#writering: publishing disasters, part II

Beth Wareham is editor-in-chief of Lisa Hagan Books, an independent publisher. #writering is a random blog about all things publishing, writing, and editing.

The first post on publishing disasters led to requests for part II. I aim to please. Enter Mary Carlomagno, former national events coordinator for Barnes and Noble. Mary was our “go to” person to get the ear of the then giant retailer. Mary had the power to assign your author to a plum store in New York for a signing or a strip mall ten miles outside of Boise.  Mary could make you look like a marketing genius or just another cube lurker. You didn’t mess with Mary.

In addition to brokering events nationally, Mary oversaw the big signings at the flagship store in New York.  Movie stars. Sports icons. Presidential candidates. These events often included a lot of cameras and lines that snaked around the block. NYPD had to manage the street with barriers. And there was Mary, curls flying, keeping it all in order.

Feels like those days are gone, but maybe not. Someone always comes along that seizes the imagination and a new line forms. Whether this event is about theater, art or celebrity, it doesn’t matter. It’s still a lot of fun.

Here are some of Mary’s favorite memories for her life working the lines:

“I went to the back of the store to see if he was ready. He was. He stepped out, a 7-foot basketball player, in a wedding dress with full make-up. He asked me if he looked pretty and I said, ‘of course you do, honey. Now go sell some books.”  The same man went on to attempt getting North Korea and the U.S. to be “Sister” countries. The project failed.

“Hunter S. Thompson required a bottle of 75-year old Scotch and Cabernet all day long. If it ran out, everything stopped.”

“I was working with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith when a woman approached me and rambled on for many minutes about the last time she saw me in the student center. Then she walked off.  Steven looked at me, laughed and said, ‘you have no idea who she is, do you? Happens to me all the time.’ Then he pulled me to him where he sat and kissed my side. I’ve not washed it since! I LOVED that guy!”

“A former First Lady, turned Senator, turned Secretary of State turned Presidential candidate needed something soft to stand on as she shook hands with each person in the line – she had signed her name on the books beforehand. I had to run to Bed Bath & Beyond down the street to find a ‘soft landing’ for her campaign-weary feet. I grabbed what looked best – a bath mat – and that’s what the New York Post wrote about the next day: the bath mat.”

“Whenever Whoopi Goldberg signed, she liked to answer the phones in the store for awhile. She was amused by callers reacting to her distinctive voice.”

“Cindy Crawford demanded hot chocolate with mini marshmallows in the green room. She wanted other things I’ve long since forgotten but I remember no one but the staff could touch anything.”

“I almost had to call 911 several times when women were fainting at the sight of L.L. Cool J.”

So, that’s Mary. She’s got a lot more but isn’t spilling. So I’ll throw in a few of my own:

I was pulling up my Spanx in front of my desk when Stephen King walked in and kissed me on the neck.

I went to the bathroom and there was Leonard Nimoy, lost.

I went to the bathroom and there was Yogi Berra, lost.

The cast of Jackass pitched me a book and the one who had been on “World’s Stupidest Criminals” asked me out.

Now that the cubicles have so taken over the business, all of this wild activity might be gone. I hope not. Publishing was and can be EXHILARATING, almost as good as a raucus party in hotel suite overlooking New York City.   There is glitter and thought and crazy and chaotic and I say it was just really good for the industry, all this “show business” of yesterday.

I say, let’s get our goofy on.  Throw some heat and create some energy. Everyone still loves a good performance. Get out of your cubicle and get it on.

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Fear and Camping



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What is it about a flashlight and a book? Sure, there is an element – no matter what your age – that your mom is going to bust in and tell you to go to sleep. But something runs deeper with a tiny pool of light and the endless black woods. Talk about existential threat. Your lizard brain is jumping and when you read a scary book out there in the void, each word is scarier than the last.

If you’ve spent time in Maine, you understand how Stephen King got his scary. Those woods are dark. Just walking from car to house must be navigated by starlight. It’s that black. I was an impressionable age when I read Salem’s Lot, 17, and in the wilds of Mexico. In the book (as well as in the primary work), vampires knock on a window in the dark night to gain entrance and suck necks. A Mexican waiter rapped on mine and I became so frightened, I cried.

In the werewolf corner, I am haunted by Sharp Teeth. I read it in manuscript and loved it. My opinion hasn’t changed. Werewolves run wild in Los Angeles, ensnaring a dogcatcher who falls for an outlier werewolf-ess. And did I tell you it’s written in blank verse?  If you’re rolling your eyes, it’s not for you. But if you like unusual, jump!  Harper Collins ended up publishing the book, for which I am grateful.

Dean Koontz, H.P. Lovecraft, and this gentleman will put all sorts of frightening ideas in your head with just a few suggestive words.  Invest in an anthology of the last two and pack it with your sleeping bag each summer. There is that much scary material to make the investment worth it.  Throw in The Turn of the Screw, Henry James’ big attempt at creepy and he succeeded. A novella – thank goodness because that Henry do go on! – this can be read in an hour.

Last, but not least, have you ever noticed that UFOs usually land in fields, woods or desert? Disc-shaped craft never come down on the Met Life building or the 101.  It’s because aliens know it’s even scarier when they land in unpopulated unlit places and frighten campers. The scariest UFO books I’ve read? 365 Days of UFOs is an historical accounting of landings, sightings, controversies, experiments, monster tracking, and coverups – one for each day of the year. Many happen in the fields and forests of Europe and middle America or the grit of the Southwest.  Roswell, a book by Nick Redfern, author of the 365 book above, is scary in a different way. It lays out a damning case against a government conspiracy that promoted little green men in a  misdirection campaign away from secret experiments at the end of WWII.  Roswell may be the scariest when you contemplate what other programs our government has hidden.

Being scared is fun and a big black wall of woods pierced by flashlight sets a fine mood. Here are more lists of favorite scary book from Men’s Journal , Flavorwire and Paste.

Enjoy the summer, share your scary book #recs with us, and don’t forget your mosquito spray.

Great camping gear: REI  amazon.com L.L. Bean

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10 Suggestions for the Care and Feeding of Editors



/Beth Wareham

Editors like to find errors and inconsistencies. They like to be right; all incredibly annoying traits in human beings.

I should know, I am one. I’m also a writer and a publisher. When I am writing or publishing, I take on the annoying traits of those functions as well.

But odds are, you are a writer. And, if you are a beginning writer, you will have your first interaction with an editor. If you play your cards right, this editor will make your work at least 10% better AND prepare the manuscript for both publication and PROMOTION.

That’s right: Your editor should understand promotion and press breaks and help build them into your book along with good grammar, proper word choice and a narrative velocity that keeps your reader on the page, then the next page, then the page after that.

That’s a great deal for one human to hold in their head over 300 or more pages, so respect the editor. Good ones are as rare as honest politicians.

Enter into the editorial relationship with an open heart and really open eyes. It’s still your book and the ultimate choices are yours, but the right editor can really make a work sing.

Here are some thoughts on the care and feeding of editors:

1. If you say “I don’t need an editor,” you are going against the smart thinking of everyone from Tolstoy to Hemmingway to Stephen King. EVERYONE needs an editor. If you don’t think you do, I hear egotism and not a love of writing.

2. Get clarity. Remember, editors are just as rushed as everyone else and some talk in a kind of short hand. If any editorial comment does not make sense, press your editor so you can get it right.

3. Don’t get defensive. Never forget, this person’s job is to make you better. That means they must point out where your work is weaker. You need this. It makes your book a stronger read.

4. Get other reads. Ask anyone you respect to read your manuscript. Discuss their comments with the editor to see if they brought up valid points. It takes a village.

5. Do not fear cutting. Some editors do not cut, just suggest it. I take a red pencil and make long horizontal lines. Books are ALWAYS made better by cutting and tightening. Or almost always.

6. Give your editor time with your manuscript. Many authors want instant feedback. The only instant feedback you should get is that your editor has received your manuscript. Let them read it through and think about ways to make it better.

7. Don’t bug your editor: They are not here to manage your anxiety. If you are a big enough person to write a book, you are a big enough person to give your editor space to do his or her work. Discuss your fears with your shrink. Work with your editor.

8. Insist on communication. Talking to your editor daily is not something you should expect to do. But you should expect your calls returned – WITHIN REASON – and your queries – yes, you’ll query your editor’s queries sometimes – are explained.

9. Talk to your editor about how to build press breaks in the book. If it’s non-fiction, finding stories to pitch is easier. Exploit what you have that the press, reviewers or bloggers may be able to really hang on to and write a story.

10. Send short emails and expect short answers. Again, reading manuscripts and editing is akin to needle work; quiet and time consuming. Don’t burn any time with issues that don’t matter.

Okay, that’s my editorial advice for the day. I have to get back to writing. It’s more fun anyway.


Cultural Wars: Hackers Harsher Critics Than Religious Zealots

/Beth Wareham


North Korea just plunged everyone everywhere into the Theater of the Absurd with their hack attack. Heavily tanned and exfoliated executives at Sony showed how willing they were to stand up for their artists. The answer was NOT AT ALL. I mean, really, didn’t you laugh at Pineapple Express?

Let’s pop over and see some cultural terrorism in the literary department. Oh look! It’s Salman Rushdie.

Mr. Fatwah himself was surrounded by executives and artists that laid their heads on the executioner’s block before they’d let Islamic fundamentalists have Salman Rushdie. His publishing company was routinely evacuated from bomb threats, so were booksellers. Stephen King made the call to Barnes & Noble saying that if they didn’t sell Salman, they could not sell him.

No one cared that the novels of Rushdie are virtually unreadable. I’d call them crap and to his face. His children’s books are great, but that’s not the point. The point is no one cut him loose. The “literary” community fought like honey badgers for his right to publish.

Now let’s pop back to Hollywood. “The Interview” is probably BARELY watchable and pretty hilarious if you watch it stoned. It is a cultural fart. The fact that North Korea chose it to go after is even more hilarious. But the one thing that needed to happen in all this: Sony executives had a moment to make a stand for every artist, for everyone trying to achieve something creative in this world, and creativity is the only way this world might have a chance of lasting.

Sony was given a rare moment to be a hero, a defender everything American.

Unfortunately for them and for us, hero was not something Sony could be.

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Stephen King Touched My Girdle


by Beth Wareham

Spanx, actually. I was standing beside a conference table, hand up my dress, (my own hand) pulling an anaconda-like roll of latex down my leg when he struck. With a touch more appropriate for inside the covers of 50 Shades of Grey, Stephen King pinched the roll of latex and gave it a yank, taming — and at once setting free – both it and me.

I heard a voice say, “We’re late for the meeting” and with a soft kiss on my neck, I heard him moving away. I whirled around, just as a pair of holey blue Converse, low-tops, turned the corner. I yelled “Congrats on the Red Sox!” and he yelled back, “I’m farting through silk!” A publicist ran by, smiling like a baby with gas. I was left alone to deal with the current of electricity running up and down my spine. I knew I would never see him again.

I’ve been told about Stephen King getting pulled over for speeding with just his giant turtle in the car. Another editor remembers looking down at the treadmill next to her in the hotel at a book convention and wondering who set it on .5 to work out. The Converse, low-tops, were her first clue.

When Salman Rushdie’s fatwah went down, make no mistake, it was Stephen King and Stephen King’s call to booksellers that kept Rushdie’s books on sale. To paraphrase, Mr. King said, you don’t sell him, you don’t sell me.

When I read Stephen King, it’s like being locked in a trunk with my brothers, shit-weasels both. When I read Stephen King, I am deliriously happy. I remember the stupid jokes and haven’t boarded a plane since Dream Catcher without saying “sit up front, first to the crash site.” As a teenager, I was reading Salem’s Lot when a boy knocked on my window, causing me to urinate in fright. My Mom called me “Window Pee” for a week.

Yeah, these books are scary. But they are are also hilarious and few humans have a greater mind when it comes to American pop culture than Mr. King. You are so immersed in your country’s own inside jokes, it is also feels like hanging out with your siblings. It’s all familiar.

I cannot presume to review the body of Mr. King’s work – my 401K won’t hold that long. However, here are some of my favorites.


Herion addiction, men of fallen faith, and rock and roll collide in a deal even the devil wouldn’t make. The publisher says it’s the scariest ending he has ever written. You be the judge.

Stephen King Stickers – Only 6.99, I put mine on my lunch box.

Bag of Bones is a ghost story, a story about grief, on a lake in New England.

On Writing is simply one of the most entertaining, interesting, useful, no bullshit book on writing I’ve ever read. The reading list in back makes it worth the purchase.

Salem’s Lot, the generator of dreaded “window pee”, was cool long before everything had a vampire in it. This is a scary book.

The Stand introduces recurring characters in a post-apocalyptic world dedicated to his wife Tabitha. My husband would attach me to “post-apocalyptic” too.

51D0welpt7L._SL75_Mr. Mercedes is Stephen King’s foray into self-described “hard boiled detective fiction.” He’s so good he can shift from horror to ghost to detective to cute stickers for my lunchbox.



For baby boomers, 11/22/63 resonates as the day a certain idea of America died. John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas and no one has ever stopped guessing about his end, including Mr. King.



In Doctor Sleep, little Danny Torrance from The Shining grows up and works in a hospice. This is classic scary King.



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5 Bits of Simple Advice for Fiction Writers from Very Famous Editors


After 20 years as an editor in New York City publishing houses, I heard a lot of things. I even read a book proposal from a woman whose life was transformed after she met Tom Cruise.

Over and over, I come back to the simple advice I heard the best fiction editors (I was your garden-variety non-fiction type) say to their writers:

1. Chronology is your friend.

Start at the beginning and tell the story through to the end, just as if you were telling a friend. Only the most skilled of writers play with time and pull it off: Don De Lillo wrote Falling Man going forward in time, didn’t like it, and rewrote the book in reverse, making 9/11 the last event. Don’t try it at home, kids.

2. Limit your characters and make them vivid.

Dickens was Dickens because he could invite whole cities into his books and keep all the names and attributes straight. Tolstoy excelled at that as well. This will probably be harder for you, so focus on your handful of characters and make them memorable. I’ve read books whose plot still fails me, but a character stands in my mind’s eye still. That is success in writing.

3. Stolen from Stephen King: Adverbs are not your friends.

While I cannot make a citizen’s arrest for overwriting, I want to. Leave adverbs behind. In fact, be stingy with your adjectives. These are words that carry emotional connotations that you should achieve through the story’s action or choice of detail. Which leads to #4.

4. Detail is the soul of fiction.

Pick up a Chekhov short story. On the first page, he’s so completely described the room and it’s occupants on one page, you are now present in rural Russia with peasants, feeling the steam from the pot of potatoes and seeing the poverty in their clothes. One page and you are in their world.

5. The details you choose is what makes you great. 

Part of the joy of reading a book is one intellect bouncing against another, even if the two are not in the same room. A writers choice of detail focuses the work and shows a reader new possibilities for thought and life. Look there, not there, and the entire story changes.

I’ve overheard many more things and have some thoughts of my own. I’ll throw up some more here soon.

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