Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brochures, blurbs and biogs

Every now and then somebody will ask me what on earth a literary executor does. The answer will depend on my mood, and what project(s) or chore(s) I have on my plate that day.

I tell them, that I do everything a major writer has to do, except write the books!

How successful authors ever find time to write more books, unless they have a secretary, I don't know, because the already-written books are like children growing up and going through stages (reprints, translations, dramatic adaptation, anthology permissions) and just like growing kids envious of the new baby, they still clamour for attention.

There's the obvious that I do, of course, managing the publishing and administering the estate, controlling copyright. Chairing the charitable trust. Editing, researching, and corresponding with libraries and academics.

However queries from students or researchers cannot be treated as a high priority when there are publishing deadlines, and my aunt famously just didn't answer that sort of mail, or at least she rarely did. Perhaps that's where she made up the time to actually think, dream and write!

This week I've been reading the proofs of the next new title, a selected published stories (to be published in New Zealand next February by Random House), and approving the cover design and copy for the Virago new edition of Faces in the Water (due for release in the UK in 2009).

I've responded to queries from two different translators working on Towards Another Summer. Also signed and returned a couple of contracts to the literary agency.

Another recurring task seems to be advising on the Janet Frame component of brochures or other literary/cultural/historical projects. This responsibility can sometimes involve working on a committee. And that can be both time consuming and frustrating, given that there will be compromises to make. If and when the shiny new pamphlet or other material emerges, there's usually a sense of satisfaction all round.

Another of my frequent duties is to consult on blurbs and contributors notes. It wouldn't be wise to try to stand in the way of a marketing department or editor with their heart set on some particular spin or other, so I do try to advise gently where I note that the facts are in danger of suffering at the expense of the good story.

It's worth the effort though. Especially in the case of Janet Frame, where there has been some myth and misinformation in the past, a good brochure and a good blurb will have a life of their own, and keep on working quietly away to redress the balance.

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