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Monthly Archives: September 2012


We get all sorts of mail here – most of it pretty normal, but now and again, some real gems do show up. Here are the five weirdest pieces of mail I’ve had to open:

1. The Bribe: First impression of this book proposal package? Standard. One manuscript; check. One lengthy plea to “whom it may concern,” complete with sentiments of manic gratitude, earnestness, desperation; check. A self-addressed envelope with postage; check. And… seven $1 bills? I’m not above bribery, but I don’t come that cheap!

2. Sexy Time: I received a package I had sent out the week prior with a “return to sender” notice. I opened it, expecting to find the book I sent somewhere for review, and dozens of little pamphlets covered in brightly colored circles fell out. Upon closer inspection, those brightly colored circles turned out to be fluorescent condoms, and the pamphlets touted their different variations and benefits. Cheapskate switcheroo marketing! Well done, sir! Consider yourself blacklisted.

3. Sexy Time II: A lot of authors send author photos with their manuscript. Sometimes I think they’re capitalizing on their good looks, other times, well, it would have been better to retain an air of mystery. But one proposal from a business professional about communicating contained several photos in full color. However, all of the photos were of the author in a skimpy bikini doing Yoga in all sorts of odd poses that showed off her flexibility. I’m sure she was communicating something but wouldn’t want to guess what.

4.The Picture Book: When unsolicited manuscripts come in, I’ll often flip through them to see what kind of “fun” editorial is in for. On one that I was perusing, the pictures immediately arrested me. On about every other page this woman had illuminated her depressing life story with crudely drawn stick figures with captions like, “My classmates throwing rocks at me while I cry on the ground,” and “I get fired again,” and “Everyone hates me.” I wonder if there’s a new one taped to her fridge, “Berrett-Koehler rejects my book.”

5. c/o Berrett-Koehler: We do not give our author’s contact information out with good reason (see points 1-4)! In order to provide some sort of buffer from anyone who might have seen Misery one too many times, we offer ourselves as the contact people. I received a thick envelope from a prisoner on death row. He wanted one of our authors to come visit the prison and write a book about how he had committed the perfect crime.  Somehow it had escaped his realization that a perfect crime would entail not being caught and on death row.

Post Office gods preserve me. Oh wait, I forgot, they’re bankrupt.

The question is, am I feeling lucky?

Answering the phone at Berrett-Koehler is like playing Whacky Roulette. You could get someone making a simple inquiry about where to purchase books, but you could also get someone who needs to tell the world about the messages he has been receiving directly from God through the tin plate on his skull. It’s a mixed bag, but it keeps the job interesting.

Here are the five strangest phone calls I’ve gotten to date (this list will need extensive revisions as time passes, no doubt):

1. When Bald Eagles Cry: A man from Mumbai called trying to get in touch with the production folks and every time I tried to transfer the call, it disconnected (due to our turn-of-the-century phone system). I tried to explain that the connection was bad but he remained convinced I was hanging up on him on purpose. “I would expect this in India!” he yelled at me on the sixth attempt at a callback,  “but not from America! This is not professional! You are un-American!” and then hung up. The shame of being told that I am un-American by a non-American is too deep to describe.

2. The Dark Vortex: A visitor to our company website called frantically trying to describe the evil force that had taken control of his computer. He was on our Web site when all of the sudden, a “dark vortex of energy” trapped him there and he couldn’t move forward and he couldn’t navigate away. He had been stuck there for hours and he begged that we release whatever “demon had been unleashed” on his hard drive. In his magical universe, computer freezes are apparently unheard of.

3. Therapy Session: A woman – a potential author – accepted that we couldn’t publish her book because we don’t publish recovery memoirs, but she still felt compelled to tell me about her previous four years of pain and suffering. I knew I had to get off the phone with her, but I didn’t want to cause her another emotional collapse. What could I possibly say? “I’m sorry your son dropped out of high school, but at least you got away from that abusive husband! And you should try painting, it’s a great stress reliever and it might take your mind off the Lupus. Now, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got to run, I think one of my colleagues is having a stroke…”

4. The Sales Scam: We get sales reps calling all the time trying to sell us all sorts of things we can’t use, like industrial shredding machines, but the ink reps are by far the most duplicitous. I once received a call from someone claiming to be our rep telling me we had to pay up. I gave him the details of our lease – which includes ink – and voiced my suspicion that he wasn’t really calling from our vendor. He started nervously blabbering about contracts and invoices due. After a couple minutes, I hung up. Less than three minutes later I got a call from a woman with the same company, I then told her about our lease and she added a choice expletive relating to Oedipal tendencies and hung up. What?!?

5. The Little Lady’s Mister: I pick up the phone and it’s a young man wanting to discuss an internship. I poised myself to answer the usual questions about school credits, hours per week, schedule, and so on when he tells me he’s actually calling for his girlfriend. She had submitted her resume a week ago and he wanted to know when she was going to hear back and what next steps she should take. I couldn’t tell whether this young man was either so pathetic that he was his girlfriend’s secretary or whether he was a domineering psychopath. Either way, I told him to have her call me.

And there goes the phone again…