Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

#WeNeedDiverseBooksIt’s been a while since I’ve done a Friday round-up, but I’m eager to restart, and this week has been one of plentiful material on the various topics I tend to follow. And I like to share.

Books:
All lists are subjective and incomplete, and often omit entries one feels should be included, but here’s a list of books to add to your To Be Read pile, from the Washington Post’s list of “top 50 books for 2014.”

The cyber-waves were all a flutter over the past couple of days, for good reason, about Daniel Handler’s (a.k.a Lemony Snicket) racist gaffe in his speech at the National Book Award ceremony, wherein he made a crack about Jaqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, being allergic to watermelons. (Yoinks! Who says such things? I guess we know who.) To his credit, Handler apologized for his comment (which of course he says he meant as a joke) in a very real way: not just words, but a pledge to contribute $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and to match donations for 24 hours up to $100,000. That, folks, is a meaningful apology, although of course it does not erase or excuse the shameful behavior. I hurried over to make a donation.

On the topic of racism, Toni Morrison (swoon) says it like it is, with her trademark perceptiveness and gentle tone, on the Stephen Colbert show. If you don’t already love the woman and her writing, this will convert you. Makes me want to read Beloved all over again. (Thanks to Anjali Enjeti for calling this to my attention. The world should have more Anjalis, methinks.)

And in other Fabulous Author news, Ursula K. Le Guin makes a moving tribute to “writers of the imagination” and to books as art. Do take a look/listen.

Meantime, I just finished Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors, a very powerful book set during the decades long war between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Raw and devastating, it is also sweet and loving. A slim volume, an engrossing read.

Kids’ book club:

The fact that I run a children’s book club has garnered more attention than I ever anticipated. Attention was never what I was seeking. However, I’m glad to have been featured a few months ago in the Boston Globe, to have a piece on Parenting.com on the dos and don’ts of kids’ book clubs, and just today I had fun being interviewed by Barbara Dooley of the Barbara Dooley Show based out of Athens, GA. She wanted to know all about my motivation to start the club, and any advice I have for those wanting to do the same. This month, we are reading Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, which is proving to be a somewhat wacky, incredibly creative and altogether enjoyable read set in Nigeria. How can this urban planner not love a young adult book that mentions, on the first page, the Lagos electricity company?

Urban planning:

Take a peek at Le Corbusier’s legacy in India via this series of photos by Paris-based photographer Manuel Bougot in Chandigarh. A different side of India.

Indian dance:

Here is a heart-warming and powerful story about a young woman with Down Syndrome who put in years of focused study to achieve what is a rite of passage for may Indian girls: the bharatanatyam “arangetram,” a solo performance. “Her father tells the crowd that [Hema] Ramaswamy’s arangetram was more than a dance graduation; it was the day she became, in the eyes of the world, a full individual.” This young woman’s strength and determination are inspiring. Additional photography by Preston Merchant.

Parenting:

This article needs very little description. It’s a spot on, non-blaming, humorously written description of what it means to be the “default” parent—the one who knows the kids’ shoe sizes, the dates of friends’ birthday parties, the location of the favorite barrette (on the floor of the living room behind the arm chair, mental note made at some point in anticipation a getting-ready-for-school meltdown). If you are the default parent, every single line will resonate with you. If you are not, you’ll gain new appreciation for the one who is.

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In the lead up to the book launch, I’ve had the opportunity to write some pieces for various sites. Some are long interviews, some shorter, such as this one in Shelf Awareness, others are essays (yet to be released) and still others are little snippets, such as this one on From Left to Write. They’ve been fun to draft.

Faint Promise of Rain at Harvard Bookstore

Faint Promise of Rain at Harvard Bookstore

In the meantime, the book itself seems to have jumped the gun. Although Amazon still shows its publication date as October 7, friends who have ordered it report that it has been delivered. And, best of all, an acquaintance sent an excited email to my husband over a week ago saying she’d spotted the book on prominent display at the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA. I hurried over there the very next day, and will admit to feeling misty-eyed as I came across my little baby sitting there on the shelf, next to a collection of O. Henry prize stories. It was holding its own, looking colorful and so real, absolutely sure of its place. I lingered for a while, casting glances at the other people browsing, hoping someone would pick it up, wondering if I’d speak up and say anything. “I recommend that book. It’s wonderful.” But no one did, not right then.

Finally, I picked one up and brought it to the check-out counter. The young woman at the cash register made a motion to ring up the purchase, asking the perfunctory “Are you all set?” And I exclaimed, perhaps a bit too loudly, “No!” She was taken aback. I softened my manner and smiled. “I wrote this, and I’d like to sign it.” She broke into smiles herself. “Oh, wonderful.” Next thing I knew, she’d brought out the whole stock, and offered me a “nice pen.” But I had a nicer one, because I have a whole drawer of special pens, and I’d selected a bronze Sharpie to match the color scheme of the cover and the story. What fun to scrawl my name on the title page!

 

 

 

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BookClubCardRosemaryA couple of weeks ago, Boston Globe reporter Beth Teitell wrote a feature on the book club that I run for my oldest daughter and eight of her friends. I’ve written about this book club before, about the impetus for it, and how impressed I am with the level of thought and discourse among this group of nine year olds, and how gratifying the whole experience is. (See here and below for the most heart-melting cards I received from them.) So it was with delight that we all welcomed the reporter to one of our meetings. Please do check out the feature, and photos, here.

Several people have contacted me for the full list of books we have tackled. We began in February 2013 when the girls were mid-way through third grade, and read all these:

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. konigsburg
One Crazy Summer, by Rita García-Williams
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards
Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O’Brien
Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
Rules, by Cynthia Lord
Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Island’s End, by Padma Venkatraman
The Candy Shop War, by Brandon Mull
Esperanza Rising, by Pam Muñoz Ryan
The Alchemyst, by Michael Scott

Once we resume in September at the start of fifth grade, we’ll be integrating more non-fiction and, I hope, poetry.

BookClubCardOli  BookClubCardSasha

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(Fourth in a series on month-by-month preparations in the year before a book launch. In this case, the book launch is in October 2014. These are some of the things to think about, questions to ask oneself, issues to research in the course of this complex process which these days involves more and more of the author’s time and savvy. Previous posts are here, here, and here.)

Seven to eight months to go: 

Tip sheet (Title Information Page)
At this point, the publisher asks for some information to populate the sections of the Title Information Page (TIP sheet) that will then go to the sales reps at the distributor. These will be used to sell the book to various accounts–bookstores, libraries, etc. Each publisher will have a slightly different form and requirements. There are some examples here and here. For She Writes Press, the sections included: sales hook, description, key selling points, audience, author bio, author residence, comparative titles, marketing & publicity highlights, and endorsements. Some of this information also gets fed into databases that populate fields on Amazon and other online book retailers.

Toughest here, for me, was coming up with comparative titles. The SWP preference was for titles that came out in the past three years, in the same categories as my book, with a similar audience, and of course with a good sales history. Not easy. For example, I think readers of Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, would be drawn to my book and enjoy it, but that one came out back in 1997, which in the publishing world was at least two eras ago. But I did include it, along with more recent titles, such as Teatime for the Firefly, Russian Winter, and The Twentieth Wife.

Final cover design
The designer, publisher and I finalized the cover, with which I am delighted. (See the end of this post for working with a designer.) The designer began concepts for the back cover and spine, which we finalized within a couple of weeks. We included the blurbs (see below) that I received.

Publicist
After a lot of soul-searching, budgeting and general reflection, I finalized my choice of a publicist at this point, finding what I believe is a solid choice from among the various proposals I received, and sticking to a contract that is focused on those areas in which I have the least experience/contacts of my own: print and online reviews, radio, and the book blogosphere. I’m handling social media and the setting up of most local events on my own, and might expand to a Phase 2 with the publicist once I begin to travel.

Social Media
I’m lucky to have a social media expert, Crystal King, as one of my good friends and writing partners. Under her guidance, I made a list of social media tasks/goals. There are lots of posts out there on this, and I’m not in a position to wax eloquent, but this I can say: it’s never too early to get going on social media, or at least on figuring out what one wants to put into social media, and what one wants to avoid.

Lists
I’m a list-y type of gal. Have always been. Lists are how I keep everything organized. My oldest child started copying me, making her own “lists,” scribbling on a pad with a pen, before she could actually write. At this point, I started a mega list. It’s in an Excel file with many tabs, including: balance sheet, expenses, master pre-launch to-do list, month-by-month to-do list, media contacts, marketing ideas, endorsement requests, events, web site changes, and more. To some it might seem a thing of beauty, but others it might horrify. Either way, there’s no denying it: there is A LOT to keep track of, and it gets more and more overwhelming as the launch month approaches. I started populating all these tabs about eight months out (actually, I started putting marketing ideas in a mishmash on one tab about two years earlier), and I go back to this list several times a day. I’d be at a complete loss without it.

Blurbs
Having given my potential endorsers a deadline of March 15th, I checked in with them politely at the end of February, sending them a gentle reminder of the deadline but also giving them a potential out (although I really, really hoped they would not take me up on the latter). One required an extension, to which he assiduously adhered, and by March 15th I received the first two (glowing) blurbs, from Marjan Kamali and Bret Anthony Johnston.

First pages
The publisher sent me my “First Pages,” i.e. the interior pages of the manuscript all designed and laid out as they’d appear in the book itself. My first reaction upon opening up the PDF file was sheer joy at seeing the lovely choice of font and designs for chapter headings, section breaks, etc. The second reaction was one of horror as I realized I was expected to re-read the whole thing, again, for the four hundredth time, to catch any errors. I was very tempted to skip that step, but I am glad I did not, as I caught not only some small typographical errors, but also a couple of more substantial ones, such as the fact that one of my characters knelt to be at his brother’s height, except his brother was 15. That would have made the kneeling character a giant. The error was a remnant of an older draft, in which the brother was a little boy, not a 15 year old.

Random bits:
Little, random thoughts started popping into my head at odd moments. I started dropping those into Evernote (as I always have access to the program on my phone), then adding them to my various lists: look into credit card readers for my phone, open a separate bank account (or not? Should I? Need to figure this out!), consider a P.O box to use as an address with a MailChimp account (MailChimp? Constant Contact? iContact? Which one? Need to figure this out!), etc. More and more to add to the lists.

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Path to the Market Place

Path to the Market Place. Photo by Pauline Eccles, via Wikimedia Commons

 

(Based on a presentation delivered at Grub Street Writers‘ recent conference, The Muse and the Marketplace.)

Writers looking to publish their book-length work currently face a vast and confusing array of choices regarding how to usher their book into the market. The fact that there even exists a choice is, to use a word of the times, empowering, but the extreme variations within and among the options with regard to quality, integrity, amount of work involved, cost, and other factors make this choice, for some, a very challenging one. There is traditional publishing, and self-publishing (also referred to as “independent” publishing), and various options in between, including “hybrid” publishing, “partner publishing,” “self-directed publishing,” and more. Brooke Warner at She Writes Press has some informational posts elucidating the differences among these here and here, among others. She’s a vocal evangelist for what she terms the “third way.”

So what is a writer to do, how is she to decide which route to pursue? Having recently gone through this process rather blindly, learning as I go, absorbing a lot of information about the publishing industry, having to make important decisions almost on the spot, feeling carried forward in the frothy, low-visibility crest of a wave that I believe is gathering significant momentum, I realize I wish I had understood at the start just how much truth and value there is in Polonius’ admonishment to Laertes in Hamlet:

“This above all—to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

After a lot of fumbling around trying to find a path that made me feel like I was, am, being true to myself and to my book, I’ve settled on a hybrid approach which, had I had the clarity of thought to realize this earlier, is what makes absolute sense for me. Everything about my life has been hybrid, from my mixed-race genetic make-up to my bilingualism to my childhood straddling three continents to my choice of multidisciplinary undergraduate studies (international development studies) and graduate studies (urban planning) to my ensuing multifaceted career. How could I have felt comfortable in a single publishing silo?

So here is a compilation of questions I urge you to answer for yourself if you are trying to get published. Some of them are very practical, others are more touch-feely and might make you decide you really need to go run some errands rather than think about them, but I do believe they are all important.

1.    What are your goals?

  • For your book:

Why did you write it? To get it off your chest? To feel like a writer? To spread a message as broadly as possible? To change someone’s life?
Who did you write it for? Who is your target audience? How do they hear about books? How do they read them? Will they care how yours is published?
Do you want to see it in the New York Times? Do you want it to be eligible for prizes?
Do you care about subsidiary rights? (Translations, movies, audio books, etc.)

  • For yourself:

Whose validation/recognition do you need, if any?
Are you trying to build a career? Will you be writing other books?
Are you hoping to make a living by writing? To change your career?

 2.    What is your level of self-confidence?

  • How good are you at speaking up?
  • How confident are you in your decisions, in your judgment? (Would you benefit from having the opinions of others such as an agent, an editor, a publisher?)

 3.    How do you feel about collaboration? How much control do you need or want to have in the process?

 4.    What is your risk profile?

  • Are you willing to experiment?
  • How do you deal with change and new things?
  • How do you deal with the unexpected?

5.    What types of activities/interactions give you energy? What sucks it away?

Do you enjoy being alone? Do you prefer your day (when you’re not writing) to be full of interactions with other human beings? With cats? Does the thought of calling up someone you don’t know to ask for something make your blood run cold? Do you dread promotion? Or thrive on it?  (Hmm, maybe that last one would not be a good sign.)

6.    How do you define success?

Does success mean meeting all your goals? Feeling happy? Wanting to do it all again? Catching the attention of a particular person? Being on national TV? Having time to write? Quitting your day job? Being accepted by your family? Selling 100,000 copies of your book? Receiving invitations for speaking engagements? Being reviewed in the NY Times?

7.    What is your budget?

How much money can you invest upfront? Consider that with partner publishing, expenses might include an initial fee, developmental editing, a publicist, advance reader copies, etc.

8.    How much time do you have?

  • What’s your time frame for this project? Do you need to see your book out there within a few months? A year? Can you wait two years (or more)?
  • How much time do you have in your schedule on a daily/weekly basis to devote to getting your book published?

9.    What are your organizational skills like?

Can you keep track of a lot of details, dates, to-do lists? Do you want to?

10.    Are you curious to learn about the publishing industry? Or does your brain already feel overly strained?

Bonus question: What is your support network like? Do you have helpful and supportive friends? Family members? Are you a part of networks (writer network, alumni network, professional industry network, etc) that can provide you with contacts?

Going through all these questions, you can zero in on what matters to you and what you can imagine yourself happily doing, and thus make a publishing choice that rings true to you, and will ultimately be satisfying and successful. And I’m sure there are many other helpful questions–please chime in with some.

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(Third in a series on month-by-month preparations in the year before a book launch. In this case, the book launch is in October 2014. These are some of the things to think about, questions to ask oneself, issues to research in the course of this complex process which these days involves more and more of the author’s time and savvy. Previous posts are here and here.)

Ten months to go:

(I’ll be covering 2 months at a time for a couple of months in order to catch up with the reality of my actual launch.)

 

Woman Writing in an Interior, painting by Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton. Via Google Art Project.

Woman Writing in an Interior, painting by Félix Emile-Jean Vallotton. Via Google Art Project.

Final edits:
With the contract signed and the initial euphoria tempered with a good dose of trepidation, the time has come to send the final manuscript to the publisher. Don’t rush this stage, as tempting as it may well be to send the darn thing off and dust your hands of it. This is the last chance to make any significant edits. Beyond this, edits will be limited to proof-reading and small fixes as the manuscript begins its transformation into a book. In my case, the manuscript had already been through both a developmental edit and a line edit by a professional freelance editor.

I recommend doing a thorough re-read, out loud if you can stand it. Don’t be tempted to make any substantial changes, unless urged to do so by an editor. Changes you embark on due to some inner voice of yours will only cause you to wonder if you then need to go back and re-change other things to line up with the new changes, etc. It’s a horrible, churning vortex that you already managed to escape at least once. Why go there again?

Hit “send”. Push that baby out of the nest. Breathe. Have a drink.

Nine months to go:

Now that the manuscript is out of your hands, a torrent of tasks begins. Here’s what I tackled at this point. Bear in mind that each of these topics is worthy of a lengthy post of its own. My purpose here is simply to bring to light the things to be thinking about at this point.

  • Publicists: You probably want to give your book the best chance possible amid the ocean of other books out there, but figuring out what type of publicist to hire, how much to spend without any guarantee of sales, what elements to focus on (Blog tour? Radio interviews? Print reviews? Events? Local? National?) can spur some deep soul searching. It took me over two months to come to a decision. If you are thinking of hiring a publicist, this site provides a great list of publicists who will work directly with the author. Bear in mind that a publicist will likely come on board about 4-6 months before your launch. That means that they are planning out their work load at least a couple of months before THAT. So now is a good time to start the selection process.
  • Social media: There’s a lot of advice online on whether and how and where to hone your social media presence. I can’t claim any expertise here. But I do know that 9 months prior to the book launch is NOT too early to be thinking about these things. I purchased the URL with my book title, as well as this one with my own name, four years ago. Whatever stage you are at with your book, I recommend doing these things right away. Whether or not to blog, to Tweet, to have a Facebook author page, these are all things to be thinking about.
  • Endorsements: This is an awkward, humbling, painful process. You are asking for an endorsement, or “blurb,” from an established writer you most likely don’t know in person. This means coming straight out and asking a perfect stranger who is terribly busy with her own writing, promoting, possible other career, family, and more to take hours of her time to read a random book about which she knows nothing, and then either say something nice about it, or feel terrible for letting you know she doesn’t feel comfortable endorsing it. Putting yourself through this can mean receiving some wonderful quotes from writers you admire, bringing you to tears of gratitude, but it takes time. I recommend allowing a week for the author to get back to you via email, a week to send a hard copy of your manuscript to him, at least six weeks to allow him time to read it, and two additional weeks as a possible extension, all this before your galleys, or Advance Reader Copies, will be ready for printing, which itself can be five months before the actual launch date. So, starting this process at launch-minus-9-months is a good idea. Here’s some solid advice on asking for blurbs.
  • Cover design: At this point, the graphic artist and I got into the nitty gritty of the cover design. She started drawing up different ideas. I provided her with images which I sourced from various sites, including iStock and Shutterstock, two of the go-to sites for royalty-free images. I have been fortunate to be able to be significantly involved in this process, and I’m thrilled with the result. My earlier post provides some links to working smoothly with a graphic designer. (I also began work with an artist who drew me a wonderful map of the area in Rajasthan, India, where my story takes place.)

  • Events: Now is also a good time to start a list of events to attend once your book is out. These might be writing conferences, professional industry events in a field related to the topic of your book, cultural festivals, etc. Plan whether you will travel and where, what events are likely to provide you with the biggest reward (for example, can you speak on a panel? Sell your books?), what your budget is, etc. Some events require submissions of proposed sessions a full year in advance. I recommend creating a calendar of events that includes these deadlines. I’m excited to be speaking with my agent on “partner publishing” next month at Grub Street Writer’s annual conference in Boston.

muse2014poster

 

Okay. I suspect these activities will fill up any free time during months ten and nine. Please comment with any additional suggestions, and come visit on May 20th for more detail on publicists, as well as TIP sheets, galleys, how to stay organized, and more.

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Photo by Venkat2336 via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Venkat2336 via Wikimedia Commons

With FAINT PROMISE OF RAIN coming out in October 2014, last November marked Publication-minus-11-months. After signing the contract the previous month, I began November by dancing a jig, and promptly losing all the momentum I had finally managed to gain on the draft of my next book. I’d actually jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon, albeit more for the camaraderie than anything else, and with the modified (and modest) goal of 15K words in the month. I had started out the month with a bang, putting down on paper a good 5000 words in the first week. But then my mind became split. I started allowing myself to think concretely about many of the marketing and promotion ideas I’d been collecting in a mishmash of a spreadsheet for over two years. I realized I would need to re-read my manuscript again, carefully, making any final edits before handing it over to the publisher. I understood that I would need to postpone the research trip to Lucknow that I had been on the brink of booking for January. In short, I re-adjusted my expectations and my plans.

Then came some requests from the publisher: an author bio, an author photo, a book cover memo, and my preferred month of publication between August and November 2014. Yes, I did get to choose. October. No point to August, it’s a dead month in terms of business, people have already bought their summer reads and realizing they’ve only made it through three of the ten books they’d lined up, folks are spending precious moments out of doors (I hope) and not trawling the Internet for book ideas. September is too crazy for most people, including me. Back to school and the start of all activities for children and parents alike. New schedules, readjustment to getting up even earlier, email to catch up on, etc. October is good. The dust has settled a bit. There’s time for a bit of buzz to build before people are doing their holiday shopping. People are more focused. So I went with that.

Author bio. A simple paragraph was cause for much revision and consultation with family, agent, writing pals and others. Where would this bio appear? On the book jacket? Inside? On the publisher’s web site? On Amazon? Then: What to put in, what to omit? What could read like a good, albeit short, story? What is relevant, what is compelling, and what is both? Neither?

In my case, the questions included whether I would use the word “dancer” along with “writer.” Do I consider myself a dancer, even as I teach kathak to young children? Then there was the question of whether to mention my own children. It’s irrelevant, really, from a professional standpoint. But I want to be accessible, human, not a photograph with a resume. Personally, I like seeing, in an author bio, a smidge of something personal. I can relate to someone who has children, or grew up in another country, or speaks French, or had another career in a previous life. I like an author with many dimensions. So the mention of children stayed in.

Author photo. Due to the aforementioned children, I’m usually the one behind the camera, not in front. Nothing in our massive folder of photos could come close to being an “author photo.” (I do have a fabulous shot of myself being kissed by a sea lion. I’m going to have to find a way to use that somehow. It’s just too good.) I asked a friend who has studied photography on the side and likes to experiment if she’d be willing to take some shots. (In exchange for a dinner that I realize I still owe her.) She was great. She set aside four hours, and at first I thought that was ridiculous, but we used pretty much the whole time. We chatted, tried various outfits, different settings in her studio. She made me laugh. It was relaxed and fun, and curiously satisfying to spend a little time doing something that was all about me. I could list out some bits of advice, but Randy Susan Meyers does it so well already, and with humor, that I suggest you just check out this post of hers. You’ll also want to think about whether the final photo should be in color or in black and white. Probably a good idea to have both options. My one mistake: I asked my mother what she thought of the picture I selected. Her response: I like it from the nose up. She went on to say something about neck wrinkles. *fingers in ears* La la la I can’t hear you!

Book cover memo. This is where one lists out one’s (possibly lengthy) thoughts on a book cover. This is a biggie. As we all know and have been guilty of, people of course do judge books by their covers. Different publishers will allow for different levels of participation and input on the part of the author. I’ll leave it at that. Thankfully, my publisher listened to me, while also providing input from the business side for which I was grateful. While I had strong feelings about what to avoid, I realized I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to see on there. I included in my memo a bunch of covers that served as examples of the clichés and uninspired designs I’ve seen on some book covers, and then several covers that I found compelling. I happened to be acquainted already with my cover designer who read the full manuscript, has traveled to the region in which it is set, and is familiar with kathak dance. These things were important to me. The tricky thing is this: knowing when to stand firm for what you truly feel and believe, and knowing when to bow to the opinions of those whose business and expertise it is to communicate through design (the graphic artist) and to sell books (the publisher, and possibly the agent as well). Listen to the designer; this is what they do. It can be hard, because no doubt you’ve been living with your book and imagining its cover for… dare I say it? Years. But this is one of the first steps in letting others take over. I hope I struck the right balance. One thing I do know is that I am very, very pleased with the final design for FPR. But it took work, a lot of collaboration, a very patient designer, and many iterations.

Writer Unboxed ran a great 2-part post on working smoothly with a graphic artist. Part 1 covers knowing what you want, finding the right graphic artist (which your publisher might do for you), understanding the basic graphics design process and other things to keep in mind as you get going. Part 2 covers budget, fee strategies, ownership, and other money matters.

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Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

(Rather conveniently, as you’ll see below, this was the Photo of the Day on Wikimedia Commons today.)

I’ve been away (on the exquisite shores of Curaçao, in the Dutch Antilles), but in the few days since my return, a few good nuggets have caught my attention:

India and film/photography

First and foremost, this gorgeously shot and completely fascinating film on the Aghori sadhus (holy men) of Varanasi, India. Very timely, as yesterday was the Maha Shivaratri festival celebrating Lord Shiva. Three young men–photographers and filmmakers–spent weeks on the banks of the Ganges among these holy men whose closeness to death, skulls and human ashes makes them both controversial and revered. Put life on hold and do watch this, then also check out these accompanying photos. Thanks to Farhana Huq for calling my attention to these.

Books and photographs

On the subject of photographs, here is another set, with very different subjects. This is what a librarian looks like. Any surprises?

The business of books

I found these statistics, on newspaper book reviews, reviewers and gender, thought provoking. Are female book reviewers likely to skew their reviewing toward women authors? What do you expect?

And while we’re talking of book reviews:
Do we really need negative book reviews? What is the value of criticism that is “unable or unwilling to criticize?” Should one go by the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say…? (via Randy Susan Meyers)

Writing

The world of writers was abuzz last week with Amtrak’s announcement that it is putting together a program of free or low-cost rides for writers wanting to use them as a writing retreat. As both a writer and an infrastructure planner (in a previous life), I was immediately deluged by vivid memories of train rides throughout my life, slicing through European countryside nibbling on butter cookies (edges and corners first) with my parents and brother, stopping in the middle of the night for the passport control in the Alps between France and Switzerland, piling onto the French TGV with classmates and mounds of duffel bags for an eighth grade school trip to the Mediterranean coast, peeing into the hole in the bathroom of the first class car of a train cutting through the dusty middle of India and watching the clankety tracks whizz by underneath, spilling apple juice all over my copy of Watership Down at the age of 11 as a train leaned into a curve, climbing up into the hills north of Tokyo among the cherry blossoms and mineral-green waterfalls in the Shikansen with my three year old’s head, heavy with sleep, cutting off the circulation in my thigh.

Needless to say, trains conjure up memories, descriptions, feelings of excitement, new ideas. What better location to sit and write? I’ll be following Amtrak’s program with much interest.

India and infrastructure

Google Maps has announced the availability of Street View and See Inside in India. There’s a slight creepiness to the fact that one can clearly see the people who happened to be at those spots when the pictures were taken, but at least a reasonable effort has been made to blur their faces. From a research standpoint, this ability to view specific locations is very useful. One can get an accurate sense, for example, of how far one can see from the rooftop of the Jaisalmer fort (click on the little yellow figure on the bottom right for the dots to appear that represent areas you can explore). Or how the shadows lengthen across a certain courtyard at sunset.

And now I want to get on a train and leave frigid Massachusetts and its dirt-encrusted snow for Rajasthan.

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Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Signatures on tiles, nothing to do with contracts, but fun use of signatures. Via Wikimedia Commons.

As I prepare for a book launch in October 2014, I find myself doing a significant amount of thinking, researching and planning for it. Even more than I’d anticipated. And as those in my family can tell you, I anticipate a lot. My oldest daughter says I’m a “just in case” person. As in, put a sweater in your bag just in case the movie theater is over air-conditioned. Which it will be.

For those who know they will have, or hope to have, a book published in the near future, I’ll be running a series of posts on the month-to-month lead up to publication. There’s no way yet to say whether my methods and actions will be successful, of course, but I try my best, and why not share the information? What to think about, what to research, what I hadn’t expected, what questions to ask oneself, that kind of thing.

To begin: Twelve months out from publication (which for me was this past October)

This is the month it all began. The main focus here was the contract. I’d been in discussion with the publisher already for several weeks. In October, they sent me their contract template, and we had some friendly back and forth during the course of the month to negotiate some changes and some additions.

I am fortunate to have a family member who is an attorney specializing in intellectual property, so I had some very experienced eyes look at the contract. I highly, highly recommend finding an attorney to look over your contract. There are literary attorneys who will do this for an hourly fee. If you have an agent, that’s a good place to start. But even an agent is not (usually) an attorney. I’m amazed at how often people sign things without fully understanding them. Of course we all click on “Agree” on those lengthy terms of use pop-up windows when we sign up for various services, but a book contract is of major importance and can come in the way of any future plans you might have for your book and its derivative products (translations, foreign editions, audio versions, etc.)

Some sites I found useful for learning about what to look for in a contract were the following:

This blog post by J.A. Konrath on “some of the more one-sided, onerous terms of a standard publishing contract.” (Note that he is very pro self-publishing, and very outspoken.)

These negotiation tips provided by the Author’s Guild.

This checklist of deal terms by intellectual property attorney Howard Zaharoff.

I’ve also heard great things about Mark Levine’s book, Negotiating a Book Contract: a Guide for Authors, Agents and Lawyers.

Some of the issues I was forced to think about were:

What rights I wanted to grant the publisher, and which ones I wanted to keep for myself. (Depending on the publisher, there will be more or less flexibility here.) Worldwide? North America? Print only? (Not often an option.) Translations? Film? Audio? Stage adaptations? Merchandising? Sales to book clubs? Abridgments in anthologies?

Publication date. Is there any time of year that makes the most sense for publication? Is my book a summer read? A more intellectual, fall-ish type of read? Could I tie its launch with a specific event? A holiday? Do I want people buying it as Christmas gifts?

Copyright. For example: Who owns the rights to the cover?

Liability and indemnification. In most contracts, it seems, this clause is highly skewed in favor of the publisher, and difficult to get changed. You as the author may need to accept that you will hold the publisher harmless blah blah blah, essentially shouldering the risk of having to pay for a lawsuit, legitimate or not, filed by some out in the great blue yonder who takes issue with something you wrote, claims your cover design was his or her idea, etc. There are a number of sites out there that summarize the concerns and things for which to be on the lookout. (For example here, here, and also here.) It was very useful to me to peruse them, and establish for myself what I was comfortable with, and what was a deal-breaker.

It took a certain amount of good natured back and forth to negotiate a contract that satisfied both sides, but we succeeded, and I’m glad for the process.

If you’ve been through this process yourself, do you have any thoughts to add?

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Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Literature

What makes a book a classic? Italo Calvino suggests “a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Lovely. Perhaps he has a similarly compelling way of defining a book that is “literary?” I’d welcome that. This Salon article explores some angles of the debate. Should the author be dead? Should the work be widely studied? Should it change lives? And what does that mean, anyway?

And:

This woman read one book from every country of the world. This type of goal strikes me as gimmicky–I’ll do this thing for one year and blog about it and develop a following–but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t interest me as well. My recent attempt to find well-reviewed translations of middle grade literature (for the fourth grade book club) set in different regions of the world and NOT written by a westerner has been frustrating. The lack of translated work in the US in general is disappointing. So it is with interest that I look at this article and this woman’s list.

So on a related note: Asia and Children’s Lit

I’ve known about author Mitali Perkins for a while, especially as she resides in the same state as I do, and I was delighted to discover, through her blog, the web site of the South Asia Book Award (for children’s literature). I used it to pick out some selections for next month’s reading options, including Padma Venkatraman’s Island’s End.

Education and learning

Do you take notes on paper or on screen? I grew up in France where classes were given lecture-style as early as middle school. French children learn to take notes efficiently, filling notebooks which they then use to study for the baccalauréat exams at the end of their senior year. (At least, this is how it was 2-3 decades ago. I guess I might be in for a surprise were I to venture into a French collège today.) From this experience I’ve retained a penchant for pen and paper note-taking, even when surrounded by people tapping away on laptops and other devices. This article, therefore, is satisfying to me. Learning, it would seem, is deeper and more lasting when transmitted to the brain via longhand note-taking.

Craft of writing

One writer’s fundamentals. Writer Laura Harrington reminds us with clarity and simplicity of what it is easy to lose sight of when one is in the depths of creative writing. Excellent tidbits to post here and there in your writing space.

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