write towards concise, albeit generic buzz words that they may not have considered applied to what they did before.
Ah, the marketing element of what a writer does. Don’t you love it.
Later, I enjoyed listening to Alan Rinzler, the Executive Editor of Jossey-Bass/John-Wiley, and an independent developmental editor (way more $$$ than I am!). When I worked with Andrea, I pitched a couple of books to him, and know he’s one of the most long-standing editors around.
I respect him, and am trying to believe his presentation, titled: “Why There’s Never Been A Better Time for Writers Seeking Publication.” He gave his audience some numbers: in 2009, the stock value of his publishing company went up 18.8%. The unit sales for Jossey Bass were up 4%. But, of course, the cynic (and non-math major) in me recognizes that even a 20% increase from the 2008 loss might still be a drop from the 2007 numbers. I’m only guessing.
Something interesting he did say, however, was that there were more debut novels in 2009 than ever before. He emphasized that this number was not including publish-on-demand debuts, but traditional publishing houses. But I am unclear as to whether these were debut novels put into circulation or debut novels purchased by the houses for later publication/release. It takes sometimes well over a year to get a book on the shelves from the time an editor buys it for his/her house.
In any case, I am trying to believe him. That if only something is good enough, ripe enough, the pickers are there waiting with aprons open. It is hard not to be skeptical knowing that Kobbie’s novel was just passed on. I still stand by it: It is a fantastic book. She was robbed.
Speaking of Kobbie’s novel, I made certain to connect with one of the editors who carefully considered it before her team passed: Caitlin Alexander, senior editor at the Random House Publishing Group. What a marvelous woman and empathetic editor! I proctored her table during a session known as Ask A Pro, where anyone from the conference can come sit down with an important professional and has three undivided minutes of his/her time. The attendee can do a two minute pitch and receive a one minute critique, or ask a question about the process, however they decide to do it.
Amazingly, quite a few conference attendees had no idea who they were talking to. They wanted her opinion on how they might improve their chance to get an agent the next day. “Hello!” I wanted to shout at them, “This is a senior editor at Random House! She buys Fiction!”
Listen up, all of you who are hoping to be published by a major publisher! You need to get an agent so you can get three minutes in front of Caitlin Alexander and her ilk. If you have three minutes with her, BE READY TO PITCH YOUR STORY! You can worry about the agent after she says “Please send me the first 50 pages with SFWC in the subject heading.”
This is why people need a publishing consultant who understands the biz even just a little bit. The books say “you need an agent.” True. Very True. But, I guess it’s more than common sense that says if you have that elevator moment with an editor from a big house, don’t ask them about getting an agent. Have your key words at the tip of your tongue.