Saturday, May 30, 2009

Practically Live from BEA

Another Publishers Weekly blog post from BookExpo America, which technically went up yesterday evening. . .

Friday, May 29, 2009

Live from BEA

Here's my first post on the Publishers Weekly blog, live from BookExpo America. Stanley Bing makes a return appearance!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitterpated at BEA

So I signed up for Twitter today (@BookFlack). I know, in the last post I said "no way," but that was meant ironically. I thought it would be smart to take the Twitter plunge because BookExpo America (BEA) formally kicks off tomorrow (with some preliminary events taking place today). This is the big publishing industry convention and runs through Sunday at the Javits Center in NYC. The place will be crawling with publishing bigwigs, agents, editors, etc. and more than 700 authors, including some pretty big names. It's always a circus and a lot of fun.

In the past I have attended as a representative of a publishing company, which meant I had a booth to use as a base of operations, and colleagues to interact with and borrow money from. This time I'm flying solo, wandering lonely as Wordsworth's cloud. Fortunately, Publishers Weekly invited me to be a guest blogger for them, reporting from the show floor on Friday (as noted on PW's website). It's good to have an actual reason for being there. And I thought I might do some tweeting (the accepted verb form of Twitter) while I'm at it. Or maybe not.

BEA is a trade show in the strictest sense--not open to the general public. (For a funny take on what it's like to attend, read this essay by Robert Gray from Shelf Awareness.) But even if you're not in the industry, Perseus Books has a clever promotion going called Book: The Sequel that you can get in on and contribute to. But you have to hurry--the deadline is 4:00 pm today.

Book: The Sequel - Be a part of it; Enter today!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Me Blog?

If you'd told me four months ago that I'd have a blog (actually, two blogs) I'd have told you no way. That just wasn't in my future. And the weird thing about this blog is, it's all about me. I'm pretty much front and center most of the time. That does not come naturally.

I spent many years working hard to draw attention to other people--specifically, authors. All that time I was content to stay in the background, where a publicist belongs. I think certain people may be drawn to publicity work because they're interested in the media, but don't want to get any on them. When a publicist or PR rep is the center of attention, it usually means the organization is in crisis mode, or worse (remember Lizzie Grubman?).

I think this is particularly true of book publicists. I've been at this for more than two decades but you'd have to search far and wide to find any mention of me in the media. (And you'd have to wade through tons of stuff about Knicks forward Larry Hughes and how overrated he is, so spare yourself.) Deirdre Donahue, who covers books at USA Today, sent me a personal email after I'd been laid off in which she made the following observations:
One of the things I have most admired about people in book publishing over the years is their other-directedness. The good ones are always focused on promoting an author and their work, not themselves. . . . I like to annoy my coworkers at the newspaper by pointing out that I find people in publishing more interesting because of this very quality (in fact, I find people in book publishing more interesting as people than most authors…). There is such a relentless quality of ‘me me me’ to most writers and journalists. Spending your career looking outward creates interesting people.

I agree. (Duh! I was in book publishing.) Or perhaps I should say, I used to agree. Circumstances are different now--for me, for book publicists, for everyone. Since I was laid off, I have tried to draw attention to myself out of necessity, as a way to stand out in the world's worst job market. But even people who still have their jobs are looking out for #1 more than ever--as they watch their friends and colleagues lose their jobs, they'd be crazy not to. My daughter is graduating from college this weekend. She'll be part of a new generation of employees who will quickly learn to put themselves (and their social networks) ahead of their employers because job security is a thing of the past. That bond of employer/employee loyalty has been broken, perhaps irrevocably. I wonder if corporations have factored that cost into their bottom lines as they cut overhead by laying people off. I think they'll be amortizing it over many years to come, even after the elusive recovery.

Meanwhile, I'm blogging. About me. But Twitter? No way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Palin Memoir Followup

The previous post about what to call Sarah Palin's forthcoming memoir was featured in The PW Morning Report on last Friday, and was included in their enewsletter PW Daily.

Also, the editors of The Globe and Mail's book pages offered a pretty good suggestion on Twitter.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in--I'm sure Ms. Palin will take them to heart.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What to Call Sarah Palin's Memoir?

Having saddled her kids with names like Track, Trig and Willow, it will be interesting to see what Sarah Palin decides to call her recently announced memoir. If it were up to me? I'd call it The Betcha's Back.

Here are a few other titles that occur to me:
Putin's Head and Joe the Plumber's Crack

Half-Baked Alaska

Gee, Nome!

The McCain Mutiny

I'm Not Tina

This Is Not Tina's Memoir

$150,000 For Clothes, Not One Cent For Tribute

If You Give a Moose a Shot Through the Lungs

Apocalypse 2012
Oops. That last one's already taken.

Any other thoughts? If you have an idea, I hope you'll weigh in.

Revisiting the Outplacement Lady

In talking to people who have been through a layoff, I've found that each of them has one little piece of the termination experience that stands out for them. A colleague of mine, let go at the same time I was, said: "The one thing I keep going back to is the guy I had never seen or heard from before whose main concern was how many boxes I would need [for my personal belongings]." For another friend who was abruptly booted from a high-level position, it was "the HR bureaucrat who said, 'Can we order you a car service?' as they were asking me to leave right then and there."

For me, it was the outplacement lady. I described the experience in Publishers Weekly: This woman I had never met before promised to call me at home that night, just to make sure everything was all right. "I assured her that I had friends and loved ones and a dog who all took an interest in these matters," I wrote, "and that they could handle that end of things." Our meeting was a short one.

Weeks later I decided to take advantage of the outplacement services that were available to me as part of my severance. I did this grudgingly and was pleasantly surprised. My outplacement rep's name is Larry too, which keeps things simple for both of us. He's been great with advice and suggestions, and about keeping in touch. When I told him my strategy of publicizing myself, he applauded it as a creative approach and "an outstanding way to market." But then he asked where he could see some of the results.

Uh-oh. I sent him the Publishers Weekly essay reluctantly because of that episode with his colleague. Being a coward, I tried to position it for him. "Hope you're not put off by the reference to my experience with the outplacement rep," I wrote (you could almost hear me saying Heh heh.). "This is meant to reflect my state of mind immediately after getting the bad news, rather than any objective response." Weasel!

Here's what the other Larry said:
I was not put off by the article. I think we need a touch of reality, and to listen to what we are saying. I put this in the category of: "Doesn't he look good in that casket?" Yes, we say some stupid, even insensitive things at times, but I hope that maybe some of this is only because we don't know what to say.
It's easy to forget, when you're the one being laid off, that the people on the other side of the situation aren't having any fun either. The outplacement lady made an offer that seemed absurd to me, and I gave her snark in return. Maybe she could have couched it better, but maybe I could have listened better too--what she was really doing was offering to help. It's hard to keep a clear head in those situations, and to know the right thing to do, and that's true for everyone involved. I was having a bad day, yes, but in retrospect, she probably deserved better than what I gave her.

Better to come to wisdom late than not at all. Thanks, Larry.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Act Two, Act Two

A number of people have told me that after reading my comments in Liz Wolgemuth's U.S. News & World Report piece about preparing for a layoff, they immediately downloaded their list of contacts from their work computer. Smart move, but let's keep something in mind: We're not talking about making off with anything your employer would consider proprietary information--the idea here is to prepare for a layoff, not provoke one. Just create a separate record of the personal contacts that you've made, nurtured, and worked with regularly.

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen over at True/Slant found sufficient merit in the U.S. News article to feature it on her blog Act Two (my second appearance there in the last couple of months). I'm always pleased to get Lisa's attention, because she's tough-minded and practical, as you'll know if you've read her blog. Must be the journalist in her. By the way, I love the photo caption she came up with, referring to me as a "sacked flack." Why didn't I think of that?

Friday, May 8, 2009

My Other Blog--Classics Rock!

I have another blog I've been playing around with for fun and maybe a little profit (I doubt it, though). It's kind of a parlor game: How may songs can you think of that are based on or refer to a book, author, poem, or literary character?

It's called Classics Rock! I hope you'll give it a look and if you come up with a song, please submit it. I'll post it and give you credit on the blog.

Have fun!

Update: Ron Hogan, of and GalleyCat, mentioned Classics Rock! on Twitter. Thanks Ron!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Breaking (U.S.) News!

The cover story of the May issue of U.S. News & World Report is "Jobs For the Future." Lots of stuff to check out here about finding a job, keeping a job, who's hiring, career tips and more.

I am featured in a piece called "Thinking About the Unthinkable" (pg. 46 of the print edition), which appears online in slightly edited form as How to Prepare for a Layoff. Associate editor Liz Wolgemuth, who writes the "Inside Job" blog for, heard I'd been laid off and asked me a great question: What would you have done if you'd known ahead of time that you were going to lose your job? I engaged in some 20/20 hindsight and gave her three ideas, which she explores in the column.

I hope you'll take a look. Who better to give career advice than an unemployed guy?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Book Review

One of the more interesting opportunities that has come my way since I was laid off (besides getting to visit the offices of the New York State Department of Labor) was an invitation to write a book review, something I'd never done before. This is exactly the kind of break I'm hoping to attract--the chance to do something outside of the publicity box I've been in all these years.

An editor at the New York Post asked me to provide 500 words on a novel called Banquo's Ghosts. Whoa, I thought--better brush up my Shakespeare. But no, this is a political thriller written by Rich Lowry of the National Review and literary agent/writer Keith Korman. I read every word of the book, which shows you how new I am at this, and submitted what I felt was a pretty tight critique that kept precisely to the required length. I was asked to do one round of revisions, mostly dropping some of my descriptive prose (ouch!) in favor of quotes from the book that made the same points--something I should have thought of myself.

When the final version ran in the paper, it was clear that quite a bit of additional editing had been done after it left my hands. That's fine--as a freelancer, I wouldn't expect to be kept in the loop throughout the editing process. I suspect these cuts were based on space considerations, since the final review came in at about 275 words--slightly more than half of what I'd submitted. There may have been other internal considerations at the paper that I'm not aware of. In the end, the editor has to determine what's going to work for the page.

I was concerned that the review didn't accurately reflect the premise of the novel (the assassination plot described in the final version turns out to be elaborate misdirection; the real story revolves around a terrorist attack on New York). The truth is, such details are more significant to someone who's already read the book (i.e., me) than to the casual reader of the Sunday Post. As published, the review announces that the book has arrived and gives readers a taste of what they can expect from it. That's kind of a lot for 275 words.

The authors probably think I based my review on the flap copy, which, for me, is a painful prospect. However, the check from the Post arrived today, so that eases my pain considerably.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Indie and Bond

"Indie" doesn't refer to Indiana Jones, but to Buy Indie Day, which is today, May 1st. You are encouraged to support your local independent bookseller by paying them a visit and making a purchase.

"Bond" does refer to Indiana Jones's spiritual progenitor James Bond, however. I had occasion recently to pick up an ancient copy of Ian Fleming's second Bond novel, Live and Let Die (nobody did titles better than Fleming), from way back in 1954. My edition is a Signet paperback (priced at 60 cents) that I swiped from my older brother when we were both teenagers. If he finds out I've got it, it'll be license-to-kill time. It creaks in spots, and the Bond of the books is a fairly humorless character, but the story moves along nicely. What struck me is that no other Fleming novel has provided so much inspiration for the Bond filmmakers.

There was, of course, the 1973 film of the same name, which used basic plot elements and characters from the book, along with its Voodoo theme.

Then there was 1981's For Your Eyes Only, in which the villain tries to kill Bond and his heroine by dragging them behind a speedboat as shark bait. That's straight from Chapter 22 of Live and Let Die.

Another film, 1989's Licence to Kill, has the bad guys dropping Bond's pal Felix Leiter into a shark tank, and then leaving him for Bond to find along with a note that says, "He disagreed with something that ate him." You'll find that in Chapter 14 of the novel. The subsequent scene in which Bond causes mayhem at a bait warehouse (memorably called Ouroborous Worm and Bait in the book) is from Chapter 15.

Something to think about when you visit that independent bookseller today. Expect to pay a bit more than 60 cents though.

Oh yeah: There's also a song. Do you know this version?