Try a little tenderness

Hello from the swampy banks of the Brays Bayou. After six weeks in Houston you’d think I’d have figured out some kind of routine, some rhythm I’ve fallen into, but you’d be incorrect! I desperately want to have a routine and a schedule, something that approximates normalcy, but obviously normalcy is nonexistent right now.

I have it lucky, though. My needs are met, I’m still employed, my parents are buying the groceries in exchange for cleaning and cooking once in a while. (Tonight? Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Scallion and Lime.) I’ve mostly resisted the siren song of starting complicated projects during quarantine, if you don’t count sourdough starter. I’ve found myself wanting to start something, though - something that I can point to after All This and say “look, that time wasn’t wasted.”

Except I think that’s the wrong way to look at it, maybe. Coming out of All This alive is the best way to come out of it, and if I do so not having learned a language or written a book or learned how to crochet or whatever, that’s absolutely fine. Coming out alive. As Isaac Fitzgerald says, “Every day above ground.”

No, I don’t have a daily routine. But I have been managing to keep working, if not at my usual pace, and keep active, if not as consistently as I’d like. I run more days than I don’t; I work more often than I don’t. I’m trying to give myself space to suck a little right now, with the understanding that getting anything done at all with the crushing weight of existential annihilation hanging over your head is kind of a miracle.

So I guess I’m saying, make like the song says and try a little tenderness towards yourself. You probably need it.

So I’m taking these questions from the queue of Shipping & Handling, my podcast with Bridget Smith (new episode coming this week!) but if you have a question about publishing/writing/books/hockey, drop it in the comments and I’ll try and answer it!

The answer to this question is twofold, and both answers involve a little bit of inside baseball. (I want to be congratulated for waiting until this paragraph to use a sports metaphor.) The first is that Publisher’s Marketplace - the only thing I ever recommend paying for as a querying author - is a professional database with its own weird quirks. For example, did you know that the imprint is not a website? It started as a website, but became a “real” imprint and started publishing novellas and novels in print. But when you submit a deal with to PM, it comes up as “digital,” even though it’s going to be in print. Why? Who knows! It’s dumb! They won’t change it! They also list world-english deals done with UK publishers as UK rights deals, which confuses everyone. So that adds a fun layer of confusion when you’re not sure if the book is going to come out as a digital edition only or as a physical edition.

The second thing is in the idea of a “lesser” deal. Digital-only deals are generally less money, even the ones done at the big houses. I’ve done several of these deals - less money means a faster earnout, which is good, but less up front, which is less good. Where things get murky, I think, is volume. Are you looking at an agent and they’ve got hundreds of sales and they’re all to the same place? Are they all within a very short spate of time? It’s hard to paint that as a uniformly bad thing - sometimes things just get announced all at once, in an orgy of self-promotion - but it’s enough to ping something in my brain.

Look at the presses themselves - do they have good covers? Are they uniformly bad covers? Are there some good ones and some bad ones? You can trust your gut on this one, generally - if you think “Hey, that looks amateurish and cheap,” you’re probably right and it was thrown together for a song.

Keep in mind that for some genres, including romance, there is HUGE action on the digital-only side of things, from small presses on up to the big five. It isn’t necessarily a red flag if an agent’s list is heavily tilted towards that, if that’s their focus. But do your research and look up the books themselves - do they look like books you’d be happy to sit beside on the shelf? If the answer is yes, awesome; if not, you can steer clear.

Client News

You can read the recap of K.M. Szpara’s conversation with N.K. Jemisin here!

This Week In Hockey

Sports, still cancelled.

To Run My Fastest Marathon At Age 44, I Had To Outrun My Past by Nicholas Thompson (Wired)
Very few people quit running after a personal best. You want to get faster, until you realize you can't. And so, after Chicago, I began a quest to understand how much of our limits are physical, how much are mental, and how much they exist in some region in between. I had improved at an age when humans were supposed to stop improving. Now I kept thinking about all those races over the years when I hadn't improved. Why had I only once managed a marathon in under 2:40? And if that wasn't my limit, how about 2:30? Perhaps 7-year-old Nick was correct. Maybe Dad could have sped up at the end.

Why the Buffalo Sabres are the NHL’s Biggest Disaster by Greg Wyshynski (ESPN)
As Lizzo sang, truth hurts: With a 1.1% chance of qualifying for the playoffs, this will be the ninth consecutive season without the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference playoffs, despite the third-largest current salary-cap hit in the NHL. They've had six coaches and three general managers in those nine years. They've had one generational talent, Jack Eichel, who has yet to appear in a playoff game. They've had only two primary owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, who took over the Sabres in February 2011 to much fanfare and optimism.


I’m Working Remotely. Can I Keep Hiding My Secret Baby? by Caity Weaver (NYT)
After mulling (I believe) every possible scenario for how you might proceed, I’m afraid the course with the likeliest odds of success is also the most preposterous: You’re going to have to gaslight this man. *I know I included this one in the paid post, but this is the best column of all time.

The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial by Venkatesh Rao (Ribbonfarm)
Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden. Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is “truffle” oil on anything (no actual truffles are harmed in the making of “truffle” oil), and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio.

Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes.

Reopening Hollywood: from insurance to testing, Crowd Scenes and Craft Services, Here Are The Pandemic Problems Studios are Trying to Solve Before They Start by Nellie Andreeva, Mike Fleming Jr (Deadline)
Entertainment is a major portion of the California economy and, with the production shutdown just crossing the one-month mark and layoffs, furloughs and paycuts implemented by reeling studios, there has been a growing discussion among executives and producers about how to ease back into production, along with the big challenges a return poses — from keeping everyone safe to securing an insurance policy, filming crowds and exteriors, and determining what content is appropriate to show in a society changed by the coronavirus.

This has been A Faster No, a weekly dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. This is a free post, but if you’d like to support the newsletter and get exclusive content, paid subscriptions are available for $5/month or $50/year. Feel free to forward.