Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Several Things Authors Should Never Be Asked to Do



The above image comes from when my oldest son had the task of painting the master bathroom as a punishment for downloading $125 worth of music, apps, and Simpsons movies from iTunes without permission. Some of his work wasn't optimal, and so my husband clearly marked one of his especially noticeable mistakes in blue painter's tape. This sort of Message to the Universe is how I've often felt about some of the things authors are asked to do-- things that are completely counterintuitive to the entire job of sitting at a computer all day in your pajamas talking to your imaginary friends. Such as:

1. Shake hands and greet people in a charming manner (also known as "networking"). When I was in Tampa at Harlequin's sales conference last month, this was my main task. While I was honored to be invited, it rather mystified me that anyone had come up with the concept of "introducing the authors to the sales team" in the first place. The reason many of us go into fiction writing, rather than a more lucrative and dependable job like putting happy-face stickers on children at the entrance to Wal-Mart, is because we can't deal with people to the point that we decided to make some up who couldn't run away or refuse to return our calls. Trotting the actual writer in front of someone as important as, for example, the company's account manager for Costco, just sounds like either a colossal risk or an entertaining prank.

2. Write a pitch. The average novel is 80,000 to 100,000 words, and if you're a writer like me, you started with more like 120K before you whittled it down. Now here is your task, if you'd like someone to pay you for this thing: summarize it in 300 words or less. The reason my bio as a writer is practically nonexistent is because I never wrote short fiction I could have published in the thousand little magazines that cater to that end of the market. I can't wrap my brain around a story arc of less than 80,000 words. In my mind, everything is A WORLD. Everything has backstory spilling out like tickets from a malfunctioning Chuck E. Cheese game, and everyone is struggling to reconcile that backstory with their current circumstances before Catastrophic Event occurs on page 340. Merely the idea of explaining all that in 300 words is a laugh. At this point, somehow I've mastered the art of the query letter, but you should still hear me trying to explain a new book concept to my agent. There is no "elevator pitch"; it's more like the "I have you trapped in the window seat on this airplane" pitch.

3. Wear clothes. I have already referred to my profession's version of business casual (flannel, decorated with owls, closes with a drawstring). When I was getting ready for that sales conference, nothing terrified me more than pondering what I would wear. All I needed were ordinary business clothes, but choosing such items was a daunting prospect, as was the idea of walking in heels. I don't mean to be melodramatic here. It's just that to someone like me, this was like being asked to show up in a national costume not your own to a state dinner. Screw up, and the joke is obvious to everyone but you. One of my friends tried to calm me by saying, "You're a writer. They probably don't even expect you to bathe." So silly. Of course writers bathe. The only reason the shower is not my office is because it's hard on my MacBook.

4. Proofread the galleys. And this is what I'm doing today, albeit in PDF form. While there's a little "ooooo!" of "this is the official version," I mainly feel useless because I have read this exact document approximately 3,472 times. Now, not to put anyone off reading my book, but I've lived with these two characters day and night in the Anne Frank Annex that is my mind for the past two years. I'd finally won them their freedom, taken a couple weeks to breathe, and started hanging out with some new pretend people... and now here they are again, back for a visit. I know I'm obligated, but once they're gone this time, I'm lowering the blinds and changing the locks.

In fact, I'm using "write a blog entry" right now as my method to avoid working on the galleys. Mira calls this the Author Alteration copy, or AA, which sounds like what I'm going to need when I get through all 389 pages of the manuscript. But now, back to work. Or better yet, to the shower.

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