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If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

I have a confession to make: I’ve been thinking I should get a device. I know I’ve gone on the record for how much I loathe devices. But it’s going to become a professional liability to not understand and participate in this craze that is sweeping the nation. Drink it, dude. I don’t know. GOd help me, I was hoping to retire before I had to cross this electronic bridge but it’s all happening so fast. I wish I could have had an enhanced e-book for Food and Loathing. There could have been links to Dunkin’ Donuts, Entemann’s, and Little Debbie. THere could have been clips of people at OA meetings talking shit about themselves and pretending to be grateful. There could have been a simulated psychiatrist’s session where a girl cries and a middle aged white man in a window pane suit and saddle shoes tells her to stop crying wolf. And then there can be an app for calorie counting and weighing yourself and calibrating how much you hate yourself. And then you can link your fine ivory ass to Assbook and make friends or frenemies with other people who also hate themselves and like to post pictures of themselves at National Parks. And then you can tweet the whole motherfucking thing. Maybe I’m not ready.


Guest Blogger #5 – August

I spent a few days thinking of ways to mortify Betsy in this space, but I don’t have a copy of her updated book, and I don’t have the patience to click on every link in her blogroll looking for things to hate. I considered writing about how your publishing ‘team’—your agent and editor and publisher—functions like a family, more specifically a family in which your publisher fucks you under the stairs while your editor pretends not to notice.

Instead, however, in an effort to be helpful, here’s some shit writers don’t need to care about:

Query Letters

If you can’t write a good query letter, you can’t write. They’re business letters—that’s a lower form of writing than Tea Party signs. Describe the book. Either your description sounds like money to that particular agent, or you get a form letter.

Still having trouble with your query letter? Try this easy tip: take up scrapbooking.


Before you have an agent, your goal is finding an agent, not making agents’ lives easier. Screw agents’ lives. The only reason they have lives is that after they clawed from the grave, they hungered for 15% instead of blood.

Worrying about guidelines is bullshit. If they like what you’ve got, they’ll ask for more. If they like that, they’ll want to represent you, and you’ll slavishly agree. That’s the nature of the relationship.

Worrying about wasting their time is bullshit. Agents are hip-deep and sinking, dealing every day with the desperate, the manic, and the spittle-flecked; and those are their –clients-. Don’t worry about alienating them. This is a group of people who one day looked at writers and thought, I want to represent them. They’re not gonna remember your half-assed crazy.

Just remember that this relationship is based on mutual trust and respect, so never reveal your true self.

The State of the Book

Is publishing in decline? Yes.

In other news, you’re fat and lazy, a talentless hack. Nothing will change any of that. Publishing is in the shitter. Our goal is to swirl around as long as possible before we’re flushed. We’re not gonna reverse the direction of spin here.

Will e-readers revolutionize publishing? Sure, because an influx of semi-literate control freaks is what every industry needs. Our problem isn’t the shortage of digital formats, it’s the shortage of customers.

The one thing that distinguishes people in publishing is that instead of faking expertise about corrugated paper products or commercial real estate, we fake  expertise about books. We’re nothing special. There’s the same proportion of assbaggery in publishing as in the Solid Waste Association of North America. The difference is one group pushes a product that’s full of crap, and you know the end of this sentence.

People are idiots. People in publishing are, largely, people. We’re working in a crazily dysfunctional industry, and when by some miracle a book actually sells, we desperately try to reverse-engineer the success. But that only works when luck isn’t a determining factor. You can’t reverse-engineer a coin toss. Why is Lethem more popular than Everett? No reason at all. Why did Harry Potter sell more than 3,000 copies? No reason at all.

None of that matters. Franzen doesn’t matter and Vargas Llosa doesn’t matter. Gish Jen and Stephenie Meyer doesn’t matter and I don’t matter and you don’t matter. Editors, agents, readers, the state of publishing, the technology of reading, the insulting advances and print runs and jacket copy, the blogging, the twitting, the social media, the self-promotion: doesn’t matter.

I’m trying to write this like a comment without worrying where it’s going, but I think where it’s going is here: the first step is admitting that we’re powerless over everything but the writing. And the second step is coming to believe that the best way to deal with all those distractions is to hate them.

What do you care about as a writer, that you shouldn’t? What do you not care about, that you should?

Guest Blogger #2 – Mary S. Beach “I’m just the oily slick on a windup world with a nervous tic.”

I was on a flight from Amsterdam to Newark the other day when I noticed that every other person was reading a Kindle. Then it hit me. I am almost fifty years old and I might never have a book published. By that I mean a real book that I can hold next to my heart and then put away on a shelf. Even better, on my mother’s shelf. Something I can finish. Something I can dedicate. I have written all my life, but nothing has ever been really truly finished. I enjoy my status as a late bloomer, but now I see I may be too late for a real book.
I feel bookless. Like I felt childless at 30.
I might have an electronic book and that would be cool, and sure, I know the important thing is to join the party, the great cosmic conversation that started at the beginning of time and will continue to the very end. But I can’t help feeling like 1s and 0s did not speak the words of Levin and Benjy and Daisy and Raskalnikov. They simply can’t carry that weight.
What is that weight? Does the sharp end of our pencil protect us from the void? Is it the tons of printing press searing words into the paper – forever? Is it the knowledge that once you sign off on your manuscript there is no turning back? Is it the force of gravity itself?

As The Present Now Will Later Be Past

If you invite me to your house, I’m going to rifle through your medicine chest. It’s that simple. In that spirit, I want to know what you’ve got on that dang Kindle. I can tell you what’s on my bedside table:  Henrietta Lacks, Tinkers, some book about Russian novels with a Roz Chast cover, Savage Detectives, Stuff,  Words in Air (I never finished the last 80 pages because I didn’t want it to end), and a book that has the calorie count of every food on earth). So what are today’s most sophisticated and critical writers and readers downloading, i.e. the readers of this blog? Or if you’re still holding out, what’s on the night table?? Hit me.

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn

A soccer mom buddy is reading the Franzen on her Kindle. I submitted a new project to 16 editors on Friday; they all wanted it for their Kindles. Friends, I can feel it. Just like the answering machine, the VCR, the cell phone, the IPod, and sanitary napkins with wings — innovation will win out. I noticed at B&N that you could get a Kindle cover from Lily Pulitzer, Coach, and Burberry. Now, that’s special.

Not having a Kindle is going to be considered pretentious, or precious, or perverse. I don’t want to defend not having a Kindle, so I will probably lie, like when someone on a plane or train asks me what I do: I say I’m an accountant. I don’t want to down load, I don’t want a designer case, I don’t want to choose my typeface. I don’t want to remember another charger and I don’t want to fiddle with the snake pit of wires under my bed. I don’t want (another) device in my bed. I don’t want to stop using the bookmark my daughter made when she was in the second grade or the makeshift bookmarks: movie stubs, clothing labels, envelopes. I don’t want to stop recording new vocabulary words in the backs of books. And I don’t want to stop  marking passages that sum up the whole fucking world or make me, for just a few seconds, not feel like such a fucking freak because in that brilliant string of words that I can see and touch I know I am not dead or beyond redemption.

Agh. We’ve had this conversation more than a few times. Eventually I’ll get a Kindle and I’ll swipe a credit card in my crack and my thumbprint will open the refrigerator door and a little robot will e-binge its brains out for me. So, instead, I’m curious, when people ask you what you do, what do you say, do you say: I’m a writer.

Long May You Run

Did you download the new Franzen?

The night I saw The Planet of the Apes, something happened that would forever change my life. It was the birth of my youngest sister, Gail. Far more beautiful and talented than I, which is saying something given my abundance of talent and beauty, she arrived a blue-eyed, blond- haired, dimpled-faced darling who would bring much joy into our lives.  But back then, her arrival meant only one thing to me, the relinquishment of my place as the beloved youngest and daddy’s girl. And somehow this tragedy was fused with the movie and its charred landscape peopled by hirsute beings with major league opposables, which would eventually reveal itself to be New York City and our beloved planet earth, though I didn’t understand that then the same way I didn’t get that it was the Nazis who had to go an cock up everything in Sound of Music.

What does this have to do with publishing. This: last week’s discussion of ebooks has really gotten under my skin. Even our beloved August chimed in on behalf of the device. Really, dude? And you think you know a person you know nothing about. Ha. I guess all I’m saying is when it comes time for the opposables to take over, the Kindles and Finger Fucks are going to litter the ground like so many shells. When the landscape is a torch and a bit of subway tile, when shirtless men ride bareback, when Barnes and Noble sells furs and pelts and Whole Foods bison and deer — this will be a time when you’re wanting paper and glue. I know I risk sounding like I live in Ludville, and I know the times are a changin’ but I want to die with you Wendy on the streets tonight  in an everlasting kiss.

Where did I leave my charger? Crap!

Is This the Beginning, Or is This the End?

Just this week, Newsweek reports that Kindle sales exceed Amazon’s hardcover list. A new weekly digital magazine is launching headed up by former magazine journalists and editors. The NYT reports that ebooks have gone from 2.9% of trade book sales to 8.5% over the last year. Predictions are up to 40% within 3-5 years. And, for fuck’s sake, Pete Hamill is publishing his new book only in an e-book edition. Though he did wonder what he’d sign at the book signing. Good question.

Peeps, is the sky falling or are we at the most exciting revolution in the evolution of reading and the dissemination of content?  Would you be happy with just having an e-book? Why does it feel like straight to video to me. I have to admit having schlepped two manuscript bags to Baltimore that I wondered if I should break down and get a Kindle, Nook, or Finger Fuck.

As an agent, I have to take it seriously and make sure that my clients are getting best royalties and are aware of the ebook opportunities. But as a human, I simply have no interest. Books are perfect objects. But hey, I still miss removing a record from its sleeve and settling it down on the turntable, lowering the arm, the hiss, the pop.

Today, a client showed me a first edition signed copy of Finnegan’s Wake. When I saw Joyce’s inimitable signature in pale blue ink, I got goosebumps. What is more beautiful than a bookcase? How better to seduce a woman? What is a house without books?  Oh, and that lovely pocket in the back of a library book, the card stamped with crooked dates, the pages talc with use. Am I a fool? Are the trees no longer weeping? Are there books in trees? Caps for sale? Oh lord, take me up, lift the type from the pages, set them free. Kill me.

SOmeone LIke You Makes It Hard To Live WIthout SOmebody Else

I wish I had something to say to inspire you tonight, but my tank is low if I’m going to be honest. I know I’m not an ER nurse, but sometimes this work is incredibly draining. Worse, I know that whatever anxiety I’m feeling whether it’s waiting for an editorial response, waiting for money, waiting for an offer, etc. it’s far worse for the writer. I have all these children living in my shoe. When something doesn’t happen for one, it’s bound to happen for another. One writer is getting tons of attention, a fat new offer on her next book, foreign sales galore. Another writer can’t get arrested. And three years from now their situations might be reversed; fickle are the gods of publishing.

This year has also brought even more uncertainty and fear about the fate of books. How many billions of conversations we’ve had about Kindle and Nook and Google, etc. and still don’t  where the hell it’s going. We are obsessed with the question of the future and how to protect our writers’ interests.  My question is: how as a writer do you  get it up in the face of so much uncertainty? How the fuck do you do it?

Animals Strike Curious Poses

Agents’ lunch today. Major topic of discussion: Amazon flew 10 “top agents” out to Seattle to talk about, um, you know, how we’re all going to be e-fucked. But before we could broach the subject of digital price wars like the one going on right now between Amazon and Wal-Mart, etc. we had to identify the “top ten agents.”  Actually it was easy peasy. All the usual suspects from the puppy mills and a few wild cards.  Some of us didn’t care that we hadn’t been invited. Some of us were ripshit. Guess which camp I was in?