Monday, July 19, 2010


Being a wannabe publisher is like Freaky Friday sometimes--I'm definitely in somebody else's body and they're in mine.  What writer hasn't suffered the ignominy of the Dread Title Change? And for no better reason than to sell books! If only they hadn't done it on my first book, slyly titled THE FEMINIST BORDELLO! Great title for a mystery, right? Kind of like those intriguing old Peter Dickinson titles, like THE GLASS-SIDED ANTS' NEST   or  THE YELLOW ROOM CONSPIRACY.

Well, my publisher definitely wasn't into intriguing and certainly wasn't into old. Nor did they appreciate the subtle humor. But you get it, right? (See, there's no such thing as a...oh, never mind.) They thought the "feminist" part would turn people off and "bordello" was a word nobody would know. Seriously. Even though there was a pretty good chance that  person buying a book would be literate.

They wanted a title that said "mystery". Not sly, intellectual mystery, like Peter Dickinson might write. Kind of generic, everyday mystery like some American...though surely not me!...would create. And so began the lists and tears. They went with DEATH TURNS A TRICK. To this day, I hate that title.

Then one day I started a new series, set in New Orleans, which, due to a high-profile  Mardi Gras murder, I called BLOODY CARNIVAL. Okay, even I knew that was lousy. I really wanted FAREWELL TO THE FLESH, you know, like they say at Lent,  when people give up meat? And also if someone were killed... well, how descriptive can you get, right?  Wrong. So very wrong. Nobody got it. Nobody liked it. They went with NEW ORLEANS MOURNING, considered by many to be my cleverest title. It still makes me cringe.

So can you guess where this is going?  You're probably already chortling, especially if you've ever been my editor, because you know I'm getting payback. The lists and tears have started again.

 Why is is that we can sit here in our office and see clearly that the author's title won't work, and be unanimous on the subject? And the author's friends and family are similarly unanimous? Will someone explain this phenomenon to me? It's exactly like when your writers' group and all your writer friends love your book, but everyone in New York thinks it sucks.
Is there a name for this thing?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blinking In the Sunlight

It's a rude shock coming out of your cave after twenty-odd years. By that, I mean making the decision to go from the solitary slog of writing alone to the intricate choreography of collaboration--in my case, working with eight other e-guerrillas to start a digital publishing house. It's really weird how I'm craving both things--solitude on the one hand, teamwork on the other.

I'm never happier than when I'm at my desk with no one but Rambla (There she is... up there). And yet it's so exciting to bash things around with smart people! My adrenal glands haven't worked so hard since my reporting days.

But the down side of that is: Personnel Problems. We've had 'em here. We have no website yet, but boy have we been through designers; and would-be designers; and tryout designers. Nothing wrong with their designs, just problems being on everyone's back burner, due, no doubt, to our being so unwilling to part with shekels we might need for something we might not yet even know exists.

For instance, who knows how much formatting's going to cost? That is, specialized formatting for the new literary forms we're working on. And the kind of wild and crazy videos we want to make. (Do I sound mysterious? I hope so.)

Not only do we have practically no budget, it's a matter of pride with us, as e-guerrillas, to do this as cheaply as we possibly can. And so when we sat we're bootstrapping, we mean we're pinching pennies till they bruise. We're trying to do trades for whatever we can, and also begging a lot, and promising. There's a lot of promising going on, which, alas, can't be fulfilled until we get the site up.

But the good news is, it might not be long. We might actually be stabilizing. We have a fantastic new marketing director with a wonderful take-charge attitude, who simply slipped her tiny feet into a pair of combat boots and said, "Hey, let me take a crack at it." and came back in forty-eight hours with the site half-done. Woo-hoo! Girl Power!

And now we're forming an in-house writers' group, critiquing our own work not only for own venture, but for Big Pub as well. The idea is to get our interns and new kids ready to go pro, as well as learn a new way of working for own venture. We're trying to learn to write in teams.

A bit of clarification here. We don't intend to be primarily self-publishers--we've already acquired three fantastic novels for our launch, plus a terrific little how-to book. But certain things you just have to do for yourself. Three of us, for instance, are working on a book told in two blogs (real ones) and a dog's POV. Well, actually, it could end up being four of us--the dog has a canine friend and someone wants him to have  voice too. So that's four writers, plus a videographer. (When you're talking dogs, you've got to have a videographer.)

You can't farm that baby out. And who would want to, anyhow? Doesn't it sound like fun? Or am I crazy?