Tools of the trade – MS Word

September 22, 2010

There are certain tools of every trade. For the plumber, it’s his…um…plumby tools. Doctors have all kinds of toys as well. For the US writing industry our tools follow thusly:

  • You can put more than two coherent sentences together
  • You have a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style or some such writing book that weighs more than the beagle
  • You have an excellent command of the English language
  • And a whole lotta other writerly stuff
  • You have MS Word

Let me repeat that. You have MS Word.

I realize there are many people who hate Word as much as the beagle hates sobriety, but it is the industry standard. If I ask for pages, I always state up front that it needs to be a Word attachment. If you send me a file extension that my poor, exhausted computer can’t read, it just ups and dies on me. Well, ok, it doesn’t really die, but it does groan a lot.

If you write back to me and say that you don’t have Word, or worse, you simply send your attachment as a WordPad file, then I believe you’re ill prepared and undereductated about the industry. You’ve also left me without options. Is it my place to offer a solution, or is it your job to take that as a sign that, “gee, I better get Word, or get this thing converted to a .doc(x) extension.”

The reason is that most of us edit directly to the document. We insert comments and have the Track Changes feature turned on. I’m not a program expert, but I do know that programs exist that pick up the edits and Track Changes. Let’s just say that I don’t give a rip if you use a jar of mayonnaise and celery root to convert your files – just be sure they convert.

If I asked for a Word attachment, that means I don’t want a snail mail. I surely know what snail mail is, and if I want it that way, I’ll recommend it. But what a cranky, hungover editor wants is an author who will say, “Yah, I can do that,” rather than an author who expects me to accommodate them. Ain’t gonna happen.

I had an author tell me that he had Word but didn’t know how to use it – but his neighbor did. It took all my willpower not to shout, “Bully for your neighbor!” I know deep down that my mother would take issue with rudeness, so I bit my tongue ’til it bled. The author went on to say that his neighbor would be right there to help with inserting rewrites and edits should the author be lucky enough to score a contract.

I passed.

I know, sounds crudy of me, right? But from my standpoint, this is an unworkable situation. As any author can attest, the editing phase can be a rush-rush thing. There have been times when I was ready to go to print but came across a section that still bugged me. At that point I’ll fire off a “hurry up and change out this one passage” email. If my author has to wait for his neighbor to come back from buying dog food or worse, come back from vacation, then where does that put me?

If you want to be considered a professional, then you must behave like one. Be the good Girl/Boy Scout and be prepared. Make sure you have all your writerly tools in your tackle box because no one wants to be caught with their quills out of ink, yanno?

Tackle Box goes across the Pond – Invasion of the Yanks!

May 16, 2010

So yesterday – Saturday – was my UK debut for Tackle Box, gratis of the lovely Em Barnes of Snowbooks. I should have had a wee party to mark the event because, hey, how many lucky ducks can say their books are on two continents? Ok, a lot…but it gooses my bumples that something belched forth from my fingers and is now being offered on foreign shores.

I’m particularly proud of this book because it encompasses everything I originally set out to convey to new authors so they’d be empowered to make educated publishing decisions.  A couple weeks ago at a seminar, a woman told me, “You could have split this up into a couple books, and I would have happily bought ’em both!”

It’s a lovely thought, but idea was to make it a  one-stop shopping resource for authors.

And I have to laugh to think this whole UK venture would have never happened had that silly Jane Smith woman not taken matters into her own hands and shoved my book into Em’s hands, who then decided she’d like to take a chance on a Yank who’s snark is worse than her bite. I am forever in their debt.

So my dear British cousins, if you’re in need of some brilliant information regarding the American publishing system, and some solid general publishing advice, run – do not walk – to your nearest bookstore and demand five copies…because come on, we all know fellow writers who also need to become brilliant, right?

And if anyone happens to bump into the crabbit old bat Nicola Morgan, give her a swift kick in the shins and tell her to get cracking on her new book, as she is one of my comrades in arms at Snowbooks with her Write to Be Published. I’d go kick her myself, but we have this whole across the pond issue…

For now, I’m going to go open a bottle of bubbly and drunk dial my mother.

Foreign rights deal – Tackle Box eats fish and chips

March 2, 2010

[Slipping into Brit mode] I’m really quite chuffed to announce the UK foreign rights deal for Tackle Box to Emma Barnes at Snowbooks. I really have Jane Smith to blame for all this – and yes, I’ll be sending her a suitcase filled with chocolate and margaritas – and the beagle, if she doesn’t settle down and start answering the phone.

See, I made the happy blunder of telling Jane that I was looking to find a UK publisher for TB because demand was so high over there due to my association with Litopia and our Behler blog. Jane, behind my back, mind you, talked to her bud Emma Barnes at Snowbooks and suggested that Em might like TB. Jane then emailed me back and told me what she’d done and to send Em my pdf post haste. That darling little rascal.

Emma, the brilliant businesswoman with impeccable taste, decided Jane was right, and a deal was forged.

I love the idea of Snowbooks  – a great indie trade press – handling my book rather than a large publisher because I know Em’s established relationships with bookstores gets her books stocked on store shelves. Because of that relationship, they will be far more likely to recommend TB over other books that don’t discuss the same topics.

In a Giant Box world of Costco and Wal-Mart, where individual customer service is a lost art, I rather like the notion of getting back to lost basics where the personal touch and quality far outweighs quantity.

So thanks, Em, for believing in TB. As for Jane, well…if I could send kisses, I would.

I didn’t pay her. Honest

January 23, 2010

I had a nice surprise awaiting my Google search thingie – a lovely review of Tackle Box by Lyndsey Rose Davis. I appreciate these reviews far more than the trade reviews because they come directly from those I hope to aid in their future success. Thank you so much, Lyndsey.





January 13, 2010

I’m ending this week early because The Daughter is making one last trip home before her second semester starts. The two of us are bugging out of town to soak up the sun ‘n fun in Palm Springs – Rancho Mirage, to be exact. So I decided to end my week with this review of Tackle Box.

I worried that posting it might sound like I’m being all horn-tooty, but I really believe this book is one of a kind because it’s based on my experiences of talking to authors just like you. You were the ones who told me what you wanted to learn and what information you had a hard time getting. So this really isn’t about me at all, but I do hope it’s okay if I feel just a bit gloaty here because, well, I worked awfully hard writing it.

This review has a particularly sweet note to it because the author, RL Sutton, and I have had our differences regarding publishing options. As much as we’ve vehemently disagreed, I have to hand it to him; he may have been angry at me, but he’s always come back to be a gentleman.

That he even bought my book was enough to have me ordering the beagle to retrieve my vapors. To receive a review had me mainlining the bottle of tequila I keep in my desk for emergencies. Wow. Thanks, RL, you’re a gent to the end.

When I was a little guy, maybe ten or so, my Dad came home one night with a small, plastic fold-over style tackle box. You know the kind, the one with the little image of a tied fly or a jumping trout on it? Well, anyway, I put my little spinners and lures and split-shot in there with my hook remover, a needle-nosed pliers, a knife and some oil for my reels. I was ready for everything and anything. It swung in my hand as I walked, my pride shining with every swing.

My Dad, on the other hand, had a HUGE, dovetail-joined wooden monstrosity in the garage with several sliding trays and compartments below. That was his tackle box. It was chewed up, gouged and to put it lightly, it stank. There were recesses beyond which I dared not venture until accompanied by his guidance. He was, after all, a semi-successful steelhead fisherman, and even if it took both hands to lift it into the trunk at the beginning of a 5AM fishing trip, it came along. Every time.

The reason I bring any of this up is that after delving into your Tackle Box, both in an orderly as well as a random manner, I’m convinced that you must have had my father’s tackle box in mind.

It is, by far, the most useful compilation of materials for writers who want to publish than I have ever had the pleasure to stumble upon — and I stumble a lot. You will save many of us from wasted pratfalls and melt-downs. If we’re not saved, at least we’ll be able to recognize the scenery as we pass it.

The best part, I’m finding out is it will be something that I’ll refer to again and again in the future.

As publishing morphs into it’s new forms, your careful, balanced analysis and encompassing interview questions will be the ground zero that all others should be building upon. Or some such superlative I haven’t thought of yet… Thanks again.

RL, you will never cease to amaze me. I humbly thank you for your kind words. I hope it’s a helpful tool to your future success.

Your lesson for the day

November 5, 2009

“Any fool can write a book… but it takes a genius to sell it.”
-J.G. Ballard

toolboxSmart man, JG. Buy it. Read it. Become brilliant.

That is all.

Oops. That is not all – after all. A review just came in from the The Book Club of The Writers’ Circle of Durham Region, and I’m feeling rather happy about it all. Thank you so much, Bob! Beagle, forget work today – fire up the blender!

Is it ok if I brag a bit?

November 4, 2009

adsobcoverrgb_loresFor those of you who may have missed Adam Eisenberg’s fabulous author event on CSPAN2 Book TV for his wonderful book A Different Shade of Blue, you can watch it on your ‘puter here. God, I love the internet! As an editor, my little black heart burst with pride as Adam deftly handled a panel and his own event like a seasoned pro.

This is a great book because it’s all about how women have changed the face of police work. And yes, I do believe that women add a powerful and poignant banquet of pluses to police work because they are far less likely to resort to violence. They have to be more clever – and Adam’s book highlights some of the wonderful ways in which women’s ingenuity saved lives and, well, made me laugh my head off.

This isn’t a “women’s lib” book, but a celebration of those who had the guts and desire to break through a mold for the sheer love of making their small corner of the world a better place.

toolboxcoversmAnd speaking of changing the face of things, my quest for world domination took a closer step to reality with a lovely review of my book, The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box, which is a “Hot Read” in OC Metro Magazine.

I am particularly proud of this book because it’s a culmination of everything I’ve learned and discovered in my publishing journey – which I love more than Twinkies. Writers are the coolest people around, and this book is about discussing issues with them that no one else does.

If you want to learn about all aspects of publishing in the US, this is your one-stop shopping guide because I scratched every possible itch. From interviews with agents, book reviewers, the lovely Victoria Strauss, distributors, cover designers, to ending up with a manuscript autopsy and an entire section on The Writer’s Survival Style Guide, which covers the main reasons why manuscripts never make it past first base.

OC Metro sent me two magazines – one for me, one for Mom, which was lovely, but I think I need more…WoOt!

muma-tinyAnd then there’s Richard Gilbert, talented author of his wonderful memoir Marching Up Madison Avenue. Richard is the real live embodiment of the TV show Mad Men, so his perspective is particularly interesting when it comes to how often Hollywood gets it wrong. Apparantly Advertising Age Magazine agreed – who gave Richard an amazing review, btw – and printed this article that focuses on Richard’s take on Hollyweird.

I love Richard’s book because he was there, making advertising history back when it was possible for the little guy to make a huge difference in the way we see a product – whether it’s London Fog or After Six tuxedos – where they dressed up a dour Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin in a tux with the caption, “Mr. Kosygin, we’d like you to have a free tux.”

I’m a one who believes that if you want to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve been. Richard Gilbert was right there on Madison Avenue, adding a huge measure of class and intelligence to the ads he produced. How I wish our current rash of pathetically dismal advertising conglomerates would take a page from Richard’s book. And besides, who doesn’t love a David and Goliath story?

The beagle wanted to brag about the new bar she found, but I told her to get her own damn blog.

Shameless Plug

May 22, 2009

This is what comes from being too sore, sick, and lazy to do any real work.

I’ve done shined up that thar fishin’ pole…

February 8, 2009


I’m done. Finished. Complete. Finito. The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box is now sporting a “The End” on its hiney. Anyone who writes understands how good it feels to complete a project. We live with our words every day while the ideas pour through our cerebral cortex like mulled wine, until one day the words stop, the story is done.

I’m especially proud of this work because so many people asked me to write it. Its genesis began at writer’s conferences, when authors told me how no one talks about the other side of the desk; how we see things, why we think the way we do; putting to rest the myth that we don’t think at all. There are a couple great books out there that reveal what it’s like to be an editor or an agent, but all of them have a different twist from mine. And that’s what this is all about, right? Education. It’s what makes for great, savvy writers.

I’ve placed it into the very capbable hands of trusted, brilliant beta readers, who will now rip, tear, shred me apart in manners I’m sure I didn’t know exist. In the meantime, the engine is started, the gas tank is full, and the background stuff is now being set into motion. Wish me bon chance!

Organize that tackle box!

January 19, 2009

I so enjoyed this excerpt from How Not to Write A Book, posted in the Times Online because it mirrors many of the types of writing that cross my desk. They’re important additions to what every writer should add to their tackle box…oh the shameless plugging…

One of my biggest bugaboos is where the author begins his story. What authors Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman call The Long Runway. This cracks me up because it’s so true. It’s like the literary plane is rolling down an endless runway and the pilot refuses to launch into the sky toward his/her destination. Unless the characters’ histories and backstory are vital to the integrity of the plot, then I don’t need twenty five pages of how they got themselves to this particular place. Launch the beast already.

Where to begin: Like authors Mittlemark and Newman, I like the idea of beginning in the middle of some type of action because it’s an instant attention-grabber. I’m not talking about scenes where blood is drawn or some car blew up in the middle of a drive-in theater (gee, how I miss those) because we don’t all write those kinds of stories. It can be something more low key, but just as attention grabbing:

She tore up the rejection letter, her fifteenth that week, and downed the last of her Harvey Wallbanger. She’d used up the last of her inheritance to buy cheap vodka, and it burned all the way down her throat. “Screw this,” she thought, while tossing her glass into the roaring fire, “I’m going to start my own publishing company!”

The reader is immediately immersed in the character’s dilemma while outlining the general drift of the story. And this segues into another problem I see all to frequently

Space/time continuum: The timeline of where you begin the story has to make sense. I’ve seen lots of cases where it was obvious the author was looking for that big bang beginning but dropped the ball on transitioning it into the rest of the chapter. For example, let’s use the bit I wrote above. The misfire happens when the author then launches into backstory about how the character inherited her money, the manuscript she’s writing, and how she’s on her last buck. Who cares? These niggly details can easily be dumped in here and there with little references. It’s not the story, so you don’t need to give it so much importance. It’s filler that rounds out the character development, nothing more.

Making the jump to light speed: Pay attention to chronological order. I just rejected a story because it kept jumping around. The beginning was in one decade. The second chapter jumped to fifteen years earlier, then popped to the present before taking quickie side trip to ten years prior. My thrusters don’t fire that quickly, and I quickly became so confused about what era I was in that I was tempted to drag out my old disco sweat socks and poof my hair. Organize your story so that you don’t jump to light speed without a proper transition that’s easy and logical to follow. Time-jumping has to make sense. If you find yourself firing the thrusters too many times, consider reorganizing your story so it follows a chronological order.

The Gum on the Mantlepiece description in the article made me feel as though the authors had tromped through my submission pile. The first chapters of a story are setup, right? That means we’re paying attention to every little detail the author drops. If something seems significant, we file that away with the idea it’ll play an integral role in the plot. So an innocent action, like sticking gum on the mantlepiece and having it cleaned up by someone else later in the chapter, can seem like an important detail. Same goes for characters. If you intro a character, then we believe he’s there for a reason. If he plays no role in the story, then axe him. Be mindful of your casual movements because it can mislead the reader. Only do it if that’s your intent. We’ll love you for it.

In the end, we are willing participants in your fictional world, so you have to treat us with care. A misstep can create confusion, boredom, or a book tossed across the room. ‘Tis a good thing to avoid, dontcha think?

*Gold stars to Rosy Thornton for making me aware of this article.

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