Deceptively Simple Publicity Questions

My book is not due until August 1st, 2019. That’s one year, one month, eleven days, twenty-two hours, forty-eight minutes, and twenty-nine seconds away. (I checked.)

Prior to today, starting two or three weeks ago, publicity efforts began by the publisher. After I signed my contract they filed for an ISBN number, even though my book’s title has still not been finalized. And at that time I was asked for some initial information, nothing too daunting to compose. But look at these new questions.

These may take a day’s efforts to answer. I am not complaining of course, but encapsulating tersely or at length is always challenging. This is first impression stuff, the writing that will draw a reader in or send them running to a different title. More than that, you have to summarize, as Ian Frazier once said, in a ‘selling’ way.

1. Provide a 50- to 75-word description of the book (an elevator pitch, if you will).

2.  Provide a 300- to 400-word description that could be used for Amazon, back cover copy, sales materials, etc.

3. What titles do you consider to be competition for your book? (Include author, publisher, and date of publication, if you know them.)

4. Please list media professionals or experts related to your book’s topic who might provide advance quotes or reviews.

Once this is all done, I have to provide these elements. I have most of this done in the book proposal I submitted. Note the dreaded Author Bio. Third person or first? I prefer first:

Table of contents
Author bio
Author headshot

And then, eventually, when the materials are due:

Manuscript (front, book, end matter)
Potential cover photos
Interior photos
Photo captions

I best be off and writing. Wish me luck.

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Where Do Non-Fiction Writers Go to Pen Their Great American Novel?

I thought once I got my book contract (internal link) I’d be ushered into the world of midnight coffee shops and cafes, the province of creative types discussing Flaubert and Nietzsche. That hasn’t happened.

Being Las Vegas, we do have a few 24 hour coffee shops which cater to the chronic insomniac and the late night worker coming off a shift. These are usually dry places, however, with no alcohol served. Just a wild mix of coffee drinks that are in most cases a caffeinated milkshake.

Instead of bongo drums and open poetry recitals, I am treated to electronic dance music and a few solitary types hunched over keyboards who listen to their own tunes on earphones. I wouldn’t know what to say to them anyway, even if they unplugged. Would they understand my desire to explain that a geological map doesn’t necessarily reveal mineral deposits? Probably not.

To be fair, they are undoubtedly working on something less than the Great American Novel, just as I am. I am working instead on The Great American Guidebook, at least the Southwest version that pertains to rocks. As writers, we generally and almost constantly work alone, for only in our own minds can we hold together all the problems, people and places that inhabit our work.

It would be nice to have others review drafts but those people would need the same knowledge of my field that I do, preferably a great deal more. For only someone familiar with vesicles and rhyolite and magmatic differentiation could help me. You see, I’m rather helpless myself, too, only now learning the finer points of our dynamic planet. (internal link) There’s little chance a beatnik type could offer suggestions. Unless she’s Taylor Swift with a geology degree wearing a beret.

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The Trouble with Siamese: Postcards from Delaplane

As if I didn’t have enough problems, the Siamese cat has moved her kittens out of the garage. She favors my shirt drawer but has settled, a little grumpily, for a carton box in the bathroom.

I must be careful brushing my teeth or I drip water on the kittens. It makes the Siamese nervous. Nervous as a cat in fact. One drop of water and she has to go over these kittens from head to tail.

Fortunately, I was out of town when these kittens arrived. Both the Siamese and I were in a state of nervous exhaustion waiting for them. I had pictures of myself delivering these kittens personally. Something like the kindly police sergeants who are always delivering babies in taxicabs at the height of the rush hour.

I wouldn’t know anything about delivering kittens if they were gift-wrapped for Christmas. All I could think of was stimulants.

I kept a bottle of brandy handy. With an eyedropper for the Siamese. A glass for me. I thought we might need it.

Well, it turned out the Siamese attended to the whole matter herself.

For five days she was constantly up and around. Straightening their pillows and checking to see that they did not have two heads.

On the sixth day, she brought them up one by one and tried to put them in the shirt drawer.

“You sit with them, “she said. “I’m worn out.”

However, she is just like any mother. She sticks around trying to tell me what to do.

“Keep them warm. Keep them dry. Don’t do that! You’ll smother them!”

Pretty soon she is back in the box. Roughing them up with her tongue and complaining that it’s impossible to get decent help these days.

These kittens did not turn out Siamese. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

One is black. One is sort of striped. One is gray.

The gray one looks exactly like a swaggering tomcat who lives down the street. I think he makes his money cheating at cards.

Anyway, he was around the house all the time while the romance season was on. Since the kittens arrived, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of him.

I think I saw him hanging around a wharf saloon the other night. But I couldn’t be sure. I think he was passing out cigars.

The Siamese takes this bravely though. She is willing for me to go to work and support the kittens. “You know how it is,” she says scuffing a paw in the dirt.

The kittens are world travelers already. The Siamese moves them constantly.

She moves them so often she sometimes forgets where she puts them. “Let me see,” she says, “I put down my piece of string. Then I went out to look for lizards. Or was that yesterday? Now where did I put them?”

Anyway, it is soon mealtime. It is dinner time almost all the time with these kittens. They have shrill voices. When they start to yell, she locates them. After they are fed, she moves them again.

I have chopped up cashmere sweaters for this addlepated female. I have lined Christmas boxes with an imported English coat. Only a little worn at the elbows.

Nothing seems right. You would think there was a law that all kittens must be raised in a shirt drawer. When I haul them out, she spits at me. You would think I had declared war against motherhood.

I have been cat sitting for eight weeks now, ever since she showed up with some vague talk of finding the kittens underneath a cabbage leaf.

An excellent mother. But she does not intend to sit with these kittens when there is a built-in kitten sitter like me around.

When evening rolls around, I put out enough cat food to feed a tiger. This cat sits around watching while the kittens eat until they wobble. Then she puts on a terrific act.

She howls and staggers about as though she had just come out of Starvationville. “I’m dying, “she screams. “Dying of hunger.”

I then shoo the kittens out the door and give this cat a big dish of horse meat. Does she eat it? Ha! She fills her mouth with hamburger and takes it out and stuffs more in the kittens.

Well, it is like pouring pabulum into a baby. She feeds them until they are glassy-eyed. Then she brings them back in the house and leaves them with me.

“Keep an eye on them, “she says. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

She does not return until dawn. It is my opinion this cat spends her evenings sitting on a bar stool. Telling everybody how her husband deserted her and what a good cook she is and how she would love to settle down again with the Right Man.

There is something funny going on.

Postcards From Delaplane: October 29, 1956. Stanton Delaplane (internal link)

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What Will God Do When You Die?

Ranier Maria Rilke (internal link) was not the first to suggest that perhaps God depends on us as much as we on him, but Rilke was certainly the most gifted when it came to conveying that thought.

What will you do, God, when I die?

What will you do, God, when I die?
When I, your drink, go stale or dry?
I am your garb, the trade you ply.
You lose your meaning, losing me.

Homeless without me, you will be
robbed of your welcome, warm and sweet.
I am your sandals: your tired feet
will wander bare for want of me.

Your mighty cloak will fall away.
Your glance that on my cheek was laid.
and pillowed warm, will seek, dismayed
the comfort that I offered once ——
to lie, as sunset colors fade
in the cold lap of alien stones.

What will you do, God? I am afraid.

RMR, Poems from the Book of Hours

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The Essential Errata

An errata or corrigendum is a corrections list, a paper or web page correcting errors in a publication, typically a large academic work. The errata fills the gap between the next edition of a book, when any errors are formally corrected. You’ll often find an errata slipped into the back of a work, a page or two inserted before the title leaves the printer.

A great example of an online errata is that for the Jepson Manual (external link). This serves as the update page for the Manual,  a 1,600 page hardcopy tome. Erratas note mistakes and keep people current on new findings in a field which change the publication. It’s no shame to have an errata as no thousand page book is perfect, anymore than the humans who write and review them.

My geology textbook, though, all 836 pages of it, does not seem to have an errata sheet. A little discouraging for a $170 text. In one chapter alone I discovered five errors or oddities, blemishes that carried over to the online materials supporting the work.

The publisher remains silent on this, despite my e-mails. Although I am enjoying the course, I am now worried over what is correct and what is not. Certainly, 99% of the book must be true, I just can’t tell what is not. Unless I have an errata sheet.

We all make mistakes, it’s how we handle those mistakes that counts. Right now, I am counting the moments until I get an errata, as I go further and further into the book. As I struggle with new words and new ideas, I hope I am on the right side of all of them.

Update: The author has e-mailed me to say that there is no errata sheet but that I seem to be compiling one. Thanks, Professor. I was only looking out for my grade and in a small way trying to help. I thought better of BYU before this course. Maybe their primarily Mormon students don’t correct their professors or help out with the text. Whatever.

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May The Road Rise With You

The first line is endlessly argued over its exact translation from the Gaelic, never-the-less, this poem sounds across different languages and strikes at the soul.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Years ago, Public Image Ltd. produced a strange and stirring video that at times caught the uplifting power of that ancient Irish blessing. Their lyrics are completely different except for that one key sentence, the opening line.

At one point in the song, PIL may have been protesting the interrogation techniques of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary.

I could be wrong, I could be right
I could be black, I could be white
I could be right, I could be wrong
I could be black, I could be white
They put a hot wire to my head
‘Cause of the things I did and said
They made these feelings go away
Model citizen in every way

We are left to wonder. May the road rise with you.

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Learning GPS is Just Another Life Skill to Develop

We’ve all had to learn to type, use a mouse, text with a cell phone, and bank online. Learning GPS basics isn’t that much harder. The different coordinate formats are confusing. But that problem can be usually solved by finding out which format your device prefers or sticking to a format used by the guidebooks or map services you employ.

The format below is fairly universal. If you cut and paste it into a browser window a map will be returned. Simple. Of course, you will need Google Earth and high quality paper maps to actually pick out a road to get to these coordinates, but at least you have a point to navigate to.

34.0534, -107.1706 — Strozzi Prospect, New Mexico

Different sites exist to convert one format to another. An easy site is Earth Point (external link) Go to that page, then enter the above coordinates into the blank field marked “Position”. Click “Calculate.” Voila! Different formats will pop up, all expressing the same location but in a different way. You may need to do this conversion to get the right format for your handheld or mobile device.

Getting comfortable with GPS is as easy as buying a Garmin navigation unit for your car and then typing in the coordinates for a location. With a GPS coordinate you have something to navigate toward, even if you are driving in the desert on a road that has no name, taking intersections that aren’t signed, with jogs here and there that aren’t on any map.

Armed with printouts of photos from Google Earth or Maps, as well as hardcopy maps of an area, an understanding of GPS will make you a far more confident driver than one relying on a hand drawn map that is often missing vital information to keep you from being lost. Also, navigating back to the main road with a known GPS coordinate is much less nervous than trying to remember every single turn you came in on (Although I take photos on my way in, with GPS coordinates stamped to the image). Get a handheld unit, too, as a backup.

Not trying to preach here, but GPS is now such a vital survival tool that everyone should learn the basics. I’ll share what I know.

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