C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Book Information Centre Blues

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Occasionally, you will run into someone who either expects you to know the unknowable or dismisses what you do know. When I worked at The Canadian Book Information Centre, it happened all the time.

Case #1: One fellow, so very arch and British one might think he was sent over from Central Casting, asked what Canada’s top cookbooks were.

You might be able to google such information now, but back then we were expected to somehow pull the numbers and titles from the ether. Or from our asses.

I told him I didn’t have those numbers.

“I would have thought that would be general industry knowledge,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “The publishers don’t supply us with those numbers. Only their accountants know the truth. You could go back through old Globe & Mail newspapers and find the top cookbooks by going through top ten lists, I suppose.”

“You can’t do that for me?”

“Uh, no. Head to your local library.” Where people are actually paid to help you find the data for your book proposal, I thought.

He hung up in a huff before I could explain that I worked for publishers as an editor and publicist. My title was Project Manager, not Phone Monkey for Anyone Who Owns a Telephone. (Did you know they’ll give just about anyone a phone? I know! Exactly!)

Case #2: Another aspiring author asked me about copyright. He was desperately worried some evil editor would steal his idea.

This is a common concern, but it’s a nearly invalid one since it happens so rarely. As it happens, I knew a lot about copyright. And so:

No, you can’t copyright an idea alone. If you could, the guy who got to Good versus Evil and Boy Gets Girl first would be rich, rich, rich.

No, you don’t have to send your manuscript to some office in Ottawa or Washington. You wrote it. Your name is on it. It’s yours worldwide (except for parts of Asia.)

No, putting the copyright symbol on a manuscript is considered unnecessary, amateurish and insulting to the editor or agent who receives it.

No, you don’t have to mail your manuscript to yourself. The idea is to get the post office’s official stamp on the sealed envelope containing your treasure (as if that couldn’t be faked.) You can if you want to, but the trick is having something worth stealing. Besides, to my knowledge, any plagiarism case that’s ever made it to court doesn’t hinge on whether you’ve got a stamp on a sealed envelope.

“Well, I assure you my manuscript is worth stealing and I will mail it to myself!” Click!

Me to fellow harried Project Manager: “If he had already made up his mind what he was going to do anyway, why call us?”

The misunderstanding of our role wasn’t the callers’ fault. We were named The Canadian Book Information Centre. However, we worked for publishers to promote their books to media.

We cut the wayward calls in half the following year by getting our listing out of the Yellow Pages.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Unintentionally hilarious, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

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