Monday, August 30, 2010

Rock Lit Review: Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad

You'll have to make one more jump to read my blog this week, which is a review of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Rock Lit masterpiece? Click here to find out.

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.




Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.



Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Ten Least Gracious Notes Penned Inside Graduation Thank-You Cards

File this one under "For No Good Reason Whatsoever."


The Ten Least Gracious Notes Penned Inside Graduation Thank-You Cards


1) Thanks, I guess, for the $50. I expected more, frankly. Weren't you in the dotcom industry a while back?


2) I'm sorry I'm not in communication more frequently; I can't expect money from you every day.


3) Big Johnny at the Corner will be happy to exchange your $30 for some Sweet Oblivion later tonight.


4) Christ, you barely bothered. Why should I?


5) In the future, please try to refrain from sending a card spouting your religious dogma. That's the last thing I want to be thinking about right now, thank you very much.


6) I'll sleep better knowing that, after your contribution, I need only another $199,925 to make my med school dream come true.


7) Next time, could you send 20 singles? It's easier than asking the stripper for change.


8) Don't put yourself out too much, Unc. I'd hate for you to lose your club membership because you were too generous with your 10-spots.


9) Only four more contributions like yours and I'm a hundredaire!


10) After seeing the size of your gift, I now fully respect just how deep our family rift runs.


Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.




Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.



Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life at the Top

I heard an interesting story last week from a writer in response to my last post about indie presses.

This writer, call him Bill, said he knew of another writer who was out promoting her memoir. Her publishing company was demanding that she submit her finished novel immediately even though a) it wasn't finished and b) she was in the middle of promoting the memoir--another work published by them!

This is what I've always suspected about life at the top echelon of publishing. (Again, I don't pretend to know what goes on there.) At a certain point, a writer has an agent, an editor and a publishing house all waiting for this work that the writer claimed would be done at a certain time. Throw life into the mix, and any writer will find that those expected writing goals, under even less tense circumstances, get pushed back and back. I imagine writers are so excited to make it to the big leagues they overestimate their rate of productivity, and once they realize how far off they are, they start making concessions with the work. Submitting the thing will make her agent and her editor happy, and it will net her a check sooner. What's not to love?

This is probably not what unpublished or self-published writers want to hear, but succeeding in big publishing is no magic elixir to increasing your productivity, and it certainly isn't going to solve all of your problems. Quite likely, it will take away from your productivity and bring more problems. You will have more demands on your time, more pressure to succeed, less time for the rest of your life, and more of a need to get that check from the publisher as soon as possible. While getting a check from a publisher is great--I hope to get one someday--all of these circumstances may not add up to the best possible environment in which to write novels.

So, while being self-pubbed or un-pubbed has its drawbacks, it also has its advantages. You have all the time you need. Take advantage of it, and make doubly sure that novel is absolutely pristine before it goes out the door.

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.




Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.



Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What about Indie Presses?

Despite the tumult in the publishing industry over the last decade or so, indie presses seem to be doing just fine. Maybe they've even gotten stronger.

Of course, there has always been "big" well-run indies like Dzanc Books, but I'm talking about the layers of indie presses underneath them, these places that, as debut and mid-list writers fall out of favor with big house publishers, are positioned to take on these "risks" and publish their works.

I'm thinking about books like Tinkers, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and Currency, which I bought last week at a reading. I've read Tinkers, am just starting Currency, and I'm struck by the difference between these books and the one or two big-house-published books I've read lately.

Maybe it's me, but I've noticed a distinct trend in big-house-published fiction over the past year, and even over the past decade. All of these books start out very strong, almost like a short story in a top-tier literary magazine, but then the quality diminishes after 10, or 25, or 50 pages, becoming, if not pedestrian, something less than fully realized.

I don't pretend to know what goes on at big publishing houses, or with these big authors, but I get the sense that there's a point where "good enough" becomes more important than "as good as it can be," "good enough" being good enough to sell to an editor, to publish, to sell to book sellers, to sell to the public. The idea for the book is strong, the opening chapter is strong. What more do you really need to sell a book?

For the most part, I haven't noticed this same tapering-off in quality when I read good indie-published books. They tend to deliver what they promise.

But wait a second. Aren't Random House, Penguin, and all the other biggies the arbiters of what is the best of the best in fiction? If we judge by major awards, the biggies have ruled my whole life. Are times a-changing?

This might explain some of it: Both of the indie books I mention above went through rounds and rounds of rejection, and years and years of revision, before finally finding a home. Their authors often wondered if their novels would ever see the light of day. In the case of Currency, its author, Zoe Zolbrod, stored the manuscript away after various publishing insiders couldn't find a taker for it. Each agent or editor pushed Zolbrod's book through a revision, and for whatever reason it never got published. It took Gina Frangello of Other Voices Books to contact Zolbrod, make her drag the thing out of the closet and give the novel another chance. Finally, the novel found its home with Frangello and Other Voices.

I'd bet Paul Harding, with Tinkers, has similar stories to tell.

And I think that's the difference. These authors really took the time--or had the time forced upon them--to make sure their novels were the best they could be. They took the time to submit, and get opinions, and reconsider, and rewrite, and revise, and put away, and do it all over again--all this after the thing was "done" to their eyes.

I once read this comment from an agent: "When a new author comes to me, I want to hear, 'I've worked on nothing but this book for a decade.'"

And, of course, this need to revise and reconsider over years and years isn't something only indie-published writers practice. That's about how long Jonathan Franzen took to write and publish The Corrections, a novel that, no matter what you think of it or him, delivers what it promises from page one. His new novel, Freedom, which comes out in the fall, also took about nine years from beginning to end.

I'm looking forward to that one.

Yours in laying down the law,

Art

Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.




Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.



Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.