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Archive for the ‘job search’ Category

Some years ago, while working free-lance for Berkley Books, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to write about books I had yet to read.  The editor, who had presumably read the book, had an intermediary hand me a dot-matrix printed paragraph on a perforated piece of computer paper. My job was B2B.

I recall one of the science fiction outlines, which took place on a distant planet, was more or less a plot summary from the Cliff Notes on “Hamlet.”  What was I supposed to do with that?  Apparently, what I was paid to do — turn it into an alluring pitch so that Barnes and Noble would order more than one copy of the book before it was printed.  Often, just to get through the exercise, I’d have to write a “mock” draft — one where I’d ridicule the author and the book as derivative drivel set on an obscure planet so as to try and hide the trail back to Shakespeare.

Yes, I grew up in the publishing industry. Fresh out of college, I started in the mail room of Zebra Books — a romance company that published such politically correct titles as “Savage Love,” “Savage Ecstasy” and “Savage Romance,” all titles regarding the inter-racial love affairs of American Indians and abducted females who grew to love their captors.  The formula was basically — male rapes female, female hates male, male goes away, both realize they can’t live without the other. (I hope I haven’t given away any industry secrets).  I remember writing the back cover copy for my own version of a romance: “A starving hobo reaches toward the remains of a tossed cigarette, when the sooty fingers and grimed nails of a bag lady slide under hi s fingers.  Their hands touch in …. Gutter Love.

The Art Director of that place was a middle-aged, mustachio’d Italian madman named Vince with whom I had instant rapport.  Vince showed me the contract for one of the books — the publishers paid a thousand dollars for all rights.  Then he showed me the bill for the cover artwork: five thousand dollars.  “A picture is worth a thousand words,” he’d say.  In the mailroom with me was a young African American named Chris.  Chris was well over six feet tall and carried a lot of weight.  He was a Jehovah’s Witness, but spent half his day cussing people out for not following the rules. “Don’t you be bringing no mail here at 4:30 when I gots to get to the post office at 4:45.  Yes, I’m talking to you.”  Vince used to wait until Chris went to the bathroom.  Then he’d signal me to follow him.  We’d enter the small tiled space where there were three cubicles.  Vince:  “Contestant number one, welcome to today’s edition of mystery guest.  Take a look at those shoes and see if you can guess who might be our secret stall visitor today!”  Chris: “Doggone it Vince, if you don’t get out of here in two seconds, I’m gonna wrap your knuckle nose into the sink.”  Vince: “Sorry contestant one, our secret stall visitor spoke, thus disqualifying you from this round.  However, our secret stall visitor gets a free role of unbranded toilet paper.”  With that, Vince would toss a roll of t.p. from the counter over the top of the stall.
I later went to work for the AAP, the publisher’s lobby, in their educational offices in NYC.  Since my direct supervisor administered programs for the paperback publishing group (among others), I was tasked with a monthly press release on America’s Top Ten Bestselling Paperbacks.  Each month we’d run a different category, such as the Top Ten Bestselling Horror Paperbacks.  Most of the books were ten years or more removed from their first printing — they were just books people liked to buy.  I’d have to dream up an idea as to why this might be relevant for anyone (Halloween is coming and now it’s time to revisit some of your favorite horror classics).  Maybe they were required reading for school.  I recall one recipient sent the press release back to our office with a note across the face: “who cares?”

After a short stint as an administrative assistant at the National Book Awards, I went back to graduate school (what else does one do when the career path looks bleak and other options are vague?).  Via a fluke, I ended up teaching writing. I walked out of a general meeting without filling out an application and was called by the head of the department.  “Why didn’t you stay and do the application process?” “I did the math; adjunct work pays a little less than McDonald’s and there’s more homework.”  “Would you consider a full-time temporary position?” I had to have that explained more than once.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, I also worked as a journalist.  I started out writing Theatre Criticism for The Ocean County Reporter, one of those free papers that ended up in everyone’s litter box.  The editor would chop up my sentences until they no longer said what I’d originally intended.  After a time, they offered to take me on full time.  I was to ride along with one of their best staffers and learn the ropes.  That lasted about six months — I needed to get out of Jersey.  One of my great regrets from my year in journalism is that I didn’t escape with a single published piece that I could use in a portfolio.  Either there are typesetting errors or enough editorial hacking that my work was no longer true.
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I don’t know that I’ve ever had any luck with Craigslist.  Almost every time I reply to an ad, with the exception of the apartment listings, it’s been some kind of con.

Yesterday, I scanned through the writing positions and there was a post about a “Book Blogging” position that also included an eventual website building/maintenance reference.  The publisher was called Harper Duz Books.  Naturally, the first thing I did was google the company.  Hits??? One — a wordpress blog reviewing a book called “Love in the Time of Cocaine.”  The review wasn’t all that well written, and for someone who began the page by saying they were reviewing the book for a “new publishing company out of New Jersey,” the analysis was not all that kind:

“…the writing itself leaves much to be desired. Alban’s first novel, it reads like an exercise in a creative writing seminar….it reads like poorly received comedy. Harvey and Luis’ friends are comically portrayed as stereotypes, while Luis and Pamela are generic figments of a fairytale….Unfortunately, the reader spends most of the time wondering whether or not this is a teenager writing in a fiction class or a horrendous translation.”  (author only identified as “Page Terror“)

I was skeptical, but decided to write to the address anyway.  I created an abridged blog about my experience in the publishing industry (which I will amplify slightly and add in a day or two — because it was fun).  As I walked around, I thought — they won’t reply.  I mostly mocked my publishing encounters.  Probably not the outcome they were seeking.

Lo and behold, this morning I receive an e-mail from Eleanor Orduz (could that be the Duz in Harper Duz?). Actually, it was signed Nicole.  The content:

“We have had some qualified candidates respond.  In order to select the best blogger for the position we are asking that you read one of our new titles and write a positive review of the book directly on Amazon.  We will select the best blogger for the position by comparing the reviews.  Please find, here attached, Love in the Time of Cocaine by Alvaro Alban.  Once you have read the book, please look it up on Amazon and leave your review.  Do not send your review to this email.  We will read your review and contact you directly.”

In some respects, one has to admire the cojones, the willingness to manipulate Amazon reviews to perhaps lead to more hits? More sales?  Needless to say, I’m not going to waste my time selling their book for free, but I felt compelled to write something here just in case someone else, like me, decides to google the publisher before going to work on their review.  Oh yeah, I’ll tweet this one too.  And maybe even print the letter as my Amazon review.

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The First Intention

When I named this blog “The Magic Lantern,” my initial thought was to have many blogs, a veritable Venice of blog canals, weaving their dirty sea water through the ancient city of thought.  “The Magic Lantern” was created to hold reflections on the cinema.  I would make other blogs about writing, politics, philosophical reflections, poetry.  Yeah. Things have changed.

In March of 2011, a few months before I put this blog in motion, I left a “steady” position to work as an artist-in-residence at Colgate University.  The plan was to perform in Sarah Kane’s “Blasted” — a challenging role for an older man, to appear on stage naked, at one point to rape, at another to be raped — spend the summer with my eight year old son while looking to re-position myself in the NYC acting scene.

I left my desk job (which, by the way, was a two week temp job in 2005 that never ended, and with a small child a steady paycheck that you can’t just walk away from without another plan) and a few days later was driving North through a blizzard on the first day of Spring.  Little did I know that by the time I reached Colgate, the play would be scrapped due to a conflict between the director and the lead actress.  I was told I’d be paid, but that I’d have to return at a later date and give a workshop of some sort (TBD).

I tried to take it in stride.  This, I assured myself, will lead to bigger and better projects.  I am now free to pursue my career on a full-time basis.  Yeah.  That was three years ago. During that time, I’ve had occasion to wish for a forum to share my journey, my inspirations, and maybe one or two prayers I’ve bitten off for help.  Yeah.  This is it.

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