Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The pleasures of pagination

There are few pleasures in bookmaking greater than that moment when you're paginating a picture book text, and suddenly it all clicks.


I have no idea how others do it, but I make a 40 page Word document (so I can include ends—hence the “[pasted down endsheet]” tag shown above). Then, I dump in the manuscript  and work backward from the key spreads and page turns.

I find the manuscript’s dramatic high points really reveal themselves in this process, especially when you put in the page turns.

And sometimes, like the one I worked on last night, the thing just calls for one of my favorite parts:


Now I get six months or so of anticipating what the illustrator will do with this blank space. Delicious.

This is Vaunda Micheaux Nelson picture book, by the way. To be illustrated by the marvelous Elizabeth Zunon and designed by @carkneetoe. It’s becoming very clear in my imagination. You’re going to love it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Nothing but individual talent mattered."

Like some sort of irritating, insane migratory bird (because sadly this topic is sadly too persistent to be compared with locusts), the debate about whether x group should read y book type is back. The only saving grace of this tedious conversation is that it always makes me think of this bit in my favorite book. 

[Professor Lake] had been born in Ohio, had studied in Paris and Rome, had taught in Ecuador and Japan. He was a recognized art expert, and it puzzled people why, during the past ten winters, Lake chose to bury himself at St Bart's. While endowed with the morose temper of genius, he lacked originality and was aware of that lack; his own paintings always seemed beautifully clever imitations, although one could never quite tell whose manner he mimicked. His profound knowledge of innumerable techniques, his indifference to 'schools' and 'trends', his detestation of quacks, his conviction that there was no difference whatever between a genteel aquarelle of yesterday and, say, conventional neoplasticism or banal non-objectivism of today, and that nothing but individual talent mattered - these views made of him an unusual teacher. St Bart's was not particularly pleased either with Lake's methods or with their results, but kept him on because it was fashionable to have at least one distinguished freak on the staff. Among the many exhilarating things Lake taught was that the order of the solar spectrum is not a closed circle but a spiral of tints from cadmium red and oranges through a strontian yellow and a pale paradisal green to cobalt blues and violets, at which point the sequence does not grade into red again but passes into another spiral, which starts with a kind of lavender grey and goes on to Cinderella shades transcending human perception. He taught that there is no such thing as the Ashcan School or the Cache Cache School or the Cancan School. That the work of art created with string, stamps, a Leftist newspaper, and the droppings of doves is based on a series of dreary platitudes. That there is nothing more banal and more bourgeois than paranoia. That Dali is really Norman Rockwell's twin brother kidnapped by gipsies in babyhood. That Van Gogh is second-rate and Picasso supreme, despite his commercial foibles; and that if Degas could immortalize a caleche, why could not Victor Wind do the same to a motor car?
-Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov.
There are reasons for the pictures on my office door. This quote is one of them. 
"... which starts with a kind of lavender grey and goes on to Cinderella shades transcending human perception." 
What were we complaining about again? [Goes back to trying to be Professor Lake.]

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

#amediting, a soundtrack

Some books demand a musical accompaniment during the editing. And this was certainly the case for the book I'm finishing now, the sequel to E.K. Johnston's debut, The Story of Owen

The highlights:

(There was a great deal of Stan Rogers, whom I totally imagine as Siobhan's bardic forebearer.)

(And then there was a considerable amount of Glenn Gould. Because Canada and also because I always listen to Gould.)

(And then Kate introduced me to a couple new things from Canadian bands, including this, which is crazy moving.)

And there's one other, but it would be spoilery.

I have no idea what @carkneetoe listens to while she designs Kate's books, but I do know she's procuring a bugle for the photo shoot. I'm not sure if that will be easier than the sword from the first book.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pass the red Solo cup of bad life choices, please

(I promise it doesn't link to the Toby Keith song.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

“I am a pretty, pretty woman. But I’ll cut you.”

I have a fantasy where I’m able to employ certain authors as editors. I’ve worked with several whose strong taste and advice-giving chops would make them into formidable editors—or at least into editors whose work I’d like to read.

Tessa Gratton, at large editor? Where do I sign? I’m sure E. K. Johnston and Dot Hutchison would concur. (The emails I got from Tess about Dot’s debut will never leave my possession.)

John Hornor Jacobs would definitely be on that list too. And alas, for now, the list is a fantasy. Fortunately, though, John’s extremely entertaining (and sound) thoughts on character are available for the price of a click. A taste:

My responsibilities to my characters are (1) I should be fearless in the depiction of their character. This has very little to do with appearance, garb, physical description. I doubt any reader has one whit of interest as to the exact shade of red lipstick some ingénue wears – they care about her capacity for emotion and action. For love or betrayal. That is the essence of her character and consequently, the essence of that part of my own subconscious from which I conjured her.

Pretty neat trick, that.

I am a pretty, pretty woman. But I’ll cut you.

So click.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hiring an editor

This Gun for Hire (1942) Poster

Lots of smart people have gone over the famous Hugh Howey Report, revealing its many statistical and analytical shortcomings. I have nothing to add on those fronts (hell, I didn’t even read the whole piece). Read Shatzkin and others for detailed rebuttal and commentary.

There is one item in the Report and in Shatzkin I would like to address. (And if it has been addressed elsewhere, I’d be glad to know of it.)

Here’s the item in Hugh Howey’s Report:


And Mike Shatzkin actually echoes Howey’s position:


Allow me to say this plainly: When an author chooses, hires, and pays an editor, the author is creating incentives that are meaningfully different than the ones present in a “traditional” publishing deal.

To put it another way, if you want financial advice, you may hire a fee-based financial advisor or solicit the services of a commission-based advisor. And maybe if you’re very wealthy or your money is very interesting, advisors will pursue you. People feel strongly about both models, but no sensible person would claim they are interchangeable.

Or, perhaps an analogy closer to home: authors have long been counseled (rightly) that they should never “hire” an agent, that they should never pay reading fees, etc. to agents. Donald Maass gets tremendous criticism from many quarters from being an agent who also sells and promotes his own writing advice books. There is among authors a strong—and I’d argue healthy—awareness of the different incentives in each model where agenting is concerned.

Why, then, are so many people so quick to say “hiring” an editor is an acceptable substitute for the present model? The incentives are so clearly different.

It is not presently possible to hire me as an editor. I choose the manuscripts I want to edit, compete for them in the marketplace, and when I win them, I am accountable not to the author  but to my employer, the publisher, to make from that manuscript a book that the publisher can sell in quantities sufficient to meet certain performance goals. My incentive is to do this more often than not so I can continue to have a job.

I am not a short-sighted idiot or a sociopath or glutton for punishment, so I want very much for my authors to enjoy working with me and to find the experience rewarding and to be happy in the end. Authors are the fountainheads of my personal satisfaction in doing my job—my emotional incentive, if you will. But that doesn’t mean I want them to sign my paychecks. My primary incentive—my financial incentive—does not not come from the author. When it comes time to say what I believe will make a book successful, the pressure comes not from my relationship with the author but from my relationship with my employer—who is, pleasantly, fairly removed from the day to day work of editing. No one editorial decision has me thinking about my livelihood, thank goodness.

In the world of for hire-editors, the incentives and accountability are much . . . cozier. Or, if you prefer (and I do), you could say the incentives appear hopelessly entangled, painfully acute, and way too close for comfort. I do not want someone who is trying to do the hard work of writing a novel with me looking over her shoulder thinking about whether she’s getting good value for my fee. I don’t want “he who pays the piper calls the tune” in any author’s mind as he works on my edits. I don’t want to think about my mortgage when I suggest an author needs to scrap tens of thousands of words. I don’t want the temptation to flatter a writer whose manuscript I don’t believe will sell because he will make a good reference.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made myself clear. For-hire editing is different from the model that’s evolved in traditional publishing. Maybe it’s actually better for reasons that remain opaque to me in my vast inexperience of it. Maybe for-hire editing is the way I’ll have to go one day (may that day be very, very far off). But don’t let anyone get away with telling you it’s the same.

[Update: I will happily attach a civil rebuttal, critique, or commentary to this from a freelance editor who wants to address the question of incentives and editing. Just stick it in the comments and I’ll copy it into the main post.]