Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! The Future Looks Bright.

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.

~Traditional Irish toast

We three Medusa's Muses wish you all the happiest and most creative of New Years. May 2009 bring you joy, or at least may it give you time to write down that story trapped in your head.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A View of a Book Design Meeting

Ever wonder what happens during a production meeting between the publisher/editor at a small press and the lead designer of a book? Here's a glimpse of the meeting I had yesterday with Rick Wismar, Medusa's Muse designer.

"Want cheese on your Wopper?" Rick asked before heading to the counter.

I shook my head and set up the laptop while he got our food. This is about as fancy as a working lunch gets for a micro press; a couple of burgers at "Burger King".

While eating our burgers and fries, we discussed the pros and cons of including images in What You Need to Know to Be a Pro. Now that I am no longer the author/editor on this project, I have to focus on being the publisher, which means my primary job is to create an excellent product (book) while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Some of the questions I have to ask are:

-Does including images increase the overall worth of the book to a reader?

-Will images make the book more appealing, and thus increase sales? Or is it just dressing up a book that already has enough intrinsic value?

-If I want the price of the book to be $10.00, will that price support the book's production? How much more can I spend on design and still gain enough profit on a $10.00 book?

-How fancy can I afford to make the images?

After some discussion, we decided to include simple cartoons at the beginning of each chapter to emphasise the subject of that chapter, while also adding more humor to the book. The book was written with the hope that people would be entertained and inspired as well as informed while reading about how to start a small press. So Rick and I pulled out the table of contents and began doodling ideas for each heading. What would be a good image for "Working with Authors?" Or "Bank Accounts and Licenses?" In the introduction, I compare the book to a travel guide for would-be adventurers who are planning their first trip overseas. Should we carry that metaphor throughout in the images, or let each chapter's image stand alone?

Rick sketched out many ideas and we laughed over the silly ones. It's important to let your imagination lead the way while coming up with ideas rather than only focus on what will be "pertinent." After two hours of tossing around ideas, he had enough to start narrowing down the specific drawings.

Then we asked, "Who can draw them." Rick would rather turn over the actual illustrations to another artist, but I'm concerned about the deadline. Who do we know who can draw several sketches in just a week? I don't want to keep pushing this book's deadline ahead because that pushes the Punk Rock Anthology's deadline even further. This is another place I need to be the publisher, not the author.

-Can we afford to hire an illustrator?

-Should Rick draw the images himself?

-How long can we wait before the deadline will have to be extended again, and can we afford to keep extending that deadline?

I insisted on keeping the mid-January deadline and Rick said he'd do his best. Luckily, we already have a mock-up of the cover and the interior will be simple since we have a template from Traveling Blind. But the images could really slow things down. I'll have to keep wearing my publisher's hat to keep us all on target.

I'm pleased with our progress yesterday and excited about the book again. For a while, I was so sick of What You Need to Know to Be a Pro I didn't want to think about it. After working on a manuscript for a year, you can get pretty tired of the words on the page, even when it's your own book. But Rick's ideas make the book feel fresh again and brings it one step closer to being real.

Besides, I wrote it! I should celebrate! I'd better start planning a party.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Winter all you crazy Artists!

It's Christmas Eve and I'm thinking about the world and all its trouble. So much fear, anger, outrage and injustice. From corporate CEO's stealing money from old ladies to cholera decimating Zimbabwe. It's enough to make you want to hide under the bed, or find a bunch of rocks and start throwing them at banks.

But despite all the trouble, I feel a spirit of hope. People everywhere are shaking off the helplessness and asking, what can I do? How can I help? Now is the time for all the crazy artists to drop their ennui and show people how to be creative.

Creativity is the fire that keeps us warm when we haven't seen the sun in weeks. It is the drive that urges us on when we swear we can't take one more step. As soon as we've lost all hope, the creative fire can inspire us to keep trying. It's thinking outside the box to solve problems and deal with chaos.

I'm not talking about the Michelangelo's of the world, although they are amazing. I'm talking about the knitters, woodworkers, cooks, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and plumbers of the world. Even Grandma Smith and her needlepoint bag contribute to the collective creative fire. Every time you look at something old in a new way, you are exercising your creativity, flexing your artistic muscles, and increasing your imagination. These are the tools you need when everything around you feels like it's collapsing.

On this Christmas and this week of Hanukkah, keep the warmth of good wishes, kindness, and beauty in your heart. Store it up for the long year ahead. And the next time you feel like hiding under the bed, remember how much possibility there still is in the world. You can see it in Uncle Jo's drift-wood mobile, or when Martha rebuilt her car's engine. These simple acts of imagination, knowledge, and creativity are what gave the human species fire, and that saved our asses during the Ice Age.

We are intrepid. We carry on.

Happy Winter.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Gift from Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound

Joan Stewart, marketing and PR expert, has a website packed with information, as well as a newsletter, called The Publicity Hound. I urge anyone needing information about marketing their work to check out her site and sign up for the newsletter. Whether you're a writer, publisher, visual artist, or what have you, you'll find great advice and expert tips. Plus,a bit of Joan's expert advice has been included in the next Medusa's Muse book, What You Need to Know to Be a Pro: The Start-Up Business Book for Publishers (written by the one and only me, Terena Scott).

Right now, Joan is offering a free download of her top advice for 2008. Follow this link to check it out and download a copy for yourself.

Here's what you'll find in her ebook (from the website):

A fast, inexpensive way to catch the attention of journalists in your community.

A clever way to get onto the morning TV talk shows...most people who are pitching aren't doing this.

A place where you can connect daily with journalists who are looking for sources. And it won't cost you a penny.

What to do when you're tempted to strangle a reporter for wasting your time interviewing you, and then leaving your name out of the story.

A news story that appears several times a year in almost every community and is PERFECT for piggybacking onto.

9 ways to use video to pull more traffic to your website, sell more products, generate publicity, and build word-of-mouth publicity about your product, service, cause or issue.

11 ways to use a paid or unpaid assistant to help with publicity-related tasks.

How to make your local Chamber of Commerce one of your biggest promoters.

A free tool that tells you whether your press release gets a passing grade or a big, fat F.

How to use a popular social networking site to snoop on your competitors legally and ethically

What writers can learn from a beloved dog's obituary.

How to claim the Number 1 spot on Google.

A publicity mistake that most companies make, and it kills their chances of ever getting covered

I've downloaded my copy. Go get yours!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Beware the Danger of Writer's Blindness

Writer's Blindness is a dangerous threat to your credibility as a writer, as well as to your created work. Don't take it lightly. Protect yourself from this scourge by hiring a good editor. Don't believe me? Read on for my own heart wrenching tale of writer's blindness.

I am a book publisher and professional editor, a very good editor I've been told. I am also a writer, having written several short stories, two novel length manuscripts and four plays, paying my dues to the writing muses by collecting over 80 rejection letters in 15 years. You'd think I'd be able to write well without much help, but that's not the case. Instead, I suffer from the worst writer's blindness anyone could have.

Writer's blindness occurs after you've immersed yourself in a writing project for so long you become blinded to the flaws of your own writing. Every writer has it a little bit because we write the way we hear the story in our heads. Unfortunately, not every reader will get what we intended, which is why we all need editors to make our inner voices understandable to the outside world.

Here is an example of when writer's blindness struck me; a page from What You Need to Know to Be a Pro, which I sent to Jane for editing.

(from - What You Need to Know to Be a Pro. early draft, before revisions)

The production manager oversees the process. He or she decides how the printing will bedone and who will do it. Send the manuscript overseas? Use print-on-demand? Will the print run be large enough to use the standard, off-set, printing process (not digital)? Each book requires different decisions based on the number of pages, the type of paper, whether it is to be published in hardcover or paper-back, the book’s dimensions, the cost of paper, shipping costs, and changing technology.
Everyone wants the book done quickly and the production manager is under intense
pressure to make that happen. Sometimes the pressure is due to outside forces, such as when there was an industry-wide paper shortage while the last Harry Potter book was being printed because practically every sheet of paper available was being used to print Harry Potter books! That delayed other books from being printed, which created a backlog for every Production Department in the book industry. A publishing company often produces many books at a time and it's up to the production department to keep all of those different production schedules organized. A delay in any part of the process, from the author becoming ill to the designer being unable (or unwilling!) to make the changes needed to please the marketing department,will create a delay in production. Those delays can cost the press money

I thought this was great. Really brilliant writing! I sent it off to Jane feeling like I was DONE.

She sent it back three weeks later, every page COVERED with red marks and notes. Here's the list for just this one page:

Formatted: Highlight
Formatted: No underline
Formatted: Highlight
Deleted: They
Comment [jm15]: Sidenote: more about this in Chapter XX
Deleted: hould they s
Deleted: e
Deleted: P
Deleted: D
Deleted: used
Deleted: ,
Deleted: of the book
Deleted: like
Deleted: the
Deleted: department
Comment [jm16]: SUBHEAD
Comment [jm17]: Bold or itals?

That was just ONE PAGE out of 130 pages. As I looked at her notes throughout the manuscript, I cringed at the typos, misspellings, improper use of commas, confusing sentences and run-ons. I honestly had been incapable of seeing ANYTHING wrong; my manuscript had looked PERFECT.

I spent four weeks revising the manuscript, my blinders suddenly removed by a flash of insight from my editor, Jane. She had set her hands upon my head and commanded, "See!" and in that moment I saw my writing for the first time. I made all the corrections she suggested and triple checked that my sentences were clear. This time when I got the manuscript back, there were only a few notes from Jane, but overall she was pleased. "You did a great job with this revision."

Ask any writer and they will tell you their own tale of when they were struck stupid by writer's blindness. If it can happen to Stephen King and Alice Munroe, it can happen to you. Protect yourself. Get an editor.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Revisions are Complete! Now the Business Book goes to the Designer

Last night I completed the final revision of What You Need to Know to Be a Pro, making the corrections Jane had suggested. Except for finishing the Resources page, the manuscript is DONE. It now goes to the Designer, who will turn the manuscript into a book.

A manuscript is the words on the page, but a book is those words transformed into the perfect font for readability and beauty. A book is also the cover, which should convey the meaning and tone of the manuscript in a creative yet understandable design. The book transforms the manuscript into a work of art.

Finding the right designer is extremely important. You need the best person you can afford (and it shouldn't be Aunt Judy who took a water color workshop two years ago). But how do you find and hire a designer?

1) What is my design budget?

If you don't know that, then you didn't do a thorough project budget. Go back to the beginning and figure out your production costs NOW.

If you do know what the budget is then...

2) Do I need to hire someone to design the cover, the interior layout, or both?

Good design is imperative to the overall readability and sales of your book. I am a big proponent of DIY (do-it-yourself), but part of making good choices about DIY is knowing when you need help. If you have excellent computer skills and a familiarity with InDesign, you can more than likely do the interior design yourself. Buy Pete Masterson's book Book Design and Production and study it. Here is a link to the kinds of things you'll need to consider while doing interior design, and why it's so important to study Pete's book.

The exterior takes a bit more skill. If you have a strong background in graphic design as well as excellent computer skills, you can probably create an acceptable cover design, but again only after studying Pete Masterson's book. A book cover is not just a pretty picture. You are trying to create a work of art that sells; a design so eye catching the reader will be compelled to pick up your book out of the thousands on the shelf.

So, to answer question number two, decide if you have the necessary skills to design the interior and exterior of your book (be honest). With a lot of practice, most people can manage the interior design, but the majority will need help with exterior. Take a look at your skills and your budget to decide how much help you need.

3) How do I find a designer?

John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, has a page on his website with links to hundreds of designers. That's a good place to start for ideas on what services are offered by designers and what kind of price range there is. Surf the different sites listed there to find several designers with a style you like.

There is also a book designers resource page on Dan Poynter's web site.

If you haven't already, join Small Publisher's Association of North America. They can help you find the right book designer for your publishing company.

4) How do I decide on a designer.

It comes down to price and style. What design do you envision for your book, and how much can you afford? Do you want a fancy cover design (with embossed lettering and luminescent imagery) or a more simple design, with just one photo and black letters?

As you surf the net exploring different designers, bookmark the styles that appeal to you, and contact that designer for a price quote. You want to get quotes from several designers to find the best person for your project. Don't just settle one the first one you talk to, shop around. You're also looking at how well a designer handles customer service. Do they return your calls quickly and answer your questions pleasantly? Do you feel that you can develop a rapport with this person? You'll be working closely with this person, so make sure it's someone you can communicate with.

5) How do I hire a designer?

Once you've gotten quotes back from the designers you like and have decided on one, request a contract. Always sign a contract whenever you hire a contractor (which you're doing by hiring a designer). The contract clearly specifies exactly what you are hiring the designer to do and how much you will pay them for that work. Every designer has their own contract, but their contract should include the full amount you will pay, the type of work being done (interior, exterior, both?), how many hours the designer thinks it will take, when the work is due, how changes to the design will be dealt with (do changes cost more, or if changes are included in the overall price, how many changes can be made before the cost increases?), when payment is due, if you should pay a deposit, and what will happen if you dislike the cover the designer creates.

Get as much help with the design of your book as possible. Pay as much as you can. Think of your book's design like the outfit you bought for your first date with that really cute guy you've been longing to meet for a year. He finally asked you out and now's your chance to make a great impression. Will it be love, or will you show up with bad breath and your boob hanging out because the dress is too small?

Again, I'm not saying you can't do it all yourself. With practice and research, you can design your own book. At Medusa's Muse, my husband is our designer, but he has a strong background in graphic design and over 15 years of computer expertise. He has the skills do be a good book designer. Do you?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Editor is Happy

Being told by your editor that you did an "excellent job with the revision" feels a lot like getting a dollar an hour raise in your paycheck. All those hours of toil and worry have been validated and rewarded. I haven't looked at the feedback yet because I'm still revelling in that job-well-done feeling. I don't want to see what work still needs to be done. Nope. Let me sit here and contemplate how wonderful it is that what I've done so far is good.

Besides, I'm spending every spare moment of my life in Finals Hell. Two take home, open book finals due on the same day. MANY hours later, I've finished final number one and am half way through final number two. My brain reached critical stress overload, so I took another look at the note from Jane and suddenly felt a lot better. My first semester of Grad School ends on Monday and I can then dive joyfully head first into my manuscript again. We are SO CLOSE TO BEING DONE. Just a bit more polish.

I forget to fully embrace these moments between projects when I can enjoy my accomplishment without rushing to the next. We should all give ourselves kudos for sticking in there and doing the work, no matter how many revisions the work may require. Keeping at it is the important part. Eventually, it will be ready.

Monday, December 08, 2008

News Updates from the Publishing Industry

Wow! What happened to the week? I catch one lousy cold and lose six days. This is also the last two weeks of grad school, so I'm preparing for finals. Between long hours of reading, lack of sleep, and catching cold all the time, I feel like I'm twenty-four years old again and in college for the first time. It's good to feel young (cough, cough... zzzzzz).

Even though I've been too busy to update my blog, the world of publishing keeps rolling on. These past two weeks have been very interesting ones in the industry.

Over at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, there's more bad news. According to Galley Cat:

The shock waves just keep coming out of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Executive editor Ann Patty (left) informed us this morning that she has been "fired," along with an unspecified number ("a lot") of other employees.
(go to Galley Cat for full story).

That wasn't the only thing that happened on "Black Wednesday," Dec. 3rd. According to the New York Times, the entire book industry is getting slammed by the recession.

from article: In a day of especially grim news for the book business, Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer books, announced a sweeping reorganization aimed at trimming costs, while Simon & Schuster laid off 35 people.

The moves signaled just how bad sales have become in bookstores and followed the news this week that the publisher of the adult division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the house that represents authors including Philip Roth and José Saramago, had resigned, presumably in protest of a temporary freeze on the acquisition of new books.

Industry insiders were already calling it “Black Wednesday"

Follow the above link for the full story.

Galley Cat had this article about the layoffs at Simon and Schuster:

In what we understand to be two separate developments at Simon and Schuster, Rick Richter, the president of the publishing company's children's book division, has resigned "in order to explore other opportunities in publishing," while 35 other positions throughout the company were eliminated in what was described by president/CEO Carolyn Reidy as "an unavoidable acknowledgment of the current bookselling marketplace and what may very well be a prolonged period of economic instability."

It looks like the decision by Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt to temporarily suspend aquisitions is just the beginning of a much larger, industry wide reaction to the poor economy, as well as the changes in the industry as a whole. The big guys can't do business the same way any longer.

Whatever you do, don't start pulling out your hair while wailing, "Books are dead." No, books are NOT dead. The industry has been changing for several years, driven by technology and the desires of the reading public. Throw in a faltering economy and it's no wonder the larger publishing houses are in trouble. Stay informed about what's going on in the book industry, but do not panic. Or you can panic, and start turning your book inventory into a bed frame. It's up to you. Who knows, you might start a new trend in book furniture.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hear Laura Fogg, author of Traveling Blind, on KZYX/Z

(Laura and I launching her book November, 2007)

An interview with Medusa's Muse author Laura Fogg, writer of Traveling Blind: Life Lessons from Unlikely Teachers, will air tomorrow, Wednesday December 3, at 4:30 pm on the public radio station KZYX/Z. Barry Vogel talks with Laura on his Radio Curious program about her book and her work with visually impaired children.

If you live outside Mendocino County and can't hear KZYX/Z on your radio, tune in live via the internet at I will post a copy of the interview on the Medusa's Muse website later this week for those who miss it.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Celebrating my friends on World AIDS Day

Today, Dec. 1, 2008, is the twentieth anniversary of World AIDS day.

I wish I didn't have anything to write about today. AIDS continues to be a major threat to the health and well being of millions of people around the world, especially in the African continent. So here I am, joining Bloggers Unite once again to light a virtual candle in memory of those I have lost to AIDS, and those who continue to live with it today.

A few weeks ago it suddenly dawned on me that I don't have any gay men in my life anymore. Paul, Andre, Doug, David, Steve, Mark, Nate... they're all gone. Every one of my gay friends died from AIDS between 1990 and 1997. I once danced with them on the Castro, their token "fag-hag," accepted because I was Paul's best friend from childhood and eventually befriended by them all.

Andre's funeral in 1997 was the last one. An entire generation of gay men was gone. I moved away from San Francisco, grieving too much to stay in that shining city where my friends once lived.

I wish my daughter could have known them, and they her. It feels odd to me that my child doesn't have any gay Uncles and that the Castro is just a street in San Francisco usually too crowded for her to navigate. Sometimes I walk the street on my own and listen to the young men of today laughing, feeling like I'm watching the ghosts of my friends.

The first book I every wrote was a memoir about my dear friend Paul. It started as a series of letters to him about our twenty year friendship and my overwhelming grief at his death. Over ten years, it became a book, which I have yet to publish. I just didn't have the strength to face the loneliness. But now I think I'm ready.

We must remember the people who were killed, not just the way they died. AIDS stole their lives, but we cannot allow the disease to erase who they were; their friendship, hopes, fears and dreams. If they are reduced to just another number killed in the AIDS pandemic, then they are truly erased.

Tell their stories. Share their dreams. Speak out about AIDS so that someday the deaths will end.