Category Archives: projects in publishing
I was given my first big project this week. One of the senior editors asked me to read an unpublished manuscript and tell him what I thought. Of course, I had no idea how the format for such a thing should be, so I wrote down this, like, running commentary covering all my thoughts about the manuscript. It was pages and pages long by the time I finished the first two or three chapters and I emailed it to the senior editor. When he didn’t get back to me gushing with admiration and pride at what a good job I did, I began to worry. When he finally returned my email, he wasn’t very happy about the job I did. Evidently, there is an exact formula for writing what is called a reader’s report. It goes like this:
1 or 2 sentence sales handle. What is this and who is it for?
1 or 2 sentence overall description. What happens, briefly?
2 or 3 paragraph plot description.
2 or 3 paragraph analysis. Strengths? Weaknesses?
Most importantly – is it publishable?
Had the editor told me this to begin with, I would have saved myself so much time and worry. I think he wanted to see what I would do with his request. He was probably not surprised by the outcome. I had no idea what he wanted, and I probably should have said as much instead of attempting to wing it and imress him. Anyway, so I had to read all 534 pages of this awful monstrosity written by a psychopathic lawyer from Texas. I kept thinking, Why me? What did I do to deserve this? As I wrote my short synopsis of each chapter, I fantasized about printing out the manuscript – all of it – slamming it down on the editor’s desk and shouting, “You read it!” with a defiant hair toss. But no. I do have some control. I took my satisfaction from letting the editor know how incredibly offended I was by this manuscript. And I was offended. The pages contained more cheesy, trashy sex than I’m comfortable thinking about, more mean, gasp-provoking racial epithets than I’ve ever heard, and more stereotypical, chauvinistic images of women with large, perky breasts who just love to constantly have sex. One of the characters is named for her breasts. I’m not joking. It was absolutely the most dirty, offensive, trashy piece of fiction I have ever read. I had my husband read part of it. I chose him because he watches plenty of late night shows on television and funny videos on the Internet – the more irreverent it is, the more uproariously he guffaws. He was disgusted and he, in a very docile and traumatized voice, asked me never to mention it again. Then he hung his head and slunk out of the room. So now I couldn’t even discuss my work day, which consists entirely of me sitting at my desk with an expression of aghast horror on my face, reading this smut, with my husband. Wonderful.
Evidently, I have proven to TF that my skill set exceeds that of a chimp, because this week I have taken a siesta from the deliciously mundane and tedious book-like tasks that used to be my only purpose here. The reader might think I’m speaking in oxymorons, but truly, I love the mundane work of this industry: photo-copying, emailing, mailing, logging submissions, filing, etc. These tasks are those that take little skill, so they allow my already-overworked brain to relax. Brain vacation, you might say.
But I’ve been allowed, beginning this week, to take on more important tasks. Now, the editors and assistants are commandeering me for “projects”. These projects are fascinating to me, the dork who finds such things fascinating, because I’ve been imagining for a long time now what my day-to-day experience in the publishing world will be like. For me to finally see the day-to-day workings here is comparable to one of those people who read Star actually seeing one. Giddy hysteria. I try to remain calm.
Shawna, Zach’s editorial assistant, started it all with a request to conduct some investigative work on a potential author. Basically, I just googled the author’s name, absorbed all of the information and spit it back out at Shawna in an email. She said thanks and that was that.
Apparently my skills as a private eye pleased her, because yesterday, Zach approached me with not one, but three projects. Sitting in his cushy office overlooking one of Rockefeller Center’s rooftop gardens, Zach asked me about my goals, how I landed myself at TF, blah, blah, blah. The first project was to find out information about Sig Hansen and his brothers, who are ship captains on the enormously popular reality TV show, Deadliest Catch. There was an awful lot of information and I made certain he got as much as I could give – even MySpace friend-counts. The second project was much like the first, with a different person, someone uninteresting and not famous.
Finishing those two jobs, Michelle, another senior editor approached with a new project. Maybe Zach told her I did a good job, maybe it was just a coincidence. I like to stay hopeful, though. Michelle is editing a baby-name book, which, by its very nature, has few selling points aside from the actual count of baby names. Expectant mothers will choose the book with the most names so they don’t miss the perfect name. Makes sense. Unfortunately, the book is almost finished and no one bothered to count the names. This is what I’m here for – the crappy task net. Anyway, Michelle took pity on me and suggested that instead of hand-counting all of the names in this three-hundred-page book, I could simply take a sample of pages, say 30, count all the names and multiply that by 10. Then, she would conservatively make an estimate. Smart lady. Unfortunately, I have this ridiculous tendency to open my mouth when it belongs wired shut – in the shape of nice, compliant smile. But since I’m a complete fool, I suggested back to Michelle that, since she had a count of all the base names (not variations, which are many), we could count the variations of each base name in a sample and average it. Then, we could multiply that average number by the number of base names. She looked very confused and after attempting to seriously consider my idiocy, she said very diplomatically and gracefully, “Well, let’s give this a try. If it’s not working and you feel there’s a better way, I would love to hear it.” At least then I had the sense to shut up. Her way was much easier anyway.
To make up for acting so crazy, I placed my results as neatly and comprehensively in an Excel spreadsheet, totaled it into subtotals and a grand total and emailed it to her with a smiley face. She thanked me both in person and in an email. Yay!
It went downhill from there, however. As his third project, Zach asked me to “take a look at a manuscript.” I didn’t really know what that meant and I didn’t want to ask, so I decided to wing it. I read the first three chapters of the manuscript, which were absolutely awful, and wrote down all my thoughts. Then, I emailed them to Zach. He has yet to get back to me. But, now that I’m reading further into the manuscript, I realize that some of my initial thoughts are set to rest by further information. Next time, I’ll wait until I’ve read the whole thing. Maybe that’s what the problem was. Or maybe he just wanted a simple, “I like it” or “I hate it” instead of three typed pages of the intern’s inexperienced, jumbled thoughts on a manuscript. I guess we shall see. At the moment , I’m completing yet another of Zach’s projects. I’m trying to log into BookScan and can’t. Fabulous. Now I have to show him how incompetent I can be and email him this problem. More next week.