Monthly Archives: June 2010

Issue of June 27, 2010

It’s books, books, and more books in this week’s issue where BiblioBuffet’s contributors roam far and wide—fantasy and ghosts, anime and Authurianiana, the World Cup, and more—to bring you their thoughts on what might be good for you!

Mixing baskets or, in this case mixing authors and books, is something that Gillian Polack decided made good if unusual sense. Her first comparison: a twenty-first-century anime and the first in a nineteenth-century series by Louisa May Alcott. Second, she tackles a soon-to-be-published book due out from a new imprint that enters—successfully—the realm of the Authurian novel in A Mixed Basket.

Horror and ghost fiction are particularly well suited to the historical settings of New England, says David Mitchell, who finds in a new collection of short stories “the real fantasy of childhood . . . that we might not really believe but which we cannot altogether discount, either” in What the Forest Knows.

With the World Cup dominating sports news recently, Pete Croatto decided to take a look at a book that offers an enthusiastic look at the game’s history and players and why it might (or might not) end up competing with “America’s other team sports” in Finding Our Place in the World (Cup).

With the advent of e-books and other electronic editions, books are taking on an overcoat of nostalgia for many readers. Are their days numbered? It’s hard to say, but Lauren Roberts believes as long as there are readers there will be books because of the sense of nostalgia they produce in their readers—Bookstalgia, in other words.

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The “Organization”

It would be impossible for me to run BiblioBuffet if I was not both very creative and highly organized. Fortunately, both sides are practiced professionals—I used to own an organizing business—and work in harmony to create a personality that meshes perfectly. Since I tend to be a minimalist in my home and my workspace, I like my computer’s desktop to be minimal as well. If you were to look at my Mac Powerbook, you’d see only four items: Prosperity, which is where every folder and document I use is located in well-organized sub-folders; Peace, which is where all the hardware is and what I mostly stay out of; Trash, which has its own sub-folders, and a folder labeled with Sunday’s date that changes each week because it contains that week’s works in progress.

Prosperity contains  six  sub-folders, one of which is labeled “BiblioBuffet.” Inside that folder are five sub-folders: (1) Columns; (2) Contributors; (3) Convention; (4) Databases; (5) Miscellaneous. Just the Columns folder contains four sub-folders each with, again, sub-folders of their own: Current, Future, Old, Potential .

Current Columns, which is the one I am going to focus on in this post, is the folder where all current and past columns are located. This is where my organizational skills really pay off. In this sub-folder—or is it sub-sub-sub-folder by now?— are more folders, one for each column:

  • A Reading Life
  • BibliOpinions
  • Book Brunch
  • Bookish Dreaming
  • From the Editor’s Desk
  • Literary Amusements
  • Memoirama
  • On Marking Books
  • The Athletic Supporter
  • Things Said and Done
  • Writer-in-Residence

With the exception of the Literary Amusements one, within those are more folders labeled by year. The number of those depends on when the columnists began writing for BiblioBuffet. Nicki Leone, for example, one of the first contributors to come aboard, has five sub-folders: 2006 through 2010.  And in each are the columns for that year, neatly labeled by date, newest on top.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? Or anal, perhaps. But the truth is that having this kind of detail makes things much easier for me and for the contributors. I never forget a payday or who is owed how much. And if I need to find a column I can go to my databases folder, locate the Columns spreadsheet, and simply do a search. The fact that it contains information on all the columns ever published makes any search a breeze. Once I determine the date, it’s easy to go to the Columns folder and bring up the right piece.

And in order to ensure that those of you who think I might be crazy have real evidence, let me tell you that my Trash also has its BiblioBuffet throwaways organized with folders. Yup, I do. This is where the material I need and use (but don’t keep permanently) for each week’s issue goes. I keep anywhere from three to six folders, all dated,  plus one labeled “Trash-X.” What differentiates  the stuff that goes in the dated folders from the stuff in the can marked “X” is simple: accessibility. Edited versions of what Nicki and the columnists have sent is placed in the dated folders. So are images of the book covers I have created and uploaded to the online parking garage. The original online images of the covers go in the “X” can as do early, now retired versions of the current columns. I know I won’t need to access them, but I don’t want to toss them until the new issue is live. So in order not to distract me they are put here. The other things, which are accessed only rarely, nevertheless need to be readily available. Hence, the dated folders where I can easily find them.

Then, late Sunday night, when I have finally finished getting the new issue up, the last thing I do (as a kind of reward because I love empty trash cans) is to temporarily move out the yet-to-be-used dated trash cans, then empty the main one, watching with satisfaction as the little window rapidly counts down the files that are now gone forever. There’s something truly rewarding about seeing the old work disappear and the new work, fresh, clean, and empty folders neatly put away. It’s there, but it’s out of sight and thus out of mind, a very good thing when that mind is satiated with writing worth reading—and publishing.

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Issue of June 20, 2010

Prepare to take sides as we present a no-holds-barred argument summing up the long-running questions surrounding the identity of the “real” Shakespeare; an argument for why book trailers are a no-sale for some readers; a thoughtful essay on how a particular series is helped heal a major reading slump; and more.

Shakespeare the man or Shakespeare the Fraud? The debate is heating up, and Lev Raphael tackles the arguments for the latest “real Shakespeare,” as well as the supposed reasons why Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written his plays in Anyone but Shakespeare.

Series, series, who wants a series? While many series and their writers often seem to burn out or die out (or should), one has kept going—for which Lauren Baratz-Logsted is thankful—for nearly three decades. What is it about this series that is so attractive? Find out in My Kingdom for a Series.

Nicki Leone’s review of a first novel takes an extraordinary approach, combining the author’s personal and professional lives, the protagonist’s story, the current oil disaster in the Gulf, and her personal daily wanderings in Defending the Small Places.

Lev Raphael and Lauren Roberts were recently surprised to find they not only shared a love of Lord Byron’s work but also two sets of his books, both issued in the first half of the nineteenth century and both highly treasured books in their lives. Join their joyfully shared reminiscences in To Walk in Beauty.

At the recent Book Expo America, Lindsay Champion had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Tony-award winning actress and singer, Patti LuPone who has a memoir on its way that, if the book is anything like what Lindsay found, is  likely to be “satisfying” even if not wholly agreeable, as she explains in Being LuPone.

The same technology that drives the special effects in films is turning its attention to selling books. But should it? Can video-enhanced advertising with special effects really sell a reading experience? This week, Lauren Roberts’s explores her thoughts on why video ads will never sell her—though they may sell other readers—a book in Books on My Mind.

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Digging for Literary Gold

“If the New York Times or Washington Post or People have reviewed it, the book is likely not a good fit for BiblioBuffet.” This was the message I e-mailed back yesterday to the publicist who contacted me about a book that has been widely and excellently reviewed. It’s not that we are opposed to great books. On the contrary, we are always looking for those.

But we prefer to focus our attention on books that haven’t and likely won’t get that level of attention, not because they aren’t worth it but because limited print space allows for few reviews compared to the number of books published annually, and because in at least some, but more probably in many, cases “names” tend to be chosen. It makes sense in some ways because a new Sue Grafton will sell in the millions. More USA Today readers will buy it than they would a mystery by a relatively unknown writer of equal quality. And those readers’ ties to both the newspaper and the book will strengthen.

We at BiblioBuffet would far rather introduce you to that new writer. It’s why I often emphasize to the contributors that they should explore the online catalogs of smaller and mid-size publishers, including university presses, than depend on the e-mail press releases that arrive regularly in our in-boxes. It’s why one of my ten databases is named publishers, and lists more than 200 of those publishers (and is still growing). It’s why I present a small blurb about a publisher each week in my editor’s letter, talking about a house’s focus and a couple of its books.

Though most of them have distribution and can be found in bookstores, you probably won’t find most of the books the smaller presses have in your local bookstore simply because of space. There’s never enough of it. So I try to encourage our readers as much as I do our contributors to go outside the norm, go outside the “names”,” go outside their comfort one. BiblioBuffet, after all, was founded on the premise that there is “gold in them thar hills” (of publishing). We don’t want to run with the crowd. We like to dig around for our nuggets. So why not do a little digging of your own. You never know what you will find, but I can tell you it sure will be fun to find out.

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Issue of June 13, 2010

Warm weather is here, and so is the time for good reading on a beach, at a park, or even just on a porch. We can start you off on this week’s reading with columns about golf, history, book covers, even a good debate over the developments in book technology before you head off into the land of prose and poetry. Have a great week!

History as written by historians has the ability to analyze events within broad contexts. However, as David Mitchell says in In the Jungle with George, memoirs and studies of the events by those historians actually involved make their stories particularly compelling history.

What’s in a cover? A lot. It’s how publishers attract readers to books heretofore unknown to them. Cover lover Gillian Polack,  in the interests of finding out how others feel gathers together a small group to critique a large group of books—and comes up with interesting results in More Than Words.

Read or play? Reading to play? Pete Croatto does both when in a recent vacation visit with his girlfriend’s parents he joined them for his first game of golf. But before doing so he searched out books that would teach him about the game—and he came up with one golden one as he shares in Drop the Book, Pick Up the Club.

What else can one to do when the books are calling? Lauren Roberts chooses to answer the call in It’s All About the Reading!

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The Writer’s Toolbox or Grammer It Ain’t

Of course I know how to spell the word “grammar.” I know the word “ain’t” isn’t a word in the world of proper English. I also know the difference between “its” and “it’s,” and when you use “who” rather than “what.”

All writers should. Possessing proper English skills is a writer’s foundation, similar to knowing how to properly wield a hammer would be to a master carpenter, or understanding the nature of fractions would be to a mathematician. Those are pieces of basic knowledge that must be mastered before you can go on to anything else in the field.

Serious writers use this basic tool in all their communications. Yet, surprisingly, what some of us editors are seeing are writers who feel that they can save their tools for their formal submissions and go “casual” elsewhere—in their blog posts and comments, in online forums, and even in e-mail inquires. This is mistaken thinking.

I would no more “go casual” in any written communication than I would add Red Mountain wine the high school boys I knew used to drink at parties—a gallon for $1.49 if I remember correctly— to my Boeuf Bourguignon. You know why? The impression is not good. Fortunately, the idea of sending out a written communication that does not reflect well upon the writer is anathema to most. But not everyone.

Two queries from two different writers showed up just a few days ago.  But they had a lot in common: both arrived on the same day; both were from women; both used lowercase letters all the way through.

Did you hear me screaming?

Misspelling words or using textspeak or all lowercase or uppercase letters when querying an editor is like walking into an interview for a Wall Street firm with a purple Mohawk, a t-shirt that advocates impolite actions, and neon-orange pants that would burn the eyelids off an alligator. No one is going to say you can’t do that, but then no one is going to hire you either. If you are okay with that, then wear what you want. If your goal is to get a serious job at a serious firm, you need to follow their style.

That’s no less true for writers seeking to join a publication that takes itself seriously.  I don’t know if the proliferation of “content” sites is responsible for writers thinking they can “go casual” in their queries. But at BiblioBuffet writers who choose that route are dead in the water. If you want to write for us, it’s good to keep these rules in mind:

  • Be sure you have read and absorbed the guidelines we have on our “Write for Us” page. Then follow them. We are not out to torture applicants; what we ask for is exactly what we want—and we have reasons for it.
  • Begin with a formal style of address. My name is on the e-mail form so opening your query with “Dear Ms. Roberts” is an excellent start.
  • Always, always, always use correct spelling and punctuation. I can overlook a typo, but when I see “i” at the beginning of  a sentence I will kick your little “i” out on its serif.
  • Do not—ever!—use any version of textspeak. I hate that more than words have the power to convey.
  • It is not in your best interest to question me over the course of several e-mails about our payment rates (especially when the information is clearly posted on our website) and only after I have answered to your satisfaction to say, “when do we get started?” That is not a proper query. Adding a smiley face does not reverse the bad karma you accumulated in my eyes.
  • Closely related to the above is telling me you have a good article for me on “Bulgarian business.” Do I look like I’d be interested in Bulgarian business?
  • Ask yourself if you are you sure you understand what we do. And what we don’t do. Show me you read our site with a comment or two on a particular article that excited or angered you. Make me want you by making yourself so good I will immediately forward your e-mail onto Managing Editor Nicki Leone and say, “We need this writer!”

But regardless of who you query, be sure your toolbox is in the best shape possible. If grammar, punctuation, or spelling is not your forte, learn it. Take an English class. Buy a seventh-grade English textbook. Read Strunk & White until your eyes fall out. Own at least two dictionaries and use them regularly. Subscribe to some of the sites below and follow them.

A Way With Words: National Public Radio’s language show

A Word A Day: Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter and learn a new word every week day along with its history and usage.

Fun With Words: Games, games, and more games all centered on words.

Luciferous Logolepsy: You may not use these obscure words (though you never know) but you will certainly enjoy learning about them.

Oxford English Dictionary: Word of the Day: The king of dictionaries offers a daily e-mail with a word and its definition. 

The Vocabula Review: This publication strives to “combat the degradation of our language” as well as celebrates “its opulence and its elegance.”

The Word Detective: Language with a dose of humor is found on this site, which is the online version of the newspaper column.  

In addition to the above, and absolutely essential to any writer: read. Read books and  serious newspapers and magazines. Keep your online reading to less than fifty percent—one-third is even better—of your overall reading because studies have repeatedly shown that reading online affects our brains and our concentration levels much differently than reading books.

And if all that’s too much trouble, then you really don’t want to be a writer.

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Issue of June 6, 2010

In this week’s issue, we have some fabulous reading for you! Selling a book, buying books (with someone else’s money), listening to author’s spill all, glorying in the excellence that was and is Joan Didion. We have it all.

A bookmark that seems to celebrate Los Angeles actually offers more of a homage to the glorious, golden state flower as Lauren Roberts discusses in California Poppies.

Books we haven’t read are always going to loom larger than books we have read. This week, Lindsay Champion talks about a popular author she had, up until she stayed the week with a friend who is a big fan, never read. Share her delighted discovery in The Week of Joan Didion.

Thriller writer Joseph Finder discovers that not all thrills come from his books. As the author in Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s hot seat this time, he is all set to enjoy the thrills that come from being disrespected in The Disrespectful Interview: Dissing Joseph Finder. (And don’t forget that you can still win one of Lauren’s books; see her column for details.)

What if you were offered the opportunity to build a library with someone else’s money? Nicki Leone had just such an experience when a renowned manor house invited her to create their guest library. Did she love it? Find out in Building a Library, Book by Book.

Guest columnist Tom DeMarchi manages to bring out the real man—opinionated, sharp, droll, a writer’s writer with credits in journalism, books of both fiction and nonfiction, and short stories—in Drooling Fanatic: An  Interview with Steve Almond.

Most books are treasures to their owners, but sometimes we end up with books that have little personal meaning regardless of their value. That’s when the book becomes easy, and even joyful, to sell says Lauren Roberts in For Sale: A Book.

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