The writer’s week: Malled’s Chinese release and C’s NYT byline!

By Caitlin Kelly


I want to get my book proposal done and to my agent! I send it to two more “first readers” for their thoughts and insights. It’s been read by one friend already. All three raise the same concern, easily enough addressed, and all are wildly enthusiastic about the idea and its timing. I sure hope my agent feels that way as well — and a publisher!

malled china cover

My book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” is being published this week in China, in soft-cover, with an initial press run of 5,500. The way American books get sold to foreign markets is quite odd; a sub-rights department of my publisher, Portfolio, (the business imprint of Penguin), sold it on my behalf and made an arms-length deal with people I don’t know and will never meet.

I had to email my publisher in Manhattan several times to get any details at all — and the only reason we have the Chinese cover image is thanks to my husband’s global network of freelance photographers, one of whom, Beijing-based Gilles Sabrie, was kind enough to shoot this image and send it to me.

I’ll have a few hard copies in my hands soon! I got $3,000 for the sale of those rights, but never saw a penny; it was applied against, (i.e. subtracted from), my initial advance.

Seeking sources worldwide for my next New York Times business story, I emailed friends in places like Beirut, Paris, Dublin, Hong Kong and rural Austria. I also used Help A Reporter Out. If you’ve never tried it to find sources, it can be extremely useful.


I spend the afternoon reading “playbacks” from my editor and the copy editor for this story, which ran on Wednesday in the Times. I called a few sources to fact-check and found several things were different than what I’d had in my notes.

Working on several pitches — ideas for stories I want to submit/sell — and trying to flesh them out enough to make them compelling. I pitched a great idea to Cosmopolitan two weeks ago, got a quick email reply — then crickets. So annoying.



Cadence Woodland — whose blog I read and found behind it a smart, wittty, worldly young woman — has been working with me for about six months on research and other projects. Her terrific work on this story about Salt Lake City won her a by-line in The New York Times.

So proud of her! I bet many ambitious young journalists would kill for that; if only it occurred to them to apprentice with a busy and productive freelancer.

What she did is called — in delicious 1940s parlance — “legs”, as in being my legs on the ground to report and add essential firsthand details I couldn’t because she was there and knows the local culture.

I email a New York City spokesman for a city agency on a story I think is really interesting and off-beat — they refuse until I have an assignment. Duh. I can’t get an assignment without more data!

I call back and, forcefully/politely (how is that possible?), explain why I need this, and now — the answers appear in my email a few hours later.

I call a source in Arizona I did a big story about in 2006, who keeps me in the loop about his cause with regular emails. His story is an “evergreen”, i.e. of ongoing interest. I just need a news hook.

Unpaid, speculative groundwork is typical — I spend about 30 percent of my time seeking and developing story ideas for specific markets, for which I need people to give me a bit of time, (10 minutes, maybe), to make sure I can offer editors something of value.


Into Manhattan for a hair appointment, and out to New Jersey to attend a friend’s book party. Her husband runs an award-winning journalism website focused on investigative work.

I’m finishing up a friend’s finished non-fiction manuscript, offering my comments as his first reader. His first book, “The Gardner Heist”, (for which I also did this), sold very well and is a terrific read, about the largest art theft in history — still unsolved.

I’m enjoying his ms. but have sent along specific sentence and page edits, which he really appreciates. We all need smart, excellent colleagues, especially working alone, freelance.

I “met” Ulrich online in a writer’s community but only met him years later in D.C. face to face; C. and I still haven’t met!


To people who say — frequently! — “Oh, writers can live anywhere”, meaning we can work from any location, here’s the real story. At the party Thursday night, studded with authors, agents and editors, I met an editor with an open position at his publication — meeting over hummus in someone’s garden beats getting a resume from someone he’s never heard of.

It’s all about connections, not just talent or hard work, so I send in my stuff.

An editor I was initially excited to start working regularly with sends me the second revision of a $1,200 story, with even more questions. It already includes eight interviews from across the globe and now, in addition to more changes, she’s rewriting it. Enough.

At the party, the husband of a woman with a Very Nice staff writing job, when I told him I pitch many of my stories, said: “Oh, you don’t just wait for the phone to ring?”


17 thoughts on “The writer’s week: Malled’s Chinese release and C’s NYT byline!

  1. re: “writers can work from anywhere”…however, not everywhere do you get to see this “great view that happens twice a year called Manhattanhenge”. Read about it this morning on FB…guess it was last night. πŸ˜‰ overcast though.

  2. β€œOh, you don’t just wait for the phone to ring?” Don’t forget eating bon bons. And the 800 people who tell you they’ve got a great idea for a story. They’ll tell it to you, you write it, and they’ll give you 10%. Sigh.
    Congratulations on the Chinese edition of Malled, I can’t wait to see your post saying this latest WIP has gone to print! πŸ™‚

    1. I know, right? I get weary of people’s crazy fantasies about how easy it is. Funny that they never try it!

      One of my neighbors asked me yesterday if I had a new book because their book club is eager to have me over again. That felt really good. The terrifying bit is not the writing of a next book but financing it….advances are crummy and eked out over years.

      1. Well yanno, they’re gonna write one, as soon as they have a week off. Blargh.

        That is wonderful, love thy neighbor seems spot on here. πŸ™‚

        The financial end is tough. Always was, but tougher as advances don’t grow with inflation, and get broken up into more installments. 😦

      2. I suspect you get more of that BS with fiction….with NF there’s a shitload of reporting to do first.

        My last “advance” paid me the final quarter (yes) one YEAR after publication, fer Chrissake.

  3. Great that you’ve got an edition in China…and yeah, it always carries a vague sense of not being paid when the income is merely used to repay the advance. The situation here in NZ – depending on publisher – is either (a) they offer a pretty good advance which is never earned back from sales, but which the publisher carries as a cost to the book – effectively, giving the author significantly more than the usual 10% on retail. But the author never sees another cent for it. Or (b) they offer a pitiful advance followed by the genuine income from sales. The former funds the research but usually not time. The latter leaves a gap where research is needed. I was lucky with my latest book; I got a grant. Half what I’d asked for, but still enough to make the book possible, at least.

    1. Congrats on the grant!

      I plan to send my proposal to my agent this week and also apply (again) for a $40K grant from a journalism foundation for which I was a finalist last year — 14 of 278 applicants. Only with additional income from some other source can I afford to stop all other work to focus on a book. Only authors and their ilk seem to understand the financial struggle that this model imposes.

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