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Courtney Miller-Callihan
Works at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
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Tarantino said so. What will this look like for you?
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Three Helpful Tips for Self-Appointed Technophile Gadflies of the Book Industry

Like a lot of people in the book business, I ended up working with books because I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Books have played a powerful role in my life, and for me the deep associations they stir are not only joy, but knowledge, learning, literacy, freedom and an educated citizenry. Thus the stakes are high, yes, even when we’re talking Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Grey -- a way of thinking that sometimes seems hard for non-book people to understand. This is why, when criticism comes from self-appointed gadflies who don’t obviously share this bookish connection, I can’t help myself: the hackles go up and the claws come out. 

That said, like a lot of people in the book business, I understand the urgent need for the industry to change and adapt to the realities of modern life. (After all, we work with these issues every day; it’s our job.) So, after getting a little yelly at one of the Book^2 Camp sessions last weekend, I calmed down and decided instead to offer some unsolicited advice to said gadflies (Find Love and Save Publishing in 3 Simple Steps!) in the interest of making these conversations more productive and interesting for all of us. Read on below, after the before-and-after bikini pics.

1. Bother to understand the industry you’re criticizing, and not just by reading the blog posts and Twitter feeds of people who reinforce your preconceptions. Consider the possibility that some of publishing’s idiosyncrasies might be a necessary condition of working in a mature, low margin, creative industry rather than hopeless woolheadedness on the part of everyone who gets paid by a publishing house. To inform your opinion, try reading a book. It’s hard to do better than Merchants of Culture by John B. Thompson.

2. If you have thoughts to share about how the book business’s “gatekeeping” or care and feeding of writers can be improved, focus on the books you love rather than the books you despise. Does the thought of Snooki or Tori Spelling calling themselves authors make you cringe? Fine, but those books made money. However the existence of such titles may offend your aesthetic sensibility, publishing to market demand is not a sign of a failing business model. It’s easy to fall into the trap of dismissing the majority of publisher output as worthless schlock or a mass of poorly edited text doomed to obscurity. In reality, the publishing industry is large and diverse and hard to generalize. Better to start from the reason you care in the first place. 

What books do you love? How did they come to be? Do you understand how they made the journey from the writer’s mind through publication and into your hands as a reader? Chances are that somewhere along the line, other people who are passionate about books loved that book before you, and decided to put their company’s resources and their own time and and craft and professional reputation on the line to bring it to a wider audience. If you don’t understand that this passion and this process are at the heart of book publishing, you need to go back to step one. 

Your comments and criticisms are more likely to hit home if you start from an appreciation of what works as well as what doesn’t work. (And if you can’t come up with any books you loved lately, there are doubtless more productive ways for you to be spending your time.)

3. Understand that culture and creative expression do not often marry well to scale and replicability. The strength of technology solutions lies in gathering and retaining large data sets, and organizing that information to create predictable and scalable outputs for content. Complexity, exceptions, and unique cases gum up the works. 

Some forms of publishing respond well to technology solutions (see note above about publishing being large and diverse). Others, including the kinds of fresh human expression that probably caused most of us to fall in love with books in the first place, will not. This is not a failure of the books or the industry, it is a function of the fact that the power of long form writing as culture creation and artistic expression is exactly opposed to the strengths of information technology.

End rant. Happy Friday, everyone.
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I'm prepping a talk for a group I'm going to speak to this weekend, and my talk deals in part with authors' responsibilities in promoting their books, especially online via blogs and social networks. I haven't been in publishing long enough (about eleven years) to remember a time when authors weren't expected to participate in publicity and promotional efforts, if indeed such a fabled time ever actually existed. But especially in working with rom...
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This was just excellent. No Evidence of Disease Nonfiction writers: do you try to incorporate the element of surprise into your work? How do you get the reader invested in your story?
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"The Great Escape," by Joshuah Bearman, from Wired Magazine in 2007. The story that became this year's Best Picture winner, Argo. (Happy March! Tell me in the comments what your goals are for this month.)
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I feel like we haven't talked about "pantsing" in at least two weeks, so I can't resist. Pants-ing. My sister-in-law was terrified of that movie as a kid, so in honor of my having just seen her last week, let's have a CONTEST about childhood fears. Tell me, in the comments, about something you were scared of as a child. I'll mail the winner a book, and you can read it under the covers at night with a flashlight for full effect. I'll give you a ch...
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Here's a great post from Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware explaining why you don't need to register your copyright before querying agents or publishers: in short, your work is automatically legally protected as soon as you put the words on the page. Here's something she doesn't mention in the post: to include your copyright information in your query letter or on the manuscript itself looks amateurish. If you wrote it, of course it legally belong...
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I started running not quite two years ago, and I'm actually kind of terrible at it: I'm not naturally athletic, I'm really slow (as in, I'd love to run a sub-30 minute 5k), and when my work or personal life gets busy, the running tends to be the first thing out the window. But I love it anyway, maybe in part because it does not come easily to me, and sometimes it's nice to work hard at something for the sake of the hard work, rather than for some...
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This was just excellent. No Evidence of Disease Nonfiction writers: do you try to incorporate the element of surprise into your work? How do you get the reader invested in your story?
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I'm in the mood to try something different, so here goes: have any random publishing-related questions you'd like me to (try to) answer? Ask in the comments, and I'll respond, either in the comments o...
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