Last Friday I went into Manhattan to have a meeting with my editor at Bloomsbury. I was 15 minutes early for our 10AM rendez-vous, so I walked across 23rd Street to Madison Square Park. (This is a plaza in the middle of Broadway, which Mayor Bloomberg paved part over to make in to a pedestrian oasis of sorts. It was going to be a 65-degree day and already it was a grey but balmy 50.)
I saw this from a distance and immediately wished my meeting was at 10PM. I wish I could see this “sculpture” at night:
I don’t know what it’s called, probably something like “Illumination of Beingness”, but it’s a neat idea.
And then I wandered over to the dog run in the park:
I wish I had a dog. It must be nice to be able to take your buddies out for a cup of coffee on the first day of the Winter thaw.
I turned and headed back to Bloomsbury.
Yes: my publisher is in the famous Flatiron Building on 23rd Street. I meant to take a photo of what it looks like to have an office in the very tippy-point of this weird tri-angle-shaped building, but I forgot. I forget the most shocking things. This morning, I forgot that I’d set down my tote bag in the driveway behind the car, and I drove over it when I backed out.
But this is what it looks like right outside my editor’s office, which is near the tippy-point of the Flatiron Building. If you are a Bloomsbury author, and your editor likes you, you are allowed to browse their bookshelves of Bloomsbury books and take any book you want. I got a copy of The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson, winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and published by the home office, Bloomsbury UK.
Every now and then I get a beautiful card, or note, or letter, from a new reader who sent it to me c/o my publisher, BloomsburyUSA. Whenever I get such a card, note, or letter, I picture the excitement in the mailroom when it first arrived, like this:
“Look here!” cries the Princeton-educated English major, working his way up the corporate ladder in the publishing business; “One of our own dear authors has a beautiful card, or note, or letter from a new reader!! ” He thinks it’s his lucky day, to have come this close to the real stuff of dreams between published writers and their readers.
Everyone gathers round and examines the postmark, the penmanship, the tooth and hue of the envelope. Everyone is in awe of this proof of the power of the printed word to create bonds across the land. Then, after entering the magical piece of mail into the gilt-bound log (it has gold letters on it: Author Mail), the lucky Princetonian carries it over to the special velvet-lined mahogany box where all the Author Mail waits to be forwarded to the grateful Author (who, trust me, has a special place in her heart and her vault for all her Author Mail).
Seems that’s not how it works after all.
So after I talked with my editor about her edits (the narrative structure works very well, she laughed at the funny bits, the part about Omaha Beach gave her chills, she cried at the right spots; but it seems that I don’t know how to punctuate dialog). Then I went upstairs to the Production Department to use their spiffy Canon Color Copier to make five color copies of the manuscript.
See that desk on the left? That’s the desk of the wonderful production editor of my first book, Elizabeth Peters, who moved back to England two years ago. That’s where we sat, back in 2007, going over every page of Wanderers, deciding about the best way to mount them for scanning in Thailand. Liz is the only person at Bloomsbury, back then, who ever talked to me, and I’m still grateful that she was so caring and careful (even though my book had been an “orphan” for over a year by then).
These days, there’s a new young girl there, and she was working on a YA book cover on her computer when I set up my station by the Canon Color Copier.
The soigne young lady, standing in this picture, doing quality control over a freshly-copied page of my Damn France Book manuscript ,is Keely, the intern from the University of Virginia.
Keely and I pulled out the top drawer of the flat-file cabinet in front of her, and laid down a board (I found it leaning against a bookcase — it’s a shelf that no one was using) and that became her “desk” for this project. (It was our second choice for “desk” for Keely. Our first choice was to use the desk right behind her, which we thought was empty for the day seeing as how it was 11:00 and the computer hadn’t been turned on and the girl we asked — “Is this person out today?” we asked, said Yes, kind of – she said, “Uh, I don’t know, I’m just an intern”. But about ten minutes into our work, the occupant of the desk showed up and boy, was she in a snit to find us stacking our pages on her desk.)
Me, my “desk” for the day is the big blue trash can that the Production Department uses for recyclable paper. I balanced my manuscript on the trash can, and stood by the Canon Color Copier, putting each page of the Damn France Book on the copier, one by one. (I have control issues. I’m the only person who can touch my original pages, which is why I have to do this myself, with the help of the kind Keely.)
(Also, I should note that the Production Dept. kept stopping by, to toss their trash paper into my “desk”.)
The five color copies of the Damn France Book will be bound as ARCs: Advanced Reader Copies. They will be sent to Great Writers who might like the Damn France Book well enough to give it a few kind words that will blaze across the front and back covers in gold letters. The people we are sending ARCs to are so great, and so famous that they have probably read many hopeful ARCs before, and will understand that ARCs are essentially “unedited”, and they will forgive me for not having my commas in the right place when I render dialog. Also, they will not mark me down for the way I keep “misspelling” the names of the seasons, but for the record I insist on capitalizing each of the four seasons for reasons that I realize make it a one-woman battle against Standard English but People: Hear me now!! – winter doesn’t look right! It has to be Winter!
All told, the copying job took three hours, but we did take a break for lunch. My editor took Keely and me to a swanky Manhattan boite and we all had salads. Due to its unfortunate timing (coming just halfway through our massive color copy job) we were all abstemious, so the bar bill came to nought.
As totally happy as I am with the way me and my book have been treated by Bloomsbury, there is one thing that we don’t agree on when it comes to my Damn France Book. The cover.
Well, covers are always tricky. I know writers who go through dozens of covers before their Art Departments get the perfect cover; I know authors who after all that trouble, still end up hating their covers.
The Art Dept. and the Marketing Depts. think of covers as the main way books sell. So it has to be your book’s billboard – special, attention-grabbing, and book-shelf fantastic. And the objection to the cover that I’ve designed is that it looks too much like one of the inside pages of the book, and not big-time zippy and graphic. And that’s perfectly true.
But I also think that it’s OK if the cover kind of looks like one of the inside pages, because the inside pages are really cool.
I have three small-ish images on the cover; the Art Dept. wants one big one.
What do you think makes a good cover? What was the last book you bought for its cover? What book has such a great cover that I should steal it?
Thank you for your help.