Interview with Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D

I’m always fascinated by authors who find the time to write and publish their work, even when they clearly have a very full life in addition to that of writer. Nichole Bernier is author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. She wrote for Conde Nast for 14 years, is a founder of the literary blog Beyond the Margins and has taught at Grub Street , the second largest creative writing center in the US, in Boston. As if this weren’t enough, she has five children and a husband.  She’s a staunch supporter of independent bookstores and local writers near her Massachusetts home, something I heartily endorse. She was kind enough to give me an interview recently, telling me what made her write this particular novel, when she first started writing (7th grade!) how she moved from magazine writing to novel writing, and how she has published and promoted the book. You can find and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Read the full interview below, while I go buy a copy and start reading…

GC: Tell us something about your novel.

NB: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D is about a woman who inherits the journals of a friend, and realizes she didn’t know her friend as well as she thought, including where she was really going when she died. Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women —their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears — considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

I wrote about 2002 because that year was such a fascinating time. It was both terrifying and numbing to watch CNN because you never knew what you might hear; I think many people felt for a while that anything was not only possible, but likely. Most of us moved on from that paralyzing fear, but it was fascinating to me to create a character who became quietly obsessed with protecting her family from so many unknowns, and could not move on.

GC: At what age did you first start writing?

NB: I remember really writing with intention in 7th grade. An English teacher gave us a year-long assignment to keep a journal, and I never really stopped. Over the years it became a place where I processed thoughts and explored writing styles. And yes, this is a plug for the value and lasting impact of teachers.

GC: You have a background in journalism, so what inspired you to write a novel?

NB: I’d been a magazine writer for a decade, and though I love reading fiction, I’d never had an urge to write it. But after I lost a friend in the September 11th terrorist attacks, there were things I couldn’t work through in my regular ways of writing. One day in early 2005, shortly after the birth of my third child, I wrote a dream sequence about a woman imagining her friend’s last moments. It didn’t occur to me that that would be anything more than a bit in my journal, but that sequence became the beginning of chapter three, and it’s never changed.

GC: How long did it take from first word to final publication?

NB: Six years.

GC: Can you tell us about the process of getting the novel published? How did you come to be published by Crown?

NB: For two years I wrote nights and weekends, and when it was clear this odd bit of writing wasn’t going away, I started siphoning off hours from my babysitter time meant for freelance magazine work. As I got close to finishing the first draft, I found I really loved studying the business side of fiction and querying, which I found fascinating and altogether different than magazines.

But my big rookie error was in querying immediately after I finished the first draft. My mental timeline was still that of a freelancer: finish, publish, paycheck. I wasn’t used improving something slowly and tortuously with no one in the world even waiting for it. We’d just moved to Boston and I was expecting my fourth child, and eager to cross “Get Agent” off my to-do list. There were some requests for partials and fulls, all leading to rejections in the end.

So I threw myself into revisions. I developed a writing community. I revised for a year and a half. When I felt ready to query again I received three offers of representation, for which I was endlessly appreciative, and I felt a strong connection to agent Julie Barer. Julie worked with me for a year, urging me to streamline my story and weave more closely the timelines of my two main characters. After she sold it to Crown, the trajectory of the process suddenly made sense, all the necessary steps and hard work.

GC: I understand your book is available as an eBook. Current wisdom (and I realize this applies largely to genre fiction) suggests that the best way to build readership is to have a steady stream of books available once you’ve hooked your readers. Are you planning another, and if so, how soon do you expect to have it out there?

 NB: I am on fire with two ideas, and can’t wait to start ripping into one that I’ve already outlined. But after all these years writing and revising, I feel strongly that I owe Elizabeth D the time to focus on promoting it, reading from it, meeting people and talking about why this story means so much to me. I think I’m a one-book-at-a-time kind of person, especially since my family consumes so much of my non-writing time. But the next book won’t be long off. I love writing fiction.

GC: How did you manage to get the great ‘advance praise’ comments for the book? Did you know these writers already, or did Crown organize that part of it?

NB: They were people I’d already admired and had come to know. Jenna Blum, Randy Susan Meyers, Robin Black, Courtney Sullivan, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Dani Shapiro… I was very fortunate and grateful to have their early support.

GC: How much of the promotion of the book do you have to do yourself these days?

NB: I think it probably depends on the author, but I’m a fairly hands-on person, so I initiated a lot of the tour schedule, and my publicists and fantastic marketing team at Crown ran with it, booking television, newspapers and radio, and helping me get into independent bookstores I respected tremendously. There’s no doubt an author has to do a lot of the legwork. But I love seeing Random House appreciate it, and back it up.

Interview with Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat

I was lucky enough to meet Charlotte Rogan the other night at an event hosted by Write Yourself Free, in Westport, CT. Charlotte is a local resident, and kindly spent a couple of hours talking to local writers and fans about her recently published book, The Lifeboat, described by Sam Tanenhaus of the New York Times as “a really accomplished first novel”. The novel takes as its premise a group of 39 people stuck in a lifeboat after their liner sinks in 1914. The lifeboat is too small, and, unlike the passengers of the Titanic, these people are not rescued for three weeks. Some have described the book as harrowing, but I found it fascinating, as well as beautifully written. The power struggle between the two main characters (other than our unreliable but intriguing narrator, Grace Winter) hinges on the male and female styles of leadership. There are moral dilemmas aplenty, and I predict this will be a firm favorite with book groups.

The book hit #12 on the NY Times hardback fiction list and has been on the extended list for 7 straight weeks – an amazing achievement for a debut novel.  And it’s being translated into 24 languages. What’s interesting about this is that Charlotte has been writing for 25 years, and has several (unpublished) novels under her belt. She took a creative writing class with Harold Brodkey, and then simply wrote and wrote and wrote, improving as she went along.  Judging by The Lifeboat, this method seems to have worked. (Memo to self: write more…) When I interviewed her, I asked Charlotte what had made her decide to publish at last.

GC: What made you decide to try and get the book published?

CR: I think all writers want to be published, but I was busy with my family and I didn’t like doing the things it took to try to find a publisher: searching out appropriate literary agents, writing endless query letters, writing short pieces in the hopes of breaking into print through magazines, making contacts among publishing professionals. Still, I knew I was getting better with each novel I wrote, so when I looked into the future, I could see two equally reasonable scenarios: one where I continued to write only for myself and one where I finally found an audience for my work.

GC: How did you find an agent?
CR: Over the years I occasionally set my mind to finding a publisher, but none of them came to anything until my children were seniors in high school. One day I got a call from a journalist who was writing an article on the challenges for multiples (Charlotte has triplets) of applying to college. Over the course of things, she and I became friends, and after reading one of my manuscripts, she introduced me to her literary agent, who sold The Lifeboat to Little, Brown (note: publishers of J.K. Rowling’s next book. GC) in the fall of 2010.

GC: How much help have your publishers given you in promoting the book? I notice that you have great quotes on the back cover (from the likes of J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel and Emma Donoghue), and interviews/reviews with all the main newspapers/publications.

CR: Little, Brown has a phenomenal publicity department, which has been wonderfully effective at getting The Lifeboat in front of various media outlets. Of course, no one can control which books the reviewers choose to read of the many thousands they receive each year or whether or not they like a particular book. As for the blurbs, I was shocked to discover that finding authors to write them was my responsibility. I didn’t know any authors! I decided to use the opportunity to write letters to my literary heroes and thank them for their books, which are really the things that taught me how to write. Out of fifteen letters, five authors agreed to write blurbs for me: among them two Booker Prize winners, an Orange Prize winner, a National Book Award winner, and a Nobel laureate. I will always be grateful to them for taking the time to help a new-comer.

GC: And as always, writers want to know how a typical day goes…it seemed to me, hearing you speak, that you’re a pretty disciplined person. Is that right?

CR: I am quite disciplined, but how a day goes really depends on the other elements of my life. My family has always come first, and I find that even twenty-something children require a certain amount of time. One of the first things established writers will say to you is to treat writing like a job. That means blocking out distractions and saying no to a lot of things. I am a morning person, so I like to use the morning hours to work. Ideally, I fit exercise, errands, and household tasks into the afternoon, with more work before dinner if time allows. I find it impossible to do more than 2-3 hours of really creative first-draft writing per day, but there are always other writing-related tasks I can do. These include editing, research, and reading books that are inspirational for my work. When I am editing a more finished piece, I might work for 8-10 hours a day if life allows it. Finally, taking care of your physical needs is an obvious but sometimes overlooked element of productivity: eating right, getting enough sleep, and regular exercise pay huge dividends when it comes to writing.

GC: You seem very self-possessed. Do you feel pressured to produce your next novel?

CR: Oddly, I do feel pressure, but only some of it is related to worry about finishing the novel I am currently working on. That’s probably because there are so many new tasks vying for my time. Fiction writers tend to be introverts, but once published, they are given a microphone and asked to speak, set to writing essays for magazines, and interviewed on live radio. Those are things I have never done before, and they have taken a lot of time and energy. But the next big challenge is to balance my time more effectively because I do want to get back to working on my book.
GC: On behalf of my readers and myself, thanks, Charlotte for such an encouraging interview!

It’s never too late to publish a book

At the beginning of February, I wrote a post on my personal blog called It’s never too late for fun, about a woman, who, aged 88, wanted to sit on the cannons at Compo beach again, and, with the help of friends and strangers, did it. You can see from the photos on that blog just how delighted she was.

Now she’s done it again. Not cannons, this time, but a book. Illustrated, written and published with the help of friends and strangers. And Susan Malloy is very happy indeed. Here’s how it happened:

A year ago Susan, already a successful painter, was in Paris with her grandchildren, aged 10 and 17. As always, being an artist, she was sketching what she saw, when it struck her that there might be other young people who would like an illustrated introduction to Paris. And so the idea for a book was born. When she returned home to Connecticut, she gathered her pen and ink sketches and wrote brief paragraphs to go with each, introducing the famous sights.

Next she approached a friend of hers, another well known and multi-talented artist, Miggs Burroughs. He’s known particularly for his lenticular works (see one here: http:  Go to the site and click on one of the black & white photographs to see how they work. If you want to see another, you’ll have to leave the site and come back, since it only shows one at a time.) Miggs designed the layout for the book, and then came the long trek to publication.

A local copying and printing company produced a mockup of the book, and a French teacher in New York looked at it to make sure all the French words were spelled correctly. This is what one of the pages looks like.

Then it was time to find a printer who could print a small but high quality book. Susan turned to her friend, Helen Klisser During, curator of the Westport Arts Center, who immediately decided that a) she wanted to help, and b) she wanted Susan to submit the drawings to the Arts Center as part of the annual juried SOLOs exhibit, which features WAC member artists. The judges chose Susan as one of the artists to be exhibited. Taking the sketches to the local framing shop to have them matted and framed for exhibition, Helen asked the owner for advice on printing. The owner recommended a printer not too far away. He couldn’t do it, but recommended the guy upstairs, who was a printer of specialized materials. He couldn’t do it either, but came up with the name of the man who could, and did. He was Stephen Stinehour, a lifelong publisher of art-quality books, in a tiny town in the North East Kingdom of Vermont. Stephen helped Susan choose the right typography and weight of paper and agreed to print 300 beautiful copies at a very reasonable price.

Photo: Helen Klisser During ©

On the day of her gallery opening, book signing and launch, she sold 50 copies at $10 each, and told Helen that this was one of the happiest days of her life. She’s a living example of what staying consistent and focused on the goal can do. And she’s a testament to the value of friendship and teamwork in making dreams come true.

Susan distributes the books through the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Library, and the Westport Historical Society. You can also buy them from her directly. If you’d like to buy one, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch.

The Oddest Book Title of the Year – vote now!

The Bookseller is an English magazine devoted (of course) to book-selling and all related subjects. It’s well worth a look, not least because they organize a contest every year to find  the Oddest Book Title of the Year.is year marks the 30th anniversary, and there are some amazing (or appalling, depending on your point of view) titles to vote for. This is a reprint from their website, giving the titles and a straight-faced description of each book, these titles are begging for comments.  Head over to the site and cast your votes – don’t forget to read the comments; they’re hilarious.

Here’s Philip Stone’s article:

A Guide to Estonian socks, an examination of the role of the fungus in Christian art, and a celebration of the humble office chair are among the books in contention for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year—the prestigious literary award run by The Bookseller since 1978.

A total of 64 books were submitted for the latest instalment of the prize, which celebrates the very best in books with odd titles published around the world last year (2011). Judges from both The Bookseller and its sister consumer magazine, We Love This Book, whittled down the original submissions to a shortlist of seven. This is one more than the traditional six, in recognition of the high standard of oddity witnessed in publishing last year.

This year’s winner will be announced on 30th March. Votes can be cast here.

The full shortlist:

A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel: Volume Two by Peter Gosson (Amberley). A book that documents the sand trade from its inception in 1912 to the present day, focusing on the Welsh coast.

Cooking with Poo by Saiyuud Diwong (Urban Neighbours of Hope). Thai cookbook. “Poo” is Thai for “crab” and is Diwong’s nickname.

Estonian Sock Patterns All Around the World by Aino Praakli (Kirjastus Elmatar). Covers styles of socks and stockings found in Estonian knitting.

The Great Singapore Penis Panic: And the Future of American Mass Hysteria by Scott D Mendelson (Createspace). An analysis of the “Koro” psychiatric epidemic that hit the island of Singapore in 1967.

Mr Andoh’s Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge by Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh (Royd Press). The story of Koichi Andoh, who travelled from Japan to Yorkshire in the 1930s to train workers at a hatchery business the art of determining the sex of one-day-old chicks.

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs by Jonathan Olivares (Phaidon). Exhaustive overview of the evolution of the modern office chair.

The Mushroom in Christian Art by John A Rush (North Atlantic Books). In which the author reveals that Jesus is a personification of the Holy Mushroom, Amanita Muscaria.

Horace Bent, the custodian of prize, said: “Never has the debate raged so fiercely as to which books should be put forward for the shortlist. Which is why this year we have selected seven shortlistees, rather than the traditional six. And what a shortlist we have.”

Philip Stone, the prize administrator, said: “Despite the global economic turmoil, publishers continue to invest in imaginative, diverse and niche publications, and this award wonderfully reflects that.

“Sadly, though, and despite publishers regularly boasting that they are moving with the times, just one of this year’s seven shortlisted titles is currently available to buy in a digital format: Scott Mendelson’s intriguing work, The Great Singapore Penis Panic.”

The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was first awarded in 1978 to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.

©2012 Bookseller Media Ltd rights reserved.

And you can check out the front covers of previous winners here on The Guardian‘s website. Celtic Sex Magic for Couples Groups and Solitary Practitioners, anyone? GC

 

Re-post from Ebook Friendly: 5 Bestselling Kindle Singles So Far

A while ago I wrote a post about the increasing market for short stories one could read on the go in a busy world. I figured this is good news for writers, and here to help make my case, is an article from the website Ebook Friendly. I came across  this site because I follow a Polish blogger named  Piotr Kowalczyk, self-publisher, author of short stories for geeks and a declared enthusiast of electronic books. And, by the way, a writer of impeccable English. Joseph Conrad could have taken lessons… He has a blog, Password incorrect, about mobile e-books, self-publishing and digital storytelling, and a website called Ebook Friendly.  You can find him on Twitter at @ebookfriendly  or @namenick. He’s more than happy to answer questions about self-publishing in a mobile world or about Ebook Friendly.

Here’s his report on the winning singles so far (and you can buy them via Ebook Friendly);

Good news travels fast. Over 2 million Kindle Singles were sold since they launched in January 2011. There are only 161 titles so far, you can browse all of them in Kindle Store. For your convenience we list below 5 most popular titles.

This list is based on a chart published by paidContent, where you can also check the approximate number of units sold, the date of publication, and the publisher.

Two titles, Second Son by Lee Child (#1 on a paidContent list), and No Time Left by David Baldacci (#3) were removed by their publishers from Kindle Singles section, probably in order to increase the price. They are not included in the list.

Mile 81 (Kindle Single)

Stephen King

With the heart of Stand By Me and the genius horror of Christine, Mile 81 is Stephen King unleashing his imagination as he drives past one of those road signs…

At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded up rest stop on a highway in Maine. It’s a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons goes when his older brother, who’s supposed to be looking out for him, heads off to the gravel pit to play “paratroopers over the side.” Pete, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out.

Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out.

Doug Clayton, an insurance man from Bangor, is driving his Prius to a conference in Portland. On the backseat are his briefcase and suitcase and in the passenger bucket is a King James Bible, what Doug calls “the ultimate insurance manual,” but it isn’t going to save Doug when he decides to be the Good Samaritan and help the guy in the broken down wagon. He pulls up behind it, puts on his four-ways, and then notices that the wagon has no plates.

Ten minutes later, Julianne Vernon, pulling a horse trailer, spots the Prius and the wagon, and pulls over. Julianne finds Doug Clayton’s cracked cell phone near the wagon door — and gets too close herself. By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are a half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. Two kids — Rachel and Blake Lussier — and one horse named Deedee are the only living left. Unless you maybe count the wagon. List Price: $ 3.99

The Moonlit Mind: A Tale of Suspense (Kindle Single)

Dean Koontz

In this chilling original stand-alone novella, available exclusively as an eBook, #1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz offers a taste of what’s to come in his new novel, 77 Shadow Street, with a mesmerizing tale of a homeless boy at large in a city fraught with threats . . . both human and otherwise.

Twelve-year-old Crispin has lived on the streets since he was nine—with only his wits and his daring to sustain him, and only his silent dog, Harley, to call his friend. He is always on the move, never lingering in any one place long enough to risk being discovered. Still, there are certain places he returns to. In the midst of the tumultuous city, they are havens of solitude: like the hushed environs of St. Mary Salome Cemetery, a place where Crispin can feel at peace—safe, at least for a while, from the fearsome memories that plague him . . . and seep into his darkest nightmares. But not only his dreams are haunted. The city he roams with Harley has secrets and mysteries, things unexplainable and maybe unimaginable. Crispin has seen ghosts in the dead of night, and sensed dimensions beyond reason in broad daylight. Hints of things disturbing and strange nibble at the edges of his existence, even as dangers wholly natural and earthbound cast their shadows across his path. Alone, drifting, and scavenging to survive is no life for a boy. But the life Crispin has left behind, and is still running scared from, is an unspeakable alternative . . . that may yet catch up with him. List Price: $ 2.9

Thorn in My Side (Kindle Single)

Karin Slaughter

It could have been just any night, and they could have just been any two brothers–but it wasn’t, and they weren’t. The scene is an Atlanta bar. The music is loud and the dance floor is packed. The good-looking brother picks up a girl. But when dark deeds ensue out in the parking lot, what happens next can only be described in two words: vintage Slaughter. From the opening scene to the last line, Thorn in My Side is as wicked as it is entertaining–an unforgettable piece of writing from one of the most beloved storytellers working today. List Price: $ 0.99

Leaving Home: Short Pieces (Kindle Single)

Jodi Picoult

Leaving Home brings together three, previously published short pieces, each dealing with a variation on the theme of leaving home. The first, “Weights and Measures,” deals with the tragic loss of a child; the second is a non-fiction letter Picoult wrote to her eldest son as he left for college; and, “Ritz” tells the story of a mother who takes the vacation all mothers need sometime. List Price: $ 2.99

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way (Kindle Single)

Jon Krakauer

Greg Mortenson has built a global reputation as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader, and he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also not what he appears to be. As acclaimed author Jon Krakauer discovered, Mortenson has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting admirers like Krakauer himself.

This is the tragic tale of good intentions gone very wrong.

100% of Jon Krakauer’s proceeds from the sale of Three Cups of Deceit will be donated to the “Stop Girl Trafficking” project at the American Himalayan Foundation (www.himalayanfoundation.org/live/project/stopgirltrafficking). List Price: $ 2.99

It’s Never Too Late to Publish

Lizzy Davies is a reporter at the Guardian. She previously worked for the paper in Paris, and for the Observer and Independent as a news editor

She wrote this piece last week about a newly discovered short story by Charlotte Brontë:

Charlotte Brontë’s lost short story to be published

 Charlotte Brontë with her sisters. L’Ingratitude, dated 16 March 1842, is the first-known piece of homework set for her by the Belgian tutor Constantin Heger. Photograph: Jon Jones/Sygma/Corbis

 

A long-lost short story written by Charlotte Brontë for a married man with whom she fell in love is to be published for the first time after being found in a Belgian museum a century after it was last heard of.

The tale, written in grammatically erratic French and entitled L’Ingratitude, is the first-known piece of homework set for Brontë by Constantin Heger, a Belgian tutor who taught both her and her sister Emily, and is believed to have inspired such ardour in the elder sibling that she drew on their relationship for her novel Villette.

Brian Bracken, a Brussels-based archivist and Brontë expert, found the manuscript in the Musée Royal de Mariemont. He said the short story had been last heard of in 1913, when it was given to a wealthy Belgian collector by Heger’s son, Paul. The London Review of Books (LRB) is to publish the story in full on its website last Wednesday and in its paper edition on Thursday.

“It was finished a month after Charlotte arrived in Brussels and is the first known devoir [piece of homework] of 30 the sisters would write for Heger,” writes Bracken in the LRB. “It contains a number of mistakes, mainly misspellings and incorrect tenses … he [Heger] often returned their essays drastically revised – sadly, there are no comments on this copy of L’Ingratitude.”

 

 

Why modern novelists need to watch their weight

Robert McCrum is an associate editor for the Observer newspaper in London. He’s written what I think is an interesting analysis of the growth of novels – their literal growth from 200-800 pages. I’m encouraged by his take, since I know that, personally, I’d be happy to end up with a 200 page novel.

Here’s the beginning of  the article:

In these lean times, fiction is putting on weight. Take three of the major novels out in the next few weeks. Never mind the quality, which is variable, feel the width. Angelmaker (Heinemann), Nick Harkaway’s second novel, weighs in at 576 pages. My copy of Capital (Faber) by John Lanchester tips the scales at 577 pp. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood (S&S) is a 420-page debut. Even the Costa winner, Andrew Miller’s Pure (Sceptre), runs to a chunky 352 pages. When last year’s Booker winner, The Sense of an Ending, was first shortlisted, there were some who said that, at 150 pages, it wasn’t really a novel. Whatever happened to the slim volume?

You can blame the computer for the contemporary writer’s reluctance to cut. Again, you can blame the decline of editing at the big imprints, which is actually more apparent than real. Or you can point the finger at the pressures of the marketplace, especially in America.

You can read the rest here:

Quick! I need something to read, and it needs to be short

In an age when a Twitter size concentration span is becoming the norm, publishers are looking for ways to reach new readers by offering them shorter works to read. The British book market is buzzing with new short titles from the major publishers.

Penguin, for example, has just launched Penguin Shorts – a collection of  short e-books from major authors. They’re available across all the digital platforms, but here’s the kicker: they’re only available in Britain. You’d think that with technology being what it is, they could allow a person to buy an e-book in London and download it in the US. They would still get their money and so would the authors, presumably. (I know it’s more complicated than that, but still…)

The Penguin collection includes memoir, fiction and essays and they retail in the UK for about $3.00 per download. Most, but not all, of their titles have been commissioned specifically for this imprint (if that’s the right word), so there’s a new memoir from Colm Tóibín, and short works from Anita Brookner and Helen Dunmore, among others, as well as How To Set Up A Free School – by Toby Young and The Battle of Alamein by Colin Smith and John Bierman.  The idea behind the essays was that instead of waiting six months for a book about some current event, a Penguin Short could be produced from scratch in less than a month. I see some opportunity for new writers here.

Random House is doing the same thing, except that in their case, you can buy some of the stories in the US.  They’re hard to find on Amazon, however. I searched in the Kindle store for Storycuts and found 25 of them, all by Su Tong. I’m pretty sure there are others….They are releasing about 200 short stories, generally culled from their current collections rather than new work.  Ruth Rendell, Alice Munro and A.S. Byatt as well as the famous Su Tong, are among them.  These retail for around $2.00.

And there’s PanMacmillan, who publishes under the ShortReads label. Again, a limited selection of these are available here  in the US, but I daresay there will soon be more of them. Emma Donoghue, Bret Easton Ellis and Andrew Lane are among the authors here. If you want to check for any of these on Amazon (I haven’t checked the other sites) you’ll need to follow the links here, find the titles and then look for them by name. Cumbersome and not exactly quick. In fact, for those of us with a Twitter-type attention span, hunting down these books can be a pain in the neck.

On the brighter side, Tessa McGovern of eChook Digital Publishing has long since had an app available for all e-book platforms, that includes short story and memoir collections designed to be read in about 10 minutes. You can check them out on the eChook website, and maybe submit something for possible publication. Perhaps Penguin and the rest should have consulted her about how to go about this…

Ether Books, based in England, has published digital short stories for an iPhone application for between 50p and £2.39, depending on length, since last summer. The stories are only available on the iPhone, Android and Blackberry, so far as I know, but they should be available in the US. They take submissions, too!

Have a Manuscript? Find an Agent or Editor March 8

Sherry Shameer Cohen is an award winning blogger with 20 years of experience as a freelance general assignment reporter and photographer and 10 years experience as a Special Sections Editor. She describes herself as a parachute journalist, a snappy way of saying that she can handle any assignment she’s dropped into quickly – and presumably she always lands on her feet.

She revived the Connecticut Press Club by, among other things, bringing decision makers from national magazines and large publishing houses to Connecticut to show writers how to get more challenging and better paying assignments. This cannot be bad. She’s organizing a special panel of Agents and editors in Norwalk, CT on March 8. I asked her what the deal was, and here’s what she wrote back:

All Connecticut Press Club programs are open to everyone, but most of the people who come are writers. The organization draws staff and freelance writers, editors, publicists, bloggers, photographers and graphic artists. Our programs are usually held at The Norwalk Inn, but we’ve also had meetings at restaurants and at the Westport Public Library. We get 18-60 people at our programs, depending on the topic. Editors and agents draw the highest number of attendees.

Our programs are meant to be small enough for people to network with the speakers as well as with other writers and editors. We’re lucky to be so close to New York so that we can get speakers from national publications and publishing houses. Initially, we thought they were coming as a professional courtesy, but it turns out that they are usually actively seeking new talent and tell us what’s missing from Writer’s Market. For example, one editor likes pitches in two paragraphs so he can read them on his smartphone. A health editor is trim and fit and doesn’t want pitches on diet and exercise, but two immediate family members were affected by pollutants, so she’s interested in stories about environmental health. She also gave us a list of her sources. Another health editor wants a whole package in two pieces – pitch and hed (headline) and dek (subhead) via email; clippings via snail mail so she doesn’t have to print out a lot. This is very valuable information!

Among the people we’ve booked for March 8 are:

Tamar Mays of Harper Collins Children’s Division
Marilyn Allen of Allen and O’Shea Literary Agency
Susan Schulman of Susan Schulman Literary Agency
Farley Chase of Chase Literary Agency (formerly at Waxman)

When: Thursday, March 8, 2012 from 6:00 – 8:30.
Where: The Norwalk Inn, 99 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT (I-95 to Exit 16)
Admission: $35.00 (includes dinner)
Reservations recommended, but walk-ins are always welcome. R.s.v.p. at 203-968-8600 or ctpressclub@gmail.com.

GC: So don’t sit there whining that you can’t find an agent or an editor – show up!

Great Opportunity for Writers to Work with a New York Agent

 

Tessa McGovern runs a digital publishing company called eChook: http://echook.com/. She also teaches at Sarah Lawrence College on the Bronx, NY.  The guest post below will tell you how to sign up for a course led by a real live agent – with connections. Read on:
Are you still making up your mind about whether agents are necessary these days, with all the self-publishing possibilities available? If so, here’s something to consider. (If you’ve already decided that you still need an agent, scroll down).
Despite the access we all have to self-publishing, there are still gate-keepers, and there will always be. Why? Because people who run publishing companies can’t sift through hundreds (or thousands) of non-qualified, long-form manuscripts. There simply isn’t time. (This is one of the reasons that eChook focuses on short stories, essays and memoirs). Ditto for the film and video producers running production companies that are beginning to supply the silent but tsunami-like growth in demand for content created by the revolution coming imminently to your living room.
So, if you’re committed to your writing career, unless you’re a genre writer (think romance, thriller, etc) with the time and resources to execute your own writing, editing, copy-editing, design, publishing, marketing and PR, you’re going to want an agent.
More than that, you’re going to want an agent who sells to legacy publishers as well as the new digital publishers (Amazon, Open Road, Premier Digital) and let’s not forget film and video rights.
Enter Cynthia Manson, a NY agent who will be teaching “How to Get Published in Today’s Market” at Sarah Lawrence College in February 2012. It isn’t often writers get this sort of opportunity to work with an agent over a period of weeks and submit the first chapter of their project. Here’s the class description:
So you’ve written the Great American Novel, workshopped it, revised it, poured your heart and soul into it, and now you feel it’s ready to send out into the world. Now what do you do? Time to find an agent and get it published, that’s what! This class is intended to help serious writers navigate the world of publishing in today’s dynamic, changing marketplace. We will discuss how to find the right agent for your work and how to successfully submit it, whether commercial or literary. How to write effective pitch letters and queries, with an emphasis on the all important “hook.” We will examine the different publishing options available in a shifting business environment: traditional legacy publishing, small presses, packagers, self publishing, and the emergent possibilities of ebook publishing. Also, what do you do when you get a deal? Information on contacts, negotiations, the production process, marketing, promotion, and distribution. As part of this course we will read and critique each other’s query letters that include “the pitch” and the respective synopses that accompany the cover letter. At the end of the course, the instructor invites each participant to submit the first chapter of their work to her.
Cynthia Manson is a well-known and respected literary agent with a small, successful list of published authors. She graduated from Scripps College for Women with a BA in English Literature and Fine Arts. She also attended the Radcliffe Publishing Course where she was inspired by Sterling Lord and his associates. Two years later she joined the Sterling Lord Literary Agency. Mason has worked in both magazine and book publishing including Putnam, Bertelsmann and Scientific American. Currently she is launching an e-book line for Advertising Age Magazine as well as representing authors in a variety of genres.
To register for Cynthia Manson’s ‘How to Get Published in Today’s Market’ class, CLICK HERE.
For information about and registration for Tessa Smith McGovern’s classes at Sarah Lawrence College, CLICK HERE.