Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This One Says It All

Just in case you were still debating whether or not to read Patrick O’Donnell’s WE WERE ONE: SHOULDER TO SHOULDER WITH THE MARINES WHO TOOK FALLUJAH, then pop on over to the LEATHERNECK magazine website and read the review there.

Here are a few snippets:

“a well-written book”

“the best snapshot written to date that details the ferocity of the house-to-house fighting that took place”

“vivid descriptions”

“his descriptions of the Marines clearing houses, fighting the heavily doped-up insurgents, as well as the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes on the Marines are among the most descriptive and heart-breaking accounts to come back from the Iraqi front”

“O’Donnell succeeds in personalizing each of the Marines. The reader gets to know each one—how he thinks, who is his buddy, what is his role in the daily fighting. His description of each individual lets us mourn the loss of each Marine, as his prose is sufficiently vivid to let the reader walk the streets with 1st Plt.

“For those who think that an embedded reporter has his own agenda, this book may well change their minds. For those who want to begin to understand the deadly nature of fighting in an urban environment, the determination of the enemy, as well as the inherent problems in 4th Generation Warfare—as well to begin to understand the determination and dedication to their fellow Marines of those young men who are doing the fighting—then this is the book for you.”

I think that about says it all.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Got a Question? Ask It Here!

As many readers of this blog know, I used to answer questions on the Absolute Write forum under the Ask the Agent topic. Well, I would like to offer that service again, but from here. If you have a question about the publishing world, then I'm happy to offer my two cents. You can send me your question by starting with "blogquestions" and ending with my domain name. Note that there should be no spaces and, yes, you need an "at" sign in the middle. Sorry if this is too obtuse for some, but I don't want some spam-spewing robot to grab it up. If you do send me a question, you will receive an autoresponse that it has been received.

Please note the following:
  • Questions only; no queries or pitches
  • No personal responses will be sent; all responses will be posted here
  • You MUST sign your question and it will be published with your signature, .e.g., Joe Smith, New York, NY.
  • Only questions of general interest to the publishing world will receive a response. If your question is very specifically related just to your situation, I probably won't answer it, since that's more personally involved than I want to be with someone I don't represent, know, or am married to.
Let's roll....


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Jury of Your Peers

For me, the opinions of my colleagues in the publishing world matter. And for many of my authors, the opinions of reviewers matter. And well they should, since a good review can certainly make a difference in how a book performs.

But for an author like Patrick O’Donnell, author of four books—BEYOND VALOR, INTO THE RISING SUN, OPERATIVE SPIES & SABOTEURS, and WE WERE ONE—that all focus on the experiences of troops in combat, the opinions that really matter are those of the veterans. They are his jury of peers, especially now that he’s been to Iraq and seen a fair share of combat. Not that Pat’s reviews have been bad—they haven’t; see below—but what really matters is that he’s getting the veterans’ stories told.

On his latest book, WE WERE ONE, Pat told me often that he felt that it was his personal mission to tell the story of the regular guy fighting in Iraq, the guy who doesn’t have a platform from which to speak. Over and over, he’s told me, “These guys are the next Greatest Generation.” And I believe him.

I had the opportunity not long ago, right after the book came out, to meet many of the marines Pat met in Iraq. They are, for the large part, back home—in some cases only until they ship back to Iraq—and readjusting to regular life. But that readjustment has clearly not been easy for some. One guy I met, who wore long sleeves on a warm evening, spoke of the fragments that tore his arm up and severed nerves. He still has his arm, but the function is not what it was. Others told stories of their time in combat, in some cases of hand-to-hand combat. Their attitude reminded me of my old college buddies sitting around and talking about that frat party where we got really hammered and the stupid things we did as a result. But these boys got a very different education than my buddies and I did at college. I came home that night and told my wife that some of these boys could have had “PTSD” tattooed on their foreheads. And I say that not in judgment, but in concern.

It seems to me that the military learned very little from prior wars, particularly Korea and Vietnam, where the boys did not come home heroes, but came home more like prisoners released from a long sentence. Granted, some things have changed. Mostly units rotate home together now and the welcome home ceremonies are genuine and I’m sure have had a positive impact. People give up their first-class seats on planes so that a soldier might get home to his family a bit earlier. That’s a far cry from the spitting and name-calling that some endured coming home from Vietnam. But more clearly needs to be done. As a country, we need to get behind our troops. There is no way to “support our troops, but not the war.” So it means we have to get behind this war.

In Vietnam, we worried about the “Domino Effect,” that if Vietnam fell to communism, so would all of Asia. But it didn’t happen. I wonder, though, if the same could be said of Iraq. Iran is already a fundamentalist Muslim country. Egypt remains a “democracy” by force of arms and the efficient suppression of outspoken religious fundamentalists. Syria is a dictatorship that hates the United States and Israel. Do we need or want another Iran or Syria or even Egypt in the Middle East? One client of mine, who had a “character-building experience” with the marines in Beirut, told me that the one thing no Arab leader wants is a free, democratic Iraq. Because freedom is contagious (I hope even as contagious as religious fundamentalism). When one country rises up from dictatorship and experiences freedom, citizens from neighboring countries often get the urge.

Whether or not the United States made the right decision to invade Iraq is now a moot point. We did. We are there. And we do have a responsibility to bring peace to that country, whether by force of arms or diplomacy, and likely a mix of the two. And cutting off funding won’t bring peace. All that will do is make it harder for the troops who are over there to do their jobs. If you support the troops, then support the war. Either you are all in, or all out.

And if you want to know more about what it is like to be in that war, read Patrick O’Donnell’s book, WE WERE ONE. In the 2/26 issues of the MARINE CORPS TIMES, AIR FORCE TIMES, NAVY TIMES, and ARMY TIMES, the reviewer wrote, “First-rate reading…. The book admirably depicts the brutal realities of street-to-street, house-to-house fighting…. …the portrayal of 1st Platoon as a close-knit family of men who would lay down their lives for one another is a sincere study of men facing a deadly enemy. There is no lack of good histories on the battle for Fallujah. But WE WERE ONE, more than the others, captures the sensory details and emotional drama of good men killing and dying for one another and their country.”


Friday, March 09, 2007

Great Rejection!

We talk in this business of “great rejections” and laugh. Isn’t it wonderful that editors say nice things about books when they are rejecting them? Well, the truth is that no editor has to take the time to say anything nice, though many do, of course. In fact, I have always advised my assistants and interns over the years to try and find something good to say, but only if they can be genuine in doing so. And it’s a far cry from the publishing myth of the assistant who was fired for writing, “It’s a shame that trees had to die so that you might have paper upon which to print this drivel,” to “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, your work does not meet the needs of our list at this time.”

Editors don’t have to say anything nice. The standard “not right for our list” works just fine. So when they take the time to say that they liked a particular character’s voice, but not the story, or they liked the writing, but not the plot, that can be a good indicator of whether or not your work has potential.

Of course, if ten editors say they like the writing and not the plot, it may be time to stick that book on a shelf and start something new. If ten editors say the plot is brilliant but the writing isn’t strong enough, it’s time to stop submitting and get into a critique group and rewrite and rewrite. Or perhaps hire a book doctor to help you get the rewrite done.

Book doctors are an interesting subject. The difference between an editor working for a publisher and a book doctor should be zero. Except that an author is paying a book doctor and thus there’s an incentive to keep the project alive, so that the money keeps flowing. Kind of like a lawyer and a lawsuit. I was in a lawsuit once, that I started, and never once did the attorney actively encourage me to (1) not file the suit or (2) drop it. As long as my checks were clearing, they were happy to keep working on it. And I think the same can be true of some book doctors.

I once said I could never be a full-time book doctor because—at least at the start—you can’t really turn anything down, no matter how bad it is. After all, you’re trying to earn a living. So, even though a project might be not publishable, even though you know nothing you can do will make it appeal to publishing houses, you take it on and go through the motions because you need to pay the mortgage.

If you are an author thinking about hiring a book doctor, here’s a list of questions to help you decide if you should go with one or not:

  1. How many of the books that you’ve worked on have gone on to be published by reputable, advance-paying publishers?
  2. How many a books a year do you edit?
  3. How many books do you edit at one time?
  4. How many books a year do you refuse to edit? Why would you turn down an editing job?
  5. Do you have a written contract for editorial work?
  6. Do you work by project or by the hour? If by project, what determines when we are done?
  7. What is your project/hourly rate?
  8. Can I see samples of your work, e.g., editorial letters you’ve written to other science fiction/romance/thriller authors?
  9. What publishing houses have you worked at? What kinds of books did you acquire and edit at those houses?
  10. Why did you become a book doctor, rather than stay in-house or become an agent?
Some of these are more important than others, of course, but I think they will certainly help any author become more informed about the book doctor they are thinking of hiring.