Thursday, September 07, 2006

If the Author's Guild Came to Campus, What Would You Ask?

Literary contracts may be the single most vexing aspect of publishing a book with a university press. Many professor/authors sign the boilerplate, assuming it can't be negotiated. But there is a lot of leeway in most contracts, and there may be some very good reasons why you want to think and negotiate before you sign.

Author's Guild Executive Director Paul Aiken and General Counsel Jan Constantine will be coming to campus in October (exact date and time TBA) to discuss university press contracts. Now is your chance to set the agenda by submitting your questions and concerns.

If you haven't yet heard of the Author's Guild, here's your chance to get acquainted. As they note on their web site, "The Authors Guild is the nation's largest and oldest society of published authors and the leading writers' advocate for fair compensation, effective copyright protection, and free expression." Its board includes authors like Oscar Hijuelos, Susan Cheever, Roger Angell, Sarah Vowell, and many others. Your $90 per year membership gets you up-to-the-minute contract advice, reasonably-priced template-based author web hosting, plus the satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting important litigation surrounding key issues such as copyright in an electronic age, e-books, Google's book copying ambitions and more.

Send e-mail to Carole with your questions and ideas for a session format tailored to your needs.

Sport and Crime Writer Credits His Journalism Career to a College Writing Class

Yet more proof that successful writers often emerge from the academy, today's news feed yields a tasty nugget: "Low Road to the High Glossies" showcases Jonathan Miles, who never intended to be a professional writer. He was just a smarter version of the campus party guy until he stumbled into a writing class at Ole Miss with award-winning author Barry Hannah (Yonder Stands Your Orphan, and many others), a legendary teacher who also lists Donna Tartt (The Secret History) as one of his proteg├ęs. Miles then moved to an apprenticeship with another former Hannah student, Larry Brown (Big Bad Love).

Here is what he told journalist Steven Ward about the accidental journey: "I wrote a short story, [and then] "Barry" (whose lit legend I was still ignorant of at the time) heaped some undue praise upon it, and I got it published in a little Oxford alt-weekly. Which led to the giant linchpin moment of my life: The author Larry Brown, who'd just quit the Oxford Fire Department to write full-time, read the story and took me under his wing. He taught me everything I know, to understate. It was an apprenticeship that lasted 12 years, until Larry's death in 2004. And it was much more than an apprenticeship: Larry was my father in almost every regard save biological. His wife and three children provoked a degree of local confusion by adding my name to his tombstone, but that's how it was. I have no idea what my life would look like now had Larry not entered it. I'd probably be singing 'Mustang Sally' for 50 bucks and free beer in some hotel bar off the interstate."

This is the second item in an occasional series about successful writers who were inspired in the university classroom.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

2006 Novella Contest at Miami University Press

Short stories have been making a comeback for a while now, which is welcome news to this Lorrie Moore, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ethan Canin fan. But whither the novella? Miami University Press in Oxford, Ohio has one answer, with its 2006 Novella Prize.

Novellas have long been popular with readers. A River Runs Through It, below, features a novella as the title work, Stephen King's novella The Body was turned into the memorable movie "Stand By Me," and many short novels such as Marly Youmans's Catherwood are technically novellas. Your definition of novella and mine may vary, but MUP puts 'em between 18,000 and 40,000 words. For those of you who are visual, picture a novel about 2/3 of an inch across the spine: that's roughly 90,000 words.

If you haven't written your novella yet, then limber up those hunting-and-pecking fingers and give it a try. Submissions are due by October 15. Just one word of caution. Make sure a press is right for you before you submit an entry to any contest. Get to know its work, and feel comfortable with its other authors as your colleagues. Many a writer has "won" a contest only to find that they felt dubious about the publication (and the often-stingy contract terms!) that followed. This one looks pretty good to me, which is why I'm posting it here, but it's a good idea to do background research to see how it jibes with your own sense of your career.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Still selling at 30, A River Runs Through It is a university press title!

Did you know that Norman McLean's bestselling novella A River Runs Through It (part of the story collection of the same name) is published by the University of Chicago Press? I didn't until I saw a copy beautifully displayed in the office of a Chicago editor. McLean was an English professor at Chicago in the early 1930s, and he later earned a doctorate there. When Chicago published his book in 1976, it was the first work of fiction for that press, and it very nearly won the Pulitzer Prize (apparently there was some controversy over whether it was fictional enough). Most people have heard of it because of the 1992 movie directed by Robert Redford.

Chicago issued a special 25th-anniversary edition in 2001, and you can read about it here. Best of all for this charming story of a bestseller arising from the academy, author McLean published it -- his first book -- when he was 70 years old.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Authors Who Were Inspired in the University Classroom

This is the first post of an occasional series focusing on bestselling or well-known authors who got their start in the university classroom. Our first author is bestseller Michael Connelly, author of The Lincoln Lawyer, currently #7 on the Publisher's Weekly Paperback Bestsellers list, with a good run in hardcover including spikes to #1. He has won the Quill, the Edgar, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and many other awards. Here is what his web site says about his academic path: "Michael Connelly decided to become a writer after discovering the books of Raymond Chandler while attending the University of Florida. Once he decided on this direction he chose a major in journalism and a minor in creative writing — a curriculum in which one of his teachers was novelist Harry Crews."