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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times Book Review’

“Are you still writing?”

In art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, family, journalism, life, Media, work on May 15, 2012 at 4:04 am
Homework Session

Homework Session (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They always ask this with a little chirpy voice. Like…really?

They’re usually people with office jobs and big paychecks and paid sick days. People who line up every morning to catch the bus or train or subway and some of whom pray for reprieve from the vocational choice they’ve made.

Writing for a living looks so damn easy. No stress! No boss! No demands or deadlines!

Anyone can do it, right?

I thought I was alone in hearing this annoying question after spending my entire life as a journalist and author.

But Roger Rosenblatt, a much bigger name than I here in the U.S., gets it too, as he writes in The New York Times Book Review:

And, as far as anyone in the family can see, I do nothing, or next to it. This is the lot of the writer. You will hear someone referred to as “the writer in the family” — usually a quiet child who dresses strangely and shows inclinations to do nothing in the future. But when a supposedly grown-up writer is a member of the family, who knows what to make of him? A friend of my son-in-law’s asked me the other day, “You still writing?” — as if the profession were a new sport I’d picked up, like curling, or a disease I was trying to get rid of. Alexander Pope: “This long disease, my life.”

Writers cannot fairly object to being seen in this way. Since, in the nothing we do — the “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Wallace Stevens) — we do not live in the real world, or wish to, it is fruitless and dishonest to protest that we do. When family members introduce us to one of their friends, it is always with bewilderment camouflaged by hyperbole. “This is so-and-so,” they will say, too heartily. “He’s a great and esteemed writer.” To which their friend will reply, “Would I have read anything you’ve written?” To which I reply, “How should I know?”

Everyone wants to be a writer — it looks like so much fun! Sit around the house in your pajamas all day waiting for inspiration. Sign me up!

Even the plumber who recently came to my apartment, and socked me with a $225.00 bill for fixing our only toilet, said “Oh, when I retire I want to be a writer.”

“You don’t,” I warned him, wincing as I wrote the check. “Most of us don’t make a lot of money.”

“Oh, I just want to be a successful writer,” he replied. “You know, like John Grisham.” (Who last year raked in a cool $18 million.)

Those of us who’ve been cranking out journalism or book-focused copy for a few decades, even with some nice reviews, (my first book was called [swoon!] “groundbreaking and invaluable” by one influential publication), know it’s a risky way to make a living. Because your “living” can vary from $4,000 a day to $4,000 a year.

Last year I made more money from public speaking engagements and a TV option from CBS for my memoir, “Malled” than I did from the book itself. It cost me 10 percent of the option income to have an entertainment attorney review the inch-thick contract with CBS negotiated by two agents — now taking 20 percent of the option cash for their input.

I waited 12 months after publication for the final instalment of my advance, which, after my agent took her standard 15 percent cut, came to $8,500. That’s a year’s income, or more, in sub-Saharan Africa. In suburban New York, (with no kids to support), that lasts quite a bit less.

Here’s a great list from Forbes.com, and fellow journo/blogger Jeff Bercovici, why journalism still kicks ass as a way to make a living. Because it just does.

(Here’s a brilliant blog post with a visual of how “success” appears to different people, including writers.)

So, why do so many people long to be writers?

People want to be rich. If writing doesn’t make you rich (and it certainly can for those who hit and stay on the best-seller list and/or sell their work to film or television), then why the hell are you bothering?

People want to be famous. If your book is on a shelf in a store, you’re the bomb! (So is weed-killer and diapers, but hey, retail exposure is cool, right?)

People want to be on TV/radio/blogs. They crave global attention. Because then life will be so different. (Not!)

People want to feel cool and creative. As opposed to cube life with 10 days of vacation.

People want to have other people quote them as wise and witty experts. Not just their Mom.

People want to feel validated as having something compelling to say, with millions eager to listen to them. Not just their Mom.

So, having published two non-fiction books (so far), is any of this true? Does it happen?

Sort of. I’ve met a few people who knew my name before I walked into the room. That can be pleasant.

I write because it’s how I make sense of the world.

I write because it stitches me back into the crazy quilt of other people’s ideas and feelings.

I write because my skill and talent and hard work, even working freelance for most of my life, have still allowed me to earn and save more than the average American with a steady paycheck.

I write because it allows me to indulge my insatiable curiosity about the world and get paid to do so.

I write because it has allowed me to meet everyone from Queen Elizabeth to convicted felons to Olympic athletes to a female admiral to the Inuk man who greeted me on a snowmobile when our tiny plane landed in his village just south of the Arctic circle.

I write because…

I’m a writer.

Why do you write?

Sacrifice? Moi? Eight Things Successful Writers Learn To Lose

In blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, Media, work on March 30, 2011 at 11:55 am
Bookstore HS germany

Ooooh, I want to be there!Image via Wikipedia

What do you mean sacrifice?

Isn’t becoming a successful writer — speaking here specifically of publishing your books commercially through major houses — all about winning? Money? Fame? A shot at being on Oprah?

Not so much.

Writing and selling your book, or books, is a terrific and exciting journey and one thousands of us make every year.

But even those who insist on self-publishing (even the super-successful like Amanda Hocking) learn the hard way it’s never an easy route.

Here, with my second non-fiction book out in two weeks from Portfolio, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”, are eight lessons in loss I’ve learned along the way:

A fixed definition of success

The best-seller list? Only the tiniest fraction of us will get there. Huge sales? Ditto. The thrill of your family and friends beaming with pride? That’s a for-sure. Whatever you hope for your book, don’t attach your ego or future income stream to any specific outcome. Let the process unfold, even while working your hardest on every aspect of promotion, marketing and sales. You may not hit it out of the park the first, second or third time. But a solid single or double is something to be proud of and may still be sufficient to win your next contract.

Ego

This might be the biggest and most important of all. The paradox of writing a book for public consumption — and skilfully fielding the resulting media attention you need to sell it — demands an ego strong enough to firmly believe that there are readers out there eager to hear your ideas. But along the way, your ego is likely to visit the woodshed more than a few times. Your agent may ask for multiple revisions of your proposal. The proposal may never sell. The book may sell but require significant revision; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read, “Absolutely American”, was rewritten twelve times, the editor told a writers’ conference, before it made the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Or the publisher might simply refuse it as “unpublishable.” It happens. You must be prepared to work closely for many months with your agent, editor, copy editor and publicist. It’s much more of a team sport than it appears.

Dreams

You might need to shelve fantasies you’ve harbored for years. It’s important to dream, and dream big. But the process of moving from idea to manuscript to bookstore can look a lot different from your cherished dream or that of your writing friends. Be open to it!

Expectations

Authors get book tours, right? Authors get on all the big TV shows. We travel far and wide on our publisher’s dime. Not! The average first-time advance for a new author of a trade book is low, as low as $15,000 to $20,000 — paid in four installments, each with 15 percent taken out first by your agent. Do as much homework on the publishing industry as you possibly can, attending writers’ conferences, reading wise blogs, devouring smart books like “Thinking Like Your Editor” so you’re heading into the fray well-prepared. The most successful authors are also those who know how to work within the system, and become the writers their agent and publicist and editor look forward to working with again. This tough business is no place for naievete.

Time

It is hard to overstate how much time it takes, usually, to get a book from the inside of your head into a bookstore. Like — years. Let’s say you have a fabulous idea and, within weeks of having it (and already having built your “platform”, the gazillions of readers who already know and love your work) you’re fortunate enough to find an agent you can work well with. (It’s not always automatic.) They will want you, for non-fiction, to produce a proposal, which can run up to 30 pages or more and must include at least one sample chapter. The months you spend polishing the proposal will require a steady income from elsewhere. Even after you have sold your book, the first advance payment may take several months to show up. Then, when you think the book is finished, you may need to revise it to your editor’s liking for weeks or months.

Money

If you have another steady source of income allowing you to focus solely on producing and polishing and promoting your book, terrific! If not, where’s that funding going to come from? This is the money you’ll need for a variety of expenses: researchers, assistants, FOIA requests, travel for your own research, creating and updating your book website, planning and executing a book tour, polishing the book between advance payments (that can take up to a year.) You may find funding from grants and fellowships, or teaching or a full-time or part-time job. But be sure to have several thousand dollars at the ready for all of these costs. You have one shot at making your book the best it can possibly be. This is not the time to cheap out!

Social Life

If you really want to produce, you’ve got to plant your bum in the chair. That means not: having coffee/lunch/dinner with your friends or colleagues, taking vacations, going to movies or shows or concerts. It may mean missing out on all sorts of fun things you’d really rather do. Not while you’re on a book deadline! That date is no joke — an entire team of people you may never meet (from the production editor to the sales team) — are relying on you. Your spouse or partner and your kids and friends and relatives may really not get it. Writing is easy, right? You can do it later, or tomorrow, or between the kids’ naps or playdates. Maybe. Maybe not. Stay in close touch with other ambitious and successful writers. They know what it takes, and will steer you back to the computer.

Competing projects

These range from laundry and exercise to a tempting new job or lucrative or fun assignment. Every writer knows we have to shut down other sources of income and projects demanding our time, energy and attention. Something, and often many things, are competing for our time, which is limited. If you’re an avid volunteer, you may need to withdraw or scale back for a while. No matter how tempting these sirens, stay focused on your book!

Here’s a great blog post about a new book that really explains the trade publishing industry in the U.S. and U.K. Every would-be author needs to read it!

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!

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