No book reviews–but still reading Paul Murray, Deanna Raybourn, Cormac McCarthy

I am currently simultaneously reading Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray (semi-literary, charmingly whimsical, overly ironic book club-style fiction), Dark Inquiry, by Deanna Raybourn (total masturbatory fodder for female and gay male former English lit majors whose soul sucking office jobs leave them unwilling to expend the effort required for reading actual Victorian literature–why can’t I look away!?!), and The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy (a counter balancing work designed to keep me from imploding in a cloud of purple sparkles). I’ll let you guess which of these three titles I’m most likely to finish first.

In fact, until yesterday I haven’t really had much time for reading, what with packing up all my stuff, moving it to a new house and then (beginning) to unpack it again. After the long weekend certain rooms are starting to look semi-presentable (bathroom, bedroom) while others (kitchen, office) have a pretty long way to go.

I have not even begun unpacking my books, except for the poetry and plays (by far the smallest section) and the old notebooks which I shoved, unopened, into the shelves beneath to my desk. I am fairly positive there won’t be room for half the fiction. I sold several big shopping bags full of old stuff to Green Apple and abandoned another whole bag at Borderlands–but then I went ahead and spent all my store credit (and then some) on a collected Rilke, the newest William Trevor, and a bunch of greeting cards for assorted upcoming family holidays.

Oh well. Pictures to follow (as soon as things are a bit more organized).

Nobody cares where you sit, and other notes on contemporary politics

I haven’t had much to rant about on the political front in sometime, mainly because most of what I feel justified in commenting on has been on hold since the holiday recess began almost a month ago.

Just when congress was gearing up for a serious partisan smack down in the new year (something I would definitely have commented upon), maladjusted weirdo Jared Loughner shot up a Gabrielle Giffords speaking event for, apparently, no reason, killing six and injuring a dozen more. What followed was the oddest combination of genuine shock and grief and blame-slinging and political posturing in recent memory. Everyone made an initial statement, many of them quite honest and moving and heartfelt. Then everyone analyzed everyone else’s statement. Reactions were compared and contrasted.

Then the idea that the polarized political situation and negative, violent rhetoric inspired the shooting (just like rock music causes suicide, and Stairway to Heaven includes secret satanic messages) was covered exhaustively. Not to say that the tone in Washington is not a problem, but the sad truth is you can’t blame mean people for crazy ones–no matter how much you might want to. Or at least, you can blame them only in so much as their meanness contributes to the general malaise, the poisonous atmosphere that, combined with paranoia and delusion and a thousand other influences, creates both the madness and the motivation for such an act. Still, everyone vowed to play nice in the future. And then promptly turned and criticized someone else for not making the same promise, or for doing it too slowly, or whatever. I don’t even want to talk about what Sarah Palin odd little mini controversy, which was beyond bizarre from beginning to end.

The idea that an effort at civility is really a mandate for curtailing free speech was briefly floated. A hilarious concept considering that in the 1700s when the whole free speech thing took hold, the social niceties were so much more extreme that two people exchanged bows before trying to kill one another. The founding fathers it seems, were free to say and do just about anything without breaking the bounds of decorum. And, with our lax social standards, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say so are we. It’s entirely possible to refute everything your opponent stands for without being aggressive and violent, sometimes without even being impolite.

In the midst of the back biting and general scramble to either avoid or acknowledge culpability as circumstances seemed to warrant, a few individuals stood up and stood out in an admirable way. The president broke out his not inconsiderable rhetorical skills at the memorial service Wednesday. The old John McCain, the McCain we loved for his compassion and his faithfulness and his ability to step outside his own perspective (even if he is a homophobic old coot), reemerged unexpectedly with Sunday’s Washington Post op-ed. Ms. Giffords staff opened the offices as usual on the Monday following the shooting.

So it’s been 10 days, and congress has decided it’s now appropriate to get back down to business–possibly a kinder, gentler business. So, the “job-killing health care bill” is now the “job-destroying health care bill,” (much less violent that way, right?) and we’re all going to sit side by side at the State of the Union (because this is 8th grade and it matters who we sit by). And now it’s time to see how it all goes forward.

San Francisco Reading Party

Frozen solid and sneezing continuously, with a bad mood and a raw nose, I never the less pulled on my new jacket (thanks Bestamor) and headed down to the nexus of SOMA and the Mission for Quiet Lightening, possibly my favorite San Francisco reading series. LDM is funny; Radar is striking and weird; Porchlight has that sweet, homey public radio feel (although it’s so freakin’ hard to get out to the Verdi Club I hardly ever make it); Writers with Drinks is hit and miss.

Quiet Lightening is pretty close to perfect. It’s immersive, it’s chill. It’s always somewhere new, always somewhere central, always somewhere with drinks, and they keep the pageantry to a minimum. Writers read one after the other in rapid succession, without pausing for introductions or explanations. The length of the applause is just long enough for the next reader to get to the front of the room.

Sure, there are some selections I could miss (not naming any names here, but if you were thinking of bringing an accompanist, please reconsider), but the rate of really good readings is remarkable–in every two hour event, there are always 3-4 writers who are honestly great.

The first night I attended, I was completely in love with readings by Charles Kruger and Lauren Becker. Last night’s videos have not been posted, but I was definitely impressed with Jesus Castillo (and that’s saying something–I don’t care for most contemporary poetry), adorable David Sedaris Jr., Graham Gremore, and pun-happy Steven Grey.

What’s the big deal with the estate tax?

So, I know I’m super uber liberal and everything, but I don’t get why the estate tax is supposed to be such a good thing.

I mean, yes, I know it was championed by TR (my all time favorite president), I know it’s our most “progressive” tax, I know the people who support eliminating it are super-rich and mostly reprehensible. And I do believe that the wealthy should undertake a greater share of the tax burden overall.

But here’s what I don’t get: haven’t people already paid tax on that money? Wouldn’t it be both more practical and more just to tax earned income and accruing interest more heavily in the upper tax brackets to begin with?

Added to that, according to NPR, the estate tax has never produced more than 1-2% of federal revenues. And according to the Huffington Post the Democratic alternative is “only a little more irresponsible” than the proposed plan, the difference between $33 billion (Dems) and $68 billion (Reps & Obama)–small change when you’re talking Federal budget.

Finally, the current plan (the one Obama negotiated), basically just raises the threshold for paying estate tax from $1 million to $5 million. This doesn’t strike me as all that nuts. Remember, this isn’t just a tax on liquid assets–it’s the entire estate. If you own a small business, a car or two, and a house, your estate can get up close to the $1 million mark pretty fast. Some kinds of life insurance are also taxable under the estate tax, which can easily throw an estate over that threshold.

A $1 million baseline hits the upper middle class, not just the wealthiest 1% of the entire country. Of course, I personally think we’d be pretty safe with a threshold of $2 million instead of $5–but in any case, this is hardly the thing to go to bat over when the >$250k income tax is on the line.

But I still love Bernie Sanders.

Well, it’s official…

…all 42 senate Republicans are assholes.

In case there’s any doubt, here’s written proof, in letter format.

Now, I realize filibusters have become pretty common in recent years, and especially in recent months. As Rachel Maddow furiously but accurately points out, Republicans already block everything anyway. This letter just marks the subtle transitioned from pattern to policy.

So it’s not that this little declaration of war is all that surprising. It’s just that the whole thing is so completely repellent. After all this talk of “comprise” this and “adult conversation” that, congressional republican’s next move, as a body, is a hostage-style ultimatum.

You know what: that’s actually fine. If the the 42 signers of this letter really believe that sustaining the Bush tax cuts for earners making over $250,000 per year is the most important issue our country faces, let them prove it. Let the all the tax cuts expire.

I’ve written to the white house, as well as Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer on this issue, it pisses me off so much. Ugh!

I Miss Ronald Regan…

…a president who, by the way, I cannot freaking stand, with his ripping the solar panels off the white house and screwing Jimmy Carter out of credit for bringing the hostages home; and his elitist trickle-down economic theories; and his vehement opposition of Roe v Wade; and his “homeless by choice” bullshit; and never mentioning AIDS until 20,000 people were already dead; and his “nine most terrifying words”; and his wife’s lame “just say no” campaign; and Iran-Contra; and Grenada; and whatever other secret CIA shit went down.

But I’ll say this about Regan: he was smart. He actually read the economic theories he promoted, and he was capable of explaining them coherently. He wrote some of his own speeches, including everybody’s favorite “government is the problem” inaugural address. He had the intelligence and (for lack of a better word) the soul to appropriate and rejuvenate the biblical “city up on a hill” analogy from John Winthrop and JFK. He had a sense of humor.

I’m pretty sure Regan would know what the 14th Amendment is, not to mention which supreme court decisions interpret separation of church and state as implicit in the 1st Amendment. I’m also pretty sure I’d hate what he’d have to say about both the constitution and the supreme court today…but at least I’d understand it. And there’s something to be said for that. Something to be said, too, for an opponent you can respect, someone you can argue with in a meaningful way, and someone who, at the end of the day, might not be such bad company over a beer.

Thoughts on “The Acquisitions Editor” Spoof

I read (okay, sometimes skim) Joe Konrath’s blog the way I occasionally listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio–because even though he pisses me off, it seems like a good idea to know what different people are saying. Not that I want to compare Joe Konrath to Rush Limbaugh as a person. I mean, Rush is a crazy, mean, asshole. Joe’s just a bit of a curmudgeon. But sometimes, like I said, he really can piss me off. Like this post, “The Acquisitions Editor” from two weeks ago (look, I don’t check it everyday).

Okay, so what’s wrong with this picture? Well, let’s start at the beginning. I’ve worked at a lot of publishing houses and visited a lot more. Let me just say: none of them are in hip happening buildings, and at none of them are Editorial Assistants expected to get coffee for anyone. What is this, Madmen?

Okay, yeah, I know, it’s not literal. I’m over it.

The top five infuriating inaccuracies in this article are as follows:

5. ebooks rights only?

On what planet are publishers contracting exclusively for e-rights? According to current estimates, ebook sales represent 6% of the total book market–a lot more than I would have thought, but hardly enough justify going through the whole manuscript process. Especially when whoever owns the print rights could presumably undercut your price at any time, or even just do something as simple as creating market confusion with a new edition.

4. The implication that publishers came up with the $9.99 ebook price point.

It may be shooting myself in the foot to mention this one, but the $9.99 price point is Amazon’s. It wasn’t created by publishers. In fact many publishers prefer a price point closer to the $14 trade paper standard, which is why so many ebook prices are going up now that publishers have a say. I can sort of understand this. Cheapo mass market paperbacks have always been my personal favorite book format as a consumer, but traditionally publishers only release those for their most popular books, so they can make up in volume what they loose in price.

The thing is, I really liked the $10 price. It’s equivalent to eating lunch out or going to a movie. That is, it’s the kind of little splurge I can indulge in on a semi-regular basis. More than that, it struck me as pretty fair–$5 more expensive than say, renting a movie, $5 less expensive than buying a trade paper you could potentially resell. RIP.

3. “Well, we could spend two or three weeks working on a single title in order to get it ready.”

All I can say to this one is, “I wish.” The standard time-table for publication, from the time the author turns in their finished manuscript to the day it goes up for sale is more like six or seven months. True, about six weeks of that is time spent at the printer and in transit to the warehouse–but that still leaves five months. What happens in that time? Well, copyedit, author review, integrating changes, design, proofs (2 rounds), author review again, another round of proofs, cover copy, author review, cover design, author reviews that, too, endorsements, putting the ebook in different formats as needed, and QC-ing the ebooks formats.

Keep in mind that all this happens after the author has turned in a first draft, received feedback, and made revisions. If you count the developmental process it’s closer to ten months.

2. “But paper books cost money to create.”

Not as much as you might think. The unit cost of a standard black and white 6 x 9 paperback is really, really low. Like really low. They are made in China.

Making a book does cost money, but the costs are mostly stacked on the content creation and vetting end of things. For instance, you have to pay for developmental editorial work, design, acquisitions and marketing time, and you have to all the production staff (mostly freelancers) like the copyeditor, copywriters, the pager, the person who handles the QCs, etc.

To be fair, old Joe does mention these costs. Based on his estimates, I guess he really doesn’t like designers.

Yeah, that was a joke. More seriously, when you go with a traditional publisher, one of the things you’re getting is experience and expertise. Konrath argues that publishers don’t product test, but actually the whole (failing) publishing business model is one big product test–basically you just throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, and then try to recreate it. Not the most refined approach, but over time it has let publishers build up a strong good body of market knowledge and, yes, actual data. From this article, and this whole blog actually it’s clear that Konrath prefers to go his own way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that 200 years of industry experience are wrong–just that this guy prefers his own title and cover.

1. “Do you know how much it costs to rent this office? We’re paying $25k a month, and that doesn’t even include utilities. I’ve got three assistants. We all have health insurance and 401k. Expense accounts. Do you have any idea what it costs to take agents out to lunch?”

Delusional. Seriously. Delusional. Everyone working in publishing, and I mean everyone, is overworked and underpaid. Literally everyone in the business, the designers, the tech people, the editors, the finance people, the publishers, everyone, could make more money working elsewhere. The only exceptions are the executive teams at the big six, and perhaps one or two other large houses.

Assistants are shared, offices are eclectic at best, there are no admins at all, there are a ton of temps (that means no health care, son), and lots of people, (especially editors and marketers) put in free nights and weekends. These are not the fat cats of the literary world (I’m really not sure who those would be. Critics, maybe? Or Madona, when she wrote that children’s book?). They are mid-level (at best) professionals who’ve invested their careers, hearts, minds, blood, sweat, and leisure-time in making art happen. Essentially, they are good, hardworking advocates who don’t deserve a bunch of shit from the likes of this guy.

I’m not saying prices couldn’t get lower. I’m not saying the royalty split is perfect, or that it’ll fall out that way in the end. I’m not saying the system is efficient, or the business plan is a good one. I’m not saying authors can’t double as agents and micro-presses.

I’m just saying: publishers aren’t the enemy; they just may not be your solution.

And you don’t have to be such a feakin’ jerk all the time.

Just did something I never thought I’d do

Actually, more like swore I’d never do. I gave financial support to a politician who:

a) is not pro-choice (although not a completely horrifying one)
b) voted for the Iraq war, and
c) is not even running in an election I’ll be voting in

For context, let me just add that this is only the second time I have ever given money to any political campaign. The last time was in 2008 when I donated to the DNC–A contribution which, by the way, never went through because it turned out my credit card was overdrawn (incidentally, I’m also broke most of the time). So that should tell you about how important I think this particular election is: I have no money, but I still choose to give some theoretical money away to an incumbent senator in another state.

Which Senator? Harry Reid.

The thing is, while Reid may be the Senator from Nevada, he’s also the Senate Majority Leader, which means in a weird way, he belongs to everyone. Even those of us not part of the Democratic party (no, I am a liberal, but I’m also an independent–mostly because I’m too consistently angry at the Democratic party to switch, even for the primaries).

It’s hard enough passing anything in the current senate. Loosing that 59 to 41 majority (and the majority leader into the bargain) isn’t going to ease that situation.

And then there’s is Sharron Angle, a terrifying individual so far to the right that even Bill Raggio can’t bring himself to support her. With this candidate, it’s almost impossible to cover the standard issues questions: her stances include abolishing the department of education and leaving the United Nations. This is someone who talks about the idea of privatizing veterans affairs and refers to autism using air quotes.

At the moment Angle is leading Reid 50 to 46 (or 42 to 40, depending on who you ask) in the polls, and while Bill Mann somewhat snidely remarks that “Harry Reid must have been saying a lot of prayers to get an opponent as weak as Sharron Angle. He will do extremely well.” not everyone is feeling quite so confident.

Including me. I mean, I honestly thought there was no possible way President Bush would be elected for a second term, and I couldn’t have been more wrong there. The 2004 election was the first in which I was old enough to vote, and it taught me one important lesson: you can’t be complaisant. If you think one situation is preferable to another, you have to get behind it. “Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it.” A vote is literally the very least we can do.

Giving a small sum of money might be the second-to-least I can do…but it’s a move in the right direction.