#writering: Hey Harper Lee Estate, Why Care Now?

#writering is an occasional column by Beth Wareham, co-founder of Lisa Hagan Books.

 

I’m calling bullshit on the Harper Lee estate. I know some of the actors – and I choose that word carefully and correctly – and their greed at the end of Harper’s life took Atticus Finch away from us.

Let me explain. Harper Lee published one book in her lifetime – To Kill a Mockingbird. She did not publish – nor would publish – another book. She also never allowed another film version of the book because she loved the Gregory Peck one so much.  When she died, her estate whipped out To Set a Watchman, the prequel to Mockingbird, and Harper Collins raced to publish.  It was a multi-million dollar deal, big by publishing standards.

The problem? To Set a Watchman was about the racist, unconscious Atticus Finch. (And God knows, we have plenty of those characters, imagined and real.) When her editor at Harper Collins read it all those years ago, the editor said, “go back home and try again.” Brilliant words, it turned out. A wonderful couple in New York City paid Harper’s expenses for a year and she wrote her masterpiece. America now had Atticus and he is an important figure in all our imaginations, a morality that goes where we do.

So now, the estate is swooping in to control the Broadway play that Aaron Sorkin is mounting.  That’s all fine and good – it’s their property – but don’t come to the aid on Harper’s behalf. You already sold her and Atticus out for money, something she managed to avoid in her lifetime. The play was produced everywhere by school children because again, money wasn’t her thing.

Because Harper was a great artist – she took a huge societal cruelty and fought it with a story – and her “estate” is a bunch of moist-handed “businessmen,” I’m going to skip the Broadway play – if it happens. I skipped the second book and To Kill a Mockingbird is here on my beside, where it will stay.

How about this, everyone. Stop messing with To Kill a Mockingbird and let future generations discover To Kill a Mockingbird by reading it. Let the Atticus feng-sui cover them like warm caramel as they begin to feel their own moral center, a world based on fairness, kindness, and the idea we are all innocent until proven guilty.

More Atticus, I say. Less everything else.

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#writering: Forget Coal, It’s Publishing

Photo: A group of editorial assistants strike out for lunch at Chipotle, New York City, 2018.

#writing is an occasional blog about writing, editing and publishing by Beth Wareham, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Lisa Hagan Books.

Yup, we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. No longer is a complete sentence of value to much of anyone. Shouts, blurts, name-calling and a general idiot wind are the order of the day. And everywhere, glorious coal waves as they chip away at the cilia in our lungs. (Land in Beijing and their coal dust-saturated air triggers a chest infectionin in MINUTES. Wow! That’s coal!  Let’s also celebrate what coal does to our drinking water too. Yummy!)

As coal spreads out, the “John Q Editor has left the company” email rebounds across the electrified universe at an alarming rate. Agents, writers and editors stare into space and murmur, “does ANYONE still work in publishing?”   An actual publishing company seemed to disappear overnight and everyone was left holding every kind of bag. Heck, everyone I know left except the ones that weren’t any good at it.

I feel bad for coal miners. They were made obsolete through technology. So was the steel worker. You can make a ton of steel in an hour with just one person because of automation. I feel bad for the publishing worker too; but less bad because he or she is supposed to be smart — and I’m not talking about the ability to talk about Henry James.

Technology has overrode much of publishing too. Get rid of that ridiculous office and layers of nonsensical workers and take to the machines. That’s all you need to make a book. Focus on the language, strengthening it for future generations. Focus on subjects the world NEEDS, rather than your idiotic and vague suppositions about what you think will sell. Develop GOOD and it will sell. Take the time you spent in manufacturing and join the 21st century. Make the writing as good as it can get.

That’s the hard part; great writing. “Fire and Fury” is not going to do it. Something big, meaningful, profound. Just because so many great stories have gone visual doesn’t degrade the imagination; images enhance it. Watching Netflix is not the enemy; focusing on it as the enemy is the enemy.

No, you’re not a coal miner. You’re a writer or an editor or a publisher. Work harder on your words. Delight someone. I swear, words burn hotter and longer than coal and don’t give you a lung infection.

You’ll be writing and dreaming years after the last vein has been tapped out and the last miner rips off his Davey Lamp, enters the cage and rises up. Coal will truly be over – as it should be – and publishing will still be okay because our need to learn and connect through stories will never go away.

I am hopeful that coal will pass (it’s not healthy for human or planet!) and publishing will finally ride those machines and be of interest to many.  Then, the publishing overlords (not cool ones like in Game of Thrones, believe me) might let some of these workers live. Publishing could use the extra hands.

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#writering: publishing disasters

beth wareham is co-founder of Lisa Hagan Books as well as a longtime New York City based editor, writer, and publisher. #writering is a random blog about anything involved in writing, editing and publishing.

Harvey makes me think of disaster stories. I actually collect them. But only the publishing kind. Believe me, there are a lot of them and, from a group of people that wants you to think they know everything, these bumbles are especially hilarious. In fact, I have a whole network of highly placed publishing executives ready to offer up more, anonymously of course. And the publicists! Oh, if those horrible dirty cubicles could talk!

If those workspace walls could remember, they’d report episodes like this:

*A harried contract publicist writes down the wrong code and overnights several hundred ‘dumps’, a display rack for bookstores, to book reviewers and media, instead of a review copy of the book. The bill? Almost $20,000.

*After her book tour, a British princess turns in a bill for cowboy boots, a purchase she made to “fit in.”

*An author barricades himself into The Plaza Hotel, complete with handguns and a lot of whiskey, and refuses to come out. The publisher talked him out and he went on to die and have his ashes blasted from a cannon. The publisher sent a representative to the blasting ceremony.

*20,000 copies of a cookbook – the entire print run – are lost in the warehouse. The publisher refuses to print more. The books are never found.

*While reading from the podium, a Brooklyn novelist whips out her boob and begins breastfeeding in front of a deeply confused audience.

*In an industry where NO ONE is given more than economy airfare, a future governor of California turns in a bill for private jet rentals.

*A manuscript accusing the American military of a vast conspiracy goes missing. It is never found.

*Urban Publishing Legend: A highly sophisticated player and editor goes to the company Christmas party.  He parties hard and needs to heave. Seeing a purse behind a couch, he uses it. The next day, publishing pulsates with news of E___ throwing up in the boss’s handbag.

*An author locks the door during a radio interview and proceeds to mock her publicist who is trying to break down the door. The interview is national and you can hear the pounding in the background.

*The shortest publicists are ordered into purple gorilla suits for a promotion. Only the tall people come to work that day and we don’t fit.

*When a famous novelist cannot get his check, a publisher kicks a hole in the wall of her office, screaming at the top of her lungs. The damage from her flat sensible shoe is immense. The wall? Particle board.

*A famous self-help author is on tour in San Francisco. His media escort swings by her house so they can grab a sandwich before the next interview. When she walks into the living room with ham and cheese, the author can’t be found. He’s nude in her bed, calling her name.

*An editor-in-chief outs an employee at a company-wide marketing meeting. We watch, horrified, as only corporate workers bees can. Same editor-in-chief calls every Latino male “Juan,” for no apparent reason.

*An editor signs up a book by “USA Today” publisher. Only the “USA Today” is a tiny magazine on Long Island. Sales department is sad.

*An editor gets ready to publish a collection of gardening columns from the New York Times, without getting permission from the New York Times whose name is on the cover of the book. Publicity stops him. He gets mad at publicity.

*Author of a chocolate cookbook gets drunk and shows up at book signing. His name is spelled wrong on the poster announcing the event and he trashes the place. You know, like The Who in a hotel room….

*A company publishes a made-up book about a made-up event in the Middle East, pitches  it to the most successful news show in the country, which happens to be a part of the parent company. Story is found out to be a lie, news show must sideline reporter, and book must be recalled, spraying poo on all parties concerned.  It’s called synergy, people!

*The wrong version of JK Rowling is published as an ebook. Publisher retracts it and reissues. And that’s freakin’ JK Rowling. Imagine what they might do to you.

*Urban Publishing Legend: Acquiring editor of first JK Rowling books overpays by a few thousand and almost loses job.

*Three publishing executives collude to fix prices in the face of the 2007-2008 economic crash. They are caught, lie to a Federal judge, and are fined a total of $60,000,000.00 in an already sinking industry.  Personal character and morality leave the stage, a foreshadow of the Trump era. None of the publishers lose their jobs but their legal staff does! And so it goes, big fish still swim sluggishly in murky waters of their making, in their shrinking sea…

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#Cliches are not good, but… #writing

 

www.LisaHaganBooks.com

from Keep It Short by Charles Euchner

#CLICHES

To give clichés life—to make them fresh and original again— find something surprising to add to them.

Too often, we use familiar ideas without really under- standing their meaning. We repeat phrases and ideas carelessly.

When we overuse expressions, we live in a fool’s paradise. We cannot hold a candle to the halcyon days, our salad days, when we suited the action to the word and revealed the naked truth. But we give short shrift to language, writing with neither rhyme nor reason. And we lose such stuff as dreams were made of, at’s neither here nor there, since these expressions are dead as a doornail. Coming full circle, we realize, more in sorrow than anger, and it’s a foregone conclusion that overuse of such terms is a fatal vision. So, in one fell swoop, we throw cold water on it.

All of those expressions come from Shakespeare. ese expressions once expressed ideas with freshness and originality. But used over and over, they have lost their vitality. Too o en, we use these clichés not because they express ideas well, but because they o er a simple way to say something. ey let us say something without thinking.

Remember you want to make the reader see, feel, helpless, harmless. Milo’s dead.” By using the slack, disinterested tone of a gumshoe, Lynch moves us away from sickly sentimentality.

 

Samuel Beckett uses clichés in playful ways to make them fresh. He writes: “Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards.” And then, describing the odor of graveyards, he added that he will breathe in the smell of corpses “when take the air I must.” In her memoir of family suicide, Joan Wickersham freshens a stale image: “Cal may have had pots of family money, but my husband didn’t even have a small saucepan.”

Whenever possible, though, avoid clichés. Lush detail—observation of sights, sounds, smells—helps to create original expressions.

Nack could just say, “I thought about that horse day and night. I couldn’t get Secretariat out of my mind. It popped up no matter where I was or what I was doing” Zzzzzz. Instead, Nack uses compelling images to show how Secretariat shaped every minute of his life.

Write like Bill Nack. Always look for the fresh images—ideas that are familiar, but which other writers have not used before—to help the reader experience the scene –

smell, taste, touch, imagine—and think of more familiar the images, the less you will engage your reader.

“Cliches,” Geoffrey Hill notes, “invite you not to think.” Cliches give use easy, lazy was of expressing our- selves. As Hill notes, “you may always decline the invitation.” When you feel tempted to use a cliché, stop. Get in the habit of considering how to state a point simply—or think of a fresh, original way of making a point.

To avoid the dreariness of clichés, play with them. Start by looking at its literal meaning. Porter Abbott explains:

When the orator urges his or her auditors “to strike while the iron is hot,” how many of them see the sweating blacksmith at his forge and feel his magical transmutation into new meaning? The answer is none. But when one tramp suggests to another that “it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes” the original vehicle is revived in its literal state.

Taking words literally reveals the cliché’s original insight. When you do a genealogy of clichés, you discover vibrant images that can be revived.

When you change the context of cliché, you can give it new life. In a memoir of his life as an undertaker, Tomas Lynch writes about the death of a neighbor: “Milo is dead. X’s on his eyes, lights out, curtains.”

 

For more details on Keep It Short, click on the title.

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3 Sins of Bullshit Writing

th-1.jpegwww.LisaHaganBooks.com 

from Charles Euchner’s KEEP IT SHORT: A Practical Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (click on title to read more)

If you don’t know what your ideas are, if you haven’t flushed out details or set your purpose clearly, you might commit one, two or all three sins of bullshit writing. And that, says Euchner, is when “things get ugly. When we try to bull our way through sentences and paragraphs.”

The 3 deadly sins of bullshit writing are:

•We repeat ourselves.

•We use vague phrasing – adjectives and generalizations – instead of clear crisp logic                and details.

•We ramble, piling words and phrases, with a hope we will discover some telling detail  or concept, but usually moving further and further away from the point.

 

When you feel any of this creeping in, you know you’ve lost the grip somehow. Backtrack and flush the idea, plotting, character development, background research and how you are going to tell you story. We suggest beginners start with the beginning, move on to the middle and then give us the end.

If you see any of those those 3 deadly sins popping up a lot in that book in your hand, you may want to put it down and go get another. Life’s short and there are just too many great books to read.

Join us every Thursday on Twitter with the hashtag

#ThursdayWrites and tell us what you’re working on. 

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WHOA: amazon wants to be your editor too

robot-phonehttp://www.shadowteams.com

/Beth Wareham

We have a tech team – the Crazy 8s – who make this a publishing company. Without them in the 21st century, there is no us. However, I draw the line – as do they – at the human/machine border when it comes to writing. We see the mind of autocorrect. We know how companies cower behind templates, never bothering to come on for the “live chat” or answer the damn question in an email. We sit on hold for hours, waiting for a clerk to send an email to a department that won’t talk to clients. Now a simple problem of their making requires us to plop down 29.99 to fix it. Every year.

We have seen the vulgar, cheesy way that the world abuses words and cry BULLSHIT. But our cries go unheard.

Amazon is now offering the unsuspecting writer an “editorial” package. In their words, they will work with you on:

Structure
Plot flow
Characterization
Tone
The editor will also review for consistency in:
Grammar
Spelling
Punctuation

for $210 per each 10,000 words. You can do the math with your manuscript now. And even though they will review your consistency, the ESSENTIAL line edit will cost $160 per 10,000 words and, in amazon’s words, you will receive this:

The editor will review your manuscript using the Microsoft Word Track Changes feature and provide a line edit that corrects typos and ensures consistency in:
Grammar
Punctuation
Spelling
In addition, an editor will also provide an Editorial Letter explaining the suggested changes made in the manuscript.

Good grief. So that another $160 per 10,000 words on top of your $210 per 10,000 words and by the way, do you know how to load the thing and make changes?

And my biggest question is, if amazon is the editor, will they charge the $79 change fee for anything missed in their editing? They didn’t have a guarantee of services, just prices. And prices.

So let’s look at what amazon is going to do to YOUR novel. It’s 60,000 words so that means you’ll pay your amazon editor $1,260. Your line edit of 60,000 words at $160 will come in at $960.00.

You are now in for over $2000.00 and my only question is why would you pay machine-based editors relying on templates from the minds of engineers that kind of money when a talented editorial mind will work with you, your individuality and your art and give it the damn respect it deserves?

Whoa. I don’t want amazon to edit me. I want a grumpy person with a red pencil behind their ear, giving me hell and making me a better writer. I want a human brain to read a book for humans.

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My Tech Team is Bad Ass, the Editor Said

images

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/Beth Wareham

Never in my wildest dreams did I think my nerds would become the Crazy 8s. Tentative at first, they now sword fight me on every balcony, demanding more and more content at the speed of light. Every wobble on In Design and they get all OCD on my ass. They created shared file project maps and will no longer accept me shouting cover copy over the phone; I must type it up and put it in the right damn place.

In short, my nerds have tamed me. i have never met such amazing people in my life. Every cover, author website, book design platform, social media and analytics are done by my nerds and I’ve decided if I act more like them, I can’t help but succeed at everything.

Dear Nerds, Katherine and Kim, you are remarkable women publishing hard and fast, like a gang. I am nothing but grateful.

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Yeah I Did It. So What.

images-1

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/Beth Wareham

My colleague was a guy named Eric. I was on the phone accusing him of having no balls when my phone went PING! In a second there were the two little guys, nestled in Eric’s Aero chair and now lighting up my iPhone. I had to change my tune and say, “you do have balls, Eric.”

Eric, you see, is one of my authors. He knows what it’s like to hand me a sentence. First, I pick up my mechanical pencil, then I give him the wolf stare. He says, in a squeaky unmanly voice, “I’m going to the boy’s room.” I know he won’t return until the “polishing phase,” editing he dreads even more than this round.

When he returns for the polish, he brings me a gift: a giant black dildo. He says he knows the final edit is going to feel like this, in his rear end. I laugh and let the marketing department have the dildo for a few months just for fun.

“Eric,” I say. “Your book is about wine-making but I’ve learned more about blow jobs reading it.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Eric asks.

“No,” I say. “And I never thought about that last little flick of the tongue.”

“Yeah, she had it going on,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “We’re going into copyediting.”

“You’re going to leave the blow job part in there?”

“Yes,” I said. “No one in copyediting knows what they are. It’s educational.”

“That’s true. So my book has two markets: wine and sex.”

“Yes, Eric, it does.”

A year later, I left that black dildo erect on a pile of belongings after I was laid off. I will never know if the marketing department snuck back and claimed it, but I’d rather think of my bosses, all on the down-low, taking it out for a ride around Times Square.

It’s doubtful, though. That would have taken courage.

To this day, there’s no word on the whereabouts of that magnificent editorial motivator,the giant black dildo, but someday I will find another one, and it will be wonderful.

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PUBLISHER’S DREAMS: Finding a Jewel in the Box

Reparations3

Beth Wareham
www.shadowteams.com

Click on the cover to buy the ebook.

Anyone who has ever worked in publishing has a secret longing: To discover a manuscript, dusty, abandoned, forgotten, transformative, beautiful manuscript languishing in a drawer of an old roll top desk or crammed into a shoe box and pushed beneath a bed. We dream of the jewel in the box that only we can find and open. We dream of unleashing a work of genius on the world. It’s a weird fantasy, I’ll admit, but there you have it.

Gone with the Wind. Confederacy of Dunces. 2666, Emily Dickinson. A Death in the Family. The Diary of Anne Frank. Emily Dickinson poems spilling from tabletops and drawers. Everything Franz Kafka ever wrote – flashes of light winking out of the black rock of a deep mine.

My “jewel in the box” rush came with an email from a rock star author I used to publish. His mom had a novel. He didn’t know what shape it was in…it had been written long ago. Would I look?

Long ago was 1950, the beginning of the years author Ruth Sidransky spent in Vienna, smuggling for Jews who survived World War II hiding in the forest. The novel was huge, literally and figuratively, moving across three continents, a world war, genocide, occupation, a marriage, a love affair, God, torture, revenge, annihilation, religion, joy, belief, endless cruelty and death. We learn to love her new friends and as they become closer the cost of their survival is slowly revealed.

Part Sophie’s Choice, part Everything is Illuminated, Reparations is a monumental book that ends with the surprise choice of a thoroughly modern woman and the triumph of the Jewish people to survive and thrive after certain destruction.

Author Sidransky turned 86 this year; proving you just never know where the diamonds are hiding.

This is one of the third books she’ll publish in 2015.

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Paper Books Must Die Because of This: E-readers Forever

images-2www.shadowteams.com

That’s right. That’s a bookmark. I don’t know if it was handmade or you sent away for it like those blankets on QVC with pictures of your grandkids fused into the fabric. I have a fair picture in my head of the woman holding the book; the man we can plainly see.

The world of bookmarks was a dangerous one: mothers and distant female relatives got involved. Unicorns and sparkles, the kitten staring into the mirror and the lion staring back; I’ve been given them all.

I got bookmarks in my stocking each year, handmade, often with googly eyes because my Mom stuck them on every homemade project she ever touched. I hated them on pinecones.   images-3

Later, I just stuck anything between the pages of a book: dry cleaning stub, jury-duty notice, gum wrapper. I’d jam anything in there into anything I was reading at the time, and the books and bookmarks became a story: a note on a napkin in Buenas Aires telling me to meet my husband in the bar, complete with his special little “drawing of   images-4 love,” he always left me, the boarding pass from a flight to Havana, an envelope from a once-loved friend.

Ah, the bookmark. The life it holds.  And as it is with everything that moves forward and changes, something is lost and something is gained.

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