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Friday, August 17, 2012

Oh, Lemony Snicket!

     So here goes my attempt to beef up my blog. Last time I promised to tell you which one of Stieg Larsson’s dynamic characters personifies the ad biz and which represents publishing. Keep in mind I’ve just proclaimed my love for both of them--kind of like Erika Berger. Mikeal Blomkvist is the noble journalist and Greger Beckman is the enigmatic artist.  From what I recall, he is artsy and kind of a wuss. Case in point: He lets his wife run around with Mikael. Mikael is the more memorable of the two (which is apparently why Erika can’t give him up). Case in point: I had to Google Greger's name, while I knew Mick’s off the top of my head, maddening Swedish spelling notwithstanding. Since this week I like ads better (I’ve just received another rejection), Mick is ads and What’s His Name is publishing. Sorry, publishing.
   One promise kept. Now for my first retraction. In my last blog post I implied that literary agents and authors don’t have faces. This is not true. They do have faces. I mean, they’re plastered all over various web sites and blogs as proof. The one exception is Lemony Snicket who, I’m sure you know, is the author of the best-selling children’s series A Series of Unfortunate Events. Snicket exists as a blurry silhouette in the imaginations of children everywhere. He gets away with it because kids don’t really care what authors look like. Plus his readers walk away from the series with their imaginations so improved they are no doubt able to embellish the author with characteristics that go above and beyond. He trusts that their version of him will be better.

Hyperion Books
     Not only do I love those books (I mean, who doesn’t?), I found the author-photo gimmick to be a brilliant touch.  We’re all used to those lame pics, featuring glum people in wing chairs, their chins cupped in their hands. No doubt about it, the traditional authors’ photo is long overdue for a face lift. Too bad we can’t all hire actors to appear as us, like Richard Castle. But kudos to author Gae Polisner (The Pull of Gravity), who I’d argue is the subject of the best author pic in recent history. Polisner is photographed in a pool, literally standing in it. Refreshing. (See it at
     Where was I? Oh, Lemony Snicket. (Hey, that would make a pretty good alternative cuss phrase, and one you could get away with during school.) In May I attended my first writer’s conference and had the absolute privilege of hearing Brett Helquist speak. I never expected to be so tickled by his presentation, him being an illustrator and all. He is in fact the man behind the illustrations in the Snicket series, which obviously rock, as well as the art for many other middle-grade novels by other writers and various children’s books he himself has authored. His insight at the conference benefitted both writers and artists, and gave credence to my claim about the complementary nature of advertising and publishing. Collaboration is key in both industries.
     Publishing, however, is a bit backwards by advertising standards. An ad—especially print—is primarily art from its inception. Ads are mocked- and storyboarded-up long before the accompanying words are due to appear. In fact, ads often route through the entire agency with placeholders for copy. Lorem ipsum dolor….yada yada. (I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, sometime an ad went out like that, causing heads to roll.) It wasn’t until just before the ad was finalized that my copy would be plunked into the tiny place the art director reserved for it, because who cares about words? Certainly not art directors! At my first Caddy show (like the Academy awards for ads) I witnessed a writer mumbling out an acceptance speech for an ad with no words at all. I’m sure he felt sheepish, but I’ve since learned that the lines between the two job descriptions are about as blurred and elusive as Lemony Snicket’s author photo. Writers often come up with visuals; art directors pen headlines. Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration.
      According to Helquist, while books are similarly collaborative, the author has more control of certain projects. Helquist described some behind-the-scenes incidents confirming this. I was surprised to find that he's read every single book he’s ever illustrated—sometimes four or five times, although he admitted it wasn’t a common practice. Some artists work from outlines of the story, especially for longer books. But Helquist’s attention to detail and  his perseverance pays off in the defining works that result. The Series of Unfortunate Events books certainly wouldn’t be the same without him. And I’m sure Dan Handler is grateful—although they’ve only met once or twice.

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