I’m working on taking time every day to work on this story, even if I’m tired. I didn’t get myself out of bed to go to the gym this morning, but I am going tonight, and as soon as I get back, probably even before I jump in the shower, I’ll get another session in with this story to make it better. I have until the end of the month and then we’re on to the next one, so I’ve got a week to get it as polished as I can.
I think I’ve set a new record for first nibble and rejection of the year!
I was on Craigslist the other day, trolling around to see if there were any interesting freelance writing projects. As I do every year, I’ve resolved to get more involved in submitting work (in 2011, I even saw publication of a few articles at http://www.dumblittleman.com. Unpaid, but incredibly encouraging). The writing gigs were the usual calls for erotica or lazy ghostwriting to the tune of “I have a lot of GRAET IDEAS and now olny need a telented writer to help me put pen to paper haha. No pay up front but youl;l get a portion of the AMAZING ROYALTIES that will surely come!!!!!” So I checked out creative gigs, and lo and behold, a new writer wanted someone to put together a cover for her forthcoming YA ebook. I’m not going to lie and tell you I’m an amazing designer, but since she was asking for someone who knew how to use photoshop, and since I’ve taken Book Design and E-Publishing courses at a graduate school level, I figure I’ve got some modest chops. So I emailed her.
The author told me a little about her story and said that unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to pay much for the design. To be fair, it’s Craigslist and I’m new, so I said her price was fine. I then told her what I’d offer for it: a cover design and minor revision (changing font/color/photo filters, but not redoing the entire design). That’s when things went downhill.
In her reply, the author said that the design process would have to be “trial and error” and that she could “make no promises” about how many revisions she would need. And at that point, I had to make a choice. If I’m interested in freelancing, I need to take on jobs, and there are plenty of stories from pros where they took whatever they could, whenever they could, for whatever price until they got to the top. If I cared about myself, though, I had to put more value on my time than promising to do whatever it took until the unspecified day when my client was happy.
In the end, I wrote her a response saying that freelancers work off of specific contracts, and promised her a cover and two revisions, with extra revisions at an additional price. She passed on my offer, I wished her well, and I find myself feeling better about this than if I could have written here saying I’d landed a freelance job. I may have been rejected, but I gained confidence in my ability to set my own standards for what I deserve and what I can offer in my work, and I’ve learned that I won’t compromise my sanity for some extra cash or a little experience.
The first thing that’s struck me about my literature seminar this fall is how amazingly substantial the books are. That is, they offer something more than an entertaining story, or even a thoughtful one, and instead get at the kind of human truths that transcend their time or place. Oedipus is still current in the way that it raises questions of whether the gods are just, whether and where fairness comes into play regarding crimes and punishment, and how to understand the concept of a good man and a good life.
Disgrace, by J. M. Coetzee, is about men and women and sex, and the uses of sex. It’s about animals and obligation and the problems of how to live a life that has to involve giving and receiving a certain amount of cruelty. We’re going to spend hours tonight talking about meaning, not in a “what is the author trying to say” way, but in the “how does this book change our understanding of how we live our lives” way.
Perhaps (just perhaps) it’s unfair for me to compare myself to a Nobel Prize-winning writer, but I’ve always had a tendency to set my personal bar high. I started by getting up early to write, took the next jump to sign up for 750words.com and its monthly writing challenge (I’ve only made it to 750 twice, but I’ve written every day this month and am pushing for the full 750), and I’m gearing up for NaNo. With word count building, my next logical step is to reconsider what it is that I’m writing. Again, I am aware Nobel Prize is a smidge high for a yardstick, but on the other hand, if you fail to reach it, you’re still probably going to be turning out something pretty good.
I’ve got some writing exercises I’ll be trying out in the next few days to find a way to add more of that delicious, meaty, philosophical substance to my writing. I’ll post them here. Stay tuned!
One of the things I love about WordPress is that I can see what searches led people to my site. Mostly it’s my name, or Nick and Sheila Pye (not totally sure why–maybe they don’t get written about often enough? Anyway.). Today, though, there was a whole question:
“I am a new Project Manager. What will I receive on my first day of work?”
And I thought, “Huh. I have been a Project Manager for all of five weeks and I already take it for granted that I know what it is that I do.” And then I realized that probably most of my friends don’t know what I do. So, in case you wondered:
Being a Project Manager is primarily a scheduling job. When I get assigned a book, the first thing I have to do is review the schedule I get from the publisher. They’ll tell me when they need to see design samples (pages with sidebars, figures, illustrations, etc. set in with the text) and copyediting samples, when the author needs to get a copy of the book to make final comments and changes (and answer copyeditors’ questions), and when the book needs to be ready to go to the printer. From that assignment schedule, my job is to know what the Art Department and copyeditors are doing so I can make sure the book gets done on time.
Being a Project Manager may also mean doing a lot of copyediting yourself, and a heck of a lot of proofreading. I’m in a small company, so if we can avoid outsourcing copyediting too much, we do.
Note: For those who are unsure of the difference, copyediting means checking a manuscript not only for basic grammar and spelling errors, but also making sure the work fits the publisher’s style (do you say email, e-mail, or E-mail? Is Internet capitalized? Is “timeframe” one or two words?). Proofreading is comparing versions of a manuscript to make sure all the edits from the previous draft made it into the next version, and are both consistent and correct. When you might have half a dozen people editing one chapter, it’s important to look over and make sure one person isn’t adding commas while another is taking them out.
Finally, since this is a small office and we don’t have a receptionist or secretary, my day also involves some administrative work: answering phones, scanning files to colleagues overseas, etc. My boss also sometimes asks for additional projects, such as learning how to use Sharepoint and give short presentations on it.
Overall, I’d estimate I spend about 15%-25% of my time managing schedules and communicating between departments, about 70%-80% of my time copyediting and proofreading, and 5%-10% of my time on administrative tasks.
It’s been a whirlwind three months! It’s amazing to think that only a few days after I posted the Quarterly Report, Andrew and I got engaged. I kind of wish I was reporting on progress in wedding planning: we’ve already figured out the guest list, set a date, booked the ceremony and reception sites, picked a pastor to officiate, picked bridesmaids, picked colors (more or less), started our registry, and scheduled tastings with local caterers. We are winning at wedding planning.
But this isn’t a wedding blog (yet :-P), and I had made myself some goals for the kind of writing work I had wanted to accomplish over the last three months. They were:
Submit 120 pieces
Write and revise 4 pieces
Okay. I have to admit I didn’t complete either of those goals as I had intended to. Here’s what I did do:
- Submitted about 10-12 pieces
- Began heavy revision of one story
- Started several stories that died after the 1st paragraph
- Wrote class material (Experimental Forms) that I ended up submitting to a contest
- Designed 2 completed book projects (Book Design) that definitely involved thoughtful revision
- Started full-time work in publishing
- Subscribed to Poets & Writers and The New Yorker
- Maintained reasonably regular blog postings and updated What I’m Reading and Home pages of my site
So while I didn’t turn into the warrior of submitting that I wanted to be, I haven’t been sitting on my butt for three months, either. What I think I’m doing well:
- With the new job, I’m simultaneously immersing myself in a word-driven atmosphere, improving my editing skills, and freeing up time to write (my commute’s two-thirds shorter now)
- I’m devoting significant time to creative work (design lately, analysis of experimental work and writing experiments of my own before that)
- I’m spending more of my reading time reading material that can help me with my writing
What I think I’m doing badly:
- I’m not actually writing
- I’m not submitting enough
Scheduling writing is a problem for me because, since so many of my day-to-day responsibilities are deadline-driven, anything that can be put off will be if I get into a crunch. I’m still struggling to make writing enough of a routine that I won’t drop it when academics or other deadlines need my immediate attention. I do still read every day, after all, so having that time in my schedule is possible.
Part of me really wants to give myself the same goals for the next three months (10 subs/week, 4 new polished stories gleaming on my desk), but I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. Instead, I’m going to try something tough, but hopefully more doable:
- Write and/or revise fiction at least five days a week, aiming for 500 words a day or 2 revised pages a day
- Submit at least five pieces a week (simultaneous submissions count)
- Keep doing the good things I’m doing (blogging, reading good stuff, working hard in class)
Hopefully I’ll have better luck achieving what I’ve set for myself in the next three months!
This class, people! It is kicking my butt. One of the things I like about grad school is it definitely forces me out of my comfort zone, and I’m learning all kinds of good things. The short-term downside? So. Much. Work.
I’ve never taken graphic design, and that’s largely what this class is, so that’s why I’ve been quiet here. But now I can share a bit! Check out the learning curve for my first project, designing the cover for a short story by Dorothy Parker.
The story is, “A Telephone Call,” so I couldn’t help but go for the obvious at first (Important Note: All these covers are the full wrap, so the left half is the back cover and the right half is the front):
To keep from being too boring, though, I brought in this one as well (the story was written around the 1920s, so flapper seemed to fit the scene):
Consensus? The flapper was cool, but not quite right, and the telephone wasn’t working either (and was from the wrong time, to boot). Back to the drawing board!
I thought about the concept of the design, and decided my main focus was the fact that she was waiting for this call. After looking at some terrifying photos of bitten nails and lips, I decided smoking was a nervous habit I could feature in some kind of aesthetic way:
Two or three revisions later, came out with this, and realized my ashtray looked more like a drinking glass. Did a little more research…
This is much better! Except…the ashtray is recognizably Great Depression-era–about a decade too late for the story. Not a huge time gap, but enough to irritate those in the know.
Right era, decent concept, but so stark. I was beating my head against a wall by this point (keep in mind, I’m only showing you about 2/3 of the revisions I did on this design). My computer was so stuffed with photos of cigarettes, cigarette stubs, cigarette smoke and ashtrays that I was worried Andrew would think I had some kind of weird nicotine fetish. I still loved the idea of this glamorous girl in the ’20s waiting by the phone, smoking nervously, probably using some fantastic Cruella de Vil-esque cigarette holder. And then I found it. I talked to my professor to make sure she wouldn’t freak out if I overhauled my design yet again, and she gave me the green light to make this:
I finally felt like I had a book that felt like a book. I don’t have a grade back quite yet (I’ve been out for a week, so hopefully tomorrow), but this is the design that makes me happy. There’s a lot I like about this final version, and some things I’m sure could still improve, but I won’t say anything else for now. I’d love to hear what people think!