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Posts Tagged ‘Book’

Why editors still matter

In books, business, culture, journalism, work on December 16, 2013 at 12:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a great essay from Publishers Weekly, (a must-read publication for any truly ambitious author), by a career editor:

A publisher once said to me, almost in passing, “We don’t pay you to edit.” The real message was: “Editing is not
crucial. If you’re an editor, what matters is acquiring.” After I’d left in-house editing and was being courted by an agency, the owner/agent said to me, “Remember, you can’t sit in your office and edit.” In other words, “If you’re an agent, what matters is selling.” One thing these comments imply is that editing is no longer the editor’s main function; editing is done on your own time. But that has been true since I went into the business 28 years ago.

As a freelance editor, these models no longer apply to my work. I no longer have to jump on every promising submission overnight. I no longer need to be looking over my shoulder, hoping for the approval of the marketing, publicity, and sales departments. I no longer have to determine the worth of any particular project a year before publication (and we know how often publishers get that right!). The burden on the freelance editor consists solely of helping the author write his or her best possible book.

The dirty secret of contemporary publishing — any author quickly learns — is that the verb “to edit” may not mean what you thought or hoped it would.

My first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” was acquired by a very young and hungry editor who handed me back barely a page and half of notes on my final manuscript. I rocked! (Or did I?)

It quickly became clear to me that any editor was very short on time. There would be no long lunches (or even short ones) to discuss the world of letters. We maybe spoke to one another four or five times from acquisition to publication date — a span of more than two years.

The one time we did hang out — bizarre but true — was when I took her shooting in New Jersey and we spent the afternoon firing handguns at a local gun range. She wanted (which I really appreciated) to better understand the subject of my book. Our book.

My second book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” came back to me with a suggestion that Chapters 1-10 more closely resemble the final two. Holy shit!I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it.

That editor, whose strong ideas about structure and tone were invaluable (if daunting) had previously worked for NASA — maybe great editing was rocket science!

I’m working on yet another book proposal right now and, if this one sells, (no guarantee, as ever), I sure hope I find a terrific editor. I owe Courtney, my editor for “Malled”, a deep debt of thanks for her willingness to push me as hard as she did, even making final edits as the book went into production in September 2010.

A great editor will save you. We all need them!

Yet it’s very odd when you find a publisher for a non-fiction book — essentially an intellectual blind date.

Whoever chooses to publish you assigns an editor you have likely never met and know nothing of. Yet you’re bound, (maybe more an arranged marriage?) for the next few years to one another’s taste, personality and schedules. It requires a great deal of mutual trust between strangers whose careers can be enhanced or seriously damaged if the book soars or tanks.

I’m dying to read this new book, “My Mistake”, by editor Daniel Menaker whose career included The New Yorker and Random House  — if only for its spectacular conflagration [ba-boom!] of an editorial bridge most New Yorkers still genuflect to — legendary power couple Tina Brown [ex-editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and the Daily Beast, among others] and her husband Harold Evans.

The review in the Times is by Meryl Gordon (who kindly blurbed my last book) and whose own next biography comes out next spring.

Journalism and publishing — certainly in New York City — is still a hothouse of interlocking egos, power and (artfully disguised) terror.

Worried about global warming? Q and A with Linda Marsa, author of “Fevered”

In behavior, books, cities, culture, Health, journalism, nature, science, urban life, US, Weather, world on August 7, 2013 at 2:25 am

I couldn’t put this book down.

Fevered cover image (1)

Initially, I decided to blog about it because I know Linda professionally and I like her — I try whenever it feels right to support other authors. I know what it takes to get a book commercially published!

But when this book arrived, I started reading it dutifully, prepared to be bored or overwhelmed.

Instead, I found myself touring the world, from the outback of Australia to my birth city of Vancouver, from the condo towers of Miami to Manhattan’s High Line, from Amsterdam to New Orleans. Linda found great interviews everywhere, with people whose eloquent passion for this issue make this potentially grim and tedious topic completely compelling.

This book is really a tour de force and I urge every one of you to read it, today.

She’s done something truly remarkable and damned difficult — taking one of the most complex issues facing the planet today and making it completely relatable, from little kids in L.A. whose asthma is out of control due to dusty, dirty air to victims of “Valley fever”, a disease now spreading through the U.S. Southwest.

You’ll also learn a whole new vocabulary: fierce winds such as derechos and haboobs and diseases like dengue fever and cocolitzli. You may have heard of El Nino — meet the Indian Ocean Dipole, and why it’s hurting Australian farmers and threatening its cities.

Here’s my Q and A with her; her book, “Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health — and How We Can Save Ourselves” is on sale as of today.

linda.heatshot

Tell us a little bit about you: where you live, how you got into writing/journalism and what sorts of things you typically cover.

 

I’ve lived in Los Angeles since the 1970s, after growing up and attending college and graduate school in NY and Pennsylvania. I became a journalist after stints as a labor organizer, inner city school teacher and waitress.   Not happy with any of these jobs, I took night school writing classes and found my bliss and began my career at a scrappy local city magazine in LA’s beach cities.  I stumbled into science and medical writing in the mid-1980s, and discovered I had an unexpected knack for science.  I like to rake the muck—and the heavily research driven stories are ones that galvanize me–but writing about scientific discovery is a welcome palate cleanser from digging up dirt.

 

Where did you get the idea for this book and when?

 

My “beat” for a long time was the pharmaceutical industry.  But I had gotten pretty burned out writing about bad drugs and Big Pharma malfeasance.  I thought hard about where I could focus my energy in a productive way that would also be intellectually satisfying and I realized that climate change was the most important science of story of our times.  So much had already been written on the topic but when I saw a study in the Lancet in 2009 about how our health will be affected by climate change, that fell directly in my wheelhouse and I thought there might be a book there.  I did a cover story for Discover on the spread of vector borne diseases in a warming planet which won some awards and became the springboard for the book.

 

Was it a difficult book to sell to an agent or publisher?

 

I already had an agent, who was on board with the idea.  So after doing the Discover story, I spent much of the summer of 2009 writing the proposal.  After some revisions, the proposal went out right after Thanksgiving and the book was sold in January of 2010.  I think what sold the book was that this was a fresh take on the climate change story.

 

What were the most challenging aspects of reporting or researching the book?

 

The most challenging aspect of writing the book was taking an abstract idea—climate change—and breathing life into it in a meaningful way.  I searched long and hard to find compelling stories to illuminate key points and to drive home the point that climate change is affecting our health right here in the U.S. and right now.

 

Tell us a bit about your research for the book – where you went, who you spoke to, how you found sources.

 

I did tons of reading to bring myself up to speed on what had already been written, and started talking with the usual suspects—i.e., scientists who are doing research on climate change and public health doctors who are witnessing the effects of a warming planet.  But I realized about halfway through my research that I needed to get beyond the science and talk to real people whose health is already being harmed by a changing climate.

 

I went to places where we’re starting to feel the effects of hotter temperatures.  In California’s Central Valley, for example, outbreaks of Valley Fever have become endemic because of hotter temperatures and the air has worsened due to the increased heat that’s cooking particulates, creating that smog which contributes to skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies and respiratory ills.  I spent over a week in New Orleans to see what happens to the public health system in the aftermath of extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina.  I was in Australia—which is on the front lines of climate change–for nearly a month to see the effects of wild weather in an advanced, industrialized democracy.  Aside from the cities, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rain Forest, the world’s most ancient rain forest (one of the high points of my career), I drove about 1,500 miles in the bush– on the “wrong” side of the road–visiting rural communities that have been flattened by floods, fires and droughts.  And I visited New York and Vancouver, which are way on their way to becoming sustainable cities, and are pioneering model programs that will smooth the transition to a cleaner, greener future.  

 

How I found people to interview was where the hard work came in—scouring newspaper stories, talking to people like the PR person at the Rural Doctors Association in Australia—who was a tremendous help; signing up for ex-patriate blogs to find Americans living in Moscow during the heat wave in 2010; querying friends and social networks for personal contacts, (how I found many of the real people anecdotes for the New Orleans chapter).  Journalist pals helped a lot, too, and generously shared sources and contacts.

 

 

How long did it take you, from signed contract to delivered manuscript?  Three years.

 

 

 

Was this faster or slower than you anticipated?

 

Much slower for a number of reasons, mainly family issues that required my attention.

 

What did you enjoy most about working on the book?

 

Hitting the road and interviewing real people—although the prep work for research trips often took many weeks.  When I’m talking to regular folks, I’m always reminded of why I became a journalist—to give voice to the voiceless and to bear witness to human suffering.  And the writing itself was a sheer pleasure—taking all the pieces I had gathered, distilling them down to their essence, and assembling them into a seamless and engaging narrative. 

 

What was the least fun part?

 

Sorting out the complicated science—sometimes my head hurt.  I had to come up to speed on ocean currents, atmospheric physics, water management, insect life cycles, farming techniques and on and on.  It was challenging and difficult, and because climate change remains controversial here in the U.S., I was careful to make sure everything I wrote was based on solid science.

 

Who do you see as readers for this book?

 

Everyone.  Climate change threatens the very underpinnings of our civilization.  The fate of humanity hinges upon the steps we take in the next decade.  This is not a fight any of us can sit out. 

 

Initially, when I began my research, climate change wasn’t on most people’s radar screens and I despaired that we were heedlessly careening into the abyss. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that civic leaders across the country take climate change very seriously and many cities were implementing innovative programs.  We can fix this—and preparing for climate change may be a catalyst for creating a better, more livable society–but we must start now.  That’s the message I want to get across.

 

If you have written other books, how is this one different – in tone, content, approach?

 

The other book I wrote, Prescription for Profits, was about how the commercialization of academic research threatened public health.  While interesting, I think that book was too “inside baseball” for the general reader.  The timing wasn’t good either as a spate of books on the subject came out soon after. 

 

Fevered is targeted much more towards a general audience and is about a subject that has an immediate impact on their lives.  And the timing, unfortunately, could not be better.

 

What advice would you offer a would-be non-fiction author?

 

Books take a long time to write. Consequently, you’ve got to find a topic that will hold your interest for—literally–years.  Plus, you need to determine if your topic is worthy of a book, or is simply a long magazine article. You also need to immerse yourself on what’s been written on a subject to see if you have something fresh to say and if it will be relevant in three years—which is the normal time lag from idea to publication.  And finally, you need to find an agent who not only believes in your idea but believes in you.

 

Five essential qualities writers need

In behavior, blogging, books, culture, journalism, Media, work on January 16, 2013 at 4:43 am
Writing exercise 3

Writing exercise 3 (Photo credit: aaipodpics)

Writing — what we read here or elsewhere — is merely the end product, the visible, finished material emerging from a long process that really begins with an idea or a dream or a vision of something. Many people who say they really want to write well and be widely read and maybe even well-paid for it sometimes focus a lot of wasted energy on the wrong things.

They fuss over the font on their blog or their SEO or how to find an agent or what their book cover looks like.

It’s much more basic.

Here are five qualities anyone who wants to write well  — and find a large readership — needs:

Trust

To publish your work requires tremendous trust. First, in yourself, that you have something worth hearing and have the skills to express it clearly and compellingly. Second, in your audience — that there is an audience out there for your work. Third, in your agent, (should you wish to publish  traditionally). Fourth, in your editor(s). Fifth, journalists must also, (with open eyes and a healthy skepticism of “facts”), trust their sources, and their editors and copy editors.

You have to trust in your skills and experience to see you through, even when you’ve never tackled a subject or genre before. It’s like anything else — you can’t grow unless you push yourself into new and untried areas. Given the nature of journalism and publishing right now, being able to move quickly and persuasively into new ways of using your skills is essential to earning a good living.

Humility

Walk into a bookstore or library  — and look around. There are millions of books already in print. In addition to every other form of media out there, from Twitter and Pinterest to movies, TV and video games, these books are competing for your readers’ time and attention. Whose work is currently selling most, to whom, and why? Whose work has lasted for decades or centuries or even millennia and why? Asking readers to give us their time and attention means acknowledging those who have done it so well for so long.

We don’t have to ape them, but the marketplace of ideas is a very, very crowded one.

Confidence

And yet…If you can’t summon the confidence in your voice and ideas and analysis, why would anyone else? If you lack confidence in your skills, take classes and read great writers and see what they do so well. Do whatever is necessary to develop the skill to tell your story. Then do it!

Also have the confidence that your material may have valuable iterations in other paid media, from film and television to theatrical productions to ideas you haven’t even imagined. Re-define “writing” as “intellectual property” and you will start to look at your work very differently, and protectively. (A ferocious agent and skilled entertainment attorney are key to this step.)

Empathy

You can’t be an intelligent or useful journalist without empathy — whether you’re interviewing a politician, a welfare mother, a billionaire banker or a criminal. You have to be able to imagine how the world looks and feels to them and care deeply enough to ask them thoughtful and probing questions.  Same for writers of fiction, whose characters must live and breathe for us as readers.

Decisiveness

What to say, and how to say it and in what detail? There’s no standard metric, no safe dividing line or blinking yellow warning light on our computer or notebook to warn us when we’ve moved from terrific to boring. We choose every word and then we must commit to it, even after the 10th or 20th draft. It has to go the printer! Editors are waiting. Readers expect to hear from you.

Decide what you want to express and get on with it. The only people who can call themselves writers write — they don’t just talk about writing.

I’m finally reading (and loving!) this book, a classic, by Howard Zinsser, “On Writing Well.” It’s funny and filled with fantastic advice. Here are his five tips.

What do you think are other qualities a writer needs most?

Ten Reasons To Write A Book — And Five Reasons Not To

In books, business, journalism, Media, Money, work on October 31, 2011 at 12:26 am

I’ve recently watched a friend — practically fainting with excitement as her dream finally came true after two years of hard work on a non-fiction proposal — sell her book to a major New York publisher. Editors were vying for it!

There are few moments in life as sweet and fulfilling as selling your book, especially your first book, as you cross that threshold into becoming a published author.

Another friend is slowly tooling away on what might become a memoir, but she is much more ambivalent, not at all sure this is what she wants to do with her time, wisely aware — knowing many authors as she does — that after that initial burst of joy and relief there’s a lot of hard work ahead.

She’s wise; here’s a powerful, truthful (if deeply depressing!) blog post from a multiply-published best-selling author about the true vagaries of this weird business.

And here’s a thought-provoking post from Kristen Lamb’s blog on how much luck plays a part in any author’s success.

I’ve so far published two non-fiction books, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004) and “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, 2011) and am working on the proposal for what I hope will soon become my third, also non-fiction.

Like giving birth (although I am not a Mom), it gets a little easier the second time because everything is familiar. You know the lingo — “foul matter”, for example — and that your advance payments will never come as quickly as you hope or need. I’ve learned to keep at least three months’ savings ready at the end to pay for the time I will have to spend on revisions.

As I shared the first friend’s nervous excitement and my other friend’s lack of it, I realized a few things about why I — and others — should be trying to write and sell a book in the first place.

Here are ten reasons to write and publish a book, (and five reasons not to!):

1) You become an “author”, not just another journalist or would-be writer amongst the many thousands who have not yet achieved this goal. You did it, and you did it well, and you have a complete 60,000 to 100,000 word manuscript to prove it. This will set you apart. (Kristen Lamb estimates — !! — only 5 percent of wannabe authors actually achieve that goal.)

2) Intellectual challenge. Writing a non-fiction book after cranking out even thousands of 1,000 or even 5,000-word articles is like shifting from a slow jog to a marathon. You’re immersed in your subject for a year or more, crafting a narrative arc, and must pull readers through 80,000 to 100,000+ words. A book is conceived, structured and written very differently than every day journalism. If you want a new challenge, this is it!
3) Telling a compelling story in the length and depth and breadth it truly demands. Some stories simply can’t be jammed into a 1,200 or 4,000 word magazine story and very few outlets today offer the chance to write long. There are new websites that are commissioning 10,000 word pieces, but a book allows you a much larger canvas and a lot more time to dig deeply and write thoughtfully.
4) You find and create an audience. I find this deeply satisfying, emotionally and intellectually. I’ve received many, many emails from readers who’ve loved “Malled”, some truly fervent in their appreciation. No check is big enough to offer this specific sense of having shared a great story.
5) Growth, both emotional and intellectual. Writing a book will force you to up your game in ways you may never have done before, which  is a little terrifying. What if you can’t pull it off? You never know until you try.
6)  Fun. I enjoy writing books because of the reason above. I enjoy writing articles, but most are quickly forgotten. A good book has a life of its own. My first book “Blown Away”, on the timeless subject of women and guns, is still finding new readers, seven years after publication.

7) You create new networks and constituencies. I’ve been humbled and delighted by the people I’ve gotten to know and the communities I’ve been invited into since “Malled” came out, only seven months ago, from being the closing keynote at  major retail conference to speaking out in Manhattan in favor of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, working with non-profits, academics and union officials. Once people know you care as deeply about an issue as they, and understand its complexities, alliances form that can lead you in new directions.

8) Expertise. After you’ve immersed yourself in your subject, you’re an official expert in it, and media attention will follow as journalists always need someone smart, succinct and available to help them explain your issue. I’ve been interviewed by Glamour magazine and a friend appeared on the Sundance channel thanks to his book — and expertise on….vampires.

9) Speaking engagements. I’ve earned income this year from speaking about the issues in “Malled” to audiences locally and across the country. Once you’ve done a few of these (and made good videos of yourself doing so), you assemble a video press kit and can solicit more of this work.
10) Ancillary income. You’re not just writing a book. You are creating content, and must guard your intellectual property ferociously. In an era of cable, e-books, television, web TV, PDFs, film, documentary, radio, podcasts…your material can mutate into many different forms, any one of which can earn you additional income, possibly for much more than the book from which it came. (Think film and television rights and residuals.)
But there are lousy reasons to write a book:
1) Fame. As if!  There are 200,000 books published each year in the U.S. and you, missy/mister, are but one tiny drop in a heaving ocean of competing material. If you’re very lucky, (and can afford the $5,000 a month for a skilled and aggressive publicist), and/or are super-connected on the web, you can carve out a niche for yourself. But do not count on it.
2) Fortune. Surely you jest! The average book advance for a first-timer is usually less than $25,000…paid out in four installments, the last of which can come a year after publication. You pay your agent 15 percent and taxes take their bite. You will also be paying for all your own marketing and promotion, including the creation and maintenance of your website(s), travel, liability insurance, etc.
3) Adulation. Buy some Kevlar. The toughest part of being an author — and I’ve been chastened by some of the horrendous “reviews” of “Malled” — is putting your work into the public eye. And some people are absolutely vicious in their assessments of your efforts. People will love it. But some will be so scathing it will make your toes curl and your fists clench. If your book is a memoir, and you decide to share some of yourself, be prepared to be wildly and roundly attacked — not for the book’s content — but who you are as a person.
Many readers are simply unable to understand that a book is heavily edited and the writer’s persona is carefully chosen. The “me” in any memoir is not 100 percent of who you are! Readers can be both literal and deeply judgmental. I blogged here about the insane reactions to Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love.”
4) Hitting the best-seller list. The odds against this are enormous. Focus instead on slow, steady, ongoing sales.
5) Selling your next book (more) easily. If your sales aren’t great, this can hurt your chances of selling the next one. No pressure!
Anything I’ve left out?

Writing Books? Waste Of Time, Argues NYT Editor Bill Keller

In behavior, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm
This miniature of Jean Miélot (d. 1475) depict...

Image via Wikipedia

Nice.

Here’s the editor of The New York Times in this week’s Times Magazine on the utter folly of writing books:

So, why aren’t books dead yet? It helps that e-books are booming. Kindle and Nook have begun to refashion the economics of the medieval publishing industry: no trucks, no paper, no returns or remainders.

But that does not explain why writers write them. Writers write them for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. (Note the tense. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.) And it is still a credential, a trophy, a pathway to “Charlie Rose” and “Morning Joe,” to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.

His larger argument — an extended whine about losing his staff to the distraction of writing books instead of filling his pages — is that writing books (and we’re speaking here of non-fiction) is a waste of time because they don’t get reviewed, (or get trashed), don’t sell, don’t make money.

So, why exactly do we authors keep stepping up to the craps table, eyes agleam, a stack of chips clutched between our fingers?

As author of two well-reviewed non-fiction books, and a former reporter for three dailies, and a 20-year Times freelancer, a few reasons:

Writing books means a respite from the endless hustle of pitching ideas

Writing books means not cranking out endless articles of relative meaninglessness for as much freelance pay as offered in the 1970s

Writing books means fleeing the bizarre, tyrannical or petty demands of the worst editors

Writing books means finding and working with an experienced agent whose skill and enthusiasm will champion your work, not a revolving door of editors half your age

Writing books means reading and speaking with your audience face to face, finding out who actually reads your work and how they feel about it

Writing books means your success (or failure) is wholly yours, not the reflected glory and easier access to sources of working for a Big Name Organization

Writing books means finding a welcoming tribe of fellow authors, generally happy to share information about how they got there — a break from the elbow-in-the-eye competitiveness of writing for a daily newspaper

Writing books means, after months of thinking deeply and broadly about an issue or a person, you’ve thought it through enough to possibly offer something new, lively and provocative – – not “just the facts”

Writing books means having months to think, research, read, interview, write, edit, revise — not minutes or hours

Writing books means breaking as far away from the pack as possible, not running as fast as you can to keep up with it on Big Stories that are often, within weeks, forgotten

Writing books means taking an idea and exploring it from every angle your editor and publisher — and word length — will allow. Journalism these days simply does not offer anyone sufficient real estate to explore anything beyond, at most, 5,000-7,000 words, the length of a book chapter

Writing books means exploring an idea or person or issue about which we are passionate — getting paid to learn

Writing books can give you access to grants and fellowships to help you do the work

Writing books means sharing your ideas and passion with readers who care as much, or soon might thanks to you, about this stuff. Intellectual evangelism!

Writing books means creating and enjoying intense relationships with your agent, editor, publisher and publicists. While writing and revising remain intensely solitary work, the production and promotion of your work, relying on the skills, experience and enthusiasm of others, becomes a team sport

Writing books means creating new, and often astonishingly intimate, relationships with total strangers — your audience. It’s fantastic to open your email and read, as I have with Malled, “Your book bolsters me” or “Have you been sitting on my shoulder for the past 23 years?”

Writing books means finding new, unlikely and unexpected alliances. I interviewed a man in Canada for a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review. “I want to promote the hell out of your book,” he said after 10 minutes of conversation. And so he has, to his large and international network

Writing books places your books and ideas in libraries worldwide. Talk about a global economy!

Writing books, as Keller grudgingly admits, can create entirely new (and lucrative) opportunities for the lucky few. “Malled” (did I tell you this yet?) has been optioned by CBS as a possible 30-minute sitcom. That’s pretty cool.

My New Book Is In Galleys!

In art, business, Media, Money, women, work on December 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm

A package landed on our doorstep two days ago. Galleys!

These are the first real proof that all those pages and pages and pages you cranked out of your printer — and your weary head — are actually going to make it into bookstores. They are softcover versions of the book-to-be, the ones that go out now to reviewers and magazines so they can start deciding if/when to feature or review them, months before the book is actually available for sale.

Here it is on amazon.

They’re expensive to produce and so you don’t get a lot of them, forcing strategic decisions about who is your best target to receive one. A dear friend last night, eager to read the book and knowing this, said “I read fast! I’ll send it right back.”

My publisher, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin, splurged on color covers (my last book, as many galleys do, had only plain paper) and it looks so beautiful. For those of us without children, this is one of those champagne moments.

It’s an odd fact of publishing a book that, just as you are sooooooo tired and all you really want to do is sleep for a month, you must immediately start on planning and creating your marketing campaign, deciding who (you pray) might write or talk about your book, review it, blog it, feature it, tell all the right people about it.

Which is where utter serendipity comes in handy.

A writer I know a little is married to a man with amazing connections in retail and she suddenly asked for three galleys to distribute. The phone rang yesterday afternoon from the PR person for a major Canadian retailer — and it turned out to be a man whose work I knew 30 years ago when we were both in Paris and  both won the same journalism fellowship two years apart. He wants to see one as well.

Like sending your tiny loved one(s) off to kindergarden or nursery school, this is the point at which my baby toddles out into the wider world.

Fingers crossed!

20 Lessons New Authors Learn

In art, behavior, business, culture, design, Media, work on October 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

 

Simon & Schuster headquarters at 1230 Avenue o...

Simon and Schuster's NYC HQ...Image via Wikipedia

 

My second book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, a business memoir to be published in April 2011 by Portfolio/Penguin, is now in production. The assembly line is moving toward publication.

There are few pleasures more satisfying than selling your proposal and writing a book, and few moments as exciting as holding the first fresh copy of your book in your hands. Selling a book catapults the first-time author into a world filled with surprises, some lovely, some less so.

The things I’ve learned along the way! Here, for those who hope to publish with a commercial publisher, are a few of them.

Yes, there are always exceptions to all of these, but much of this is fairly standard for a new and/or mid-list author:

Your advance will be much lower than you hope and takes forever to arrive

I did make more for my second book than for my first, but not nearly as much as we’d hoped. C’est la vie. Book advances, (from which your agent cuts his or her 15% share first), are now typically paid out in three or four installments. It can be six to 12 months, or more, between those payments. How will you meet all your regular expenses plus the research or travel costs of your book? I spent $5,000 for my first book traveling to report firsthand from Texas, Ohio, New Orleans and Massachusetts. For the second, I needed to pay two researchers to help me gather data and sources more quickly.

You have zero control over the pricing or discounting of your own book

As Pocket (the paperback arm of Simon & Schuster) has done with my first book, published in paperback at  reasonable and democratic $13.00 in 2004, they might almost double the price of your book — with no additional income accruing to you.

Life crises can destroy your carefully planned writing, research, travel or revision schedule (and budget)

One friend is on deadline for her book but her husband is terminally ill and her book requires travel. While I was in Dayton, Ohio in August 2002 researching my first book, my mother was diagnosed with a huge (removable) brain tumor. I had to get from Dayton to Vancouver, Canada as fast as possible, alone. This year, with a book deadline of September 1, 2010, I lost four months to a (resolvable) medical emergency seeing five specialists, oral steroids, months of physical therapy, even having to use a cane or crutches for months. Good thing I was able to do other work on the book (reading, interviews) and get back to writing it when my head was clearer.

Plan for chaos.

You’ll pay to create and maintain your book website

Not your publisher. The second your book is sold, register its title as a domain name.

You’ll pay for your book tour

You’ll pay for your book trailer

You’ll pay for your video press kit

See the pattern? Start saving up a wad o’ cash now to promote the thing or it will disappear fast.

You’ll create most of your events and signings

Actually, I find this part a lot of fun as the book is now good to go and everyone’s excited about it. I’ve already reached out to universities, business schools, companies, stores and others across the country to help me set up signings, talks and events.

If you’d like help with this book tour — April through June or July 2011, I’d love to hear from you! Please email me.

Your publisher will forget to send galleys to key players

Galleys or ARCs (advance reader copies) create buzz for your book months before publication once they’re in the hands of people who will talk it up to their audiences. Make a huge press list of everyone you think might review or discuss your book. But stay on top of it as some publicists zone out and don’t follow through.

They’ll pulp your book and won’t tell you

It’s basic courtesy to offer authors the chance to buy back any unsold copies of their book before destroying them. I didn’t get that chance. Keep an eye on your copies.

They’ll make it POD and not tell you

That’s “print on demand” which means no one can find my first book in any bookstore. Amazon, yes.

Your editor may quit mid-stream

Or get sick or be fired. It happens. We all dread it.

So might their replacement, and theirs

Your book then becomes an orphan. It’s happened to some of the best-selling books out there and it’s rough. You need your editor to care a lot about your book and be its in-house advocate.

Editors are really busy

When you get an offer, ask how many books the publisher puts out each month and how many will come out the same day, week or month as yours. How many other books is s/he working on? Does s/he prefer to contacted via email or phone? How often is too often?

Agents are really busy

After your book is sold, you and your agent usually won’t have a lot to talk about until it’s accepted. That’s cool. They’re busy making money. Don’t ask them to hold your hand.

In-house publicists are really busy

As much as you crave their undivided attention, it’s unlikely they can give nearly as much of their time or energy as you’d like. Find out what they can do and then start working around it using your own time and resources.

Book doctors are expensive but possibly necessary

Your agent can’t work on it and your editor may not be giving you all the tools you need to whip your book into publishable shape. A book doctor can cost $5,000, but it might be an investment you need to make.

You have six weeks, max. to make your mark before books are returned to the store

Bookstores don’t buy your books in the standard way we buy something, i.e. you own it now. They buy them with a return policy and one they quickly use if the merch isn’t moving.

Having your book on bookstores’ coveted front tables is totally beyond your control

I’m always so jealous of authors whose books get laid out in those thick piles on bookstore tables, the ones people look through. Those books get there through the use of “co-op” funds. You can ask if this is a realistic use of their funds for your book, but don’t expect it.

Your student/intern/researcher or nemesis from grad school will publish before you (and get much better reviews)

Oh, yeah. Maybe even a front-page New York Times Book Review rave. Ouch!

How I Sold And Wrote My Memoir

In art, behavior, business, work on October 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

 

Forever Books

Image via Wikipedia

 

I’ve been having lunch with a good friend every week as she recently lost her job of five years. She’s worked in and around journalists and authors her whole career, but, like some people, still finds the actual process of getting from an idea to a finished book — where do you find all those words, she asks? — mysterious and hard to imagine.

I’m in awe of writers who create fiction. I think that a non-fiction book, once you have a clear idea what you want to say and who your readers might be, is not as overwhelming.

You need a clear understanding what the scope of your inquiry should be, how you’ll access the material you need — archives, letters, libraries, interviews, firsthand reporting — and how much time, money and travel this will require.

What I love about writing books is the time to deeply and carefully explore a subject. This is so rare! Unless you are in academia or policy work, no one is going to pay you to learn, synthesize and analyze an issue you find utterly compelling. Nor will you have the time to write, revise, think and repeat as necessary, for many months.

I love having the time to start to see patterns and relationships between the data I find, feeling my understanding start to develop.

Oh, and, yes, to write at length, not hemmed in by standard newspaper story lengths of 700 to 1,200 words or a magazine’s maximum of perhaps 3,000 words.

For this one, I hired two researchers, neither of whom I ever met, one in New Jersey and one in San Diego (both came highly recommended by colleagues) who helped me by finding data, setting up interviews, conducting some interviews and sending me the raw audio.

Here’s how my new book took shape:

September 2007. I take a part-time retail job selling clothes in a suburban mall.  I need steady cash, something manageable, and hope this is the right choice. I’ve never worked retail, and know it will be hard work. My writer friends all think this could make a great book, partly because I’ll be able to describe that world firsthand. I’m dubious, but listen to them nonetheless.

I’m too busy training to think about it much — but on the strength of their advice I do keep detailed notes of those first weeks.

March 2009. I speak on a panel in Manhattan about writing. A lively young woman in the audience turns out to be the assistant to an agent and suggests I write a memoir. She asks me to contact her boss.

June 2009. I sit down with the agent, a woman my age, who — unusual in my experience — takes more than an hour to explore this idea. She sees much more depth in this job and its narrative potential than I had previously considered.

Listening to her flesh it out as we talk it is like watching Batman’s car doubling in size and power. Wow, maybe there is a book in all this.

July 2009. I start writing a three chapter proposal which bounces back and forth with my agent several times to edit and polish it. It’s hard to do so much hard work without any income or even a guarantee this book will sell. That’s the price of a book proposal!

She’s a veteran and I doubt would waste her time, or mine, on something with few prospects. It takes a lot of trust on both our parts.

September 2009. The proposal is making the rounds. The rejections are pouring in — 25  of them. Ouch! She sends them along for me to read until I cry uncle and ask her not to. “Are they bothering you?” Yes. “Someone is going to buy this book. We just haven’t found them yet,” she says.

And someone does! We go into Portfolio/Penguin’s offices to meet the publisher, editor and publicist. It’s all pretty terrifying knowing I can blow the deal by saying the wrong thing (which is…?)

We have a deal. Cool!

December 2009. I quit the retail job now that I have my first payment on the advance. I start writing.

February 2010. I turn in 47,000 words. My editor finds them “whiny and negative” but knows this is “an early first draft.” Actually, it wasn’t. But I started too soon. I haven’t waited long enough to start trying to process this material from the events I’m describing, and it shows. I need more distance to be able to decribe it much more thoughtfully, not simply emotionally.

I can’t rush this.

January-May 2010. My arthritic left hip goes crazy. I can barely walk across the room and see five specialists, none of whom can explain why. I take powerful painkillers — managing to transpose the street address of a crucial interview subject (oops!) — then oral steroids. Life becomes a distracting blur of X-rays, MRIs and medical opinions. Writing a book is a lot tougher when coping with pain 24/7 , veering between painkillers (foggy brain) and exhausted lucidity.

Not what I need right now!

March-May 2010. Too intimidated to come back to this material right now, I read ten books on low-wage work and retail, and interview others about their retail experiences.  I’m still making good progress while gaining a deeper, wider understanding of the industry. But I still have to produce a total of 75,000 words by September 1. I will have to get back to it soon.

I can focus entirely on reading and thinking because my researchers, two young journalists, are keeping the material coming into my email inbox. It’s a huge relief to be able to delegate and to find terrific help even at $15/hour. The several hundred dollars I spend for their time is worth every penny for my peace of mind and ability to focus on other things.

My partner is trying not freak out. He knows I can write quickly and that I write best with a deadline staring me in the face.

May-June 2010. Writewritewritewritewrite. Forget social life and housework. I turn in the book at the end of June and take a two-week vacation.

July 2010. My editor has given me six pages of revisions to make. Can I do it? Do I have the skill? I talk to friends and my agent who all offer tough love and encouragement. The editor loves the last two chapters and suggests I use them as models for the rest. Luckily, her suggestions are all clear and helpful, about 80 percent of which I follow.

August 2010. Revisewriterevisewriterevisewrite. Cut the boring bits.

September 2010. Done, in, accepted. Whew!

(Start planning marketing, events and speaking engagements.)

Need An Extra Father? Bruce Feiler's 'Council of Dads'

In men, parenting on May 11, 2010 at 9:46 am
Screenshot image of author Bruce Feiler.

Image via Wikipedia

You’re a best-selling author, the only one to have four non-fiction books in a row on the NYT best-seller list. You’ve got a happy marriage and two little girls. Life is good.

Then, as Bruce Feiler found out in 2008 — at the age of 44 — you have a rare bone cancer, that demands a 15-hour surgery and 18 months on crutches.

What if he he didn’t make it? Who would be a father to his little girls? So he formed a “council of Dads”, six male friends he asked to help raise his daughters, offering them their collective, and specifically chosen, guy wisdom. This is the subject of his latest book, an idea I love.

I spent many years not even talking to my own Dad, (and vice versa) and never had (which I’d hoped for) an older brother.

If you don’t spend much time around them (and maybe even if you do,) guys can remain an impenetrable mystery. My only experience of them was professional — as imperious bosses or competitive/friendly co-workers — or romantic, as dates or boyfriends or a (faithless) husband. Not exactly a full set of very positive data.

Years ago, I wrote a column about my many male friends and how knowing each of them added specific bits of their insight to my life. It felt, I wrote, like gazing at a landscape through a series of telescopes. Each would be a little narrow, a slice of reality seen only through each one’s eyes and beliefs. But at least I’d get some notion how men think. And I did.

What I love about Feiler’s idea is the notion that none of us, really, has all the answers and that, even the most feckless of us still has value to offer someone else’s children — through laughter, adventure, a break from the Normal. I don’t have any nephews or nieces and often wish I did; allowing a non-relative the privilege of sharing and enjoying and helping to raise your kids is an honor.

Even the very best Dad can only be the best he can be, seeing the world and transmitting his values, through his own set of filters — and Feiler knew it.

From Bookbrowse.com:

He would reach out to six men from all the passages in his life, and ask them to be present in the passages in his daughters’ lives. And he would call this group “The Council of Dads.”

“I believe my daughters will have plenty of opportunities in their lives,” he wrote to these men. “They’ll have loving families. They’ll have each other. But they may not have me. They may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad?”

The Council of Dads is the inspiring story of what happened next. Feiler introduces the men in his Council and captures the life lesson he wants each to convey to his daughters–how to see, how to travel, how to question, how to dream. He mixes these with an intimate, highly personal chronicle of his experience battling cancer while raising young children, along with vivid portraits of his father, his two grandfathers, and various father figures in his life that explore the changing role of fathers in America.

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