My first day at the Kingston Whig-Standard, Mike brought me a muffin. It was only $1.09, and I think it had raisins in it, but it was still a pretty nice thing to do.
He was the type of coworker you didn’t really talk to much during the day, because you had different stuff to worry about. But whenever we’d go for drinks, he’d be the most fun person ever (he also warned me about The Wiggles years before I had a kid).
Anyway, he got hosed from the Whig. Just like A LOT of other people. And then he got called back, cause some senior people opted to leave. Then he left on his accord, and scored a book deal at the same time.
Did you always want to work in newspapers?
Nope – I was going to be a businessman like my father. I went to Ryerson University for business management. During my second year, I started volunteering at The Eyeopener, the Ryerson student newspaper. I was having so much fun, that pretty soon I was spending more time writing stories than I was writing marketing plans. So when I finished my business degree, I immediately enrolled in the Ryerson journalism program.
How did it feel to be laid off? Did you think you’d end up at another paper?
Being laid off wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It certainly didn’t come as a surprise. Things were pretty bad at the Kingston Whig-Standard. It seemed like somebody was getting laid off every week. I’d walk into the office and see people huddled around a desk crying and just think “Christ, who is getting laid off now…” I was pretty low on the union seniority list. What shocked me was that the company offered buyouts, and a few veteran reporters took them and I was recalled.
But that was enough for me. I just thinking “Are newspapers still going to be around in five years? Ten years?” It was time to get out of the industry I love. So when a nine-month contract in the Kingston General Hospital communications department opened up, I took it. All I had on my resume my newspaper experience. I needed to branch out and get some new skills.
Three months after I started at KGH, a full-time job opened at Queen’s University. I was pretty ecstatic. I took a chance leaving a full-time job that I loved for a nine-month contract, then ended up with a great fulltime job with one of Kingston’s best employers.
You’re doing communications for a university now. How different is that?
It’s not too different because I do “external” communications, which means I work with reporters to try to get them to write about Queen’s professors and their research. Basically my job is to monitor the news and try and get reporters to interview Queen’s professors. For example, when Canada recently announced sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program, I sent out e-mails to reporters saying “Prof. Anthony Seaboyer, who teaches courses on Iran’s nuclear program, is available for interviews.” Or sometimes reporters call me and say “I’m working on a story about the proposed global bank tax, do you have an expert at Queen’s who can talk about that?”
When I was a reporter, I hated PR people because they would phone and try to convince you to write lame stories. (“Hi Mike, it’s Tom from the Ontario Broccoli Association. Did you know July is international broccoli month? I think you should write a story about broccoli….”)
My Queen’s PR job is about helping reporters so I never have to be an annoying pain in the ass.
You’ve landed a book deal, right? Tell me more.
My book publishing experience has been pretty amazing so far. The book is called Four Word Film Reviews. The title says it all – movies are reviewed and summarized in four words or less.(Such as “Cowboys enjoy ranch undressing” for Brokeback Mountain. See more examples further down.) It’s a collection of the best reviews from the popular website of the same name (www.fwfr.com) and was co-edited by myself (a regular fwfr.com contributor) and Benj Clews (founder of FWFR.com).
When we started looking for an agent or publisher, I told Benj we’ll try for a year or two and if nobody is interested in the book, we will self-publish. After three weeks of looking and sending about 25 letters to agents and publishers, we had four agents and three publishers interested. That’s when I knew we had something pretty special.
The only thing I know about the publishing world is that there are a lot crooked agents out there, so the way to find a good one is to go on Google and type the name of the agency and “Clients” and see what authors the agency represents – the bigger the names, the better the agency. When I Googled one of the agencies that wanted to represent us – Sanford J. Greenburger Associates – the first name that came up was Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. I stopped breathing for a moment and I’ll I could think was “Holy shit! The Da Vinci Code people want to represent our book?” That was one of the top ten moments of my life.
So Benj and I signed with the Da Vinci Code people, and then after some tweaking to the book manuscript, we signed a North American publishing deal with Adams Media, a book publisher in Boston.
Can you give me a few examples? And when is it out?
As of August 18, you will be able to walk into any bookstore in North America and buy the book. It’s also available on-line right now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and several other major book website. (It’s available for pre-order, but I’m not sure why anybody would – it’s not like we’re a Harry Potter.)
The book is a collection of more than 1500 reviews.
Here are a few more. See if you can guess which movie the are referencing. I’ll post the answers with the next entry:
“Apes understand. I didn’t.”
“This Alamo ironically forgettable.”
“Orwell’s notorious P.I.G.”
“Isn’t Predator an alien?”
“From Beer to Fraternity.”
“Goo: bad and ugly.”
“Houston has a problem”
“Dated monster movie.”
“Made for each other.”
“Humor is above par.”
“Of Dice and Men.”
“Pitt turns life around.”
“Heath Ledger’s clowning glory.”
“Wolf in Streep’s clothing.”