Friday, March 02, 2007

When the Mail Ain't Coming

Have you seen this article? What do you think?

Hmmm, yes, I had seen it because it was the talk of several forums I frequent. For those of you who haven't or who are too lazy to click on the link, Gawker is reporting that a lot of magazines invent their letters. I'm one of the few freelancers who has never worked on staff anywhere, so I can't speak with certainty about the veracity of this, but some of the writers I know said that this isn't that unusual of a practice.

Which, I guess, leads me to ask: why??? I mean, if magazines aren't getting enough reader letters, maybe they should take this as a sign that readers don't care so much about the letters section and axe it altogether. It seems odd to me that they'd go through the effort of fabricating an entire section - a section that largely depends on their readers - rather than realize that maybe readers just don't give a damn.

I also certainly think that this expose (for lack of a better word) undermines the already sketchy leg of authority on which some magazines stand. What does this mean? Well, it's fairly well-known in the freelancing circles that a few magazines (which I won't name) make up quotes and sources when they can't find ones that suit their purposes. (Note: I don't write for any of these magazines, partially because of this reason, so please don't leap to judgment about any and all editors, including mags such as Women's Health, Self, Parents, Cooking Light, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Hallmark, etc, all put the stories through a rigorous fact-checking process.) As a writer, I can almost always tell when a quote has been made up...they're the ones you read and think, "I can't believe that they found a half-Asian, one-quarter Hawaiian 33 year-old mother of triplets who lives in Wichita, KS and is a former beauty queen who happens to have an IQ over 200 yet has found herself homeless after burning through her inheritance from both parents who died in a freak lightening accident." And the story just happens to be on racially-mixed moms of multiples who live in the Midwest and whose good fortune turned around on a dime. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but you get my point. If a quote is really, really, really too good to be true, in a few magazines, unfortunately, it is.

In fact, I remember a friend was trolling for quotes from parents who would go on record saying that their sex life had gotten hotter after their kids were born. Ha! Every person wrote her back and said, "er, you're kidding, right??" And she knew it was a total joke because how on earth was she going to find the maybe one person who thought that newborns were a turn-on, but her editor insisted that these people were out there. So my poor friend kept searching and searching to no avail. Now, I have no idea what happened with that story, but if it were being written for a few of the mags that invent quotes (which it wasn't), the editor might have just pulled Jane Smith, she who finds spit-up and sleepless nights arousing, out of thin air.

So...getting back to the original question. What do I think of the fact that magazines make up letters? Well, I just think it further undermines the idea that journalists are all too often happy to play fast and loose with the truth. 95% of us aren't.

So what do you guys think of the Gawker piece? Am I jumping to conclusions about its implications?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

When a Source Wants a Preview

I'm curious how you handle sources who want to see the final version of a story before it goes to print. I've had one particular source who has been really insistant on it, and I don't know what to tell him.

Ugh, isn't it the worst when sources become pests? (Most don't, however, and are nothing but helpful and lovely.) I had one who would just NOT leave me alone, and finally, I had to send him a very curt email telling him to take up whatever else he needed with my editor. And I then blocked his email addy.

Source requests to see the final article actually aren't that unusual - they often don't understand that it's not within our right to show it to them. So, when a source asks me to email them the copy, I always simply tell them that while I can't do that, what will happen is that a fact-checker will be in touch to go over any and all pertinent quotes, and that they can rest assured that they'll have a chance to review what they said. I empathize, I do. I just did an interview about TDLF, and I'm 100% certain that I said a few things that will make me sound like an idiot, as I stumbled my way through some answers. But that doesn't mean that I (or a source) get to impose some sort of control over the story or the editorial process.

If your source isn't placated by the old "fact-checker will be in touch" route, I suggest you simply refer him to your editor, telling him you don't have permission to share the story, but the editor might be able to help. Let your editor do the dirty work - it's not your obligation to do so.

So readers, how do you handle pushy sources?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Booking Book Tours

Hey peeps - just wanted to give a plug to my friend, Kristy Kiernan, whose book, Catching Genius, goes on sale next week!! Yahoo!! For more on the book, check out Larramie's Seize a Daisy blog this week.

I've had a lot of people write to ask if I'm doing a book tour, so I thought I'd pass along some info that I've gleaned about book tours.

It's interesting, just after the comment, "You have to get on Oprah!," (Well, gee, really??? Doesn't every author on the planet - save for one or two - want to get on Oprah?? Not as easy to do as people seem to think.), people say, "So, are you going on a tour?"

So here's the deal with book tours: publishing houses rarely pay for debut authors to go on tour. There are definitely exceptions, such as my fab friend, Laura Dave, but for the most part, the house isn't going to shell out money for an unproven author. Which actually makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, who is going to show up to buy a signed book from someone whom they've never heard of? And to further this point, how many of you guys would show up for a book signing of a random Joe Schmo? Actually, how many of you guys go to book signings period? See where I'm going with this? The numbers aren't high.

That said, debut authors often have signings in places where they know they can generate a decent crowd, and to that end, I am doing a small tour, albeit in cities where I have built-in connections. My publicist told me that bookstores really don't want to waste their time if you can wrangle 50 people to show, so that's our barometer. But the publisher doesn't pay for my travel, I do. I'm fortunate to be in a position where I can do this, but some authors can't, and so they don't. And truthfully, I don't really think this is a big ding in their promotional plans. The jury is out on if tours really bolster sales - a lot of authors and publicists don't think they do - so touring is really a question of how motivated you are. One way that a tour may help is that when an author visits a city, the publicist (if she's good) will alert all the media outlets and you might get a lot of coverage in the papers and such. I believe that this is how a few of my author friends hit bestseller lists in various cities that they visited. effective do you think touring is? And why is the tour-question so common?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Promotional Pushes

I was wondering if your freelancing/networking with mags, and writing for Redbook helped get you there? Is this something that maybe an agent, or a publicity person does after the book has sold--do you have a publicity person or is it up to you to promote the book? Does a publicity person or do you contact the mag and pitch your book to them? Do you do this for other mags so they can blurb/publish something about your novel in order to get the word more out?

A couple of different questions here and a couple of different answers, so let's break it down.

In terms of Redbook (in case you didn't see the news last week, TDLF was selected as Redbook's Book Club pick for the month of May), the peeps at Harper handled this entirely. I've been lucky enough to have a stellar team of people working behind the scenes to garner publicity for the book, and in this case, the subsidiary rights folks - the same people who manage foreign rights - are the all-stars responsible for selling first serial rights to Redbook. I feel particularly fortunate because it seems like it's really rare to read excerpts from novels in mags these days, so my hat is really off to the subsidiary rights dept at Harper. Did my experience writing for Redbook help? I really don't think so. My editor is currently on maternity leave, and while I did shoot an email to the book editor there, I don't know her and I didn't hear back from I really think this was just a happy accident: that I've written for them in the past and that they selected my book.

And the reviews in Cosmo, Marie Claire and a few others also really had nothing to do with me. They all had to do with a) I guess the fact that the book will appeal to the demographics of these various magazines and b) the fact that I really have a super-duper team at Harper and a fantabulous agent who also helped with the PR by calling various editors and writers whom she knows.

How does this all work? Well, we got the galleys back in December. And from there, the folks at Harper sent out a blanket mailing to all of the long-lead editors. (Newspapers and weeklies, with the exception of People and EW, all get copies of actual books when we get them in a month or so. People and EW got galleys.) My publicist then follows up, follows up, follows up. And hopefully, one or more editors bite. We've been very fortunate in the coverage we've received, and I really don't know why, other than to say that I guess the book is connecting on some level and to credit my savvy team once again. They put together a good Q/A with me and a sharp press release, and this must have made the book pop out among the hundreds of other submissions that these editors receive. Oh, and props to the art dept too because the cover is getting a lot of positive feedback, and as consumers, not just writers, we know that covers help sell (and evidently, move galleys to the top of an editor's stack).

Now, that said, certainly, my connections at other magazines have helped. For example, I've written for Fitness before, and my lovely editor there read the book (and enjoyed it!), and asked me to write an essay for the mag to coincide with the release. (Right now, it's slated for the May issue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might get bumped to June.)

And, as any author will tell you, even when your publicist is fabulous, the onus still falls on you much of the time. So I've been doing Q/As with websites and blogs, and yes, following up with a lot of my own editors to garner even more attention and mentions. Because ultimately, my publicist has a slew of other books to promote, and I only have mine. End of story.

Make sense?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Progress? are we doing with our WIPs? I'm happy to report that I'm now up to page 75 on mine, which is exactly where I wanted and needed to be to date. My agent is leaving on her fabu-honeymoon, and I've promised her the first half of the book (about 150 pages) when she returns. So, as of now, I have about three weeks to revise/rewrite/overhaul the remaining 75 pages. And I think that's totally do-able. My goal is to have gotten to page 100 (at least) by the end of this week.

What is yours?

I'm sorry I'm not answering a question today. I am SOOO farking tired. (Yes, farking is my feeble attempt to curb my swearing, as my two-year old now repeats every. single. thing. we say, and it's high time that my husband and I clean up our language. I, however, am much more successful than he is at this, and I live in fear of what my son might blurt out on his first day of preschool in September. Thus, my attempt to get my husband to swap in non-swear words for similar sounding, but much worse, actual swear words.) Anyway, I went to the gym late last night, and as a result, I couldn't get to sleep, despite the Oscar's best attempts to put me to sleep. Wow, was that a boring ceremony or what?? I was up almost the entire night - hearing my horrid upstairs neighbors tromp about (despite REPEATED!!!!! notes and discussion asking them to be a little more aware of the fact that they sound like 6000 pound elephants) and then hearing various people shovel snow off the sidewalk in the middle of the night. WHY??? I ask you, was that necessary?? Then, to top if off, I absolutely could NOT get this random song from Music and Lyrics (that, yes, my husband was kind enough to see with me) out of my head, and I played it on repeat in my mind over and over while I tossed and turned. (Side note: I actually sort of dig this song, but Hugh Grant, as delicious as he is, is not a singer born.)

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I'm pooped. So no question today. But if you have more questions, please do send them my way. A few people mentioned that they didn't know how to email me, so here's my addy: