Friday, July 29, 2011


In this journey of writing and publishing a book, there are certain moments that stand out. It’s all a learning curve and, for me, every new experience has been both exciting and scary. The lesser moments can prepare us for the bigger ones, such as the day when a FedEx driver steps onto your porch, rings your doorbell, and points in the 95-degree heat to seven boxes of books that he will carry into your house.

My book is here.

I knew that the boxes held copies of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me; my publisher had told me it was off press and would be arriving soon. This was the real deal.
I came upstairs to write my publisher an e-mail and then realized I couldn’t write it yet. I hadn’t opened any of the boxes. I didn’t work in publishing thirty years for nothing; we check books when they are delivered. I went back downstairs, slit the tape on the top carton, and removed the first book; held it, turned it, flipped the pages quickly.
The thing about receiving printed books is that they’re printed. Every time you’re asked to check proofs along the way, you have yet another chance to find the mistakes. Once a book is printed, you want to look through it, but you don’t…at least, if you’re me.
I came back upstairs and started to write to my publisher again. I wanted her to know how much I loved my beautiful, beautiful books; but I stopped myself again. I hadn’t looked at every page the way we were taught in Here’s Your Book It Better Be Perfect 101. All right, I made that last part up; but I’ve always felt a huge weight with every new publication until I knew it was all it should be.
I went back down to the stack of boxes and picked up the same book again. I really couldn’t rave about it until I knew that the pages were all there, in order, and right-side-up. I have the greatest respect for printers, but I couldn’t thank my publisher until I’d gone through the book page by page.
I held my breath and began quickly scanning each page, afraid that if I slowed down, I might see “it,” that inevitable error we talked about a few blogs back. So far, so good. A quote I’d hoped would fit into the first pages was missing, but otherwise It Started with Dracula was looking good. I finally wrote that note.
In the next couple of days, I’ll sneak up on my book again. I’ll probably end up reading it, but not today. Today I played hooky. I got a pedicure and then celebrated with my brother: eight ounces of light beer and a trip to the local racetrack. Woo hoo!
Thank you, Bettie Youngs, for believing in my story and turning it into an awesome book. You rock!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Editorial Eye--and Ear

Someone you know mispronounces a word. You wonder whether to correct the person and it’s too quick—he or she is already on to another thought—so you’ve let it go. Then it happens again, same word. You realize the person is mispronouncing a word he or she uses frequently. You’re going to hear it again. What do you do?

My mother used to say to one and all at the conclusion of family dinners that she was “sa-TIE-ated” (satiated). Another person I knew said “inter-MEEN-able” for interminable.

It takes guts to tell someone that she’s pronounced a word incorrectly, and I never corrected those two. I could have said to Mom, “Do you mean ‘SAY-she-ated’?” but she would have been mortified instead of satisfied.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation in which someone pronounced a repeated word differently from the way you said it. If the conversation was about tomatoes, he always said “to-mah-toes,” and neither of you was about to give up. That’s awkward. The same thing can happen in an e-mail exchange. My brother will write about making “chile” and I write back that I hope that his “chili” turns out well. That’s about spelling, but it’s the same principle.
I just quit reading a library book because the main character’s name was Sharon and people called her Shar. Now, the last time I checked, “Shar” rhymed with “car,” but “Sharon” rhymes with “Karen,” so how was that ever going to work? Maybe the author thought that “Share” would be a dumb nickname for Sharon, and I agree; but “Shar” doesn’t work—unless the character’s name is changed to Sharlene. It’s a stumbling block the reader must encounter again and again if she sticks with the book.
Some names just don’t translate well to the page. If you shorten "Roger" to "Rog," the reader can’t help rhyming it with “log” and then having to correct himself—over and over. It should rhyme with “dodge,” but if you spell it out that way, you might as well use his whole name.
We of the editorial persuasion are particularly bothered by things other people might not even notice. For instance, every time I read a detective book involving a chopper, I wonder why the short version of helicopter is “helo” when helicopter begins “heli”? And is it pronounced “hee-low” or “hell-o,” which sounds like a greeting? The website shows both pronunciations.
This blog is about the written word, but do you see how closely the written word and the spoken word are connected? When we read, we do speak—even if it’s most often to ourselves—which is why the written word has to work when we say it, even if we say it silently.
On the other hand, pronunciation bloopers usually occur when we’re trying to say unfamiliar words we see in print. Believe me, I know.
I have a good friend who eats out regularly. Thus, she knows food trends and pronounces foreign and otherwise confusing food words correctly. Once when we had lunch, falafel was on the menu. I had no idea what falafel was, let alone how to say it. Instead of “fuhl-AH-fuhl,” I ordered “fell-uh-fell,” to my friend’s chagrin, and she immediately corrected me. Now, the next time I order that dish, like when donkeys fly, I’ll get it right.
It’s easier to return a book than it is to correct a person, but if you and I are talking sometime and I mispronounce one of my favorite words, do the world a favor and correct me. That goes for spelling, too.
As pronunciations go, some people are past correcting; they’re going to say “nuke-ya-ler” all their lives, and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it. I try to apply the sage advice of Davy Crockett—or was it Daniel Boone? Fess Parker, anyway: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” I look it up. Sometimes—as in the case of my brother’s recipe—we’re both right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 2)

Continued from Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 1)

I drove to the printer’s to pick up my poster. It was absolutely beautiful. I’m not talking about myself, but the high quality of the finished product.

“Is there anything I should know about the care of this poster?” I asked the printer’s rep.
“Just don’t leave it in a car in the heat,” he said. Did he realize that was exactly what I had to do? Where else do you store a rigid two-by-three poster on a road trip? By then I knew I was taking it to my school reunion, but not because I wanted to trot it out for my former classmates. I didn’t even know if I’d take it out of the car; but the trip would be the perfect test of how it would be to tote around a large poster and an easel, and then to set them up in a public place.
The poster came wrapped in heavy paper. I put it on the floor of the back seat and slung my suitcase into the trunk with the assorted items that were already there. I picked up my brother at his apartment, and we were off. Our hotel was still an hour away from the old high school. I didn’t want the poster banging against the items in the trunk, so I moved them to the floor of the back seat and put the poster in the trunk by itself, where it would lie flat.
The reunion was fine and the poster did make an appearance. When we packed the car to go home, Joe and I had to move the emergency tire pump, jumper cables, folding chair, and boxes back to the trunk with our suitcases and put the poster in its original spot on the floor of the back seat. Would my next purchase have to be a van?
“This thing is a lot of trouble,” I grumbled, speaking of my alter ego. “It’s like a diva.” And in that moment, my poster no longer represented me. It was no longer even an “it”; it was a “she.” She: The Diva.
“Maybe she’ll start demanding her favorite brand of bottled water,” Joe said as we got on the road, “or insisting on certain colors of M&Ms!”
“She’ll send back her food,” I added; then: “She’ll have her own fan club! They’ll be lined up around the block, and when they get to the signing table, The Diva will be propped up in the chair.”
“You could send her to ‘The Ellen Show’ in your place,” Joe said. “You know how dangerously chatty you get with too much caffeine.”
“She wouldn’t say a word!” I howled. We were having a good laugh at The Diva's expense.
“She’ll make personal appearances,” Joe said. “The curtains will part before a packed house, and there in the center of the stage will be The Diva on her easel. You won’t have to do anything!”
By then I'd cried my makeup off, laughing.
“Come to think of it,” Joe said, “maybe you could put her on the seat of that roller coaster you’re afraid to ride.” He was referring to an upcoming visit from my granddaughter, the coaster fiend.
My brother and I had a picnic on that trip, inventing scenarios for The Diva, and I have a feeling that isn’t over yet. A poster is a practical investment for an author and, in my opinion, best if you don’t take it too seriously.

Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 1)

“Do you have a poster you could bring?” my friend Beverley asked. “We’ll have a room dedicated to the graduating classes of the ‘Sixties.” We were discussing our upcoming all-high-school reunion, an event held in June 2011 for anyone who had ever attended or taught at our alma mater.

I didn’t have a poster to announce my first book, but wasn’t that next? After all, I’d invested in author photos, a website, business cards, and bookmarks. I knew I’d need a poster later when I began my rounds of bookstore signings, so maybe the occasion of our reunion could move that task up a bit.
Why would an author want a poster? Let me explain; or maybe you already know if you’ve ever been in a bookstore during a signing when the author was not well known. Once in West Virginia I attended such an event. The author sat at a small table near the customer service desk with a stack of his books next to him, as lonely as the Maytag repairman.
A poster can point the way to your table from elsewhere in the store. It can be set up near your signing station to identify you. Many bookstores provide signage, but others may not. Do you want to take the chance?

Aura Imbarus, whose memoir was published in 2010, has been my trailblazer. Her website includes a photo of her poster for Out of the Transylvania Night, displayed on an easel--my next purchase. Remember, the publisher publicizes your book and you publicize yourself.

Before my poster was even printed, I ordered its companion piece, an inexpensive portable easel. The one I chose has bungee cords inside the legs. You simply take it out of its bag (an additional purchase) and shake it. Like magic, the easel assembles itself. Woo hoo! I have a tent like that; the poles snap together in seconds.
The design of my poster would feature a giant photo of me, along with the cover image from It Started with Dracula. By then I was used to seeing my own face on business cards and bookmarks, but seeing it a foot high would be a first. The printed poster would be two feet wide by three feet tall, mounted on a rigid surface called Ultraboard for durability. My new easel would hold it just fine if no children, animals, or a slight breeze came along.
My designer had left a white area at the bottom of the poster, full width and five inches high. I thought it was a mistake. “No,” he said, “that’s so you can write on your poster.” Fortunately, I found that out prior to printing. The printer agreed to add a dry-erase coating, and I went to my local Staples for a starter kit of markers, an eraser, and cleaning fluid. See how this grows?
My designer had recommended that I use a local printer to avoid shipping the poster from California to Ohio. That should have been my first clue,
To be continued in Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 2)