All Too Common Mistakes

Some web work is better left to the experts. That is, people with skills and understanding. That is, people other than me.

Humpty_Dumpty_TennielWe are back—not just from vacations and working holidays, but from the netherworld that is 404 status for the blog. In a heart-breakingly comic series of mishaps, I managed to delete both the company blog and, in trying to restore that, the entire desktop from my computer (where I’d unwisely stored thousands of files), and my Time Capsule backups of same were no longer recognizing his computer. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Enter the tech monkeys at Apple, the friendly folks at our web hosting service, and the snarky genius who is Symon Chow, and it is all back up and running. I’ve aged a few decades in the past couple of days, and I lost two weeks’ work on a couple of books, but you know what? That feels like a small price to pay considering the alternative.

All of which is to say only this: Backup early and backup often. Your work is more fragile than you suspect.

(First entry in an occasional series in which we bandy about useful terms for the industry. Want to contribute your own? Please email your entries to This first is inspired by Michael Pollan’s useful thoughts about food.]

madgeBook-like product. These are high-profile (and high-priced) projects: Books that are purchased by publishers and published but that are not sold to the traditional book audience, or are sold on some appeal that is extra-literary.

They may be books “written” by celebrities (such as the recent deal for Hilary Duff, or Lauren Conrad’s two novels, or Jerry Seinfeld’s Halloween “picture book” from a few years back). Or books that no one outside of the celebrity’s following (mostly non book buyers) would purchase. (Think of Madonna’s The English Roses. Or Glenn Beck’s picture book.)

Such projects are written and bound and jacketed and look like the rest of the books a publisher may have in its catalogue, sure. They may even read wonderfully well. But make no mistake: They are Something Else. Book-like products don’t behave in the marketplace like regular old books, and so (more…)

kindle-2-carrieBack at the start of this year, Jonathan Galassi wrote an awesome editorial for the New York Times about the value that a publishing house actually provides for a book and an author—those ineffable quality enhancers that make a book cost more than its printing, paper, and binding. Editing. Marketing. Publicity. Design. Attention to detail. Vision.

Galassi’s piece is the perfect counter to those who suggest publishers are going the way of the T-rex, that authors need only throw their manuscripts onto the Kindle. Seventy percent royalty rates! these people crow. Take that, Legacy Publishers! My audience will not be bound by the old paradigms! And then they—I don’t know, twirl the ends of their moustaches while they count their doubloons.

But is Amazon’s self-publication plan truly the first death knell for traditional publishers? (more…)

keyboard-on-fireAnother November is upon is, and, as I’m sure you savvy writers know, that means it’s once again time for NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those afraid of acronyms).

Agents and editors sometimes cringe when we think of NaNoWriMo, because we envision a gigantic pile of rushed, ill-conceived manuscripts being wheeled our way. (more…)


I am working on a new handout for talks, one about mistaken ideas that come out of workshops. And I thought I’d ask you all for help creating it. But first, a disclaimer: I have spent a lot of time in writing workshops—as a student and, later, as a teacher—and I have learned a ton from them. Good, useful things that improved my craft and gave a professional sheen to my work that would have taken years and criminal acts to achieve otherwise. I love workshops and think most every writer should have one, so don’t get me wrong when I warn you that sometimes …

Workshop members have no idea what they are talking about. You know the person I am talking about: Full of advice, self-important, hellbent on hearing herself speak, convinced she has the solution to every problem, has sussed every issue, has gamed every system, knows the ins-and-outs of everything about anything. Which means, of course, that she’s talking out of her hat. Often the misinformation comes from good intentions, or is simply outdated, but it is misinformation nonetheless, and it should be taken down with extreme prejudice. Hence the need for a handout.

To start us off, I thought I’d gather a couple I labored under years ago, when I was a teen and just pecking out stories on my family’s old Selectric II. (more…)

I have been remiss in adding to this blog over the past few weeks, because I’ve been working, and working hard, from sunrise to long into the night. (Spare a moment and a tear for your resident Crow, hunched over his desk, making sales and editing manuscripts and only rising when vision and good posture have gone for good. O, the crippling effects of labor! &c.) And while I have been tinkering with a few posts about the Industry and where it may or may not be going, neither is done.

One day soon, Chris and I will institute “Plagiarism Fridays” here, but in the meanwhile, some local sights that prove that, like it or not, we live in a post-literate culture. (Where are the SPOGGians when you need ‘em?)

#1. “Yo, keep your effing metrics off our ball field, Eurotrash!”


#2. “Trust me: You don’t want to know what we call a dog round here.” (more…)

ghostbustersI’m often asked by writers if I like to hear in a pitch that a book is part of a planned trilogy, or if an author is hard at work on a sequel.

For some projects a sequel, or multiple sequels, make sense. Imagine if Harry Potter’s adventures had ended after the first book! We would never have had all that snogging that made the later books so enjoyable. Or what if Bella and Edward had ended up together at the end of Twilight and never had the complications of love thrown their way? BOR-ING! (more…)

readmymanuscriptHave been polishing up two talks this morning (creating Power Point slides for them—thank you for the kick in the pants, Martha Bee), and so have also been musing about the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was about six weeks ago that it wrapped. I didn’t get to attend this year, and I really missed it. It is grand in every way—thousands of people, speakers who inspire and entertain, children’s books celebrities hobnobbing at the lobby bar, and a huge costume party/dance on Saturday. Being surrounded by like-minded people is inspiring, narcotizing, energizing. There’s nothing else like it.

I love attending and speaking at conferences. No, not just because I am a complete ham; and no, not just because of an obsessive need for endless attention, thank you very much. Rather, it is because I get to talk to people about what I love—books and writing and books and writing—and I get to find exciting new writers. (It does happen, that whole writers-being-”discovered”-at-conferences thing. For example, I signed up Ysabeau Wilce after reading her stuff at an SCBWI retreat in Prescott, Arizona, and I had the fabulous Deb Lund as a one-on-one critique at the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference years ago.)

But occasionally these conferences can be utterly draining, too. Why? Because (more…)


Before I got into publishing, maintaining my social network pages was easy. I joined Facebook in 2005, a bygone era where the most I had to worry about was whether or not my profile picture made me look chubby.

When I was lucky enough to land a job in publishing, I suddenly realized that my Facebook profile was filled with material I didn’t exactly want every writer out there to see: three years worth of immature jokes shared with college friends, photos of me in silly costumes from various Halloween parties, and links to off-color material that made me laugh. I decided the day I became an agent that I was going to maintain Facebook only for my personal use. If I didn’t know you or want every piece of information on my profile to be available to you, then we weren’t going to be friends.

Predictably, I started getting friend requests from writers. Those were easy enough to ignore at first. Then I started getting from requests from editors. Those were a little tougher. After much hand-wringing (seriously, my hands were wringed), I accepted that in today’s digital world, it was hopeless to hold out.

I’m sure many writers out there are struggling with the same issues. What should be on your Facebook page, your blog, your Twitter updates? Will you hurt your chances by posting something seemingly innocuous that could offend the wrong person? (more…)

There’s no doubt that the Internet is a fantastic resource for fledgling and established writers alike. You can tweet, friend, and chat with editors, agents, and other writers. You can do research to find an agent, or participate in various discussion forums about hot topics in publishing.

And of course, there’s the juicy publishing gossip—which editors have quit to become agents? Which agents have quit to become editors? Which editors/agents have quit publishing cold turkey?

I make it a point not to read author discussion boards or forums, but on the few occasions I’ve stumbled across a discussion between authors, the tone and content of some of the discussions has caused me great concern. Which authors submitted what to whom? Which agents have accepted, rejected, never replied? Some authors even go as far as keeping tallies of how many fulls and partials they have out, as well as posting verbatim copies of their rejection letters for all to see.

So the question is this: When does use of the Internet as a valuable tool for gaining knowledge about your writing, making connections, and getting your work published become plain old Internet chatter?

I’m a firm believer that too much Internet chatter makes writers less productive, as it fosters a less-than-savory keeping up with the Joneses type mentality:

“So-and-so has gotten four requests for a full ms and I haven’t gotten any.”

“I submitted to agent X three weeks before my friend, and she’s already gotten a response and I haven’t.”

While I think it’s great to have support and a place to connect with other writers who are going through the same process, obsessing over this type of minutia takes writers away from the most important part of their job.

So have fun Tweeting and Facebooking and chatting. But as you do these things please, please, please don’t lose focus on what brought you here in the first place.

Say it with me now: Writing a great book!

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