Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THE BOOK DOCTOR

Karen Owen is a freelance editor of manuscripts, a monthly opinion columnist at The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, VA, and the former publisher of Van Neste Books.  She lives with her husband, novelist and Hammett Prize-winner, Howard Owen, in Richmond, Virginia. 

This is her story, and a perfect follow-up to Daphne Athas’ THE GRAMMAR OF POWER which was posted last week.

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“As a former newspaper editor and former publisher/editor of literary fiction at Van Neste Books, I’ve been in a love affair with the English language for quite some time.  I also do freelance editing work on manuscripts in many genres, from novels to memoirs to local history.  While I continue to write a monthly opinion column for a daily newspaper in Virginia, what I enjoy most is the editing process.

“When I was a publisher, I did not have the financial wherewithal to hire any assistants.  I was chief financial operator, editor, creative director, book-packer and promotions person, and the joke was:  ‘I am Van Neste Books.’  Unless a manuscript grabbed my attention by the second chapter, I did not have the luxury to finish reading it.

“The same was true if I ascertained that the editing required to whip the manuscript into shape would be too onerous.  Assuming the writer was no William Faulkner, there were times when I was forced to move on to the next item in my in-box.

“And forget Thomas Wolfe.  For most publishers, the days of indulgence by a Maxwell Perkins are gone.   They don’t have the staffs or the time to wrestle a story to the ground.   It may sound shallow, but neither do they want overly long word counts, as the costs to publish these books can be prohibitive.

“What I try to do as an editor is to turn a diamond in the rough into what I call a lean, mean fighting machine, while preserving its inherent creative quality.

“A manuscript may be beyond redemption:  In these rare instances, after taking a look at sample chapters, I return it to the writer with the sad news that I cannot take money from him or her under false pretenses.  A book is either publishable, or it is not—unless a writer is willing to self-publish.

“Here are the kinds of things that I, as a professional editor can, offer.

“Most writers, even those who are professionals themselves, simply cannot edit their own work.  (I confess that I can’t edit my own creative endeavors.)  Even when I get a second or third book from one author, I often encounter the exact same mistakes that I did in his first.

“I generally read a book twice: Once for spelling, punctuation or factual errors, and a second time for inconsistencies in plot, redundancies in dialogue or expressions, or questioning the meaning of a particular sentence or the motives of a character.

“I can sense when a writer needs to tighten up or cut to the chase.  The best first sentence of a chapter, often buried beneath throat-clearing, is sometimes three paragraphs in, and the end of the chapter often could be cut short by two or three paragraphs. 

“Common mistakes by writers include:  Too many adverbs are used.  Characters are said to have ‘shouted’ or ‘grinned’ or ‘grimaced’ or some such other word when ‘said’ or ‘asked’ is all that is required. Exclamation points are overused or ellipses are used incorrectly or too many words are in italics or all upper-cased.  Sometimes these devices are used at the same time.  Dialogue is either too literal—needlessly adding ‘er’ or ‘um’—or is unrealistic, telling readers information better offered in general narration. 

“Sometimes the writer advances the plot too quickly, via sheer laziness:  A woman in the process of getting a divorce somehow encounters no resistance at all in a legal settlement with her husband, sometimes twice in the same book!  The same writer may become bogged down by descriptions of attire or interior decorating. 

“A character, paralyzed by the thought of a lover in a dalliance with someone else, time and time again allows herself to be distracted from confrontation by the prospect of terrific sex.  A judge seeking to preside over a speedy trial remonstrates to this effect repeatedly, yet inexplicably calls a recess 15 minutes after court has been called to session. 

“A famous line in a movie is misquoted.  The motive for murder or war is misunderstood or misstated.  A football player jumps up and down on a mattress after having suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon. Modern communication, such as texting, is too literally and liberally described, as are current, soon to be obsolete, expressions of speech.  New characters are introduced and given specific names but are never heard from again.  An “aha!” moment comes to a character in a dream.

“Words are misspelled.  Commas are omitted.  Quotation marks are misplaced.  Too many words are used.  Too many words are upper-cased, getting in the reader’s way.  Writers refer to ‘2 p.m. in the afternoon.’

“Consistency is a big problem for many fledgling writers:  It doesn’t matter whether a character’s interior voice is written as “No, no, no, no, no” or the more stream of conscious ‘No no no no no,’ nor is Cormac McCarthy’s lack of quotation marks in dialogue a problem.  But whatever device is used, it must be consistent throughout. 

“A character’s name or eye color changes. Whether a character sees a college mate every single day alters from chapter to chapter.  A turn of phrase is overused because the writer has forgotten it was employed in the first place, sometimes just on the previous page. 

“Long experience has taught me to never ignore the faint, teensy-tiny inner voice that questions a fact, or timing, or misuse of a word.  In the end, that is what is required, even when a missing comma is overlooked. 

“A writer often expresses reluctance at paying what is—for the time spent on a manuscript—a fairly modest fee.  If he doesn’t want to pay for a good editor, he should find a trusted friend, family member or educator—preferably one with knowledge of the English language—to read and correct the manuscript before he seeks an agent or publisher.

“A writer has but one chance to make a first impression. That opportunity must not be squandered.” 

*         *         *

If you want to contact Karen, her email address is karenvnowen@gmail.com and I hope you will also post a comment on this blog.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Chris Knopf’s blog on What Authors Can Learn From Market Research. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THE GRAMMAR OF POWER

Some years back, Joe Schwartz interviewed  Daphne Athas for a Chapel Hill newspaper when her memoir, Chapel Hill in Plain Sight: Notes From the Other Side of the Tracks, which covers the Depression, World War II, McCarthyism and the present was released. She knows a good story, even before she knows she'll write it. "I just knew I knew things that other people didn't know," she said of her last book. Schwartz described her as being “treasured by her creative writing students at UNC for her wit and creative idiosyncrasies and noted for Entering Ephesus, a Chapel Hill-inspired novel originally published by Viking Press in 1971. It was hailed by the critics, made  Time Magazine’s Ten Best Fiction List, won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for fiction in 1972, and was published in England that year by Chatham and Windus to equal acclaim.

This tale about three school-aged sisters was republished buy us in 1971 under our Second Chance Press imprint, with Publishers Weekly calling it “a big book in every sense of the word, glorious, fascinating and holding up perfectly in the 20 years since its first publication. Written in nearly mesmerizing language, it’s an unforgettable story.”  And it is still in print with us.

Daphne’s other titles were Crumbs for the Boogie Man, a book of poetry, and Gram-o-Rama, a textbook of modern-day grammar exercises.

I’ve always been so impressed by her, still on the faculty of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where she began teaching six decades ago, and still, at age 92, a remarkable writer who has her own blog. What follows comes from her own posting on July 13th, THE GRAMMAR OF POWER.

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“I’m sitting in a fishing town on the south coast of Crete on the weekend of June 19th and 20th with nothing to read but my Kindle stoked with Victorian novels and ancient Greeks: Aristotle, Thucydides, Herodotus. Non-evanescent reading. My only alternative: the International New York Times, which used to be the International Herald Tribune.

“To vie in silent awe with the inspiring mass of night sky, stars, and the lick of the Libyan sea, I read the headlines: Taylor Swift has just yanked her album 1989 from Apple’s new three month trial period free streaming. When in doubt as to who wields power over who, check financial pages.

“She did it on Sunday, day of rest posting on tumblr.com, her letter of reaction to Apple’s plan to stream pop artists and singer-song-writers free. No royalty payout. She wrote: ‘To Apple, With Love, Taylor’ telling them their announcement was ‘shocking,’ ‘disappointing,’ and uncharacteristic of a company she deemed the most historically progressive in the world.

“ ‘We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with music for nothing,’ the INTNYT quotes her as saying.

“She used the respectful ‘Please’ despite the huge TV mug shot of her painted doll-face, tarted-up lipstick and eye liner looming over her tiny dancing onstage body, expressing in naked, possibly self-demeaning words the emotion: ‘Why is it fair to ask artists and pay them nothing?’ She tells them casually she speaks for other artists, and it’s true; lots of them asked her to.

“You could feel Apple on the receiving end as if it were a person not a corporation or a fruit. Even the Supreme Court judges corporations the same as individual citizens. You could feel Taylor’s raw hurt like Dear Johns, and Hurt Parents whose children have betrayed the family love, smarts, and trust. Betrayal!

“You feel her moral justification like boiling blood, but it’s really ice-cold.

“Apple, the smartest, most loveable company in history? Like Google and other smart, progressive, successful companies, Apple deals politics of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness begets self righteousness. But Group think is not Individual Think.

“Like Google’s weekly cute film cartoons, Google the Gentle Giant Teacher encourages people to better themselves. ‘Read, Exercise, Love’. Six months ago I refused to click the Google cartoon of a bearded old man wagging his head above my incoming mail, suspecting it might be Tolstoy. But my curiosity won. I clicked, and yes, it was Tolstoy.

“Why is Google giving me my lesson on Life Values on Tolstoy’s back? Why should I give it my respect? This was not Taylor’s first nose-thumb to the corporate. She’d dumped Spotify in the past.

“Within twenty-four hours a man named Eddie Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services caved. ‘When I woke up this morning and read Taylor’s note,’ he is quoted, ‘it really solidified that we need to make a change.’ Apple thenceforward offered a different plan: three months with more than full payment for the artists.

“ ‘Thank you,’ Taylor wrote back. ‘I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us.’ Who is ‘They?’ Did she mean Eddie’s pressuring peers? Did she mean her ravenous fans? (Did she tweet or did she email?) Who did she address it to? Her sole antecedent is: ‘Words’ but words don’t have ears. Only humans do. Words have effects. I had a teacher long ago who attacked students justifying themselves with ‘But they all do it!’ The old teacher attacked History too: ‘History proves this that or the other. Who is History?’ he asked ‘Is History a person? Can History speak?’ Why did Taylor change from treating Apple like a person, and introduce us to the shadowy pronoun ‘They’? Is her unhinged writing the fault of INTNYT? Did they leave her antecedent by mistake? All we’ve got is muddled writing.

“In the 50s Carson McCullers wrote a best seller, Member of the Wedding, and with Tennessee Williams, transformed it into a popular play and movie. Frankie, the adolescent girl, is in love with her older brother, but he’s getting married, and she faces abandonment forever. The plot shows her struggle to reconcile the separation of male and females selves in her own psyche. Only when she realizes the bride will become a part of her does she discover her mantra: ‘They are the We of Me.’

“Taylor may be swift but she’s been tailored to be. She knows how to bifurcate a plural pronoun and switch from relief and elation to secret codes of corporate usage. At least she is the They of She. Who is Apple the They of?

“The only info we get is Eddie cueing us (or Taylor) in. Eddie uses the impersonal construction: ‘It’ solidifies for ‘It’ signifies. Sounds more like a loose bowel movement turning into a firm deposit.

“In case anybody thinks I meant my title to mean The Power of Grammar instead of The Grammar of Power they’re wrong. There are clues to codes passing themselves off as Aesopian Morals. ‘Learn Grammar. Understand Better. Be Smarter.’ That’s inspirational. Gram-O-Rama doesn’t aim for Inspirational Ick; it doesn’t promise Money. It wants the challenge of Fun.

“About the second ‘who’ of the question in the second paragraph of this blog: I deliberately omitted the letter ‘m’ on the second ‘who’. Who wants to be an Object? I’d rather be colloquial.”

*         *         *


This entry was posted under The Grammar Guru Speaks. You can get in touch with Daphne directly by email daphne.athas@gmail, or by posting a comment here. You can also email me at shepard@thepermanentpress.com

COMING NEXT WEEK is a perfect follow-up from Karen Owen, THE BOOK DOCTOR, who continues this discussion, Be sure to stay tuned for next Wednesday’s posting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

HANDLING THE MATH

Eighteen years ago, Doran Larson wrote a novel we published and in the interim we’ve lost sight of one another. But early this year he contacted us about publishing a prison memoir, Concrete Carnival, written by Danner Darcleight, an inmate sentenced to twenty five years to life. Judy and I were overwhelmed by the story itself and the brilliance of the writing, and immediately decided to publish it, even though we invariably publish fiction only. In this post, Danner reflects on the personal experiences of a fellow inmate facing his time in prison and the many disappointments that came with each parole board hearing.

I can think of no better way to introduce Darcleight’s blog than by turning this over to Doran, who, during those seventeen years we were apart became an authority on prison writing as the following introduction makes clear,

*        *         *

Concrete Carnival instantly places Danner Darcleight in the very top tier of writers working among the 2.3 million Americans held inside prisons and jails.  But this is not simply a prison book.  Darcleight’s verbal dexterity and streetwise insights, his honesty, humor, his narrative skills and unyielding search for the humanity in all of his subjects announce a writer who deserves a place upon the broad contemporary literary landscape.  Like Jack London, Chester Himes, Nelson Algren, Malcolm X, George Jackson, Edward Bunker, Angela Davis, Patricia McConnell, Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim, Malcolm Braly, Mumia Abu-Jamal and many others, Darcleight shows once again that any distinction between American literature and American prison literature perverts our understanding of what America is as a literary enterprise.

Prison walls quarantine bodies and minds.  They also incubate thinking and writing that strip bare the human costs of the contemporary order.   In an era of unprecedented, mass-scale incarceration—with nearly three quarters of a million citizens released from prisons and jails each year, and more than one-in-five citizens marked by a criminal record—we need this book in order to help us understand the very nature of the American experience today.

—Doran Larson, Wolcott-Bartlett Professor of Literature & Creative Writing, Hamilton College; editor, Fourth City: Essays from the Prison in America; Director The American Prison Writing Archive.

*         *         *

“Years ago a friendly old timer named Ralphie told me that I wasn’t yet doing time, that my bid would truly begin once I see my first parole board and get denied release for another two years. I didn’t understand him at the time, though Ralphie’s words have begun to bubble back up and repeat on me like a greasy, late-night meal. After serving twenty-five years, I will see a parole board in 2024.

“Ralphie went away in 1965, before Vietnam was a household word, and is still hashing off years on a twenty-to-life sentence. Fifty years in prison, and counting. How he handles that math, I have no idea, and hope I’ll never have to learn for myself. After appealing his tenth parole board’s decision, he was mistakenly sent pages from his file meant only for viewing by parole commissioners. The most damning: a letter on official stationery from the former mayor of a large city—who is friendly with the affluent family of victims—stating that Ralphie should never be released. Ralphie is an old man now, in failing health, and it seems this administrative fiat will serve as an extrajudicial death warrant. As far as his case is concerned, the system has fallen back on Machiavelli’s advice that men should either be caressed or crushed; might as well tell him, Arbeith macht frei.¹ During the seven or so years we locked near each other, I sat with him in the numb days following three of his parole denials, “hit” in local parlance. There was nothing I could say, nor would I dare offer palliative clichés.

¹ Work sets you free, is the wrought-iron signage on the gate to Auschwitz.

“I tried to imagine these parole commissioners watching Ralphie totter in, bald and pudgy like a cherub; peering up at them, his eyes look tremendously big behind thick glasses. The senior commissioner begins the interview, while the others half listen to what is going on, scanning the folder of the next case.² Ralphie speaks well and advocates for himself, but it does not really matter, does it? Not with that mayoral coupe de grâce serving as a cover page to his file. So, he sits there as they berate him, and when they ask what his plans are if he’s to be released, well, he tells them. His wife of many years recently passed away; yet, a group of Quakers has written to the parole board pledging to house Ralphie, ditto the director of a program for ex-cons, who would guarantee employment for him administering their database (the old man learned to code in the nineteen-eighties and, remarkably, has kept his skill set current). And then it’s over, just a matter of waiting about a week to receive the denial in the mail, a terse, boilerplate invite to the confab two years hence.

² ...half listening to what is going on, because they are focusing on the next case” were the words used by Vernon Manley, former New York State Parole Commissioner, to describe the parole process during a panel discussion held by the New York City Bar Association, February 15, 2007.

“Disappointing, he says, but no surprise. Stoic. But alone, the night after receiving his denial: crushed, gutted. Two days later, he opens the accordion folder that holds a copy of his appeal to the previous denial, two years earlier when the parole board meted out its pronouncement. He highlights names, dates, and other changes that will need to be made on this go round. That appeal was never ruled on, nor were any of the ones that preceded it, each one made moot by not being heard within two years. This is a Catch-22 by way of Kafka, and only someone who’s learned patience from decades spent in a cell can face it without decompensating. On one hand, Ralphie knows that, after spending countless hours assembling and mailing his appeal, it will be mooted by his appearance at the next board, which will hit him again, which will lead to this retrieving his appeal yet again from the according folder, revising and resubmitting; but on the other hand, he has to work the process, do what is expected of him, and hope that one day soon the Fates will tire of making him their plaything. The days go by, and we go with them—but don’t start counting too closely.”


DANNER DARCLEIGHT writes from and about prison. His essays have been published in  Stone Canoe, The Minnesota Review, The Kenyon Review, and Fourth City.



COMING NEXT WEEK: 92-year-old Daphne Athas, an influential author and educator, shares her thoughts. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

UNREQUITED LOVE

First, let me say this. I love The New York Times and have read it faithfully since I was 13 years old, travelling from Jamaica, Queens to The High School of Music and Art as an art student on 135th 
Street and Convent Avenue in Manhattan. That goes back 67 years.

In 1979 when my wife Judith and I founded The Permanent Press and Second Chance Press, we were indebted to the Times, for Thomas Lask, who had a column in the Sunday Book Review, wrote about our interest in republishing worthy titles that were at least 20 years old. (Another tip of the hat to the Book Review that over the years treated us well, from the days when Harvey Shapiro, Rebecca Sinkler, and Charles McGrath edited it...and recently again with Pamela Paul in control).

Over 400 books were sent to us by authors after the Lask article and we choose six of them to republish under our Second Chance Press imprint. We were blessed to have a full review on August 14, 1980 of Richard Lortz’s The Valdepenas, written by Anatole Broyard in the weekday Arts section. Reviews in this section of the paper were under the direction of the Culture Desk at the Times. It was a most auspicious beginning.  That was 35½ years ago.

For those who don’t read The New York Times, the Arts section covers culture in general and includes theater, art and gallery openings, dance, film reviews, performances, and one-title-a-day book reviews from Monday through Friday, which I always enjoy reading. With only five books reviewed each week I realized how few opportunities there were to get coverage.

Two weeks ago however, it occurred to me do some mathematical calculations. It turns out that 9,230 full reviews at the Culture Desk were published during that time period. Another mathematical calculation: of our 425 titles in print up to this year, our authors have won 107 awards and citations (one can look this up in our online catalog). Our mystery writers alone have been winners and finalists for every major mystery prize over the past couple of years and several minor ones as well.  Permanent Press writers have been published in 20 countries: Canada, Mexico, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, Japan, China, Taiwan, Poland, Korea, Italy, The Czech Republic, England, Macedonia, Australia, Greece, and Russia. During that time we’ve also had reviews in nearly every major newspapers in this country (many now defunct) and several Associated Press reviews.

In 1991, Sandra Scofield’s Beyond Deserving was one of five finalists for the National Book Award. There was a gala awards ceremony. But nobody at the weekday Times reviewed it or commented it. “How come”, I asked the editor who was in charge 24 years ago. The answer was “Well she didn’t win it, did she?”

So unrequited love does not refer to the Sunday Book Review at all, but only to books assigned for review coverage in the Arts section.

A bigger mystery concerns why our authors cast no shadow at the Culture Desk. So the beat (or rather the lack of it) goes on. Then again, who can account for unrequited love anyway, something all human beings have experienced, just as all who’ve suffered from it eventually get over it. So I’m not expressing any bitterness at all here. As said, The Times is my go-to-one-and-only newspaper. Still mathematics are mathematics, and in the end I have to think this is our cosmic destiny arranged by the Great Assigner in the Sky.

At this point in life I am more bemused than perplexed, since logic can’t solve what otherwise would be an unsolvable mystery, and I will continue to send out our books to those at the Culture Desk at the Times who decide what gets reviewed in the Arts section. I shall do this without any expectation of success (one can’t be disappointed if one has no expectations) other than doing my job of calling attention to some remarkable novelists.

I think of myself as an ancient Johnny Appleseed, tossing out grains and hoping they might flourish, and success has happened elsewhere. Perhaps it might even happen at the Culture Desk. But if not, I’m comforted by the fact that we’ve discovered and launched the careers of many wonderful writers, who have won more awards per title than those published by the Big Five, and who are known throughout the world.

*         *         *

COMING NEXT WEEK, a blog written by Danner Darclight, the author of Concrete Carnival, a rare non-fiction title from us which we will be publishing next year. Danner, who is serving a 25 years to life sentence, has been hailed as one of the best prison writers in America. Be sure not to miss this one. In the meantime, I welcome your responses to Unrequited Love.

Marty


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

GOING FOREWORD

Foreword Magazine is the only national magazine that serves and reviews and promotes small presses and self-published authors exclusively; a publication that does not review titles from the Big Five Conglomerates or major University presses. It’s not been an easy road, but an honorable one, and Victoria Sutherland tells her story about its ups and downs, and ultimate survival and success.

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Foreword Magazine’s story begins in Traverse City, Michigan, in 1998, when three women writers and magazine professionals launched a trade review journal to cover the rapidly growing independent, alternative, university, and self-publishing industries. We were employed by a book packager who bought Small Press Magazine, birthed by R.R Bowker in 1983—a literary journal exclusively devoted to the great work of the burgeoning small press community. Well, it was a great concept in theory, but we three had a different idea of how it should be carried out, and we left Small Press (now an e-zine called Independent Publisher) April 1, 1998, to start Foreword when our offer to buy was rejected. We quickly established a network of skilled reviewers around the country and connected with hundreds of publishers to access review copies of books and then, like most small businesses, the long slog to financial stability commenced.  

“As an entrepreneur in an industry that holds tight to its traditions, inspiration came from a healthy work ethic and sage business advice from my husband’s gumptious brothers.

“What began as a partnership quickly became a company led by myself as my two co-founders moved on to new projects. One of the women, Mardi Jo Link, authored a couple of true-crime books, and recently released her bestselling memoir Bootstrapper through Knopf. Another, Anne Stanton, became a busy freelance journalist, as well as research assistant to her NY Times bestselling author husband, Doug Stanton. I like to believe that had their personal financial staying power been as fluid as mine at the time, they might still be here. But after a few family loans and a second mortgage on our home I suddenly became majority owner.  Since 2003, I’ve been the primary creative force, publisher, and chief bathroom cleaner.

“Foreword Magazine, Inc. has first and foremost featured a print magazine that was delivered free to booksellers and librarians across the country and supported by advertising revenue. In addition to the reviews and feature stories highlighting great titles from indie presses, we also recognized books from independent and university presses annually with our awards program. In 2003, we introduced Clarion, the industry’s first fee-for-review service. Currently, we also give publishers their first taste of foreign rights business by showcasing their books in a co-operative stand at book fairs in Frankfurt, Bologna, Shanghai, and Beijing.

“As you can imagine, we have faced a number of financial challenges. In our early years, we were monthly and largely supported by ads from the tech industry as well as more established independent publishers. When the first bubble burst in 2000, it became necessary to re-strategize: we increased our page count, but reduced the frequency of publication to bi-monthly,

“We also got caught up with a “phantom” investor in early 2001 who came frighteningly close to pushing my hand toward closing our doors. When I realized after many months this money was not going to materialize, I spent some incredibly long days and nights considering my personal commitment and the continued potential of the independent press sector from whom we needed support. It was hard to turn away from the exponential growth in small press numbers, even back then. I borrowed funds from family “one last time” to get us through a tight spot in August of 2001. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, and it happened at precisely the right moment...a month later, after 9/11, those funds probably would not have been available.

“In 2003, we partnered with Overdrive.com to introduce the industry’s first fee for review program. For a few years, they managed the backend and we took care of sales and providing the same quality reviews to new customers who couldn’t seem to land a review in a trade journal, primarily due to lack of space and overwhelming submissions. Of course, many industry leaders wanted to believe we had sold out, that Foreword Clarion would be providing great reviews to everyone who paid. I never understood why they thought we would jeopardize the trust of our readers and the good name of our magazine by doing this. In hindsight, it was an idea ahead of its time, and now most trade review journals offer a similar program.

“We also suffered a fire in our offices the weekend before the London Book Fair in 2004. Miraculously, we had adequate insurance and our computer hard drives survived, but the smoke damage ruined everything else and very nearly broke our spirits.

“At about this time, some great hiring decisions in sales and editorial began to coalesce and we began to see a shift that gave us the ability to correct our cash flow direction. We continued to deliver lengthy, quality, free reviews in the magazine despite the fact that we also had a separate fee service. I am especially pleased that we provide robust reviews as opposed to annotations or mere book summaries. More and more librarians are buying books from indie presses due to these reviews. Publisher ad support continues to expand. We aren’t going away anytime soon, and publishers look to us as a profitable investment for their shrinking ad budgets and publicity efforts.

“Traverse City has a rich literary history with notable contemporary authors like Jim Harrison, Dan Gerber, Doug Stanton, Anne Marie Oomen living nearby (Harrison and Gerber left a few years ago). Michael Moore also lives here, and hosts a Film Festival every August. The Interlochen Arts Academy, a world-renowned high school, teaches students from around the world in music, theatre and literary arts.

Foreword calls home the third level of the Traverse City Cigar Box Company. It was built in 1920 and refurbished after our purchase in 2011. It overlooks the Boardman River, and is a couple blocks away from The Ladies Library built in 1869, a Carnegie Library built in 1902, and across the river from our landmark Traverse Area District Library built at the turn of this century.

“Lucky to have Lake Michigan as a backdrop, our resort community in Northern Michigan is as beautiful as any place in the world. A higher than average number of intellectuals, cultural creatives, and the occasional Silicon Valley 30 year old “retiree” now call Traverse City home. I am able to hire a very talented team locally, and we have an excellent regional airport that provides affordable service to Detroit or Chicago hubs in 30 minutes.

“Since 2008, as other review journals fold or contract due to shrinking ad sales, Foreword continues to experience double-digit growth. Today, my co-conspirator and husband, Matt Sutherland, and I continue to haul suitcases of independently published titles to the aforementioned book shows around the world. In 2012 we acquired Children’s Books USA, a concierge service used by larger established publishers to maximize their foreign trade show presence. We currently employ 10 full-time staff members, a handful of freelance editors, and over one hundred reviewers.”

*         *         *

If you would like to contact Victoria directly, her email address is victoria@forewordreviews.com. As well, we hope you will leave a comment on this site.

COMING NEXT WEEK a personal blog from me, UNREQUITED LOVE, that I’m hopeful you will appreciate. I don’t want to say any more about it before it is posted—other than it relates to the business of books and mathematical probabilities.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

WHO ARE THE CURATORS OF REMARKABLE FICTION?

Stephen (Steve) Campbell is the host of two podcasts, The Author Biz, a weekly podcast focused on the business of being an author, and CrimeFiction.FM, a three day a week show focused on the crime genre. What follows is his guest blog.

*        *       *

Are small publishers the new curators of remarkable genre fiction?

“Do you remember which network brought the television show, Mad Men, to screens around the world?  How about Breaking Bad?

“Do you remember your friends telling you that you had to check out those shows? Then once you saw them, didn’t you want to tell everyone who would listen to watch as well?

“These programs didn't come from one of the large, over the air networks. They came from a small cable network, AMC.

“We all have that desire to share the things we find remarkable, whether it be television shows, restaurants, or books.

“I host a podcast called CrimeFiction.FM where I interview the authors of new release mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. As you might imagine, I'm exposed to dozens of books each month.  Some of those books are ok, some are good, some are great and a few are ‘tell your friends’ great.

“Most of the last category, the books I tell my friends about, aren't the ones you see when you're racing through the airport. They’re not on that table you see when you walk into Barnes & Noble.

“In many cases, they come from the smaller publishers that focus on the crime and thriller genres. I’ve begun to think of these publishers as the curators of remarkable genre fiction.


Why it’s different with smaller publishers:

“The Big Five Publishers have a business model, and a cost structure that requires huge winners. Editors are looking for books and authors that will sell at a certain volume, so they're not able to take as many chances as they may like.

“So, instead of releasing that great new book from a talented, but lesser-known author, they'll ask one of their stars to publish two books a year instead of just one. They can project, with a fairly high degree of confidence how many copies the second book will sell.

“The lesser-known author's book is shopped around to other publishers until it finds one willing to try something different. Or, maybe the book is self-published by the author herself.


Books you want to share with your friends:

“I just released the 50th episode of CrimeFiction.FM, so that's 50 books I've read and discussed with authors so far this year.  Of those 50, six were "tell your friends" great for me.  Small publishers published four of the six. One was self-published, and only one came out of the Big Five.

“Of course, I'm not the be all and end all for deciding what makes a remarkable book. There are critics out there far more qualified than I to make those decisions. But when it comes to my definition of great - the "tell your friends" great, I’m the only one who can make that decision when it comes to telling my friends.


A great week of reading:

“My nascent theory that smaller publishers were publishing some of the best genre fiction began to develop in late April.

“I’d read some good, well-written books, but nothing was hitting that "tell your friends" level. Then I started (and finished) METHOD 15/33, an oddly titled book from debut author Shannon Kirk.

“It was one of those books that was so good I didn’t want to start another one right away. But, I had other interviews scheduled, so the next day I turned to my next book, THE DEBTOR CLASS, by Ivan Goldman, (published by The Permanent Press).

“I remember sitting down to read Ivan’s book while my wife was at the grocery. I planned on reading for an hour – tops. I finished the book sometime after midnight and went to sleep. 

“These two books couldn’t be more different.  One was a thriller featuring a pregnant, sociopathic teen.  The second, a dark, quirky, laugh out loud funny book, set in a collection agency of all places; exploring the effects of the recession on different classes of people in America.

“I’m on a serious reading roll now. I’d finished my ‘required’ reading for the week a few days early, so it was time for some pleasure reading. The next night I pulled out something from an author I’d always enjoyed. One of those authors who consistently launch books onto the New York Times bestseller list. After 20 minutes, I put the book down watched some television. I tried again before going to sleep that night, but it was a non-starter. 

“So what’s going on here? What was the difference between the two books I couldn’t put down and the one I couldn’t bring myself to finish?

“Well, there were several, but rather than get into the details of the book, I’ll use another television analogy. Reading the first two books was like watching early episodes of Mad Men. These books took me to places I hadn’t been before. The third book, which did turn out to be yet another New York Times bestseller, was like watching a mid-season episode of Castle

“The other difference was that the two books that kept me reading were from smaller publishers that focused on the type of books I enjoy reading. The book I didn’t finish came from one of the Big Five.

“Am I saying that the only place to find great crime fiction is through small publishers? No, of course not. There are some fantastic books published by the large publishers. But from this reader’s perspective, it’s the smaller publishers who are providing real value by curating remarkable genre fiction.”


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I hope you will share your thoughts and comments both on this website as well as with Steve at Steve@camvenmedia.com.

COMING NEXT WEEK a blog from Victoria Southerland, the founder and editor of ForeWord Magazine.


Marty 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

LATE BLOOMERS

The following blog comes from William Wells, whose story needs no further introduction or explanation.

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“Mozart began composing at age three. Terence Tao scored 760 out of 800 on the math portion of the SAT exam when he was nine, received his PhD from Princeton at 21, and was appointed a full professor at UCLA at 24. Picasso displayed extraordinary artistic ability in his childhood. Bobby Fischer was a chess grandmaster at 15. Saul Kripke, the noted philosopher and logician, taught himself ancient Hebrew at the age of 6, read the complete works of Shakespeare by 9, and mastered the works of Descartes and complex mathematical problems before finishing elementary school.

“The Permanent Press published my first novel, Ride Away Home, in August 2014, when I was 68. The cutoff age for child prodigy is ten. Even so, waiting 58 more years to get into print does seem a bit tardy. However, blooming late is not unique. Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 64. Grandma Moses started painting in her 70s. Nola Ochs made the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest college student, receiving her bachelor's degree from Fort Hayes State University in Kansas when she was 95, and then starting on her Master's degree.

“I tried writing novels when I was younger. The first attempt, while reporting for the New Haven Register, was—of course—a coming-of-age novel, with The Catcher in the Rye in mind. Fifty pages in, I knew it was going nowhere. Over the next years, through my 20s and into my 30s, more stories were started and abandoned. I stayed busy with other things: serving in the Navy, being a top 40 disk jockey, a newspaper reporter, writing speeches for the governor of Michigan, writing a syndicated cartoon, and founding and running a custom publishing company. My wife Mary and I raised two sons.

“Of course, I could have made time for writing fiction. Scott Turow wrote Presumed Innocent on the commuter train on his way to and from his job as a trial lawyer in Chicago. Best-selling crime fiction author John Sandford started out working as a newspaper reporter in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and wrote books at night. Elmore Leonard's day job was writing copy for a Detroit ad agency. James Patterson did the same in New York. For whatever reason, I didn't do that.

“Finally, at 64, I made a New Year's Resolution that didn't have to do with diet and exercise: I would approach writing the way I did with my other endeavors, by treating it as a full-time job. By the end of that year, if I hadn't written something I liked, whether or not it was published, I would stop thinking of myself as a writer. I'd have to accept the fact that "author" would not appear in the first paragraph of my obit.

“I began studying the process by reading interviews with prominent writers and books about writing fiction. I looked up what literary agents and editors had to say about what it took to make a good book and get it published. I reread novels I liked and took notes on why I liked them, and I studied best-seller lists to try to figure out what was working in the marketplace (keeping in mind the dictum that you should write the book you want to read, without regard to what is popular at the moment).

“I discovered that I didn't know a lot about how to write a good novel. What I learned was:

1. The purpose of a first draft is to finish it. Then you have something to work with. Don't worry if it isn't good because it won't be. Hemingway said, inelegantly, "The first draft of anything is shit." Anne Tyler said, "I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them—without any thought about publication and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside." I was comparing my first drafts to the finished work of the world's best authors. That was like taking one violin lesson and then auditioning for Julliard. Rookie mistake, one of many.

2. John Sandford was asked in an interview why so many other newspaper reporters who try to write novels fail. He said he thinks it is because it is difficult to make the transition from a newspaper-length article to the long form of a novel. There is no rule about how long a novel must be to be taken seriously, but clearly it is longer than an article about a meeting of the Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Zoning Board of Appeals, which was part of my beat while working for the New Haven Register. You have to change from sprinter to marathon runner. That was, in fact, the biggest challenge for me. I'd get fifty pages in and feel that I’d never make it to that distant finish line. But the dictum about just finishing that first draft got me through.

3. It’s all in the rewriting. Draft after draft until you are satisfied that it can't be any better. And then do another and another. Early on, you grow tired of the characters and bored by the story, and you just want to put the manuscript in the mail to your editor. But you can't.

4. Understand that you will never be satisfied with a manuscript. But at some point specified in your contract the publisher can start charging you for changes, so you stop.

5. Don't wait for inspiration. Just show up at the keyboard and get on with it. In my other jobs, I didn't ask myself every morning if I felt inspired enough to go to the office that day.

6. What works is the same as with any other undertaking: nothing gets good without consistent, long-term effort. In one of his books, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about a study that identified the fact that you have to practice for a minimum of two thousand hours to achieve excellence in anything, be it a tennis or heart surgery. No one just shows up and is world-class—with the possible exception of those child prodigies.

“I'm nearing 70. I've finished three books, so far. My first was a literary novel, Ride Away Home. An editor told me about The Permanent Press, and the book found a home. The next was a psychological thriller called Face of the Devil. Dagger Books will publish it this summer. The Permanent Press will publish Detective Fiction, my take on the crime fiction genre, in 2016. I'm now at work on a sequel.

“I've found that the most difficult issue to deal with when writing books at any age is that, in order to replicate a version of real life on the page, you have to shut yourself up alone in a room and miss what's going on outside. This becomes more of a problem as you approach an age when you are no longer buying green bananas. That is the theme of one of my favorite poems, The Circus Animals' Desertion by Yeats. Toward the end of his life, Yeats expressed a measure of regret at having spent so much time on his art instead of experiencing life in the street: ‘Players and painted stage took all my love/and not those things that they were emblems of.’

“My oldest son Adam is in the commercial real estate business. He also paints, plays guitar, and studies philosophy and world religions. I was talking to him about that dilemma. At my age, I said, instead of sitting for hours at the keyboard, burning the days, I could be out playing golf or trolling for tarpon in the Gulf or drinking daiquiris at Sloppy Joe's in Key West.

"So why not just stop writing and do those things? Adam asked. I said that when I don't put in my time writing, I feel an uneasiness, a vague malaise. So you write because you have to, he said. ‘Yes," I answered. ‘Then you're an artist,’ he said.”

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I hope you will post your comments below and feel free to contact Bill Wells directly at billwells.naples@gmail.com

NEXT WEEK we’ll be publishing a guest blog written by Stephen Campbell, who is the host of the podcasts: The Author Biz, a weekly podcast focused on the business of being an author, and CrimeFiction.FM, a three times a week show focused on the crime genre. Be sure to tune in as Steve’s blog raises the question “Are small publishers the new curators of remarkable genre fiction?”

Marty