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Rumor and Sigh…

We recently hosted a delightful new mystery author. Her name is Amanda Flower, and her debut offering, Maid of Murder, is just what a drizzly October afternoon calls for: a lighthearted, cozy who-dun-it with a sleuth in a (shudder) iridescent bridesmaid’s dress. And no, though the dress could easily have been the motive for the bride’s murder, it’s not. No spoilers here.

What makes me like Amanda Flower -even more than her clever, funny mystery- is the DIRT she dished to me about the latest literary trend.

Amanda had recently attended a writers’ conference here in the Midwest and shared with me the new, hot development in genre fiction.

Ok, by now everybody knows that angels are the new vampires, and zombies just keep on keeping on.  Personally, I am waiting for the release of some new Eisenhower-was-really-a-werewolf historical fiction. Can it get better?

Oh, yes. Yes, it can. I have two words for you:

Amish Vampires.

Fear the buggy.

Seriously.

 

Coming soon, to a bookstore near you.

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Self-Publishing: Notes from a Sympathetic Bookseller

Who doesn’t want to be an author? In recent years, the self-publishing industry has made it easy for everyone to become just that. Having a vanity press (as they were known back in the day) print a book for you can be a wonderful opportunity or a horrible, stinking albatross-like experience; it just depends what you want from it.  

Sympathetic nervous system of the bookseller

  Good reasons to self-publish:   

  1. You want to have copies of your work produced in a durable and professional way to give to family and friends for sentimental or commemorative reasons.
  2. You’ve been working on something, feel that it has reached its potential, and either don’t wish to (or are tired of having to) submit it to conventional presses. You want to move on to other things and feel that having the work printed and bound will clear the decks and provide closure.
  3. You have great wads of cash and nothing better to do with them.
  4. You already have some kind of sales channel set up through which to sell your finished book. I do not mean e-Bay or Amazon. I mean, for example, that you are a professional public speaker/internet guru/on-line-marketing guy and will be selling the book at your gigs and on your website or something like that. (If you’re not the Gary Vaynerchuck type, this is probably not for you.)

Bad reasons to self-publish:    

  1. You want to make money.
  2. You would like to break even.
  3. You feel that your work has been unjustly rejected by publishers and agents and wish to possess it in bound form so that it may be unjustly rejected by bookstores and consumers.
  4. You think that publishers will pay more attention to it if it looks like a book already.

As a bookseller I meet dozens of self-published authors every month. I like most of them. I like some of their books — some I really believe in. I want people considering this process to know what they are getting into.    

Please, please, be healthily wary of any company promising to Make Your Publishing Dreams Come True.  Unless you have remarkably modest dreams, self-publishing houses are not able to do this. They are able to print and bind the text that you give them. So is Kinko’s, which has the decency to promise nothing.    

Why Are Booksellers Such Big Snobs?    

A number of self-published authors want to know why their books’ method of publication carries a stigma. The bookstore where I work happily holds many events for local self-published authors each year, which is why they are asking me, The Sympathetic Bookseller. I will tell you.    

1. Quality    

Self-publishing houses offer no guarantee of even the most basic standards of grammar or spelling. Do not even talk to me about plot. Flow? Stop it. You are making me snort coffee out my nose.    

Here’s the deal: you give them text; they print it. That’s all. While an author may purchase editing services from the company, not all editors are created equal. Some houses have a very good editorial staff, some do not – some vary from editor to editor. With the great proliferation of companies willing to print books for a fee, there seems to be no industry standard.    

“But can’t I do it myself?” I hear you asking. No. No, you can’t. Conventionally published authors have the benefit of editors, proofreaders and a whole grueling process of what they call “line edits,” where someone goes through and considers each line looking for inconsistencies and over-used words, among other things.    

Nobody edits their own work competently. That is why this blog, unedited by anybody but me, is full of flaws. Possibly Jane Austen could edit herself (take heart: her work was privately printed) but mere mortals should not attempt this.    

2. Trust    

As mentioned above, self-publishing houses do not vouch for the quality or correctness of your work, while I can be sure that even the pulpiest of pulp fiction from a mainstream press meets certain standards. There is no way for me to tell if you’ve so much as run your self-published book through spellcheck without reading it myself. As much as I would love to do this with every book that comes across my desk, I find that I must eat and sleep from time to time, rendering this practice unworkable.    

There’s also the issue of content. While I thank God daily for the freedom of expression we enjoy in this age and place, there are some things the traffic will not bear. Most conventional publishers have certain standards of what I can only call decency. Is your book a hate crime? I don’t know – possibly after page twelve it devolves into a screed urging the extermination of all grocery store check-out personnel. Without a respected publisher (many of whom have had a relationship with this book shop for decades and whose reps we know personally) to give me a faithful synopsis of the product, it’s again up to me to slog on through. I think people are mostly good and I don’t generally suspect that the elderly gentleman asking me to carry his novel has in fact concealed within it a how-to guide to child enticement and church arson, but I’m just saying – without a mainstream publisher, your grammar and your sentiments are both literally closed books to me.    

3. Marketing:     

Many self-publishing houses offer “marketing services” for a fee. Some of these are good, some are not. Unlike traditional publishers, a self-publishing outfit lacks interest in the sales of your book. You have bought all the copies already. Now they are offering to sell you the services of an English major on summer break (if you are lucky) to phone, email and generally harass bookstores on your behalf. It’s natural to want this. Cold calls are no fun; that is why they pay people to make them. To be fair, many of these services are perfectly adequate at contacting bookstores and other points of sale, but I will share a recent missive I received on behalf of an author (names & slogans have been changed to protect the innocent):    

Hell!,    

This is Newbie McIntern. I spoke with you not too long ago about having an author, Rhonda Runonsentence, come into your store to do a book signing. Her book is titled Biff!: A Very special Little arachnid and is a children’s book about love and fortitude. It is currently on it’s way to press, and the ISBN is 973-867-530-9000. The date she would prefer is Nov. 12 between 12 and 5 pm. Would this be possible?     

Newbie McIntern                                                                                                                                 Lax Publishing, Inc.                                                                                                            www.laxpublishing.net                                                                                                                                       “We Promise the Moon, but Never Proofread!”    

 Mmm. Has “Good Impression” written all over it, huh? File under: More Harm than Good.    

 So What’s an Author to Do?    

1. Polish, polish, polish    

First of all, put every bit of care and time into your book before you think it’s done as is humanly possible. This applies if you’re submitting your work to a publisher or agent or if you plan to self-publish. Getting feedback is invaluable. Ask people who know. Not your mom; she loves you. How about the professor who teaches the writing or literature class you’re taking (you are taking one, right)? Ask people you respect to look at it and mark it up with a big, red pen and not to spare your feelings. Librarians are good to ask for guidance. They can often tell you about writing programs and opportunities in your local area — it’s quite likely that one or more meet at your library. Many colleges and universities offer residents of nearby communities the chance to audit their courses for free. If you don’t know anybody you think qualified to look at your book (or nobody wants to) a college-level writing or lit course is a good way to make connections with people who can give you a useful opinion.    

2. Don’t give up on conventional publishing    

If you’re not in this game just for a book-shaped souvenir, think again about submitting your manuscript to an agent. Writers Digest is very good at pointing out agents who accept unsolicited things. Be sure to pick one that fits your book (no romance novels sent to non-fiction agents out of misguided thoroughness, please). Most now take submissions in electronic form, so this Does Not Cost You Anything but Your Time.    

Publishers have been through the ringer lately. Big-box price slashing, the hits taken by Borders and Barnes & Noble, and the uncertainty that is E-books have all thrown the industry for a loop. Add the recession and it’s a real party. Getting a mainstream publisher to look at a manuscript these days is a bit like trying to date someone who’s just gone through a messy divorce… and then been mugged by a motorcycle gang. This could take some time. That might be a good thing. Time means you can have more qualified people take a look at your work. Time means you can devote more hours to making it the best it can be. Time means maybe publishing will get back to normal, or normal-ish. Your novel is not milk. It will not go bad.    

If you are going the self-publishing route    

1. Find a good self-publishing house.  Buy one or two of their titles (preferably at your local book shop) and read them. Do you want your book to look that way? If yes, fine. If no, try another. Ask other self-published writers about their experience. Shop around.    

2. Realize your work will not be done with the writing.  Marketing is now your job too (even if you did contract the services of Newbie McIntern). If you want local bookstores to carry your book, try to build a relationship with them. Buy a book, or at least a card. Sign up for their frequent shopper program or newsletter (the first thing I do when a new self-published author approaches me is look to see if they are in our customer database). Browse the store thoroughly to see if your book would be a good fit. If you find yourself asking Sage, Sin and Pseudoscience: Purveyors of Fine Books, Marital Aides and Dowsing Supplies Since 1978 to carry your how-to book, Carpentry Projects for the Missionary Priest, you should maybe reconsider.    

3. Love your Indie bookseller: Independent booksellers try harder and do more for self-published authors than anybody else I know. When we have an author here for a book signing (either singly or in a group of writers), I send out press releases, design fliers and posters, and generally shout from the rooftops on their behalf. Then I give them cookies when they show up. Let us know you appreciate it. Thank you notes are lovely. Your patronage is better. If you place your book with a shop, send people there to get it, not to Amazon. Please care about the merchants in your community – they are what keep it friendly. Wall-Mart is cheap, but they won’t sell your book.    

4. Don’t be random.  I’ve gotten calls from authors out in California who have no connection to our local area – never lived here, don’t know anybody – who found our shop online and thought they would call and ask if I would carry their book sight unseen. Don’t do this. It’s annoying. We try very hard to support our local writing community. We can’t be the last resort of everyone who self-publishes a book. We would need an indoor football stadium.    

5. Don’t let success be your master.  Self-publishing costs money. If you are luckier than most, you may break even. Like any gamble, you have to be prepared to lose what you bet, and if your self esteem is tied up with the success of your book (no matter who publishes it), you can lose that too. I’m sure there’s some kind of Zen lesson there.    

So, that’s The Sympathetic Bookseller, signing off and heading for the tub. As dear Hunter S. would have said, Selah  

 

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Russian Summer

As the days grow shorter, I’m looking forward to the release of these two books.

Russian Winter, by Daphne Kalotay, is a book to curl up with. Forget getting anything done once you start this novel. I suggest laying in some good black tea and various sustaining provisions before you begin. Otherwise, you will find yourself eating odd crusts of bread and leftovers of dubious provenance, unwilling to leave this story and go out to eat.

This glittering saga unfolds the lives of three people brought together by the auction of a famous ballerina’s gems. Nina Revskaya, former principal dancer at the Bolshoi, flees to the West during the height of Stalin’s regime. Decades later, she prepares to auction off her collection of jewels to benefit the Boston Ballet. Each piece written up for the auction’s catalog brings us closer to deciphering the contradictions and secrets of her past.

At first I was tempted to skip over the other character’s parts in this book. Nina Revskaya and the U.S.S.R. of her youth are vivid and fascinating and immerse the reader in a world few of us in the West know much about. But give it time – soon Drew, the auction house associate and Grigori, a professor with a special interest in Russian poetry, start to charm as well.

It’s enough to make this bookseller wish for snow. It comes out in September.

The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter and with a shockingly insightful introduction by Doris Lessing, leaves me dazed and amazed and with a whole host of seemingly unanswerable questions.

Don’t get me wrong, I like it. Here’s something of a play-by-play (Those of you for whom circumstances of the Tolstoys’ lives are old news, please forgive me; I remain woefully ignorant in any number of ways.):

Sofia Behrs marries Leo Tolstoy when she is very young and he is… not.

He has A Past, and insists on sharing it, all of it, in the form of his youthful diaries, with her, his eighteen-year-old bride-to-be. His intelligent, artistic, sheltered, religious bride-to-be. Imagination and a clear moral code cannot have been a real asset while reading these.

She marries him anyway and is promptly hied off to the Tolstoy estate just east of the back of beyond.

He asks her to keep a diary as well, and stipulates that in this way, they will share their inmost thoughts with one another.

Sweet Mother of God…

I am amazed at the delicate clarity of Sofia Tolstoy’s prose. She records both passionate feeling and mundane occurrences with grace and precision.

And I am dismayed by the impossibility of gauging the truthfulness of a diary intended both for oneself and another. Some entries can only be confessions of the most abject and intimate sort. Others make me wonder about a supposedly candid diarist’s opportunity to manipulate the intended reader. What an untangleable nest of knots. What is intended, and for whom? This quandary is only part of what makes The Diaries irresistible.

If they weren’t 656 pages long, this would be a wonderful undertaking for book clubs. The potential for wonderment at and dissection of the Tolstoys’ relationship are endless, and probably only improve in a group of friends over a bottle of wine.

The diaries have gaps — of years in places, months in others. They were written during some of the most turbulent years of Russian history (which is saying something), and chronicle a life married to a difficult, irascible genius, a controversial superstar of his time, in a style that was either much informed by his skill, or stellar to start with, or both. Sofia Tolstoy has a great deal to teach us about her world and about marriage itself. You can get yourself the paperback edition of this one in September too.

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Late Summer Reading: Short Stories for people who don’t like Short Stories, Science Fiction for people who don’t like Science Fiction and: Likeable War Criminals

Short Stories for People Who Don’t Like Short Stories

Ok, here is a “must read.” Normally, I hate “must reads” and, in fact, “musts” of many kinds. I must mow the lawn; I must remember to take more vitamin D; I must stop eating so much ice cream. Do you see what I mean? But sometimes good-for-you is just plain good, and that’s exactly what Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self  by Danielle Evans is.

Evans got a lot of press for the first short story in this collection, Virgins, when The Paris Review published it in 2007. And it’s compelling. But it’s the worst in the collection. That’s a bit like saying Chubby Hubby is the worst Ben and Jerry’s flavor. I would still greedily consume it, no matter how much more gooily satisfying I find Half Baked or Phish Food. So the point is, it gets even better from there. Virgins is an insightful and sensitive look at how what’s important to us changes – sometimes in a heartbeat, and a sly critique of teen society. Like the other stories in BYSYOFS, it treats race and class and sex and their various disadvantages with respect and subtlety.

Harvest, a couple of stories in, puts Virgins in the shade. It can easily stand along side Hemingway’s best short fiction. In fact, I’d like to see an AP Lit class do a little compare/contrast assignment with Harvest and Hills like White Elephants.

Snakes is an eerie love letter to southern gothic and smart as a whip. Really, I like all the stories in here. They’re not easy. That’s what makes them must read material. They teach you something, or maybe they ask you to teach yourself a little more about your own life – to look around at your choices, your family, your friends and see the poetry and the unexpected in them. Choose Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self for book club this autumn. And bring lots of wine, because it will start a fight.

Science Fiction for People Who Don’t Like Science Fiction

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin came out in 2003. It’s not new, but if you don’t follow Le Guin’s work, you may not have seen it before. Genre fiction makes me sad. Not because I don’t like sci-fi and fantasy novels, but because the best ones get short shrift. Important and beautiful and delightful literature gets shoved away on a shelf between novels whose covers tend to feature busty green women stuffed into plate armor, and things exploding. There’s nothing wrong with the green girls or the space station carnage, but they’re not really in the same league with, say, a Bradbury or a Le Guin. I mean, why not throw The Road in there next to the movie novelization of Mad Max beyond Thunderdome while you’re at it?

So: The Birthday of the World: It’s a collection of speculative fiction – mostly short stories with one long short story or short novella. My favorite short story of all time is included here: Solitude. When describing this tale, Le Guin said she wrote it because though the act of writing is a solitary pursuit, perhaps best suited to introverts, most fictional characters tend to be extroverts: people-people. What, she wondered, would a world built by introverts look like? Solitude is one of those rare works that combine a real hook of a plot with language and pacing that make reading it feel almost meditative.

Paradises Lost is the novella. It has to do with what a society sees as it’s greater purpose, and how that changes over generations. There are no easy answers here, but lots to make you think.

Likeable War Criminals

Weird but true: a friend of mine was once in an off-off Broadway play with this title. It was a comedy. He seems to have recovered nicely. What makes me think of it is a novel called The Gendarme by Mark Mustian. When disturbingly realistic dreams begin to take hold of 92 year old brain cancer patient Emmett Conn, he must decide what memories he can accept as real. This haunting story of the Armenian genocide reminds me of Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life. It is striking, and like a recollected song, comes back to me at odd moments still. Look for it in September from Putnam.

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Chet Meets His Match

I’m cat sitting this week. I like all animals (some more than others – for instance, if a car salesman’s family were to go out of town for the week, I would not agree to look after him until their return). But I’m normally more of a dog person than a cat person.

This cat is a dog.

Her name is Nessie (after the chocolate, not the monster) and she comes when she’s called. She loves to be brushed. She’s a Persian and has more hair than any creature I have ever met. Beautiful, shiny hair, with all that brushing.

She does not fetch (so far), but then I’ve had dogs who wouldn’t fetch either. She is also affectionate to the point of self-destruction. Cat sitting almost became a literal description of what I am doing when she crept silently onto the the chair I was about to plunk down in this morning.

Not Nessie. Not my picture either.

She thinks she likes coffee. I am trying to persuade her otherwise. Worst case scenario: her people return from their vacation and I must report that their cat has not slept all week. So far I have been successful at keeping her away from caffeinated beverages, but she is persistent and my morning reflexes are not all that fast.

The whole thing does sort of remind me of Chet, the giant vampire cat from Christopher Moore\’s books. Except Nessie is a force for good. And all she wants is a coffee buzz.

Off to ply her with cat toys…

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Cover to Cover

I really like Michael Chabon’s latest book of essays, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son. It came out in 2009 with a cover that was quite nice. The title makes cover design a bit tricky – it’s a little arresting, which is good. The graphic originally chosen by the nice folks at Harper was especially well suited to this reflective, tender and beautifully challenging collection. Intricate and neutral, the art appealed to both sexes and a range of adult ages. I was so impressed that I blogged about it somewhere else.

Now they’ve changed the cover. For Fathers’ Day, I think. It currently sports a bespectacled and intense-looking kid in a really, really bad paisley shirt. It’s the author, circa 1968 —  and I’m sorry, Michael Chabon, I love your work, but that’s a terrible photo. You can almost hear it bellowing from the shelves as you walk by, “THIS BOOK IS JUST LIKE SOMETHING BY DAVID SEDARIS!”

It’s not. I like David Sedaris a lot, but this is a whole different ballgame.

“I’M IRONIC!  I’M EDGY!  I’M FUNNY AND GOOFY, BUT KIND OF SAD AND CREEPY IN PLACES TOO!”

Shut up, cover art. This is not that kind of book at all.

Manhood for Amateurs is the kind of book that makes you think. And then makes you fall in love with our whole species for its ability to try and fail and disappoint and come up shining with some ordinary and brilliant gesture of compassion. The book makes you challenge the way you see other people and ask yourself if you’ve looked around lately. 

But there’s that cutesy-retro cover, saying “I’M FOR HIP 20- AND 30- AND MAYBE, MAYBE 40-SOMETHINGS! DON’T GIVE ME TO YOUR DAD!”

Because let’s face it, your dad would look at this book and say, “What the Hell? Are you guys trying to tell me something? I would never wear a shirt like that. Who let the kid out of the house that way?”

I’ve given this book to college students and an adult-Sunday-school teacher in her 80s. Mrs. McV especially liked the essay on Christmas. Manhood for Amateurs has something to say to just about everybody, but your dad will never pick it up –  not with this cover.

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How Did You Get This Number?

Sloan Crosley’s new collection of essays by this name is flat wonderful.

I enjoyed her previous book, I Was Told There\’d Be Cake. It was funny and sharp, but she was so young. I dimly remember being that young. Crosley is obviously talented and IWTTBC is witty and edgy.

But sometimes I think the “edge” we laud so much in the arts lately reveals a kind of immaturity. You reach a certain point in life and uncomfortable + odd + kind of sad, no longer  =  funny.  Failings stop being something other people have and start to accumulate at the back of your dresser drawers — medals you wish you hadn’t gotten for coming through whatever you failed at still alive. Put another way, you become a bit of a sap.

Crosley’s new book has a depth and warmth you don’t see very often in personal essays. She’s less of a clown and much more funny than in her bestselling first collection. Her turn of phrase is sometimes startlingly elegant and always spot-on. And in How Did You Get This Number she doesn’t just make you laugh, she makes you think. HDYGTN comes out June 19th. Go out and get yourself one. I look forward to much more from this author.

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librocubicularii

Roberston Davies offers some very good advice along with all the laughs in The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks. Marchbanks was Davies’ alter-ego for a series in the Peterborough Examiner. As narrator of the essays collected in this sort of mocu-memoir, he serves up wit in heaping dollops. 

Somewhere in there he advises people to sleep on their guest bed every once in a while, so as to spare guests the agony of a night spent considering whether they should try the floor instead. And how would somebody with a spare bed know that it had been rendered unsleeponable by years of hospitality unless they tried it out? 

Of course, the easy way to do this is to fight with the person who shares your bed. But if you live alone or enjoy a strangely uninterrupted couple-y bliss, you’ll never know if your guest bed is a torturous sack of lumps. 

I tried mine out recently and find that isn’t. It is, in fact, miles more comfortable than the bed in my actual bedroom. This saddens me, because: 

a) The guest bed, being a narrow twin, actually fits in the guest room and my current bed would not. I live in an old house and the stairs to the guest room are too small and twisty to admit anything much larger than an average-sized human being. 

b) I have been sleeping on what has gradually become a cement-like platform and somehow not noticed. This may be because the way my schedule is currently arranged, I become unconscious about .05 seconds after my head hits the pillow. No reading in bed for me – that’s for people who get enough sleep. 

Ironically, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks is ideal bedside reading. The sections are the right size to allow the reader to put it down at reasonable intervals, and the book is diverting enough to make insomnia pleasant. I used to read it all the time (the fact that this book stands up to re-reading is another selling-point).  

Papers, much to my dismay, is not in print in the U.S. Its contents are drawn from three earlier collections: The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks & Samuel Marchbanks’ Almanac, all of which also went out of print here years ago (I mention this in case you are reading in Canada, or are planning a trip there — a wonderful opportunity to pick up, say, copies of everything Davies ever wrote). 

I did see a copy of Papers in good condition on a recent visit to The Bookseller, Inc., in Akron, Ohio, a lovely little used-and-rare bookstore.   

A cozy nook to settle in and examine your finds

I should give them a proper plug and say that they also carry ephemera & specialize in books on aviation and lighter-than-air transport and can boast of a very strong Ohio history collection. The Bookseller also has a sweet, elderly pug on staff who is gentle and friendly but will happily leave you alone if you are not a dog person. Do plan a visit. They are right across the street from the Westpoint Market (nifty specialty grocer with a tea room), so you can pick up some delicious goodies or stop for a snack after you’re done shopping for books.

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Careful what you wish for

Today we had an author event at our local retirement community. All sorts of organizations in town meet & host activities at this venue. It’s a logical choice – a nice place with a good sound system.

It’s very cheery, really. I know lots of the residents, and one in particular is always a top contender in our yearly book shop poetry contest.

As you walk in the front doors, you pass through a greenhouse area with some really impressive staghorn ferns. There’s almost always a fire lit in the gas fireplace next to the lobby. A room nearby holds the snack bar and a big-screen wii set up. Another large-screen TV in the main hallway lists upcoming events:  Thursday is Movie Night!

“Wow,” I think, “can I move in?” It’d be like college, but better: no exams (plenty of classes to take if you want, though – a book club did Russian Round-Up last year: Tolstoy, Turgenev & Dostoyevsky), instead of kegs of Blatz, there’s basically decent wine – and your whole world is a co-ed dorm…

As I go to bring in another carton of books from the car, a well-dressed middle aged woman gives me a friendly wave and asks quite earnestly, “Ready for your tour?”

Have I been mistaken for a potential resident? Suddenly the proliferation of tattoos & piercings among the 40-plus crowd in my town is completely understandable. It may be time to dye my hair magenta, or green… before somebody gives me a blue rinse.

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Pick a Card

[Just so you know, you’ll have to click on the graphics to see them properly. Ah, technology…] 

I have now had roughly a gazillion people tell me I need to have a business card. Long ago, I had one for my freelancing stuff – but then all my contact information changed. Since I’d never really found much use for them (I had a ton of my old ones left over), I just let it go.  

But now people say that I need a card. Not for freelancing, but for my job search. 

 Seriously? 

 Yes. I need a card for a job that I need to have. 

At the book shop, I’ve always just written my name on the back of our bookmarks. The bookmarks have all my contact information at the shop on them, and no one expects booksellers to be especially slick. 

My resistance may be born from past attendance at telecom trade shows. For reasons that in retrospect seem unclear, I used to go to a lot of these. They suck. If I ever tell you that I’m going to a conference for telecom stuff again, shoot me in the head. It will be the kindest thing. 

At those sorts of uber-boring gatherings, guys in suits who think they’re cool (take a high-school bully, put him in an off-the-rack grey blend, send him to college and remove some of his hair: you have the man I am talking about) hold out their business cards to you while scanning the room over your shoulder, looking for a client with more money. This fails to charm. And here’s where the cards are these fellows’ downfall: They think you don’t notice them looking behind you for a fatter mark. They think you are looking at their card. 

So: we come to the ugly bit, where I ask myself, along with every other under-employed generalist on the planet, what the heck do I put on my card? 

 

“Highlight your strengths and duties at your present job,” I hear all you What Color Is Your Parachute* readers saying. Ok: 

 

That doesn’t mean I’m overworked. That is just indie bookselling. And it is (except for the toilet fixing part) great fun. I bet you thought we sat around and read all day, didn’t you? 

The point is that no card is big enough. And if I were to get a variety of cards, each highlighting a different skill, I would wind up with a set of 52 (collect ‘em all!**). 

What to do? I could get a card that just says my name and contact information. Like an old fashioned calling card. But then I’d feel like I was living in a Henry James novel. Also, I’d have to learn to turn down various corners to signify different things, as they did in Victorian England.*** And we’d all have to go out and buy silver salvers for people to leave them on, and the purchase of a silver salver would necessitate me having a job that paid more, so you see where this is going. 

Besides, if my card had nothing but my name on it, people would retrieve it from the depths of their wallets and purses and briefcases and say sad things like, “who’s this?” and “So what?” 

There is a school of thought that advocates putting one’s photograph on one’s card. Realtors do it all the time. It makes sense, since when you’re looking for a realtor, you probably talk to more than one and with their photos there, you can remember which was which. There are also people who think you should put your photo on personal cards. One of these people runs a matchmaking service and writes books.**** I think having a photo on a personal card makes someone looking for a “match” seem as though they are looking for something offering more concrete remuneration, but maybe that’s just me. 

Do feel free to comment. The great What Should Mary Put on Her Card debate is open to all (but remember: this is a family show). In the mean time, I give you: 

 

*Yes, the banner at the top does say, “The Hard Times Edition.” Kind of makes you want to take to drink, doesn’t it? http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781580089876 

**And for fun geeky-ness (I mean that in a good way) check out: “Collect all 21: Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek” at http://fieldsedge.com/wordpress/?page_id=155 

***For more on this, see the Etiquette Grrls, who are funny and snarky and are determined to teach the world a thing or two whether we like it or not.You can find this book at: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780425183700 

 ****Patty Stanger, who has a show on BRAVO came up with this idea. God help us all:   http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781416597711

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