Wednesday, April 26, 2006

P & L for the Uninitiated

The redoutable Anna Genoese has undertaken to explain Profit & Loss calculations for trade books to the masses.

Some background: When an editor acquires a book, he or she sits down with a spreadsheet that calculates the costs for the book and the likely profit to figure out whether the book might actually make any money. Since a large number of variables go into this calculation, it's not an entirely straightforward thing. However, you don't need to be able to do advanced calculus in order to figure it out. Anna's breakdown is much more sunccint and funnier than the one my publishing 101 prof gave.

The whole thing is excellent. Beyond excellent is Patrick Nielsen Hayden's condensed explanation of how mass-market distribution came about:

[1890 through 1941:]

WOULD-BE PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "Stock our 25-cent paperbacks, please!"

BOOKSTORES: "Nothing doing. Two or three of them take up the same shelf space we could use for a $2.95 hardcover. Begone with you!"

[Exeunt omnes, pursued by World War II.]

WOULD-BE PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "Hey, it's the postwar period! Here's an idea: forget the damn bookstores, let's sell our 25-cent paperbacks through the same system of jobbers and wholesalers that distributes magazines and newspapers to every newsstand, drugstore, bus station, and grocery store in America."

MAGAZINE JOBBERS AND WHOLESALERS: "Okay, Mac, but you gotta make 'em strippable, just like COLLIER'S and LOOK. Also, make your lists monthly. None of this carriage-trade 'season' stuff for us burly, down-to-earth practical men."

PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "No problem. Here, have a couple of dozen titles."


Do not drink before reading.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Because I am a Sheep and Sheep say "Baaa!"

...and because I respect the work that the fine folks at Making Light, Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors do, I am linking to the 20 Worst Agents list.

It's a fine list. A lovely list. A list with more than 20 names on it, because some of the alleged agencies have changed names several times.

This is, of course, not to say that agents are to be avoided. Agents are necessary. Writers need them to find publishers for their work and publishers need them to send them new work of the correct sort (agents do other stuff too, such as explaining contracts to authors, holding authors' hands, and coaching the authors they represent on how to make their books more marketable.)

Anyone thinking that they might need an agent should probably read Everything You Wanted to Know About Agents, and On the Getting of Agents. Authors aspiring to hook up with an agent could also frequent Ask the Agent at Absolute Write, and Agent Obscura's Livejournal (actually, anyone interested in what a literary agent does should hang out there.)

So, "Baaaa" say I to scam artists, scam agents, and others who prey on the novice writer's burning desire to be read.

More on How to Get into This Crazy Industry

Anna Louise answers the perennial question:

Q: How does one get started in publishing? (question from jadzia325)

A: One gets started in publishing by moving to the city The Company Of Your Dreams is located in, and submitting your resume. If you want to work for Tor, you come to the New York area. If you want to work for a company out of Boston, move to the Boston area. If you want to work for a company out of Los Angeles.... you get the picture?

This echoes what Teresa Nielsen Hayden said in the comments to my answer to the "How does one become an editor?" question, and while it doesn't quite reflect the path that I took, both these ladies work in an enviable corner of trade publishing, so if you want to edit fiction for a living, you should probably heed their advice.

If you don't want to move to the city in which the Company Of Your Dreams is located, you may have to resign yourself to editing whatever can be found in the place where you live. In Toronto, this means Harlequins, textbooks, magazines, daily newspapers, and a small amount of trade fiction (yes, I know, technically Harlequin has trade imprints. In addition to Harlequins is what I meant), and, if you're freelance, anything else that pays the bills. None of this sucks, but if you have your heart set on editing for Tor, Toronto isn't the place to be.

The Lexicographer as Keeper of the Word Store

Via TCI's favourite linguablogger, Language Hat, Erin McKean (whose job is cooler than mine) blogs on lexicography—namely, on how words get into the dictionary:

Think of the dictionary as less of a Social Register for words and more like a word general store. I am the manager of the word general store. Do I stock only words in my size? Only in the flavors I like? Only the words I wish people would use? No — I provide a wide selection of words for the use of all my customers. And because my customers are such a wide group (basically, all adult readers and writers) I have to make sure to include the words that will serve their needs.

So how does she decide which words to include in the inventory, given the limited shelf space? "Basically, we check to see if people are using it."

This, then is lexicography: checking to see which words people are using, how they're using them, and presenting the information so that other people can use the words in a more-or-less agreed-upon way.

Didn't I just say her job was cooler than mine?