Sunday, 29 November 2009

7 Weeks as an Editorial Assistant

Time has flown. I can't believe it has already been seven weeks since I landed my job at Pearson Education, an international publishers. It's about time I wrote a post about it.

Firstly, let me start by saying that everyone at the company has been really nice - even the post guy, who learnt my name within a few days. Everyone has been so welcoming and patient and helpful. The building itself is extremely impressive - eco-friendly, spaciously designed, has a cafe, a restaurant, a gym... It's amazing.

I expect that the title 'editorial assistant' means different things to different publishers. As I work with educational books, I expect that the role of an editorial assistant who works with fiction would be fairly different.

These are generally the types of things I have been doing these past few weeks:

- Writing questionnaires about textbooks or book proposals; finding tutors to reviewer them; gathering up the reviews; writing review summaries to pass on to the authors. Quite a large chunk of my time has been spent doing this, so far.

Author Contact
- Keeping in touch with the authors; checking up on how their manuscripts are coming along, etc.

- Working with the contracts team to make sure the right information gets put into contracts, then posting them out and keeping track of them.

Supplement Handovers

- Many of our books have extra features (e.g. companion websites). It's my job to sort out the supplements that the author provides, and make it easily accessible and presentable for the sups team.

Manuscript Handovers
- I've only done one of these (and with a lot of help). Making sure manuscripts are presentable and everything is included, so that the production team can work on them.

Design Briefing

- One of my favourite parts of the job. Briefing the design team on cover ideas; collaborating with other team members and the authors on improving designs, choosing designs, etc.

Blurb Writing
- I quite enjoy this. Writing the blurbs for new books/new editions.

- Making sure the right people get paid the right amount for the right thing. Basically, I have to fill out the forms - the payments team deal with the actual money.

Prelim Checking
- Checking that the preliminary pages of a new book are all in order. Making sure all the rights are covered, and the contents list matches up etc.

- Putting together reports/data sets of potential markets for new books, that kinda thing.


- Putting data into the big database we use, to make sure that all the electronic information about books and their publishing schedules are up to date. Quite tricky - the database is huge and I'm still getting to grips with it.

Meeting Authors
- Haven't done this yet, but I'm meeting up with one of our author's on Monday with my boss to talk about his new book proposal, which I have gathered the reviews for.

- I post out a lot of books. Mostly to reviewers, but I recently had to post out about thirty books to a bunch of contributors as part of their payment.

Attending Meetings
- There are weekly meetings held to discuss whether or not a new book should be published. I don't say much in these meetings yet as I'm still learning a lot, and feel I don't yet have much of value to add to the discussion, but I find these meeting interesting nevertheless.

Drinking Tea
- This is a big part of the job. It is compulsory to drink at least three-four cups a day (many editorial assistants drink much more than this - but they've had more experience than me!).

In all, I feel like I've learnt a huge amount over these few weeks. And I still have a lot more to learn. I'm enjoying it and feel very privileged to be working for such a great company.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Tiny Tweeted Tales

By now, most net-savvy people will probably have heard of the social networking site Twitter - a place to connect to people by posting 'tweets' of 140 characters or less.

Flash fiction is extremely popular at the moment, but sites like Twitter are proving a platform for even shorter stories. Tiny, tiny miniscule stories. And these kinds of stories are becoming quite trendy in todays fast-paced technology-driven world.

Here are three Twitter-based micro-zines which I follow. If you have a Twitter account, you might like to follow them too.

@SixWordStory - For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Supposedly Hemingway's best work. Tweet your six-word story to @sixwordstory now!

- Twitter sized fiction for your entertainment. Stories by @sean_hill. Feedback welcomed. Send me a noun and I'll use the ones that inspire me in a story. Thanks.

@TweetTheMeat - Twitter Horrorzine. Fear in 140 characters or less.

If you've come across any good ones, feel free to share them in the comments.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

First Impressions of First Edition

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of 'First Edition' magazine: issue 08 October. I was so excited to see a magazine of short stories and poetry on sale in W H Smith that I instantly bought it without even looking through it. The cover looked professional enough - the only dubious aspect being the big orange 'sticker' on the front that said 'Get yourself published for FREE!' which I thought was a bit iffy to say the least.

Anyway, have you heard of the saying 'If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all'? Well, if you agree with that phrase, you better not read on.

I'm afraid to say that I have only read half of the magazine. And that's because after reading the first half, I simply didn't want to read the rest.

The first thing that struck me about the magazine while flicking through it was the odd little bright blue 'Did You Know?' boxes. Did I know that the collective noun for ladybirds is a "loveliness"? No, I didn't. But I didn't see what that had to do with the coffee-shop story on the same page. Do the editors really not have enough confidence in the stories they have chosen that they have to fill the magazine with these bright, child-like boxes of unrelated trivia?

As for the stories, this magazine has obviously endeavoured to publish the previously unpublished, or little published, writer. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that's good. There are plenty of talented writers out there that haven't had much published. It's just a shame that the magazine has found so few of these writers. It's an even bigger shame that the editors haven't made the effort to advise a few of the writers of minor changes or tweaks to their work which would make all the difference - or perhaps they didn't know how. Things like removing repeated phrases or words in close secession, or removing redundant phrases. Some of the stories by international authors could have done with a bit of light editing to smooth out some of their phrases.

I couldn't finish one story because not only did the speech have too many exclamation points in it for my liking, but the narrator of the piece used several exclamation points too. As well as this, there was the double exclamation point (!!) and even the question-mark-exclamation-point (!?) - I don't much like having stories shouted at me, but at least they could try to be grammatically correct. This is something the editors should have caught.

Another thing that greatly annoyed me was the un-uniformed way that paragraphs were presented. Some stories had line breaks, and some had indented paragraphs. There really should be a house style to the magazine. It would have made everything fit more visually together.

The presentation of the magazine didn't seem overly professional on closer inspection. The justified text was often stretched to fit the line, especially when each word was on a new line to wrap around an image. And the pixilated advert on the back cover didn't look so sharp either.

Overall, the writing wasn't that great. There were a lot of tell-tale signs that these were inexperienced writers. I'm not claiming to have the greatest experience as a writer, but I noticed quite a lot of the following:

+ Semi-colons where there should be colons.
+ Commas where there should be full stops.
+ Many stories were comprised of too much 'tell' and not nearly enough 'show'.
+ Too much back story - some stories didn't really get started until the middle of the text.
+ Unnecessary detail.
+ Cliched subject matter - yes, there was a story about writers block. There was also a story that seemed suspiciously based on the Watchman premise.

These were the main things I picked up on. I could write more specific things about each story, but I don't think it is needed.

The magazine is also dotted with poetry. I am a fan of poetry, but I'm afraid I didn't much like many of the poems that I read. The editors seem to have favoured rhyming couplets, even when the subject matter is serious. Using rhyming couplets for a somber poem is very hard to do well because of the contradictory 'sing-song' nature of the rhyming structure. Saying that, I did enjoy a poem called 'Thingymebob' by Vincent Pryer.

A few of the stories I really enjoyed. I thought 'Burnt' by Joel Williams was very well executed. I also enjoyed the observant yet engaging prose of Brian Lockett in 'Ken, Doreen and Bernard'. 'Beautiful Jeanette' by Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle was pleasantly wacky, and a few other stories I thought had merit too.

It is a shame that not all of the stories were quite of the same standard. Nearly all of the stories had potential. But potential isn't a finished story. And I want to read a magazine that is full of great, polished stories.

As the title of this post says - these are just my first impressions of the magazine. I have spent a good few hours reading it thus far. I'm in two minds as to whether or not I will finish it.

I find it a shame that with so many great short story magazines out there, this is one of the only ones I've seen on the shelves of a mainstream store.

If you want to read some great short stories, I recommend you try this magazine:

Greatest Uncommon Denominator

At the moment they are promoting a great offer on all the PDF versions of the magazine where you can set your own price. Oh, and unlike First Edition magazine, GUD don't make you pay to submit your work to their electronic version - which I found out about over at Nik Perring's blog. Nik also posted First Edition's editor's response to this issue.

I hope I haven't offended any of the writers - that was never my intention. I simply feel that some of these stories may have been prematurely published.

In my opinion, First Edition could do with some redrafting. Perhaps a Second Edition is in order?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Book Review: The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

This is the first book by Ian McEwan I have read. It was a nice, quick read after getting through 'Cloud Atlas' by David Mitchell. I took 'The Comfort of Strangers' on holiday with me to Venice, completely and honestly ignorant of the book's plot: a couple go on holiday to Venice, where they become unintentionally involved with some strange locals.

As an Ian McEwan virgin, and as I'd heard so many good things about this writer, I wasn't disappointed. McEwan's writing style is both familiar and original. It flows easily, and is extremely observational - perhaps a little too observational at times, which slows the pace slightly. However, this book is so short that the pace could never be slowed for long. McEwan seems to effortlessly turn what first appears to be stereotypical characters into complex protagonists. By the time the novel reaches its horrific climax, the reader is totally shell-shocked by the empathy they feel.

By other half read this book in two days, and it is the first book he has read for years. He loved it, and I really enjoyed it too. Definitely worth a quick read.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

This is quite exciting. After years of blogging, and nearly two thousand hits on this blog, after seeing these little blogger awards cropping up on other people's blogs... I've been awarded this little badge of honor!

(I'm asuming it has been spelt 'Kreativ' cos truely creative people don't follow rules like spelling... Ha ha, I jest.)

I think that passing these kinds of badges around is a great way to network between blogs, and drum up some awareness for the blogs that you enjoy and think everyone should read too.

So, thank you to Sage Darien for awarding me this badge.

Now to fulfil my badge-holder responsibilities:

Terms of acceptance include forwarding the same award to 7 other more deserving bloggers, who must follow the instructions below:

1. Copy and paste the pretty picture which you see at the top of this post onto your own blog.
2. Thank the person who gave you the award and post a link to their blog.
3. Write 7 things about yourself we do not know.
4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award.
5. Link to those 7 other bloggers.
6. Notify your 7 bloggers.

Seven things about me you do not know:

1. When I was little, I used to think that dogs were made entirely of fur, all the way through.

2. I love baths. The bath is the best place to read.

3. I heard this quote recently: 'Love is a misunderstanding between two fools.'

4. I'm rather fascinated by masks. I love all the carnival masks of Venice. I adore the masquerade scene in 'Labyrinth' - mimicing that is my idea of a perfect birthday party. I'm interested in the philosophies of masks...

5. I have a thing for pretty photo frames, but never know what photos to put in them.

6. I used to have a pet rabbit who I called Mary Jane (MJ for short) after a character from 'Spiderman'. I loved that rabbit.

7. The sky is spectacularly beautiful, in my opinion.

Here are seven bloggers, in addition to Sage Darien who continually entertain and inspire me:

1. Vanessa Gebbie's News - Vanessa is a great writer, whose short stories have won so many prizes I've lost count. I loved her collection 'Words from a Glass Bubble', which is available from Salt. Her blog is always interesting.

2. Writerly Type - This blog is full of snappy, interesting posts from a great creative writer.

3. Robert Aquino Dollesin - News, thoughts, memories and recommendations from another great writer.

4. Inkygirl: Daily Diversions for Writers - Does what it says on the tin. I love her cartoons.

5. Sandra's Blog - 'One writer's journey to fulfillment... and stuff.' An entertaining and insightful blog.

6. Unspoken Words - Bob Jacobs set up and ran the writing forum but has now taken a step back from that to write his first novel.

7. Steven J Dines - Writer of dark and literary fiction. I always find Steven's opinions both interesting and intelligent. Oh, and he's a great writer, too.

Well, there you go. I hope you enjoy those blogs as much as I do. There are so many more I could have added to this list.
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