Saturday, December 06, 2008

Oh? Commandments? Really?

As soon as I see a list like the engaging one offered in this week's Washington Post Book World, I immediately want to argue with it. You can read the article here. Most of the list is smart and thoughtful, but my lighthearted quibbles are with Commandment 2 ("A classic is always welcome, especially in a pretty edition...") and 4 ("Remember the books you love yourself . . . it makes sense to share your passion with others...").

Ahem. Let's start with Commandment #2: much of my life is spent getting RID of books, thankyouverymuch, because if I didn't I'd be overrun with them. I usually donate them rather than selling them, because the hassle of listing them online is greater than the buck or two I'd get out of the transaction. Sometimes on sunny days I put a box of free books on the curb in front of the Booklab townhouse, and then sit back to listen to people stop by the box and exclaim over the pickings (Who would give away this?) Answer: I would, and I do, so please, my beloved friends and family, don't burden my conscience and my bookshelves with any luxurious gift editions. Once I've read them, they are destined for the curb.

And now on to Commandment #4 about giving your own favorite books to others: have you MET my friends? If they all start giving me their favorite books I'll be stuck with duck mysteries where the duck solves the crime, sports-themed thrillers, and religious historicals (these are actual examples from my actual friends, bent only slightly for illustrative purposes). One of my friends gave everyone on her list the same beloved book one year, and I did enjoy it, as did many she gave it to. I liked her variation on the "give people a book you like" theme, but I still couldn't get around the fact that it meant investing hours reading something someone else wanted me to. It felt like college required reading, like eating vegetables, like doing chores . . .

My favorite of these choices is #9, "Support the Midlist" (Yes! There are gems there! Lots o' crap can climb the bestseller list, and much unsung treasure sits in the middle, preparing to be remaindered...). I also suggest buying hardcovers whenever possible, because hardcover sales do a better job of supporting authors.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The bloodbath layoffs in publishing this week

Brave leaders figure out how to keep the team together when times get tough. They encourage everyone to think creatively about how to turn things around. They set an example of both thrift and foresight, and they act like heroes. They remember that publishing was never primarily about the money, and they resolve to get through temporary hard times with their integrity and organization intact.

They do not lay talented people off in December in a blistering economy to fend for themselves, precisely at a time when a lot of similar talent is hitting the streets looking for the same jobs.

NB: I speak, as always, for myself, not for any organization or other individual.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Great book for television writers

Okay, I'm no one to talk, given that I haven't had a television since 1988. Whole programs have come and gone, such as The West Wing or the various CSI shows, of which I never even saw one episode. So why am I blogging about a TV writing book? First because many of the authors who come to see me think that they might be good at writing for television or film, and many are probably correct. Second because I always want to applaud a how-to book that is actually well-written and the author of which is a genuine and successful practitioner, rather than someone who washed out in the field and now purports to teach it.

The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach to Television Scripts is written by Ellen Sandler, who worked for a long time on Everybody Loves Raymond as a writer and producer (she was nominated for an Emmy), and who has other programs to her credit. Her IMDB bio is here. She now teaches, which I roughly interpret as "rakes in fat consulting fees," which makes sense. Her book is warm and funny, but it gets down to business quickly, and by page 50 or so you really know what you're doing.

I read whatever how-to-write or how-to-publish books I can find, and 90% of them are unnecessary. The remaining 10% are quite good, and there is a top 1-2% that I consider essential. This appears to be one of those books (I welcome comment from people who actually work in television to tell me if this is accurate).