Writing for this blog rocks for a number of reasons, none the least of which is, I get to talk to some of the coolest people in the book world. A person who fits that description to a tee — one Ms. Colleen Lindsay. Colleen is the consummate bookish chick. She has worked in almost every imaginable aspect of book-selling and book publishing and is always taking on new challenges and learning new things about the book world, which she, in turn is all too generous about sharing with others.
My small gift of paying it forward, dear readers, is having the pleasure of sharing a little bit of Colleen Lindsay, with you. So, with no further ado, allow me to introduce you to the fabulous Colleen Lindsay, Bookish Peep of the Day…
Her First Book-Related Job:
“Part-time bookkeeper at a bookstore in San Mateo, California.The bookstore is defunct now, of course, as many Bay Area indie bookstores are. But back in 1984, the SF Bay Area indie bookstore scene was an especially thriving one. (I didn’t say I was a GOOD bookkeeper!)”
First Publishing Job Laid Off From:
“Ballantine Books as a sales assistant in the mass merch division. Mass merch is eye-opening. You really learn where the bulk of the books are sold in the United States. After a couple of years, the mass merch accounts all consolidated into just a few mega-corporations. I was laid off, along with eight of my colleagues across the country.”
Why Patti LaBelle is Basically Responsible for Her Move from San Francisco Book Selling to NYC Book Publishing:
“In April of 1999, I got a phone call from a very nice guy at the Random House events marketing department asking me if I wanted to come work with him in NYC. I’d just had a pretty exhausting celebrity event (while working as Events Manager at Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco) with Patti LaBelle and had quite literally just walked her and her entourage out of the building, so I was a little cranky and tired.
I knew Christian pretty well, since we did so many events with Random House, and I honestly thought he was joking. I said something like ‘Sure! You pay my way to New York, and I’ll come work for you!’ and I hung up. He called me two weeks later and said ‘Okay, I fought for it and got you a moving allowance. Now will you come work for me?’ How could I say no to that? LOL!”
Her Best Job Ever:
“Heading up the publicity for Ballantine’s very profitable science fiction & fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books — specializing in SF/F, pop culture, media tie-ins and – eventually – helping to launch their new manga line.”
Most Important Lesson She has Learned from Publishing:
“Never get laid off with the word ‘director’ in your title. You’re just told repeatedly that you’re overqualified for everything.”
On Becoming an Agent:
“So what do you do when you want to stay in publishing but can’t find work? You become an agent! ha ha ha ha!
I started doing a round of informational interviews with agents I knew through my wonderful Del Rey authors, agents like Ann Seybold at Janklow Nesbitt, Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House, and Richard Pine at Inkwell Management. They were all very gracious with their time and insight.The last informational interview I had was with Peter Rubie and Stephany Evans at FinePrint Literary Management. We had a great talk, and by the time I got home, there was a voicemail from Peter asking me to come aboard with FinePrint. That was in February of last year.”
“Queryfail was a project that another agent, Lauren MacLeod, and I came up with. We asked a few other agents to join in, to do something that I’d done a couple times on my blog: live-streaming my queries as I read them, and letting people know what it was that made me stop reading or passing on the query, and why.
We scheduled it for one day in March, and reminded people online about it. When that day came, we honestly had no idea that it would be come so damned big! Nor that so many writers would get their panties in a bunch over it, frankly. It ended up being mentioned in two stories in the Guardian UK, a newspaper in France, a newspaper in Sweden. And for me, it was just the same exercise I’d been doing on my blog.
After all the initial brou-ha-ha died down, the fact was that we had far more positive feedback from writers than negative. Most writers saw it for what it was: an educational exercise. I got a number of wonderful thank-you emails, and a couple of cards sent to the office. Most of the participating agents also told me that they noticed a real difference in the quality of the queries they received in the weeks immediately afterward, so I’d say for that reason alone, #queryfail accomplished what we set out to do with it.”
On Publishing’s Ups and Downs + the Power of Storytelling:
“I would love publishing more if it didn’t keep imploding on itself and making bad decisions. Seriously, I love the book industry but it seems to shoot itself in the foot every three months. This past year was probably the worst, but I’ve lived through several bad shake-ups. Publishing always bounces back. Each time it takes publishing a little longer to bounce back, however. I am hopeful that once the economy bounces back, that the book industry will also pick up again.
Because, ultimately? I believe in the power of storytelling. Storytelling has gotten mankind through thousands of years of plague, and famine, and war, and floods, and depressions, and storytelling will get us through this. Storytelling is a powerful thing.”
On Blockbusters, Midlist, and the Bottom Line:
“I think that if publishers stop going for the blockbusters entirely, they’ll go out of business. I mean, let’s face it, you may not like Dan Brown, but four bazillion other people do. Why? Because he is a good storyteller. I think that sometimes people in the book community are too quick to label certain titles as junk, simply because they are popular. It’s kind of a sour grapes mentality. When Stephenie Meyer became big, half the YA authors in the world slammed her because they thought they could write a better book; the other half wanted to BE her, and all started writing vampire love stories. But ultimately, something in the Twilight story connected at a deeper level for teenage girls.
Is that a bad thing? Even if you consider that the subtext of the books are a little creepy, at the very least, it gives parents and teachers an opportunity to also read the books and open up a dialogue with their kids about what they find disturbing in the story.
And I will also say that I don’t believe that big trade publishers don’t respect midlist authors. If you go through any new catalog from a large trade publisher, what you’ll see primarily IS midlist. There will be a lead and a sub-lead title, and then a lot of midlist. Because most of the backlist gets built by nurturing midlist writers. Sure, some writers get cut loose because they stop selling completely. And that’s a business decision. But look at the backlist catalog of any large publisher and you’ll see a slew of midlist authors who never really make it big, but sell decently enough every year that they stay in print.
I think that publishers have always had to look toward the bottom line and bestsellers pay the bills. Look, this is an industry with a notoriously low profit-margin. It’s a business and a business exists to make a profit. Thus, bestsellers are necessary. And the truth is…bestsellers can build reading community just as much as any other book.”
On Publishers Connecting with Readers:
“I know that when I worked at Ballantine, they were doing a marvelous job. They were the first publisher to do the bound-in reading guides with their Ballantine Readers Circle books, something that other Random House imprints soon copied, and within a couple of years, nearly every large publisher with a trade paperback line was doing that.
I know that marketing departments do pay attention to book groups, and a lot of them set up virtual book tours with authors, where an author calls into a book group meeting to answer questions. I think that the advent of the Internet has helped some smart publishers start conversations with readers through the use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, free ebooks, and author forums.
When I was a publicist at Del Rey and I wanted to set up a book tour for a Star Wars author, I didn’t go to the bookstores for proposals. I went to the readers at TheForce.net, a huge Star Wars fan group. I went into forums for other authors to discuss upcoming titles with readers. Basically, if you go to where the readers are, instead of trying to draw them to your own website, you’ll have much more success at connecting with them.”
“I had a very long-running blog called La Gringa & Co. that I kept for years. It was sort of a reflection of my feeling very out of place as a San Francisco transplant to New York City. I was working for Random House at that time and – as much as I love traditional publishing – I have always also been fascinated by new technology, especially new media. I’ve always been a sort of early adopter of anything techy, and a blog was no different.
My posts the first couple of years were more or less just a sort of online letter to my friends and family, all of whom I routinely neglected to keep in touch with because I was a lazy email correspondent. Eventually, it grew into more of a place for me to tell stories about my life, adjusting to life in NYC, and learning the ins and outs of corporate publishing. When I moved to Del Rey in 2000, my blog became more and more geared toward pop culture, science fiction and fantasy and the book industry.
I was pretty careful to remain anonymous and never discussed my work or talked about Random House, because the Internet was still a wild and woolly place to most publishing companies at that time and some publishers had been known to fire employees for blogging. However, pretty much everyone who had anything to do with the SF/F book scene knew who La Gringa was. What was remarkable was that so many people kept my identity secret for so long! At some point in 2002-ish, I just got tired of blogging. I was feeling like it was more of an obligation than a pleasure and I didn’t want to do it any more. In a fit of pique, I did something incredibly idiotic: I deleted several years worth of blog posts. Like, gone. Poof! Oooops. Afterward, I realized how stupid that was.
Oh, well! Anyway… People started to notice that I wasn’t blogging anymore and they asked me why. I got dozens of emails a week from people that – up until that point – I didn’t even know had read my blog. I decided to start up the blog again in late 2003 and that blog ran until May of 2007. For the last year and a half, I had a co-blogger, another editor who worked for a major publishing company. She went by the name of Book Stud (I can’t tell you who this was, by the way, because she would prefer to remain anonymous). I wrote about books and SF/F and pop culture; she wrote about music and knitting and theater, and we both wrote about being a geek in general.
I took that blog down and archived the material. I’d decided that I was tired of being anonymous and I didn’t like writing things that I couldn’t put my name behind. I believe that the book industry needs more transparency, frankly.
And thus The Swivet was born in August 2007.
One frustration that I’ve always had with blogging was that I knew blogging would be a great way to reach out to readers and the SF/F community but the strictures of corporate publishing were such that it was an area most of them were unwilling to explore as a promotional tool or a way to build community with customers — very, very frustrating!
Thankfully a lot of that has changed now, and you see more and more publishers who are actively using blogs as a way of building community online.”
“People always are kind of amazed when I tell them how long I’ve been reading and advocating for ebooks. I started reading ebooks in 1998. I had a Palm Pilot. The original, with the teeny little screen and only 1 mb of ram. That one. There was a cool little publisher called Peanut Press that began to publish books in .pdb format — I was hooked. When I got a Palm IIIc later on, the screen and contract were better so it was even easier to read. And there was an autoscroll function so that when I went to the gym I could set the book scrolling while I was on the treadmill or elliptical.
At one point after I started at Random House, I discovered that Documents to Go had an option for creating .pdb files, so I started making my own ebooks out of manuscripts I was working on and I could carry around dozens of manuscripts at a time. I use a Sony Reader now, but only to read manuscripts, since Sony doesn’t offer Mac support. (Get on the ball, Sony!)
I’d like a Kindle, too but ultimately I see myself leaning more toward getting an iPhone and using Stanza and Scroll Motion technology to read. I actually preferred reading on my Palm, and only made the switch when my Palm died (my fourth Palm!) last year. I’ve read on iPhones and it’s a great experience.”
On Her Love of Books and Reading:
“When I was a kid, I went to a Catholic school that was high on language arts and not so great on math. Thus the reason that I was able to read at a high school senior level when I was in second grade, but never did learn my times tables until I was about 24.
The nuns only wanted us reading books that were designated for our reading level. Our GRADE reading level. So I was only allowed to take out books from the section reserved for second graders. Which was maddening. So I snuck into the 8th grade section and climbed up as high as I could reach…which was the science fiction and fantasy section. I grabbed the first thing I could, stuffed it down my uniform and took it home, read it, brought it back and came back for more.
The first book I grabbed was an Isaac Asimov.”
Colleen’s One Small Step Toward Saving Publishing Would Be:
“It would be great to see any one publisher make it a company policy to take one day a month AT WORK and make it a reading-only day. I’d love to see publishers step back and try to remember why most of their employees are working in publishing in the first place: a love of reading. But the way most of your day is structured at any publishing job actually precludes one from simply READING.
As an agent I’m up against the same thing. It was a huge wake up call for me last year to realize that in a 12-month period, I’d read only seven – SEVEN! – books that weren’t client manuscripts or partials I was evaluating. It takes some of the joy out of the work.”
Fictitious Book Character She’d Most Like to Twitter With:
“Aud Torvingen from Nicola Griffith’s wonderful series of books The Blue Place, Stay and Always. But i suspect that Aud would just hunt me down and break my neck for bothering her.”
And, even if you are not Aud Torvingen, you can twitter with Colleen here!