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Being Less Serious…

It seems lately that a lot of my blogs have been very serious – discussions of our policies, blogs about how technology is changing publishing, advice for authors, rants about some of the less-than-charitable emails we get in reply to rejections, and tips for creating a brand if you’re an author. So this week I decided a little levity was in order.

The word “Divertir” is French for “to amuse and entertain,” and I’ve long believed that not only should our books accomplish this, but so should our work environment. The fact that we have fun doing what it is we do (even when it’s being a “Tool of the Publishing Elite”) should be evident both to our authors and readers. And if some of the things we do aren’t fun, maybe it’s time to change that (this is a subtle hint to the staff to speak up). Life is too short…

In the past I’ve discussed the fact that our website is long overdue for an overhaul, and that will occur this summer. The goal in part is to make it a fun place to visit. One idea I had was to randomly display a funny “tag line” under our name to replace the current slogan, “Books that amuse, inform, and inspire.” So without further ado, here is the list I’ve come up with so far for new “slogans” for the Divertir Publishing website:

  • Because the zombies will need books after the Apocalypse.
  • Because minotaurs really are the next big thing.
  • Because politicians should not be our only form of entertainment.
  • Because cursed-immortal-servants-of-the-Underworld need to have their stories told too.
  • Because Silly Putty is hard to read (you might need to be my age to get this one).
  • Because we need to show the UFOs there really is intelligent life here.
  • Because we’ve always wanted a legitimate excuse to Google “sexy cowboy photos” and book covers seemed as good a reason as any.
  • Because we’ve always wanted a slush pile.
  • Because we thought a “slush pile” involved Italian ices and tequila.
  • Because using Tarot cards and Ouija boards to select manuscripts for publication is as good as what the large publishers do.
  • Because being on a reality TV show or being the dog of a celebrity does not make you qualified to write a book.
  • Because we know a book is just waiting to come out of you, just like the monster in Alien.
  • Because there are wing nuts on both sides of the political screw.
  • Because even conspiracy theories are sometimes true.
  • Because laundering money isn’t what it used to be.
  • Because the way I was squandering the family fortune was taking too long.
  • Because a glass of wine goes better with a good book than with Unreal Tournament (I’m probably showing my age by my selection of computer game).
  • Because the end of the world is coming so what the hell (I came up with this one before the Mayan end-of-the-world passed).
  • Because a book commits suicide every time you watch reality TV (yes, I “borrowed” this one off an amusing poster that was on Facebook for a while).
  • Because my doctor keeps changing my meds.
  • Because we’ve always wanted to be called “Tools of the Publishing Elite.”

Please feel free to make suggestions.

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Technology…

I thought I would start this blog by sharing some information about the technology that was available when Pebbles, Bam-Bam and I went to school:

  • My first computer in high school was a Commodore Pet 2000 with the spaceman screen and Mickey Mouse keyboard (at least that’s what we called them). It had 8 Kbytes of memory, expandable to 16 Kbytes (yes, those are “Kbytes” – it’s not a typo). It used a cassette tape to load programs and came with a word processor – which was pretty useless because it had no printer.
  • My first “word processor” was a Sears electric typewriter that could do bold and italics and stored up to 5 pages of text in memory. Given that most of the papers I had to write in college were 5 pages and under, I was in heaven – so long as I didn’t need to work on two papers at the same time. I still have that typewriter, but if my life ever depended on getting a ribbon for it I would probably be toast.
  • The computations for my PhD thesis were run on a Cray supercomputer, and the software and results are currently stored on reel-to-reel tapes. It would take less time to rewrite all of the software from scratch and rerun all of the computations than it would to find a reel-to-reel tape reader, and my current laptop computer probably has more computing power than the supercomputer did.
  • My first mobile phone was the size of a small purse and could do nothing but make phone calls.

Of all the information I will share today, probably the most interesting fact is that I am under the age of 50. That’s right – in just over 30 years, or about one generation, we went from talking about personal computers with Kbytes of memory that could perform simple tasks to machines with gigabytes of memory that can run very complex computations. We went from mobile devices that could make phone calls to smart phones and tablets with touch screens that can surf the internet, providing instant access to information.

So what does this have to do with publishing?

A recent study suggested that over 70 percent of people under the age of 25 receive a majority of their information on mobile devices. As technology improves this trend is not likely to be reversed. Barnes and Noble recently announced they would be closing two hundred stores over the next ten years, and I suspect this reduction in stores will be accompanied by a significant increase in their web presence and the development of new mobile applications. Publishers who accept the trend by making their books available in electronic formats readable on mobile devices and by providing information about their books in an easy to find manner on the web will likely reap the rewards of these technological advances. Publishers who cling to old paradigms about how publishing works may find themselves looking for ribbons for their typewriters…

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Checking Your Brand…

In my last blog, I discussed the importance of establishing a brand, both for authors and small publishers. It’s also important that you regularly check your brand to see what people are saying about it. The easiest way to do this is by doing a Google search. I regularly perform searches for Divertir Publishing to see what people are saying about us. When I find something good, I’ll sometimes link to it. If I find comments suggesting we need to improve in some area, I try to make improvements. It was a well-written comment a while back suggesting that some of our covers needed to be more modern that caused me to rethink some of our current cover designs.

In a recent Google search, I found a blog by an author that stated we had sent him a form rejection letter twice. He commented that form letters were not really “doing things differently” and then went on to swear while making “suggestions” for improvement (these “suggestions” were not PG – thus the reason for not providing a link for the blog). First, I would like to apologize to the author – a mistake was made and I promise we will be more diligent about not sending these types of emails twice in the future. Second, I actually agree with him that form letters are not really “doing things differently.” Authors who have followed Divertir Publishing since our start know that we used to send a personalized email to every author. Three things happened to change this:

  • The growing slush pile. Last year we processed well over 1,000 queries. As much as I like the idea of replying to each query individually, the truth is this is no longer practical if we are going to continue to accept queries from authors.
  • Reality. Our current rejection letter says our reason for not pursuing a manuscript is that we are “not the right publisher.” This is an accurate statement, and to say anything else would be pretentious. I no more know what the next blockbuster will be than the people publishing books by reality TV stars and the dogs of celebrities. What I do know is what I like, and that’s what we publish. In instances where a manuscript seems like a good idea but is just not my cup of tea, I’m not sure how appropriate it is for me to say much more than that.
  • “Fan” emails. People who have read my blog for a while know that is my polite way of describing the nasty emails we get from authors calling us everything from “hacks running a vanity press” to “tools of the publishing elite, who lack the vision to see real genius” when we reject a manuscript (those are in quotes because we really did get those two emails). This is a case where a few bad apples have spoiled the bunch – because of emails like this, I no longer provide advice to authors (whether it is on changes they could make so their query letter stands out or things they should think about for their manuscript) unless they request it.

So what does this have to do with an author’s brand? I think I’ll break my rule here and give a general piece of advice that I hope is useful. When an agent or publisher is considering sending you a contract, often they will take the time to find out as much as they can about you, including looking at your Facebook page and reading your blog. An unprofessional rant (that includes swearing) about a simple mistake is just as likely to demonstrate to those agents and publishers that your brand is not something they want to consider as it is to demonstrate that your brand is worth the investment…

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Breadcrumbs…

Most sites giving advice to writers suggest that an author check out a publisher or agent before submitting to them. From Preditors and Editors and the Absolute Write Water Cooler (that’s the link describing us) to Writer’s Beware (the link is to my guest blog on fee-charging agents), there are several places an author can go to check out a publisher before submitting a manuscript. I routinely suggest to authors that they check out Divertir Publishing before they sign a contract with us, and have gone so far as to set up meetings between our current authors and potential authors so the potential authors could ask questions before signing. Why would I do this? Two reasons: first, I want the authors that sign with us to be completely comfortable with the decision.

Second, it’s because I’ve checked you out…

In web programming, the term “breadcrumbs” is used to describe the trail one blazes as they navigate a web site; simply clicking on one of the breadcrumbs on a web page allows you to go to a previously visited page. It may shock you to hear this, but you leave “breadcrumbs” all over the internet. A search on Facebook with your email address will show me your Facebook page. A Google search for your name will often turn up everything from your author site and blog to your deviantArt and Story Write pages (where we discovered Verena Sandford, who is one of my favorite short story authors and who was featured in our first and second short story collections).

So what exactly am I looking for as I follow your breadcrumbs? I’m looking to see how serious and professional you are as a writer. Have you written an entertaining blog on why strippers shouldn’t eat curry, or is your blog a rant about how publishers deserve a special place in Hell? Does you blog offer interesting insight into controversial topics, or does it discuss how much you drank at the last keg party? Are there samples of your writing online that show me how creative you are and that might give me more insight into you as a writer?

Breadcrumbs are interesting, in that they can hang around for a long time. Here is a conversation I had with with Jane Smith (who writes the blog “How Publishing Really Works”) from February 2010. In hindsight, I will admit that some of my views on publishing back then were naïve. By the same token, I do owe her an email to point out that we were featured in the article “Keys to Cracking 10 Top Markets” by Adria Haley in the September 2011 edition of Writer’s Digest – thus her prediction of our doom before we started was premature.

What is the reason for  pointing out this last exchange with Jane Smith? It’s that the things we post on the web can stay there for a very long time, and eventually someone will have a reason to follow your breadcrumb. You should always try to make sure they create a positive impression for those who make the effort…

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