David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Category: About Writing

Book Doctors Early Interview on How to Get Published Successfully

San Francisco Writers Conference: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY MON FEB. 17 9AM

9 a.m. – Noon to register click hereAandDwithBooks

HOW TO GET PUBLISHED SUCCESSFULLY
This is the greatest time in history to be a writer. The barriers to publishing have been torn down and now anyone
can get published. But getting published successfully is a whole other matter. Arielle and David will take you
through the entire publishing process. This step-by-step, soup-to-nuts workshop will demystify the murky world
of publishing and give you a map and a compass to publishing success. Handouts.

You learn to:
Choose the right idea
Craft an attention-getting pitch
Find the right agent or publisher
Self-publish effectively with ebooks, print-on-demand or traditional printing
Find your audience and build a following through social media

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry have helped dozens of writers become published authors. Their book is
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It…Successfully.
Arielle Eckstut, an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, co-founded the iconic brand Little Missmatched, and an author of eight books. David Henry Sterry is the author of sixteen books. His books have been translated into ten languages, and one appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. David and Arielle have been featured on NPR, in the New York Times, and have taught everywhere from Stanford to Smith College, and presented at more than 100 bookstores, and book festivals from Texas to Miami, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles.
Fee: $125

Getting Your Children’s Book Successfully Published, with Agent Extraordinaire Jennifer Laughran

As The Book Doctors have traveled all across this great land, we’ve made a startling discovery.  A staggering number of adults want to write books for kids.  And approximately 99% of them have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They don’t know the rules.  They don’t know the players. They don’t know anything except that they have a great idea for a kid’s book and they yearn with a burning fever to get it published. Between us, we have we’ve thirteen books, four being nonfiction books for tween girls, and the other a middle grade novel aimed at boys.  And Arielle has agented dozens and dozens and dozens of books in her 18 year career as a literary agent.  But so much has changed in the world of children’s books, and so many people seem all fired up to write them, that we thought we’d get the inside skinny from one of our favorite children’s book resources, Jennifer Laughran. Jennifer’s had a fascinating career in the publishing industry, because she’s gone from hand-selling books to readers in brick-and-mortar bookstores, to finding writers who have the right stuff, then figuring out how to present and sell their manuscripts to publishers in the increasingly ridiculous book business.

Book Doctors: How did you manage to end up in the book business?

Jennifer: My first job was in a bookstore, when I was twelve.

Book Doctors: Ah, they got you young.

Jennifer: Exactly.  It may have been child labor; as I recall I got about five dollars a day plus all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read.

Book Doctors: Who could resist that?

Jennifer: Certainly not me. I spent the next eighteen years working as a bookseller, and then events coordinator and buyer, for bookstores all over the country. I was also a reader and assistant for literary agents for a couple of years before I became one myself. Then I joined Andrea Brown Literary Agency as an agent three years ago.

Book Doctors: So, everyone wants to know, do you need an agent to get a children’s book published?

Jennifer: Ten years ago or more, the answer would have been no. These days, trade publishing is ever-more competitive and none of the major publishers accept unsolicited (i.e., un-agented) submissions. If you are very lucky, very persistent and very well-connected, you may not need an agent. But most authors don’t fall into that category. That said, if you are looking to be published in a niche market, by a specialty educational publisher, regional or smaller independent publisher, you may not need an agent.

Book Doctors: What are the standard age groups for children’s books?

Jennifer: Board books: 0-3. Picture books: 3-7. Chapter book/Early readers: 5-8. Middle Grade: 8-12. YA: 12+ or 14+ (depending on content)

Book Doctors: Does your book have to be a particular length to sit on a children’s book shelf?

Jennifer: Sure. But that varies depending on the age group; picture books are usually less than a thousand words, YA is usually less than 100,000 words.

Book Doctors: Can you sell a book for kids of all ages? How would you go about doing this?

Jennifer: In general, children’s publishers pick one age group that the book is for and publish it accordingly, and if there is crossover, that is all to the good. Every book I can think of that is supposedly “for kids of all ages” does in fact fall into one of those categories above, or is an adult gift or novelty book in disguise.

Book Doctors: If a writer has ideas for illustrations, should she put them on the page?

Jennifer: No. Illustration notes are distracting and almost always unnecessary, and will expose you as a newb.The only time you should put them is if there is some sort of visual joke or device that is totally necessary to the plot of the book, but impossible to deduce from the text alone.

Book Doctors: Is a good idea to have your uncle’s friend’s 18-year-old son who’s pretty good at art illustrate your book?

Jennifer: No.  Let me say again:<em> No!</em>

Book Doctors: Is it ever okay to team up with an illustrator before going to a publisher?

Jennifer: There are some successful folks who are husband-wife or sibling teams or even best-friend teams, where one party is a professional illustrator and the other writes. They work well together and create awesome projects together. That said, these sorts of collaborations aren’t the norm. The much more likely scenario is that a publisher will prefer the text or the art and might be fine with publishing one but not both. Publishers almost always really want to choose their own illustrator.

Book Doctors: If you are an illustrator that has an idea for a kid’s book, but you have no writing chops, how would you go about getting your book published?

Jennifer: I’d learn to write, or get enough published as an illustrator of other people’s works that I developed a reputation with publishers. A big-name illustrator has a much better chance of getting help from publishers in developing a project.

Book Doctors: What are the top 3 mistakes you see in author submissions?

Jennifer: Impatience, Poor Presentation, General Cluelessness. Folks often shoot themselves in the foot by not taking the time to craft an effective pitch, or to target agents specifically, or to query in small batches. They submit material that is deeply flawed, not revised, not finished, or in some cases not even started. They submit material that is totally inappropriate and not what I represent at all because they are blanket-querying every agent in the world simultaneously. I only do kids & YA, fiction yet I daily get queries for erotica and narrative nonfiction.

Ideally, authors would do their homework before they start querying, and their work would be as finished, polished, as close to being ready to sell as possible.

Book Doctors: Does it help to come up with a publicity and marketing plan for your book when querying an agent or publisher?

Jennifer: Sure, though I wouldn’t lead with that; it’d just be a cool bonus if they loved your work enough to publish it already. Most marketing plans sort of grow organically as the book progresses in the editorial and design process and as buzz builds in-house.

A book can take anywhere from a year to several years to be published, and the content of the book, as well as the way it is positioned in the marketplace, are definitely subject to change in that time. That means marketing and publicity pushes that come about just prior to or just after publication will likely look a lot different, and be a lot more effective, than what was being imagined at the query stage. That early in the game, most folks don’t really know what their book is going to be when it grows up.

Book Doctors: Jennifer, on behalf of the Book Doctors and clueless children’s book writers all over America, we thank you.

Jennifer: You are all certainly welcome.

Jennifer Laughran worked in bookstores for years, and is now an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  She is also the founder of the Not Your Mothers Book Club.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, aka The Book Doctors, are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  They’re hosting Pitchapaloozas–a kinder gentler American Idol for books–at bookstores and libraries all over America. Check out their website http://www.thebookdoctors.com/to see their tour schedule, and for free helpful hints on how to get successfully published.

 

 

Does an Author Really Need a Website? The Book Doctors Interview Annik LaFarge on How to Be a More Effective Author Online

“Do I really need an author website?” We get asked that question every day by an author, or someone who wants to be one. Having spent lots and lots of time and energy constructing one ourselves, we are big believers in author websites, but we decided to take this question to the person we consider the expert on the subject: Annik LaFarge. Annik is the author of The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do it Yourself (and you can!) or You Work With Pros. She also happens to have spent twenty-five years as an executive in the book publishing business, working at Random House, Simon & Schuster, Addison-Wesley, and Bloomsbury USA. She began her career as a publicist, and went on to become an associate publisher, marketing director, senior editor, and publishing director. And she was involved in the early efforts to create e-books and develop strategies for digital publishing. In the late 1990s, at the height of the dot com boom, Annik took a year away from publishing to join entrepreneur and journalist Steven Brill in the development and launch of Contentville.com, where she published an original series of e- books and oversaw the website’s bookstore. In 2008 she left publishing to start her own company, Title TK Projects, which specializes in website project management, editorial work, and consulting on digital strategy. Author websites she has project-managed include MitchAlbom.com, FrenchWomenDontGetFat.com, MireilleGuiliano.com and TaraParkerPope.com. Clearly, Annik knows what the heck she’s talking about. So we asked her to share with us the benefits of author websites. She was also kind enough to share with us her 10 ½ tips for being a more effective author online.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: In this age of social media, why is a website still important? Is it possible to just get away with a blog/Facebook page/Twitter presence?

ANNIK LAFARGE: Even in this age of social media, having a website is really, really important. A recent study by the Codex Group showed that that websites are one of the key ways people find out about books. Surprisingly, in terms of new book discovery, Facebook and Twitter are much less influential than author websites. Some of the reasons for this have to do with SEO (search engine optimization) and keywords. When you type in an author’s name, his/her website is first thing that comes up. To be the first result that pops up in a Google search is reason enough to have a website. This visibility gives you the opportunity to control your message and to craft the experience that you want that person who is interested in your work — that person who has taken the time to Google you — to see. Your website also gives you the opportunity to capture people’s email addresses and to build a newsletter list. Your mailing list is extremely important, even if you’re a literary fiction writer. People who give you their names and email addresses are telling you that they’re interested in you and your work and want to know more about you; they want to be kept up to date. Even just a 100-person list matters because you can use it as a mini-focus group, testing book covers and plot ideas, and you can easily alert your fans about new releases. And over time that list will grow and grow.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: What are the top mistakes authors make when designing their websites?

ANNIK LAFARGE: The biggest mistake I’ve seen is building a website and not using it. People get excited, build the engine and then let it just sit there. You need to have a plan for your website — a monthly and yearly plan: what sort of content will you launch with? What will you add as time goes by? How frequently will you post new material? Enough to blog? If so, what will the voice of your blog be? What will be the first 10 things you write about? I tell authors to plan for their website the way they do for a new book: write an outline, like a book proposal, that includes not only the “big think” — the overall substance and point of view of the website — but also a list of all the different pages and what they’ll contain. Think of it as a business plan for your site. Or to put it in more literary terms, it’s like mapping out a long piece of nonfiction — for both the hardcover and the paperback edition.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: A lot of struggling writers are concerned about the costs of setting up a website. I know you write about doing it yourself, but if you don’t have the time or inclination, what’s the minimum a person can spend and still have something that looks professional?

ANNIK LAFARGE: Anybody should be able to get a fine looking blog/website using WordPress, Sandvox (only available for Mac) or Squares Space; these are content management systems that allow you to customize a site off an easy-to-use template for nothing (in the case of WordPress, which is purely open source) or less than a hundred bucks. If you’re working with WordPress pick a theme you like at themeforest.net— my favorite of the theme sites but there are zillions on the web. And if you’re intimidated by technology then hire a designer who can create a nice banner and who knows how to do the basic programming (so you don’t have to hire a separate programmer). This can be done for as little as $500 and most designers these days are very comfortable in WordPress particularly. BUT, there is a very strong argument to be made for building a website yourself. Writers care enormously about how they present their ideas and their presence on the page, and having control over their own “content” is extremely important. Understanding how your website or blog works — how to post new material, set up new sections, add photos and videos, link up with Facebook and other social media venues — means that you can always make changes and additions whenever you like; you’ll never be dependent on a webmaster or an overworked publicist again. For many authors a website is their beating heart in the public space. Creating one can feel daunting — anything more technical than Microsoft Word intimidates many writers — but it’s enormously empowering and creative, and the technology has evolved to the point where honestly anyone can do it. You can map out the structure for your website — e.g. create your own “wireframe,” which is to a website what a blueprint is to an architectural project — at a cool new site called GoMockingbird which is very easy to use and inexpensive. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way, using a pencil and an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of manuscript paper. But sketching out a site — putting your plan on paper — is a great way to work through your ideas about who you want to be on the web, and it can save you lots of time and frustration later on.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: You are now a self-published writer. What platform did you use? What was the costliest part of the process? What was your favorite part of the process.

ANNIK LAFARGE: I went the more complex route by setting up my book at many different retailers. I used Amazon’s Create Space for the POD (print-on-demand) paperback version of my book and am very happy with them; they have great customer service and excellent help documentation. Early on I decided I wanted my book to look like a real book — even the ebook version — so I paid a designer to do a proper interior and a cover. I thought I could do the Kindle conversion myself but I made a real hash of it, so I sent the manuscript to ebookconversion.com and let them create the ePub edition. Then I set up accounts at Apple’s iBookstore (using iTunes Connect), Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! for the Nook), and Google Editions, and I simply uploaded the file at each place, created all the metadata (description, bio, etc.), and I was in business. For awhile I even sold a PDF of the book myself, on TheAuthorOnline.com, using an online tool called e-junkie, which allows you to sell digital products very easily and inexpensively. I could have gone to Lightning Source, which is a great company, and they would have streamlined the whole process for me, but I wanted to learn about each and every step along the way myself, and I make more money this way on every sale. It was time-consuming, but generally fairly easy to do. The most complicated part was dealing with Bowker who you have to go through to acquire an ISBN (the unique identifier for your book that retailers use to display and sell your book). But I’ve trained myself to go into what my partner Ann calls “the Sufi state” and become deeply patient before I visit any e-commerce site I want to partner with. I’ve found that eventually I can slog through and figure out just about everything I need to do, and there’s a particular satisfaction in that. Call it author empowerment. What I love about ebooks and POD is how nimble they allow an author to be. You can update the content any time you like, and also change the price at will. You don’t get locked into decisions. And if you set up your own website, as I did with TheAuthorOnline.com, you get the benefit of the huge amount of traffic data that Google Analytics provides — for free. So you can learn a great deal about who your readers are. My advice: start slow, be smart, have fun, and just get on with it.

Annik’s 10 ½ Tips for Being a More Effective Author Online

No. 1: Think Like An Author

One of the things that authors (unlike other mere mortals) do is organize their thoughts and ideas. You don’t just sit down and write a book from page 1 to 300; you do a lot of thinking, researching, and planning. Tip #1 is to approach your web project in the same spirit. Put on your author hat and make notes and an outline. Start with several general questions that will help inform the overall organization of your website or blog:

Who am I as an author? If you were writing the opening graf of a newspaper profile of yourself, what would you consider the ideal description of your work? Where would you place the greatest emphasis? Where the least? And then: What do my readers want? What sort of questions do they ask you when you make public appearances? What do they say when they write letters or emails to you? And: What do I want my readers to know about me that they may not currently know? This is your chance to write the Ur Q&A. Consider it a work-in-progress: post it, then keep adding to it as time goes by and your writing and career develop.

No. 2: Make a Content Plan, Part 1: Static Elements

Make a list of static elements that you want to include on your website: content that doesn’t get constantly updated or newly created like entries in a blog. First focus on things that you already have or would be easy to create: sample chapter(s); biography; reviews; Q&A; etc. Then start another list: stuff you’d love to add in the future (The Author Online contains an exhaustive list of features that readers say they like on author websites). Then go back and prioritize your master list and arrange the items into broad categories that could serve as the navigation on your site: Books (do you subdivide Fiction & Non-Fiction?), Bio, Journalism, About, etc. These are the categories that make sense to you, based on the work you did in Tip No. 1.

No. 3: Make a Content Plan, Part 2: New Elements

Consider where your new content will come from. Do you want to blog? (Do you have time to blog? Will you run out of steam after 3 months?) Will you write occasional articles/essays to post on your site? Will you share early chapters with your fans? Invite them to vote on jacket art from your publisher? Will you constantly post new links to bloggers, videos, new studies/research in your field, etc.?

No. 4: Be Smart Today and Plan to Grow in the Future</strong>

Websites evolve. The best thing you can do is be smart and focused at the beginning, and assume that you’ll grow your online presence with time and valuable feedback from fans, traffic data, and other sources. So if you’re just starting out be honest with yourself about how much time you can devote to your site; be ambitious but also realistic about your plan for adding new content. Focus on quality of content not quantity, and always circle back to the questions you asked yourself in No. 1: what do your readers want? What do you want them to know about you? Then think about what’s the best way to deliver that on your site and map out a plan for the coming months. And be sure to keep a handy list of “Future Features” and ideas for new content. Tip 4a Set up a Dropbox account and keep your list in the cloud so you can always access and update it. This is particularly handy if you travel a lot, and you can install Dropbox on any mobile device. (See here for more about how Dropbox works. While you’re there, check out Evernote, another great app that helps you keep track of stuff you find online.)

No. 5: Build a Mailing List

Even if you don’t intend to send out an email newsletter create a sign-up form and place it conspicuously on every page of your website or blog. Do this on Day 1. You may not see a reason to have an e-letter today, but in a year or so you may. People come to your website because they like your work or they’re interested in your subject; give them a simple way to stay in touch. An author’s email list has tremendous value, and it will grow over time. Start now.

No. 6: Use an ESP

Use a professional email service provider (ESP) like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Some of these services are free until your list reaches a certain size (like MailChimp) and there are many benefits: they provide simple templates for creating professional-looking emails; easy opt-out links for your subscribers; and vast riches of analytic data about who opened your emails, what they clicked on, how many times they forwarded it, where they live, etc. From that data you will learn to do things better and more effectively in the future.

No. 7: Be Creative About Your Newsletter Signup

You don’t go on the radio and simply say “buy my book, it’s a great read.” You say: “buy my book because I describe all the best tools and strategies for killing a zombie and tell you how to prepare yourself in both an urban and a rural setting.” So in your newsletter signup offer some specifics about what your emails will deliver. For a very good example of a smart newsletter sign-up see the form that  SocialMediaExaminer.com uses. They promise a value-add (a free video tutorial on using Twitter), and the text has a real voice. Another example of a creative newsletter signup is the blog CrazySexyLife.com. The first signup box I saw there (in 2009) had three separate options: daily, weekly and monthly, so the reader could choose how much of author Kris Carr’s stuff she really wanted. Recently Carr updated her newsletter signup and it’s still great, but very different and now she also offers a free piece of content for folks who sign up. You’ll find screenshots of all these examples at TheAuthorOnline.com/newsletter

No. 8: Use Google Analytics

Set up your Google Analytics account on Day 1 and get addicted. As you gain traffic you will find this a terrific editorial tool because you’ll know what your readers are looking for, what they actually spend time reading, where they come from (country, state, city), and much more valuable data. Nothing will teach you more about how you’re doing online than Google Analytics, and it’s free. Don’t forget: launch it on Day 1.

No. 9: Visit Your Own Site Regularly

Go to your website at least once every few weeks and test your links (they have an uncanny way of breaking for no apparent reason). While you’re there, chances are that something will strike you: “gee, I could do this better,” or “that featured article is feeling a bit long in the tooth, it’s time to replace it with something else.” Be objective, be critical, be creative. Test new things and check the results in Google Analytics. Then lather, rinse, repeat.

No. 10: Have Fun, Be Empowered</strong>

Websites are stressful — everybody knows that. But remember all those times you had a great idea for your publicist and it just never got off the ground? Well, guess what: with your own website you can do a whole lot on your own. And once you start understanding how to use it well, and you get in the groove (and you build up your mailing list, social networking fan base, RSS subscribers….) you’ll be able to reach your readers directly whenever, however, you want. And you can invite them to provide their feedback, both publicly (through blog comments, message boards, and of course in social networking environments) or you can keep things quiet and just enable people to email you via the site. You can start small and grow. Most of all, can you can do it yourself. Visit TheAuthorOnline.com for a rich (and constantly updated) list of resources, sample author and book-specific websites, online tools, articles, links, and more. Please email me and tell me what you think I can do better, or simply alert me to your web project. I’m interested, and many others are too. Most of all, have fun.

Good luck with your project!

7 Minutes a Day: Using Social Media Tools to e-Networking without Being Swallowed by the Timesuck

The essential guide cover_Flop sweat erupts on foreheads.  Faces go pale and bloodless.  Hands tremor.  Eyes widen in terror.  These are all symptoms suffered by writers when I tell them that they have to engage in social media.  They moan, they groan, I’ve even seen grown men cry.  Many are still living under the misguided fantasy that they can sit out in their cabin by the lake and write their magnificent opus, send it off to him Mr. Harper and Mr. Collins, get a book deal, then wait for Oprah to call, and watch the checks roll in.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten queries from writers that actually say, “I’d be willing to go on Oprah.”  Who wouldn’t be WILLING to go on Opra?  Apart from Jonathan Franzen of course.  The question is: how are YOU going to get YOURSELF on Oprah?  Just the other day, I sent a proposal for a beautiful, moving, touching, well-written memoir to fantastic, cutting edge, alternative independent press.  The editor said she wouldn’t even read the proposal because the author didn’t have a Platform.  Platform, for those who don’t know, is the new publishing buzzword.  It means the method you are going to use to connect with the tribe of people who are passionate enough about you and your ideas to buy your book.  I often say that the greatest pitch you could give for a book is in this day and age: “I have 1 million Twitter followers and they all want to buy my book.”  It doesn’t matter what your book is.  Agents, editors and publishers will line up around the cyber block to be in business with you.  But for many authors who don’t have a website, aren’t up on Twitter, and only have a Facebook page where they can post pictures of their kids and/or grandkids, the idea of building a platform, tweeting every day, friending people they don’t know, and spending hours and hours and hours of their one precious life networking socially on the Internet sounds as appealing as getting a root canal from a Nazi without Novocain.  That’s why I devised the 7 Minute Rule of Social Media.  Every day, spend 7 minutes connecting with your tribe.  It’s like brushing your teeth.  Washing your face.  Make it part of your daily routine.  Make it a habit. Habits are incredibly powerful.  Bad ones and good ones.  If you need to, set the timer on your smart phone for 7 minutes.  It’s not much out of your day.  Out of your life.  But the trick is, you have to do it every day.  EVERY DAY.  Like a habit.  So, how do you get started?  The first thing to do is research.  Check out the various platforms available to you.  The obvious ones are Twitter and Facebook, but as you dig deeper, you’ll find cool sites for writers like Redroomhttp://redroom.com/, Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/, Writers Digest Forumhttp://forum.writersdigest.com/category-view.asp, and National Novel Writing Monthhttp://www.nanowrimo.org/.  Poke around, see who’s there, see what they’re talking about. You should engage in the social media that suits you best.  I happen to like coming up with 140 character messages.  It appeals to the poet in me.  My wife on the other hand is Jewish, and can’t possibly express yourself in 140 characters.  She likes Facebook.  And so it goes. Then start engaging with people who you think are funny, smart, entertaining, etc.  Make comments on their posts.  Be generous.  This is one of the big misconceptions about Social Media.  It’s not about asking other people to do nice things for you.  I get so sick and tired of people I don’t know asking me to like them, to love them, to vote for them, to buy things from them.  You would just walk up to someone on the street and say, Love me.  Well, you might, but if you did it often enough, there’s a good chance you’d be arrested.  The guiding principle for successful Social Media is Good Samaritanism.  If someone does something nice for me online, it’s my natural inclination to do something nice for them.  In a utopia, this would the world would work.  Once you get comfortable on the site that suits you, start making a couple of friend requests every day to like-minded people.  For example, if you’re writing a book that’s like Game of Thrones, go to the Game of Thrones page on Facebook and start cherry picking people who seem simpatico.  These sites all have wonderful search tools also.  So you can put in words that are related to your book, and find people who will be passionate about what you’re passionate about.  This leads us to Key Words.  Search terms.  You should identify 5 to 10 words that apply to your book.  I have a new illustrated novel that just came out called Mort Morte http://bit.ly/12FTPQ0.  It’s reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and The Tin Drum.  It’s filled with black comedy.  It has cheerleaders in it.  It’s a coming-of-age story.  It’s illustrated.  Some of it takes place in Texas.  It’s about a boy who really loves his mom.  All of these ideas can be boiled down to phrases and words.  Those will be my search words or Key Words.  That’s how I’ll find people who gravitate toward my book.  I also make a list of 10 or 15 leaders in whatever field I’m writing.  And I try to connect with them.  Again, first I write little reviews of their books on Amazon.  I make comments when they post a blog, or they’re interviewed online.  And I make sure I let them know that I’m doing nice things for them.  You’d be shocked how much people pay attention to what’s happening online.  Or maybe wouldn’t.  But you absolutely will be amazed by how accessible people are if you ask them nicely for something that’s easy for them to do.  A lot of people ask me if they should have a website.  You should only have a website if you’re prepared to make a really good website.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles.  But it has to look good.  And it has to be user-friendly.  Easy to navigate.  And “sticky”.  In other words, when someone goes onto your website, you want to give them reasons to stay there.  And the only way a website is valuable is if you water and feed it on a regular basis.  You can do this by making comments on what other people are talking about.  Put up book reviews, movie reviews, write about what’s going on in the world, let people know your book is progressing.  You can put up little paragraphs from your book.  You could have one of the characters in one of your stories have a blog on your website.  Pictures, movies, so many fun things that you can use this content.  Debbie Gallant, a wonderful writer and a friend of mine, had a book coming out that was about romance in cars.  I suggested that she have people writing stories about their romantic adventures in cars.  So she actually got her readers to create content for her.  Make sure you have a great bio that’s fun and interesting and describes you thoroughly.  Have a resource section we post items of interest to you and your readers.  Calendar of events and appearances, a future project section.  Contact information.  It might be fun to do a series of interviews with people you admire.  It’s a great way to connect with their audience, and the connected with their agent, editor, etc. If you’re not very computer savvy, just find a Child Mentor.  Someone between the ages of 10 and 17, the young person who was raised on computers.  Most of them will be able to create a Facebook page in about 10 min.  And the good news is, they work for candy bars. When you do make set up an account for yourself on a website, make sure you give as much information as you can about the books you like, the writers you enjoy, the movies that entertain you, the social causes you’re engaged in, your hobbies, we went to college and high school.  These will all help people find you as they search for stuff they are interested in. But perhaps most importantly: HAVE FUN!

 

1) Befriend a Child Mentor

2) Figure out which Key Words best describe you and your project.

3) Find the online platforms that suit you best.

4) Connect with members of this community.  Categorize them by geographic location and interest.

5) Become an active and generous member of that community.

6) Build your own home on your favorite website

7) Connect your website with your Facebook and Twitter feeds.

8) Get other people to put your website up on their website in their resource section.

9) Make sure you have a very good profile picture which shows us her face.  Please, don’t put up a baby picture of yourself.

10) Be consistent with the way you describe yourself.  Make sure your name is always the same wherever you put it up.  And write a great description of your mission statement as a human being and as a writer.

11) Give, give, give, give, give.  Giveaway stuff on your website.  Spread your time and love all over the cyber world.

12) Only after you’ve given till it hurts should you should you ask gently and politely and persistently for what you need

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is also the author of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.

To read on Slashed Reads click here.

Society for Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators Gives Great Review of the Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

We just got a wonderful review for The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published  (to buy click on link).  Here’s the Essential Guide in SCBWI Bulletin.

The essential guide cover_

Alice Carbone Interviews David Henry Sterry on Sex, Addiction, & the Healing Powers of Writing & Comedy

Cool interview with cool chick Alice Carbone. To read on her website click here.
628270_r4b62e1336ab70

DAVID HENRY STERRY: The Good, The Bad & The Sex

AN INSIGHTFUL AND FUN INTERVIEW ABOUT THE SEX INDUSTRY, SEX ADDICTION AND HEALING THROUGH WRITING AND COMEDY.

Two years ago I received the inspiration for the end of my novel while running by the ocean, in Santa Monica.  Being sick in the head, I desperately needed to run that day yet I hurried back to my car parked Idaho Ave and, like in a trance, I started writing.  It was year 2011 and I owned a very old Blackberry.  I never liked to touch-type on it those words that carried too much of a value, like the future of a woman, whether fictional or not.

I have come to the realization that physical activity has a pleasant creative effect on me.  And this introduction is just the umpteenth example.  After interviewing David Henry Sterry I went on a hike and, all of a sudden I wanted to write.

It’s year 2013.  The Blackberry broke a year ago, or so.  I have an iPhone today.  And I still don’t like the movement of my fingertips typing letters on a synthetic and flat keyboard.  I don’t find joy or excitement in seeing them gathering into important sentences on the yellow page of a virtual notepad.  I avoid the procedure, when I can.  The inspiration, if that is how you rather call the essence of what you are reading, came towards the end of my Hollywood walk nonetheless.  The temperature had reached an unhealthy average of 80 °F for the week before  Christmas; I ignored my body getting sicker by the minute, too.  However, as soon as I walked past the Sunset Ranch, sweaty, grateful for where I lived and for being able to hike at twelve noon, on a weekday, it finally dawned on me: I knew how to start this column and how to end it as well.  The walk became faster until I ran towards the car and wrote what you have just read and will, shortly.  It is a very interesting interview and a raw finale that comes straight from the heart and from the dirty and torn Starbucks napkin that I had not thrown away the night before.

Talking to David Henry Sterry has a very special meaning to me.  He is the very first guest who publicly asked to be here, in conversation with me.  It happened on Twitter, on December 4 at 5:09 PM, Pacific Time.  “I am doing something good.  They start to like this.” – I thought.

“You looked like an interesting person and I just had an instinct about you.”  David tells me, when we chat on Skype and I ask him why he wanted to be on the blog.  We use a webcam because David lives in New Jersey and I have told him that my conversations require the exchange and the look in the eyes.  They are more than a Q&A to me.

David is the author of sixteen books.  He is a teacher, an activist and a brilliant performer, although best known for his bestselling memoir, Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man For Rent.  I didn’t know him very well before he had approached me.  A thorough research always helps yet nothing more than a vis-à-vis contact makes you understand what lies beneath a person.  He laughs and I can sense his humor, the comedy background.  However, I can also feel he has been to hell and has not forgotten about it.  I am in the comfort of my bedroom wearing my pajama yet with red lipstick.  The sun shines and it feels like summer in Southern California.  David sits by the kitchen window that is frosty and white with beautiful snow.  For it is winter, after all.  Our worlds merge for one hour.  He has a story to tell, and it is my pleasure to share it with you; wherever you are reading it from.

A.C. Where are you from?  I know you have British origins.

D.H.S. I was born in New Jersey and moved back here six years ago, from San Francisco.  But I lived all over America.  Alabama, Texas, Upstate New York…

A.C.  Where was home, when you were a kid?

D.H.S.  Anywhere my family was.  But I feel like San Francisco is my home.  I lived there twice, and that’s where I kind of left my heart.  But I have a beautiful house here, with great neighbors.  And it is really a gorgeous place to live.

A.C. Let’s go back to your childhood.  What kind of kid were you?

D.H.S. I was a very helpful child.  Actually a little bit too much, to the extent that teachers would write these reports saying that I didn’t have to be ‘so helpful in class.’  And I am the oldest of four, with a father gone all the time and a mother overworked with us; that is why I helped all the time with my brothers and sisters.

A.C.  Why did your family travel so much?  What did your parents do?

D.H.S. They were immigrants, from Newcastle, in the North of England.  My father grew up where there were only half-houses.  He did not even have a toilet in his house; it was an old world.  He came to America in the late 1950s when there was very little opportunity in England, for a college graduate like him.  In the United Stated he got a job for a company that manufactured explosives, and they kept promoting him by sending him somewhere new.  He almost became a victim of his own success, although I don’t really think the term victim is appropriate.  But it was hard to constantly move around.  On the other hand, he was the American dream; he kept rising up the ladder of this company, and he literally went from being a dishwasher to being a partner in the space of twenty years.

David does not hide a bittersweet laugh, when he ends the story with what he calls the ‘new American dream.’  Because his father is now broke and in therapy after a nervous breakdown and after his wife has run away with a woman; the one she would eventually marry. She has become a lesbian. 

D.H.S. He started having sex with crazy women.  I was sixteen and I was living with him at that time.  He had lost everything.

A.C.  How difficult was it, for you, to write about them, in Chicken?  Because, as writers, we have the duty of being both careful and respectful to the lives of the people we involve.  My novel, for example, is not a memoir but it is very autobiographical.  Many episodes are based on my life and I did not know how to talk about my parents or other people involved, at first.  I felt angry, guilty and hurt, too.  Just because we decide to purge and get clean, it doesn’t mean they decide to have their stories publicly disclosed as well.

D.H.S.  And my parents are English.  Talking about them publicly was so mortifying to them!

A.C.  How did they react?

D.H.S.  So, I got this book deal to publish the memoir.  The publisher was Judith Regan.  I got it only based on a proposal; I had not even written the book yet.  And, of course I had not told my parents.  For I wanted to tell them once I was 100% sure the book was going to be published.  The first thing Regan told me was: “I don’t want one of those fucking books where the writer blames their parents; do you understand me?”  And for as hard as it seemed, it was a great advice for me, because I did blame them.

A.C.  But what I am starting to learn is that we all have shit happening to us, David.  And it’s not what happened to us, but what we have made of it, and what we keep making of it.

D.H.S.  Exactly.  It’s absolutely right.  And, based on what she had said to me I decided to call my parents by name, in the first couple of drafts of the book.  Harper Collins didn’t really help me in the editing process; all they were worried about was not getting sued.  So my agent became my editor and she secretly said: “This is so bad we are gonna have to give the money back!”  Instead, what she did tell me was: “David, they are your parents.  You can’t call them John and Maurine; they are mom and dad.”  That is how removed I was from actually revealing my true self.  For I was raised to never reveal anything.  And part of what got me into so much trouble while I was growing up was not being able to ask for help.  I literally had to learn how to talk to people like an adult, besides recovering from my addictions.  Actually hypnotherapy helped a lot.

A.C.  How old were you when you started writing Chicken?

D.H.S. I was in my late thirties and I was writing dumb screenplays in Hollywood at that time.  I hated my job, although I was making a lot of money.

David is working for Disney in those days.  And those are also the days of his escalating sex and cocaine addiction.

A.C. You mentioned making money in Hollywood.  In your interviews you talk a lot about the feeling of self-worth that you experienced the first time you got paid to have sex, professionally.  I don’t know about being paid to have sex because I was never a sex worker. However, I am very familiar with the feeling of cheap worth before a man, and when only performing the act of sex.  For sex can become a performance that makes you feel worth and powerful, even when you know that you are everything but.  Quoting Hank Williams, you said: “But there was a hole in my bucket.”  Let’s talk about sex, about the self-gratification of your past as a sex technician – as you rather call your former job.  Is that what you felt, at first?  Did you feel powerful, at seventeen years old?  Because we try to fill that hole with anything within sight, until we hit bottom…

D.H.S.  Yes, and soon as there is a hole it doesn’t matter what or how much your try to fill it with, whether it is sex, drugs, money, etc. For it all comes out the bottom.  That’s why the metaphor was so powerful for me.  You know, so many young people that get into the sex business do it for money.  I was completely alone.  Los Angeles is a cold and hard place, despite the fact that there are palm trees and that is 82 degrees, the week before Christmas.  It’s the way we live in LA, the isolation from other humans, the time spent in our car to go from one place to another.  While in New York, for example, you have to interact with people, whether you want it or not, even if just to go on the subway.  And that’s how it is, in most places.

I was seventeen and I felt alone.  I was robbed.  I got assaulted and raped.  I had nothing and nobody.

A.C.  That’s when you met the guy that pimped you.

D.H.S.  Yes, his specialty was finding kids that were alone, cute and vulnerable.  And that was I. This guy ran a fried chicken restaurant, as a front, and he would hire you for a week, to actually fry chicken.  Now, I don’t know if you have ever fried chicken in your life professionally, but it’s fucking horrible.  You get burns on your arms and you smell like chicken.  It’s a miserable fucking job.  Just wearing that little hat is nasty!

A.C.  That’s when he shows you the trick, after the week of frying chicken…

D.H.S.  Correct.  At the end of the week he gives you your paycheck.  And it is so small that you can’t possibly live on it.  It’s all very psychological.  He is one of the most generous, warm, kind and smart persons I have ever met in my whole life.  So, when you look at the check you are horrified; because after all the hard work you did, you cannot even survive.  It’s right then, when you are feeling worthless, with no money and nobody who likes you or cares for you, at the lowest point, that he says to you: “Do you want to start making some real money?” Of course, you say: “Yes.”  And he tells you about these rich friends of his whom you could party with.  I was so naïve that I saw myself at cocktail parties discussing the latest issue of The New Yorker, just because I was cute.  I had this idea in my head of being this young Oscar Wilde…

We both laugh when he is recalling the very beginning of his career in the world of prostitution.  Because he does laugh about it, and because he is very candid in admitting that it was his choice.  David does not have regrets for his past, today.  He closes his eyes and hides a residual of teenage embarrassment nonetheless; his body and his white hair wave, mocking a hypothetical Wilde with a cocktail in his hands.  But there is nothing to be embarrassed about. At seventeen we all believed in everything they told us.  Sometimes we still do, in order not to listen or see the inevitable truth.

D.H.S.  But, of course, he meant servicing adults, sexually.  My first job was kind of a trial and I was very nervous.  As I always say, one of the differences between a female and male sex worker is that there are many things in life that you can fake; an erection is not one of them.

A.C.  True.  But isn’t somewhat safer to be a male sex worker compared to a woman?

D.H.S.  Mostly, it is.  The dynamic of power between men and women is something that a lot of men still don’t understand.  The other day I was talking to this woman in a parking lot, late at night.  She had recently been assaulted she freaked out as soon as a guy walked past her.  I could sense that feeling that screams: “I’m not powerful enough to stand up to this guy who can just pick me up as a rag doll.”  Having been abused by someone much more powerful than I, I can truly relate to that feeling.  However, what happened was that I found a real affinity for the job, because once again I was looking after people.  In a way, that’s what you do when you are a sex worker.

A.C.  Providing a service?  It just came out of my mouth, but I am smiling while saying this.  I must admit it.

D.H.S.  Exactly!  That’s exactly what you do.  You look at the person you have in front of you and you try to understand what they want and need.  That’s what you do when you are a real sex worker and not a thief.  They must tell you: “Wow, that itch I had is now scratched.”  And I found out that I was really good at that.

A.C.  Do you think that your sex work triggered your sex addiction?

D.H.S.  Oh, of course it did.  But as you know, it’s very complicated, understanding why a person becomes addicted to something.  However, on that first job, when I walked into that room, I felt powerful, while in real life I felt powerless, a meaningless piece of shit.  That woman wanted something from me that I could provide her, a very specific set of tasks, with difficulties, that I could nonetheless perform.  And, when it was over I put the money in my pocket and felt big, large.

I know the power he is talking about.  Because I recall feeling it, too, many years ago, the first time I had sex when I was high.  That night, in another life, I thought I had understood how to be a woman that was not Alice.  I hated Alice.  And I never felt more in control, not realizing I would eventually lose it all and despise myself even more.

D.H.S.  In real life I felt small and meaningless.  It was 1974 and that $100 bill was my sense of self-worth.  Then, of course, when you have sex your brain sets off these endorphins and you get a chemical high from it.  So, for me it was both a physical and an emotional empowerment.

A.C. You have been asked before if you have felt exploited.  You were seventeen years old in those days so, of course, there was a part of you that felt exploited.  But I would like to talk to you more in depth about what your definition of exploitation is, in the sex world.  Prudes and bigots think that porn is exploitation, which is a huge mistake.  And they don’t know what they are missing, from time to time.  Actually, my take on sex is that there’s almost nothing wrong about it, as long as it is at your own terms.

D.H.S.  Absolutely, I completely agree with that.

A.C. Now, I do acknowledge the urgency in resolving the terrible issue of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.  But it’s not what we are talking about, today.  In your opinion, where is the thin line between personal choice and exploitation in the sex world you are familiar with?

D.H.S.  I did this interview on NPR a while ago and I was introduced as someone ‘forced into prostitution.’  And that’s the idea that a lot of people have.  I had to tell the host: “Look, no one put a gun to my head and tried to shoot me.”  I could have walked away at any moment.  It was my choice.  I felt enormously exploited frying chicken, to be honest with you.  Because I was forced to work under brutal circumstances and I was paid a piss.  That was exploitation.  The whole Fast Food industry is built on exploitation.

A.C. Well, Walmart is built on exploitation.

D.H.S. Walmart! Oh my God!  Any giant corporation that uses labor like this is in the exploitation business.  If you are at the lowest level of the food chain you are just going to ask yourself: “How am I going to be exploited?  What’s the exploitation that best suits my personality?”  When you are seventeen and in that state, your choices are very limited, with no education, resources or networking.

It’s true that the guy did not explain the business very well, at first.  He didn’t tell me that some of the things that were about to happen to me would remain in my nightmares for the rest of my life.  He didn’t tell me that this would potentially cause me some horrible personality disorders. But, in that job I also had beautiful experiences where I wasn’t exploited at all, and where I was treated with great respect and honored for my skills.

A.C.  Those were the best jobs, what about the worst?

D.H.S.  In the worst I was treated like a piece of shit and asked to do things that no teenager should ever been asked to do.  Ever.

A.C.  Are you saying that no matter where you work, exploitation is everywhere and affects the weak in the same way?

D.H.S.  Yes.  I believe it very strongly.  And the more I live, the more I am convinced of it.  The strong feeds on the weak.  That’s how society has been working forever.  Media like to make it about sex and prostitution, and although there are prostitutes that are forced to do it against their will, there are also many people who are forced to clean toilets or kids that are sold and have to become soldiers and shoot people in the head.

A.C.  Now that we mention prostitution, you wrote the anthology Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals & Their Clients Writing About Each Other.  How did you get the clients to write their stories?  It must have been difficult.  Sex workers seem to me more comfortable with what they do than their clients, who would rarely admit paying for sex.

D.H.S.  That was one of the most shocking things about the project.  And you are absolutely right, it’s easier for somebody to say: “Yes, I sell my body for sex,” than for somebody to admit the purchase of sex.  It sounds so ridiculous to me, especially because in history, being a prostitute has always been considered the worst possible profession.  The insult ‘whore’ always the lowest one.  Just think about the Scarlet Letter.

A.C.  Is something shifting in the sociological perception of prostitution and the sex worker profession in general?

D.H.S.  Something is indeed shifting.  I expected it to be a very easy process, here in America, to have people writing about their experiences in buying sex.  But it was very hard.  All my friends I asked to either laughed at me or were scornful, reminding me with pride that they didn’t have to pay for sex.  And I told them that they should try, at least once!  Like hiring a masseuse, who wouldn’t want to have a massage?  But that’s just my opinion, of course.  I believe that it is exactly the same transaction.

david bunnyAnyhow, I had so many contacts in the sex business that through Facebook and Twitter I was able to find both professionals and clients who agreed on talking.  What opened the gates a lot was the choice of letting them submit their stories with a pen name.

A.C.  Did you notice any difference in the male/female or straight/gay world?

D.H.S.  Interesting question.  I think that in the gay male world they are less ashamed.  They all did it once in a while; it’s part of the culture and they are much more accepting of sex for money.  Sex is such a fluid thing.  And especially older gay men; they had to hide for so long that being gay was a shameful enough thing.  There is nothing they are ashamed of.  What’s interesting on the lesbian community side is that many women who have sex with men for money are, in fact, lesbians.  At first it didn’t make sense to me, it was like a vegetarian working as a butcher.  But then I talked to a dear friend of mine and she explained to me that that it’s how they completely separate personal life with a woman at home, and work with a man client. And there is never the risk of falling in love this way.

A.C.  Have you ever fallen in love with a client?

D.H.S.  Yes.  But I was young and confused.  I even fantasized about moving in with her.  I was seventeen and she was probably forty-five.  I lived in a fantasy world so much back then, you have no idea…

A.C.  Of course I do.  We hate our life and any fantasy is better than reality.

Let’s move away from sex now, because your career has been so diverse.  You were a screenwriter for Disney (and plunging into your darkest days of addiction during those days, too.)  But you are also an actor, author and a comedian, too.  You started by opening for Robin Williams in the 1980s in San Francisco.  I am falling in love with American comedy and the more I study, the more I realize what a powerful weapon humor can be. Who were the comedians you aspired to, when you started?

D.H. S.  My favorite comic is Lenny Bruce who, of course, was a heroin addict.  Very dark sensibility and railing against the hypocrisy of society. Of course, he was arrested and harassed and tormented, ending up dead with a needle in his arm.  That’s my hero.

A.C.  I love Lenny Bruce, too.  He was one of the very first comedians I discovered when I moved here.

D.H.S.  And then I always loved Richard Pryor.  He famously burned himself up trying to smock rock and when he came back performing he did this joke of him on fire, on stage.  He took the darkest parts of his life, turned them into comedy and made people laugh.  In doing so, he illuminated the darkest sides of the human condition.  Pryor grew up in a world made of hate and violence.  And part of his mission was to expose this, through comedy.  There is no higher form of communication to me.  If I laugh, and then I have that moment when I have to think about what fucked up thing I have just laughed at, I know the artist has reached his purpose.  In your head you are debating about the philosophical ideas behind what made you crack, after you just did, hysterically.  Those moments are rare and hard to create.  Jerry Stahl is the same way, especially in his latest novel.

David tells me about his performing tour with Sex Worker Literati and he is astonished at the type of audience it attracts.  “There are a lot of young couple on first dates.  We have some dirty old men, too.  God bless them.  But the audience is very diverse and it’s a lot fun doing it. I notice quite some middle-aged feminist, as well, because we are sending a message of empowerment, after all.  Some gay audience is present, as I always put a couple of gay performers.  They have great stories!”  We briefly discuss the literary business and the side project he has started with his wife, The Book Doctors.  Time runs out nonetheless.  Sometimes I forget I am carrying out an interview and not just having coffee.  I have more questions and I need closure.

A.C.  Is there a moment in your career that you are particularly proud of?  You are primarily an author today, correct?

D.H.S.  Yes, I am.  But something beautiful happened during the show that I performed from Chicken.

Chicken became a very successful one-man show, after the book was published in 2002.

My mom had not read the book, as she didn’t want to.  My whole family reacted very badly when the memoir got published and they completely shut me out.  When I was touring with the show I performed in a college, in Portland, which is where my mother lives.  It was her wife, the same woman she had run off with when I was a kid that told her to go and see the show.  So my mom did.  The night happened to be a big success.  Every time that I am in a college I do a Q&A after the show and that night, I introduced my mom to everyone for the first time.  I can still see her standing up in the audience, proud and bowing.

David has tears in his eyes when recalling the night in Portland.

D.H.S.  She came backstage after the interview and, for the first time she told me that she was sorry for what had happened to me.  Had I only told her, back then, she would have tried to help me.  That night was a moment of truth and reconciliation, a beautiful metaphor for what writing can do.

A.C.  Absolutely.  If it wasn’t for both my novel and this blog, I wouldn’t be alive, and sober, to be honest with you.  It gave me a purpose and it helped me surviving the pain, the shame and the burden of life.  I did not want to live.  Through writing I have found my voice for the very first time.

david white hairD.H.S.  It’s because writing can expose parts of ourselves that we couldn’t expose.  After that night my mother and I became best friends, and it all came about through this book I wrote, speaking my truth, something I was so ashamed of.

A.C.  I am reading Advertisement For Myself and Mailer admits how, after The Naked and the Dead, he was not able to write another novel in such a quick and spontaneous way, for a long time.  An old mentor told me that some books you write, other write you.  This is exactly what we are talking about, some truths just have to come out and, eventually they do.

D.H.S.  That’s what happened for me, with Chicken.

A.C.  Have you learned to ask for help?

D.H.S.  I did learn, although it’s still a difficult thing to do.  But I am much better at it than I have ever been.  And learning how to do this has helped me how to focus on the things that I do well; while those things that I don’t do well I can understand and acknowledge with those who are good at them.  I was having a terrible problem with this book that I am writing, for example.  And, normally, I would have just kept it to myself. Instead, I have asked for advice and gathered many smart ideas from many smart people.

A.C.  Earlier this morning I read something that made me laugh; the downside of isolation is that we are the only ones to give ourselves advice.  Which is quite often a bad idea.

We both laugh.  For we both know what’s the kind of advice we are inclined to give ourselves. On my side, I know that I need the inside job, every day.

D.H.S.  That’s really funny.  I really like that.  So now I am not the only one who is giving myself advice.  Yes!

A.C.  Last one and you are free.  Are you okay with your nature and your past, today?

D.H.S.  I ask this question to myself all the time.  Would I whisper something into my ear at seventeen?  “Don’t go into that door?  Call your mom?”  I wonder if I would be a better person. I would have gone through a lot less agony and pain, but I wouldn’t be the man that I am, I would not have written my memoir and had a beautiful kid.

A.C.  How old is she?

D.H.S.  She is six and she is such a joy!  I wouldn’t be here talking to you, too.  It’s a very difficult thing to answer.  But I feel that everything I went through, lived and survived, I have also learned from it; and I have changed into a different human being.  It would have been easy to just remain a drug addict, a pleasure seeker and a miserable man.  That’s easier and you see that all the time, people crawling into a bottle and dying there.  But I didn’t want that to be my life, because I was on the road of self-destruction.  Had I not changed, I would be dead.  In the change I have become a person that I am proud of, although I still fuck up and make mistakes; we all do.  But now I can ask for help to do better next time.

In the end, I am grateful for all the fantastic things that happened to me and for all the fucked up ones, too.  Look, I deal with a bunch of people that have MFAs from writing programs and they write sentences so beautiful to make your heart break.  But they have no stories to tell. They haven’t had nobody beat the shit out of them, and they haven’t been dragged to bottom of the barrel.  But probably I just gravitate towards survivors, and people who have been through horrible misery and come out the other side better human beings.  If you have looked death in the face you are part of a club.

A.C.  Survivors have a message.  Thank you for sharing yours with me, and my readers.  It was beautiful to have you here.

Just a few hours prior connecting with David I had posted a photo, both on Twitter and Facebook, of my Interview Composition Pad.  I had simply shared that, with this interview I had come to the very last page of it.  The $0.99 notebook had started in August, with George Christie.

What was only supposed to be a tentative weekly publication that precious and humble first guests like Phil Hendrie, Clint Mansell and George Christie helped me start, putting some brave trust in me, has become today a very serious deal.  The interviews are hopefully reflecting the transformation, too.  And 2014 will be full of surprises, because more amazing guests are already lined up.  Fascinating stories and authenticity is what I offer; I hope you have noticed by now, because there is no better way of learning for me.

Thank you for helping me reach a result I never believed possible.  YOU, 15 thousand folks a month, are my gift of 2013.  Thank you for supporting me and for spreading the word.  Every time you share my work you share the effort I put into bringing you the best I can.  Don’t stop.  I won’t either.

I don’t know if you believe in Christmas, if you do, MERRY CHRISTMAS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Doctors Pitchapalooza Video: Surprise Teen Winner

This is a Video from when we did Pitchapalooza in our hometown, Montclair NJ.  Watch for surprise teenage winner.

Tips for Writers on How to Blog

Blogs, writing, publishing. Mama plus!

Buy a NEW copy of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published & Get FREE 20 minute consultation.

In our recent interview, David Henry Sterry of the Book Doctors shared five of their top tips for aspiring authors. In this next installment, David covers more top tips specifically for us bloggers.

1.  PICK SOMETHING YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT

DHS: First of all, pick a subject matter that you’re absolutely passionate about.

Don’t try to follow trends. We get this all the time, like people ask me “What’s the hot thing in publishing? What should I be writing about? Werewolves, vampires, unicorns, dwarves?”

No: pick something you’re passionate about, something that has meaning for you, something that makes you excited, something you think about and do in your spare time.

2.  PUT SOMETHING UP WITH CREDIBLE REGULARITY

DHS: And then, of course, there’s persistence; to have daily application of the principles involved in success. You’ve got to put something up with credible regularity: if it’s not every day, every couple of days.

You’ve got to keep feeding your blog; it’s like a garden. If you don’t water it, if you don’t weed it, if you don’t plant the right seeds, it’s just going to sit there and be a scrappy patch of weeds.

3.  REACH OUT TO PEOPLE

DHS: You’ve got to have people to read it, so you’re going to have to reach out to people.

You want to find those people in your discipline, in your area of interest, and connect with them in meaningful ways. Do nice things for them.

I like to say that the biggest principle of social media is ‘Good Samaritanism’. I get things every day, and I’m sure you do too: “Vote for me!” “Be my friend!” I’m like, “Why am I going to vote for you? I don’t even know you! Why are you sending me this? Why do you want me to do something for you when I don’t even know you?”

Now, if someone emails me and says “Hello, I just wrote a review upon Amazon – which anyone can do – of your book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, I’m going to do something nice for that person. I will put a link to their blog all over my Facebook and my Twitter and, you know, I’ll do something nice for them if they have made themselves a friend of me.

When I’m going after somebody, I put a link to their stuff up on my various platforms. I put a review up. I put a comment up on their blog; it doesn’t take much time to do that. But when I’ve done three or four of those things, then I feel comfortable about asking them to help me in some way.

So I think that’s a really important principle to embrace: to collect your tribe of people. That’s what’s absolutely crucial. You’re writing about something in new and interesting ways, that you’re passionate about, and then to have a group of people who are interested in the same thing.

 

 

 

911: The Power of Small Town Independent Book Stores

DowntownSisters911 said the sign as we edged into the central Oregon town of Sisters.  We weren’t sure if that was the population, or a cry for help.  It was Saturday afternoon, and we were booked into Paulina Springs Book Company as part of our Putting Your Passion Into Print Tour.  In fact we had put together this event to sell our books Satchel Sez: the World, Wit and Wisdom of Satchel Paige, and Pride & Promiscuity: the Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen, because our publishers, Simon & Schuster, and Random House, had told us it would be very difficult to do a successful event in a bookstore revolving around Satchel Paige or Jane Austen, both of whom are dead, and most likely will remain so.  But Kate Cerino at Paulina Springs seemed to think differently, and had insisted on doing an event about Satchel Paige, instead of Passion Into Print.  So there we were.

We walked into the store at 4:40 for our 5:00 event, and apart from Kate, none of the 911 Sisterites were there.  Our expectations, which had been extremely low to begin with, plummeted as we spied the 30 empty seats sadly facing one lone chair, which was staring off into space self-consciously.

As we strolled around Sisters, we noticed that all the shops were closed, and no one was around.  It was like a Twilight Zone episode.  We began to wonder if there really were 911 people in Sisters, or if we were going to be abducted by author-starved aliens who would make us write books day and night for the rest of eternity.

Well, imagine our surprise at 5:00 when we returned to find Paulina Springs Bookstore packed with 35 of its 911 occupants.  3% of the population.  If this was LA there would’ve been 300,000 people there.  Our jaws hit the floor.  Those melancholy chairs were now full and happy, brimming with Sisters bottoms, all waiting for us to say something intelligent, insightful and witty about Satchel Paige.

I scanned the crowd, and it suddenly hit me: there were only two people under the age of sixty in the audience.  Talk about your target audience.  Afterwards, the crowd asked great questions, and many of them shared their own Satchel Paige stories.  It was America at its best, oral history flying all around us, right there in Paulina Springs Book Company, Sisters, Oregon, population 911.  Turns out almost everyone there had seen Satchel pitch, which is not as strange as it might seem, since he barnstormed North America from Moosejaw to Miami.  One woman told a story about when she was a little girl and her father took her to Comiskey Park in 1948 so she could see Satchel pitch against the Cleveland Indians.  As she told us, her eyes glowed like gold as she lit up the room.

Towards the end of the event the Oldest-Man-in-the-Room raised his hand.  In a voice weathered with age but still going gangbusters, he said, “I was the batboy on Satchel Paige’s team.  My uncle was his manager.  I used to ride in his car with him.  He was fast.  He would have made a great race car driver, Ol’ Satch.”  He stole the whole show in about twenty seconds.

After the event, the Oldest-Man-In-the-Room approached me.  He had several hundred thousand miles on him, but his smile was wide, his mind was tack-sharp, and he had incredible posture.  Made me stop slouching just looking at him.  He thanked me for writing the book.  Then he told me that he had one of Satchel’s old gloves.  I said I would love to buy it from him.  He said, “No, sir, I want you to have it.  Give me your address and I’ll mail it to you.”  I insisted on paying for it, but he wouldn’t hear of it.  He gave me his pen, and I wrote down my address for him.  He carefully folded the paper and put it in his pocket.  Then he stuck out his hand and I took it in mine.  It was old and thin, but the grip was strong, with a little pump at the end.  I hope I’m shaking hands as well as that when I’m 80.  After we said our heartfelt farewells, I was distracted by someone asking me to sign a book, and this led to another signature, then another.  As I signed the books, I was so happy when the buyers asked me to make the inscriptions out to their grand-sons and grand-daughters.  Then it hit me: this is why I wanted to write the book in the first place, so the next generation would know about Satchel and his 6 Rules for Staying Young.  As I signed, I felt a tug on my sleeve.  It was the Oldest-Main-in-the-Room.  I smiled to myself.  I figured he probably forgot something.  “Sonny, you got my pen.”  I cracked up, handed him the pen, and smiled as I watched him walk away slow but steady, overjoyed at 44 to be called Sonny.

We thanked Kate, she thanked us, then we all patted each other on the back for quite some time.  We promised her we’d be back when my memoir Chicken comes out in February, and she said she was looking forward to it.

Everyone in the store bought a book.  It was the most successful event on our whole 13-stores-in-15-day tour.

As we packed up to leave Sisters, population 911, Arielle turned to David and said, “You never know.”

 

D & A: Why did you buck conventional wisdom and bring an event revolving around Satchel Sez: The Wit, Wisdom, and World of Satchel Paige into Paulina Springs Bookstore, when most publishers say in-store events about baseball players don’t work when the ballplayer is dead?

K: Someone in the store heard David being interviewed by Scott Simon on National Public Radio, and thought it would make a good event.

D & A: Why did you think an event about a Negro Leagues legend would work in your store when there are so few African-Americans in your town?

K: I don’t really think about it like that.  We try to only bring in great events, so when people come to see an event here, they know it’s going to be interesting.  Like all independent bookstores that have managed to survive, we have very loyal customers, and they support us.

D & A: So, you don’t make automatic assumptions of which books will draw crowds, and which won’t?

K: No, not really.  We just try to bring in high-quality authors we think will put on really good events.

D & A: Your store has such a nice feel in it, it seems very intimate.

K: I think that’s important.  A lot of people are intimidated by writers.  A woman came to an event here and she said she’d always wanted to go to one of these events, but she felt intimidated.  We have a very casual feeling here, and I think that makes a big difference.

D & A: And you had books I’d never seen before.

K: We’re able to hand-select the books we sell.  I think almost every book in this store has been read by someone on the staff, or was recommended to us by a customer.  One of our customers lives most of the time in Berkeley, and she comes into our store to buy books.  I asked her why and she said, “You guys always have seem to have great books I can’t find anywhere else.”  And she’s from Berkeley, where there are so many bookstores!

D & A: Your event was the most successful on David and Arielle’s 13 stores-in15-days Northwest Tour.  Why do think the event such a success, in a town with 911 people?

K: Well, that’s a little deceiving.  There are actually about 10,000 people who live in and around Sisters.  But I think Paulina Springs Book Company is in many ways an intellectual center here in Sisters, and, in fact, for the larger Central Oregon community.  The store’s owners, Dianne Campbell and Dick Sandvik, have worked very hard over the past nine years to develop strong audiences for our in-store events.  People really pay attention to who we bring in.  Like a lot of small towns all over America, many well-educated, interesting people live here.  People have chosen to move here because it’s such a great place to live.  We really work hard to get the word out on our events, and we benefit a lot from word of mouth in the community.

D & A: Do you think that publishers sometimes underestimate small-town bookstores’ ability to sell books and stage successful events?

K: Most definitely!  We have a very hard time getting publishers to send their authors here.  We’ve been very persistent, especially at making direct contact with writers.  Authors like Sandra Dallas, Barry Lopez, Ivan Doig, and Craig Lesley came to Paulina Springs despite reservations of their publicists – and had great receptions and wonderful experiences.  We think it’s time publicists and publishers took note that their authors might make a bigger splash here, rather than being part of the background noise in the big city.  I was cleaning the files the other day and I found a note from Pete Fromm addressing this very point.  “…the entire way to Boise, where the Barnes & noble experience was pretty much a bust.  Meeting you guys, the dinner and the reading at your store turned out to be one of the high points of the entire trip.  Thanks for pestering the publisher to get me there.”

D & A: That was our experience, too, Kate.  Thank you so much for talking to me, and thanks for making us feel so welcome.

K: Thank you.

Jerry Stahl With the Skinny on Fatty, Republican Sun Gods, and Happy Mutant Babies

To read on Huff Po click here.

interview-jerry-stahlI first met Jerry Stahl at the Los Angeles Book Fair, back when it was held at UCLA in Westwood, the second happiest place on earth.  It was blazing hot, and Jerry was sitting in a booth trying to promote his book, squirming like a bug under a microscope as all the happy peppy people passed by.  He looked like something out of a Kafka novel written by William Burroughs, a writer about to be transformed into a junky cockroach.  Which is basically how I felt, having been in a booth trying to promote my own book next to Hollywood legend Janet Leigh, who was signing her new memoir, and had a line of adoring fans snaking around the block.  While I sat there sweating like an amateur smuggler being interrogated at customs while a hundred bags of junk clogs his colon.  Jerry is one of those rare writers who goes between Hollywood screenplays and novels.  He writes dark subversive stories and he somehow continues to get away with it.  I should, for the sake of full disclosure, admit that he is one of my favorite writers.  Steeped in the grand tradition of Noir which has spawned such writers like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and Dennis Lehane, he also brings a wicked black LOL comedy to the table.  Which is a very hard thing to do.  <em>Happy Baby Mutant Pills</em> is his new book, a scathing, rollicking indictment of the pharmaceutical/chemical industry told from the perspective of a dope fiend hack who writes the horrifying disclaimers which come with almost all modern drugs.  So I thought I’d check in with Mr. Stahl and pick his brain about Big Pharma, killing someone with a paperclip in the bathroom of the downtown LA Bus Depot, and the sick sordid business of publishing.

David Henry Sterry: What made you decide to write something about the wretched pharmaceutical industry?  And why did you choose to attack the subject from the POV of the guy who tells us that being bitten by a werewolf may lead to “mild euphoria, feelings of newfound power, sudden appearance of full-body pelt and canine incisors during a full moon.  Some patients report disturbing ‘incidents,’ followed by memory loss and occasional incarceration.  See your doctor if you experience rapid ‘bulking up,’ four-legged gait, urge to urinate outdoors or kill and eat people”?

blog-stahl-080813Jerry Stahl: The question would be “why not?” Sometimes a voice just feels right for the time. During a period of world-class insomnia, I found myself zoning on Morning Joe at four in the morning. But as soon the commercials came on — inevitably remedies for torments of the depleted testosterone, excess fat or frequent urination variety — I found myself riveted. Beneath the blatant comedy fodder of a product supposed to boost your manhood that can actually shrink your testicles, there’s a deeper unspoken and ultimately soul-crushing message: sure we might give you bleeding eyeballs, rectal ooze and suicidal thoughts — but guess what? Apparently your life is so hellish that busloads of people just like you have decided the only way to survive it is to take our pills — no matter how grotesquely unpleasant the side effects. If you want to understand America, follow the pharmaceuticals. Ironically, the reason I had insomnia is that I was on a toxic cocktail of drugs as part of a pharma-company trial to try and cure the Hepatitis C I’d had for decades, from being a junky. The non-FDA-approved medication wiped out my virus in a week. But the pills were so toxic, the doctors told me I couldn’t so much as touch my pregnant wife’s skin after I’d touched one. We either had to separate or have sex in bee-keeper suits. Think about that. One wrong move and the baby could’ve looked like a jellyfish with Tony Robbins teeth. Of course the pharmaceutical industry is appalling, but they also saved my life. It’s a moral dilemma. What if you have appendicitis and Joseph Mengele takes out your appendix? Do you shoot him once you’re up and around? The eternal question.

DHS: I was trained as a writer in the Disney system, where everything is plotted out beforehand to the point of strangulation.  Which explains, in part, why Disney movies suck so hard, and why the nickname for the company inside those hallowed halls is Moushwitz.  Do you spend a lot of time outlining and working on plot before you start writing?

JS: Wow. I’d heard Walt Disney was anti-semitic, but I didn’t know he ran a camp. Anyway, outlines give me hives. Somewhere Mailer said writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see about 20 feet up the road with your headlights, and once you cover that twenty feet, you can see the next twenty. You don’t know what you’re going to do next until you find out what you just did. For me voice is more important than plot. If I fall in love with a voice, I’ll follow it anywhere. In Nicholson Baker’s new novel, the narrator is riveting on the subject of lawn sprinklers. Burroughs can spend ten pages talking about his big toe, and I’m in. Mary Gaitskill, Raymond Chandler, Flannery O’Connor, Rick Moody — I’m not sure I could tell you the plots of any of their work, but I could probably recite entire sentences, because the voices got in my head. Screenplay-wise, outlines are a necessary contrivance. The people giving you money want to know how you’re going to get from A to whatever comes after A. In real life, plot is something you don’t see until its over and you look back, trying to figure out what the fuck happened.

DHS: You write with such gruesome, grotesque Grand Guignol style, are you ever tempted to try to tame the beast and write something that won’t offend, upset and turn off a huge chunk of the fly-by states?  And do you ever get pressure from your publishers to do so?

JS: One man’s Grand Guignol is another mans’ weekend with the family. My favorite DeLillo line, from <em>White Noise</em>, is “the special grotesquerie of sane men leading normal lives.” Who gets to be arbiter of offensive vs. non-offensive? The inventory manager at Walmart? It’s a lame construct. (Not to mention, the Walton family keeps hundreds of thousands of employees in gnawing poverty, while they themselves live like Republican Sun Gods.) Fuck that. You want upsetting: how about, everybody you ever know and love is going to die, many in less-than-felicitous fashion, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it? It’s right there in the Bible. Beyond that, while they may not be reading me, I would guess there’s just as much gruesome in so-called flyover states as there is anywhere else. Don’t the Cheneys live in Wyoming? For the record, don’t think I never write about sunshine buttercups. For a while I’ve had a column in The Rumpus, OG DAD, about being a late-life second-time-around father. I’m a font of adorable tot anecdotes. Plus which, trust me, you haven’t gone near Grand Guignol until you’ve been front and center when your baby’s tearing out of the birth canal and your wife is screaming obscenities that would make Linda Blair blush and there’s enough gore on the sheets to make In Cold Blood look like Ellen. When my first child was born I was on heroin, and when my second was born, I remembered why I needed the shit. It looked like an axe murder. The most beautiful moments in life are not the most genteel, except in romance novels. To me, the scariest artist on the planet was Thomas Kinkade. As for my publishers, I’m lucky. They realize by now that I’m not Mitch Albom.

DHS: You’ve written a real memoir, Permanent Midnight, and a fake memoir, I, Fatty.  Is there a difference as you approach this material, as you were writing these similar, but clearly different kinds of books?

JS: It’s funny, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who at one point was going to play Arbuckle, told me when we met that he read I, Fatty as another memoir — except in this one I’m disguised as a fat silent movie star. Which rang so true it made me squirm. Sometimes the author is the last to know. At readings, there are always people who tell me they found Permanent Midnight brutal and I, Fatty almost, you know, sweet. To me it’s the other way around. I recently had to re-read <em>Permanent</em> — out loud, for the book-on-tape. What surprised me is how, reading it now, PM has a kind of naiveté that I couldn’t see when I wrote it… But then I look at Fatty’s story, which — on the surface — couldn’t be more different than mine. Here’s an abused and abandoned fat boy who grows up to be a wildly successful and visionary baby-man movie star. The first actor to make a million dollars. Loved by the world until the world decides he’s a virgin-raping pig and publicly shames him into prison and penury. Hands down, I Fatty strikes me as a much more brutal book. Maybe Hoffman was right. Because I was emotionally naked behind the fat-suit — like Anton Scalia under his robes on Casual Court Fridays — I was able to show all the pain, without all the fireworks, in a way I didn’t have the chops, or the heart, to do in Permanent Midnight. Picasso said “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.” To me it’s the other way around.

DHS: <em>Happy Baby Mutant Pills</em> is written in the first-person, and it feels, in form anyway, like a memoir.  What advice do you have for writers who want to take material from their own life and turn it into fiction?

JS: I’m a sucker for an unreliable narrator. And there’s an immediacy to first person that I love. Advice-wise, I would only say that, in my life, there are moments that have felt more like fiction than reality. Or maybe it’s just that I had to dissociate to survive. (I think it was Robert Stone who said writing a novel is like sanctioned schizophrenia — or maybe it was Cher.) In any event, those are the moments that inspire. On some level, the real subject of any first-person fiction is how the narrator sees the world. Whatever happens after “Call me Ishmael,” Melville lets Ishmael hold the camera.

DHS: What was your inspiration for the paperclip in this temple murder scene, which is somehow a hysterically funny and disturbingly graphic attack on all the senses, particularly the olfactory?

JS: I should probably say that, as I was writing the novel, I found myself idly performing a lobotomy with my Number 4 pencil. (I actually typed “slobotomy,” which is a better word.) But why lie?  I can’t remember where that came from. I just remember why it came. My theory has always been, when you don’t know what to write, write something you’ve never read before. As for the olfactory issue, let’s just say, death doesn’t smell good. If you’ve been there, I don’t have to explain. If you haven’t, God bless, are you in for a big surprise.

DHS: They say you should write what you know.  Clearly you know a lot about ingesting, injecting, being addicted to and getting clean from heroin.  But did you do a lot of research into the pharmaceutical industry?  Because it seems like you have a keen insider’s insight into that giant soul sucking industry.

DHS: I love to research. I always over do it, until I’m crushed under stacks of shit I absolutely have to get in the book — but which, if I included even half of, would choke the thing to death in five minute. What gets in is half random, half obsessive. For example, with a baby on the way I was obsessed with breast milk, which it turns out now includes everything from toilet cleaner to lithium. And that’s the healthy alternative. I have no insider’s insight, just an outsider’s obsession. Every time I see the olestra ad, with the famous “anal leakage” side effect, I think, some guy had to get up in the morning, drag his ass to the subway, get to the office and sit down with his Dilbert mug and his shitty MacDonalds apple turnover and actually write that. To some extent, this novel is my way of saying “Hats off!”

DHS: Who are some of your favorite writers, and why?

JS: It’s a changing roster. The last ten books I read and loved were Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts; Michelle Tea’s Valencia; Lit by Mary Karr, Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches; Gun Machine by Warren Ellis, The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus; Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Joe Sacco & Chris Hedges; I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan and — a couple of yearly re-reads — The Demon by Hubert Selby Junior and Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son. You couldn’t think of more disparate writers. But what unites them — for me — is that they all say things no one else is saying, in ways no one else is saying them. That’s what I crave in writing — and any other genre: artists who say the unsayable, or try to.

DHS: You move back and forth between writing for the screen and writing books.  How is your approach different in these two mediums?

JS: For me, scripts are harder because they require more social skills. You can hide out in your pad and bang out a 800-page novel and never have to speak to a soul you don’t want to speak to. With movies — and I say this with love — when you’re not writing you’re talking to people all the fucking time. Sometimes they’re talking while you’re writing. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t have a character blow his nose in his tie without justifying it. Which isn’t necessarily bad, just a different process. The best thing about movies & television- when it’s not the worst thing — is collaborating.  I’ve been on a good run — I worked a couple years with Philip Kaufman on Hemingway & Gellhorn, which was like being paid to go to film school. Larry Charles and I have been writing together, working, among other things, on turning Pain Killers into a cable series, Manny & Mengele. LC’s got so many great show biz stories, I keep bugging him to do his memoir, because I’d kill to read the fucking thing. A couple weeks ago I did an episode of Maron, which meant hanging in a room with Marc Maron and a bunch of comedians. Fucking heaven.

DHS: Why did you choose to reveal to the American public that you were a heroin addict?  What with the repercussions?

JS: The repercussions? I can’t say I thought about them. I was so desperate, I didn’t think about the pros and cons of ‘revealing’ anything. I was trying to survive. What can I say? I got a book deal and I didn’t look back. Once the check cleared, I got the money to stop living in the electricity-free, no plumbing basement of a crackhouse and actually get my own apartment. I got to stop going to the bathroom in restaurants. I bought a bed. The little things. People think just cause you give up dope, your life works out. In fact, once you give up dope, it just means you have to deal with all the shit in it without any buffer. On the natch. Which is harder, in some ways, than being on dope. The negatives? Inadvertently hurting some people I cared about by how I handled them in the book. I could have done a better job. And wish I had. But I’ve tried to make amends — and pay back all the money I borrowed or stole. That book, and every thing that happened after, was a miracle, but the bigger miracle was getting off dope in the first place. Getting clean doesn’t mean you’re Mr. Happy Guy the rest of your life. It just means you stop being Mr. Junky Asshole. As for the public, I don’t think we spend a lot of time thinking about each other.

DHS: Cocaine was my drug of choice, and I swear whenever I see someone snorting up a big fat juicy line, my nostrils start twitching and all I want is to perform the sacramental ritual: the chopping, the smoothing into lines, the rolling up of the $20 bill, and the Great Suck.  I’m just curious, when you see someone on TV or in the movie shooting up, do you get a knee-jerk nostalgia for banging dope?

JS: Occasionally I see some skeek nodding and drooling at a bus stop, and I get a little jealous. You know that fucker isn’t sweating the mortgage. He’s living the dream. Usually when somebody shoots up on TV, they’re doing it wrong — jabbing the rig in and slamming the plunger down without getting a register, which takes me right out of the scene. One of my first jobs in the movie business was needle wrangler on Permanent Midnight. Not to brag. I had to show Ben Stiller how to draw blood back in the syringe. It’s been downhill from there.

DHS: Who would you rather party with, Fatty Arbuckle or Ernest Hemingway?  Why?

JS: Budd Schulberg told me that whenever he met Hemingway, Hemingway wanted to box. But if you were a better fighter than him — which Schulberg  was — Hemingway would get pissed off and sulk. So I’m gonna go with Roscoe. I don’t know about party, but I would have loved to hang with Arbuckle after Hollywood chewed him up and spit him out. After he’d been smeared by Hearst and jailed and — despite being found innocent three times — universally shunned. He couldn’t buy a gig, and just being seen with him made you socially suspect. But he made a comeback — not because he needed redemption — but because he wanted to make movies. Imagine the kind of heart that takes.

I don’t trust anybody who hasn’t been to hell. And Arbuckle survived an inferno, public and private, I can’t even begin to contemplate. I don’t necessarily want to meet those who achieve “greatness.” But I am in awe of people who survive the unsurvivable.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

JS: Don’t do it if you don’t have to. But if you have to, have no expectations. And don’t listen to any advice anybody has about writing. Just get your ass in the chair. The best thing anyone ever said to me on the subject was Bruce Jay Friedman, who wrote two of the funniest books in the English language, Stern and A Mother’s Kisses. He said, “When you write a sentence that makes you squirm, keep going.” I’ve been pretty much squirming ever since.

Jerry Stahl’s memoir, Permanent Midnight, was made into a movie starring Ben Stiller and Maria Bello, and his novels include Pain Killers, Perv — A Love Story, Bad Sex On Speed, Plainclothes Naked,  I, Fatty (optioned by by Johnny Depp)  and his latest, Happy Mutant Baby Pills (optioned by Ben Stiller.)  Among other places, his much-translated fiction and journalism have appeared in Esquire, Playboy, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Believer and Details, where he was Culture Columnist for three years — and his blog, “OG Dad,” appears irregularly on The Rumpus. He has written extensively in film and television, including, most recently, the HBO film, “Hemingway & Gellhorn” & the odd episode of the IFC series, “Maron.” (He also appears in this tiny movie directed by Larry Charles, with whom he is collaborating on a cable series, Manny & Mengele.)   Anthony Bourdain said, “Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog.”

David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book, Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks</a>, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte.  He is also co-founder of The Book Doctors, who have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.

Top 10 Tips for Making a Great Pitch (with Bonus NPR Interview)

The essential guide cover_ Your pitch is one of the most powerful and underrated arrows in your quiver as you attempt to scale the walls of Publishing Castle.  Here are just a few helpful tips.

1. A great pitch is like a poem.  Every word counts.
2. Make us fall in love with your hero.  Whether you’re writing a novel or memoir, you have to make us root for your flawed but lovable hero.
3. Make us hate your villain.  Show us someone unique and dastardly whom we can’t wait to hiss at.
4. Just because your kids love to hear your story at bedtime doesn’t mean you’re automatically qualified to get a publishing deal. So make sure not to include this information in your pitch.
5. If you have any particular expertise that relates to your novel, tell us. Establishing your credentials will help us trust you.
6. Your pitch is your audition to show us what a brilliant writer you are, it has to be the very best of your writing.
7.Don’t make your pitch a book report.  Make it sing and soar and amaze.
8. A pitch is like a movie trailer.  You start with an incredibly exciting/funny/sexy/romantic/etc. close-up with intense specificity, then you pull back to show the big picture and tell us the themes and broad strokes that build to a climax.
9. Leave us with a cliffhanger.  The ideal reaction to a pitch is, “Oh my God, what happens next?”
10. Show us what’s unique, exciting, valuable, awesome, unexpected, about your project, and why it’s comfortable, familiar and proven.

Here’s a link to interview I did about pitching for NPR.

We’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a NEW copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published.  Just email sterryhead@gmail.com and we’ll set up your consultation.

Art of the Memoir: Lisa Schenke: A Son’s Fall to Suicide, a Mother’s Rise from Grief

LisaS_WT_design_blueWe first met Lisa Schenke at Book Towne on the Jersey shore.  In one minute she told us the story of her son Tim’s suicide, which led to a series of copycat suicides in South Jersey.  It broke our hearts.  Not just because it was so gut wrenching, but because she told it so beautifully, and with such breathtaking honesty.  Knowing that there’s an epidemic of suicides among teenagers in America is different than staring into the eyes of a mom who’s beloved son jumped in front of a train.  But having a story and writing a book are very different things.  Without Tim: a Son’s Fall to Suicide, a Mothers Rise from Grief is out, so we wanted to talk to her about the process of turning her tragedy into a book.  And, during National Suicide Prevention Month, about the terrible problem of teenage suicide.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: What made you decide to write this book about such a horrific, and very personal subject?

Lisa Schenke book photo 11-12LISA SCHENKE: I felt that I had a story to tell, a story that would help others. My initial goal was to help those who are grieving, especially from a suicide. However, the further along I got with organizing my thoughts and the content for the book, the more I realized I had a bigger goal: to help teens and young adults who are struggling with the many issues facing them today. That’s how my book developed into two storylines: my recovery after Tim’s death, and glimpses into Tim’s life as he grew up- both his accomplishments and his troubles. I was also kind of motivated by people always asking me things like “How do you survive? I don’t know how you do it? How do you get up in the morning?”

DHS: Was it difficult to go back over these terrible events?

LS: Yes and no. Some days were heart-wrenching; trying to figure out the right way to express something so important to me. I also worried about putting my husband, children and immediate family members “through this” again. But more often than not, the writing helped clarify and solidify the details that I never want to forget. And I often reminded myself that I wanted other young people to understand how much they are loved.

DHS: Did writing this story help you in any way?

LS: Yes, very much. I feel that I voiced what many other parents are unable to share. While trying to convince other parents that they are doing the best they can, I kind of convinced myself that I did my best too. I also feel that it is a tribute to Tim. Also a tribute to my family. I want to make a difference in suicide prevention, I’m proud of my family. So many reasons that I wanted to expressing myself. I don’t claim to have the answers, but feel that telling my story can be comforting to teenagers who relate,  parents who have lost a child, and any parents raising teenagers.

DHS: What was the process of publishing like for you?

LS: Very complicated at first! Nothing I had ever been exposed to before. I chose not to send to many publishing houses and not to wait a long period of time before deciding to self-publish instead. I evaluated the pros and cons of self-publishing long and hard before proceeding. I am somewhat of a control freak, and I really LOVED my cover design. After being denied by a few publishers and realizing that I wouldn’t have control over many aspects of the book, including the cover, I chose to self-publish. I got a lot of professional  help by connecting to quality people for each area including copy editing, proofreading, book formatting, etc. I am extremely satisfied with the final product and feel I did not cut any corners in producing a high quality book.

DHS: Did you get help from an editor, and if so, how did this work?

LS: Yes! Each editor I worked with gave me the option of accepting/rejecting the suggested changes. Whenever I had questions, they were open to discussing. My mentor, Arielle Eckstut, was my content editor and she helped me tremendously. She clearly explained when/where the material did not flow, helped with length of chapters, pointed out all areas where chapters did not have a clear endpoint, the list goes on and on. However, Without Tim was always MY book. I never felt as though any of the editors were taking over the writing process.

DHS: What advice do you have for writers who want to tell their personal story, both in terms of writing and the publishing process?

LS: I think of myself as a “bottom up” rather than a “top down” person. I started with outlines containing many, many details of memories and little stories of things I wanted to include in my book. After months of doing nothing more than writing lists, outlines, and short paragraphs, I was finally ready to begin. For me, writing was not like you see on TV: someone sitting at a typewriter or computer moving along chapter 1, chapter 2, …  Also, I would not suggest using a ghost writer. I tried that for a short time, then ended the contract. I don’t feel anyone can tell your story other than you! Regarding the publishing process: I chose to hire professionals to help me because I have no expertise. Arielle helped me in finding quality help without spending a fortune. I published through Amazon Createspace. Because I was not confident with the book formatting process, I did hire a book formatter even though it’s possible to do it yourself. In the end, I will be happy if I can get “out of the red.” I did not write a book to make profit, but it would be nice if I can earn back my expenses! And then I will choose to donate to my son’s scholarship fund and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)!

DHS: What would you say to parents who are worried that their teenager may have suicidal ideations?

LS: I think parents should seek help, better to err on the side of caution. Even though most  troubled teenagers will not end up going through with suicide, they most likely need some help. And if you or your child doesn’t like or connect with the counselor, keep trying another one. Sometimes the match takes time. I know it is frustrating to have to “start again” with your whole story but it’s worth it if you find someone your teenager trusts. Try to help your teen understand that it’s ok to have fears, insecurities, … and that there is a way to get to a better place. Try to be calm and patient; something I wish I would have been better at.

DHS: Do you have any tips for parents on how to deal with grief after a loss like this?

LS: My book describes much of my journey. For me, the infrequent signs I received from Tim were probably the most motivating and positive aspect. However, they were infrequent and never seemed to come when I asked/begged for them! I was fortunate to be surrounded by so many great people, and kind of forced myself to try to rely on them. I also love fresh air and bike riding and returned to it very quickly. I think the path depends largely on the individual’s personality, and my personality is to “dive in” to whatever project I am faced with, good or bad. My grief counselor constantly reminded me to go with the good feelings whenever I could feel them, even though I often didn’t even want to. Then, when difficult times returned, it would eventually become easier to find my way out of them again.

Lisa Schenke was a longtime systems analyst turned personal fitness trainer, but with her son Tim’s suicide in 2008, she took on another line of work. She became passionate about getting the message out to struggling teens and young adults to celebrate and embrace life, and assisting others through the grieving process after a loss of a child or loved one. Lisa has been involved in the Hold On suicide prevention fundraising efforts for 2NDFLOOR Youth Helpline. She’s been featured everywhere from the Star-Ledger, to MSNBC.com, to the American Association of Suicidology newsletter. Readers can contact her at http://www.withouttim.com

The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers come up with a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.   Arielle Eckstut has been an agent for 20 years, and founded the iconic brand Little Missmatched.  Her new book, written with her mom Joann, is The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty and Joy of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. David Henry Sterry is the author of fifteen book, and his new book is Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition. He can be found at https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

 

 

Huffington Post: The Book Doctors Interview Roxanna Elden on Getting a 2nd Shot at Publishing Success

SeeMeAfterClass_2ndEditionCover-1To read on Huffington Post click here.

When we first met Roxanna Elden during our workshop at the Miami Writers Institute, she said she had an idea for a teacher book. This made us skeptical at first — we’ve run publishing workshops for years, and in that time we’ve met hundreds of teachers who wanted to write books. Quickly, though, we realized Roxanna’s idea was different: a book that debunks Hollywood-movie teaching myths (see Hilary Swank, Edward James Olmos and Michelle Pfeiffer), and shares honest, funny stories and practical advice from teachers around the country. She described it as “Hard Liquor for the Teacher’s Soul.” Arielle and I were impressed, but we know writing doesn’t work like Hollywood either. Many talented writers give up before their work gets into the right hands. That’s why, along with quality writing, thorough research, and smart networking, our workshop emphasizes a fourth component: Persistence. Roxanna took this message to heart.
See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers was first published in 2009. Unfortunately, just as the book was beginning to gain national attention, the original publisher stopped printing its entire line of career books. Situations like these, as we mention in our book, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, can test even the most persistent of authors. But take heart, orphaned authors. The book caught the attention of Sourcebooks — one of our favorite publishers. A second edition of the book is out this month with an even better cover, a top-notch publisher, and an author with several years of experience promoting a published book. We are now checking in eight years since we first met Roxanna when she was a writer dreaming of being an author at our workshop. We asked her about teaching writing, writing about teaching, and getting a second shot at publishing success.

The Book Doctors: Congratulations on the second edition, but let’s start at the beginning. When did you start writing your book and why?

Roxanna Elden: My younger sister began teaching three years after I did, and during her first year, I started writing the book I needed during my first year — a funny, honest, practical collection of stories and tips from veteran teachers. There are so many books that share heartwarming teaching stories, but on a day when a second grader curses at you, you don’t want to read a heartwarming success story. You want to read a story about a kindergartener punching a teacher in the eye. You need to know that teachers can bounce back from their worst days and still go on to become successful. Then you need to know the next manageable step you can take to be a better teacher in the morning.

TBD: What has changed for teachers since the first edition of your book came out?

RE: New teachers today spend a ton of time comparing their unedited footage to other people’s highlight reels. They are also caught in the middle of political debates about education that have become much more public, polarized and angry. New teachers are usually not interested in getting caught up in politics, though. They just want to focus on getting kids to stop throwing wet toilet paper at the bathroom ceiling.

TBD: What has changed in your life since you first became a published author?

RE: I’m now a relatively experienced teacher, but I have recently become a rookie parent. It’s been a long time since I’ve been a beginner at something where the stakes are so high, and it kind of brings me back to that feeling of being a beginning teacher.

TBD: How does being a new parent compare to being a new teacher?

RE: Both teachers and parents need humor, honesty, and practical advice. The most important difference, however, is that there is that there are very few parents who quit within five year. Nearly half of all teachers do quit within five years. At low-income schools, half of all teachers leave within three years. Students at low-income schools are much more likely to have a rookie teacher at the front of the classroom. Any lessons new teachers learn the hard way, they learn full of a class full of kids. <em>See Me After Class</em> lets them know they are not alone.

TBD: You have attended the Miami Writers Institute for many years. How did that community help you with the writing and selling of your book?

RE: People travel from all over the country to attend the Writers Institute at Miami Dade College. I’m lucky enough to live ten minutes away. The Writer’s Institute has been like an express train, moving me to each new publishing milestone faster than I could have gotten there on my own. They offer workshops and opportunities that help with every part of the process. My first time attending was the year the Book Doctors were presenting. Your book and workshop gave me a map to follow that kept me from taking unnecessary detours. In later years, I attended workshops on structure and revision that helped make the book everything it could be. Four years into the process I met my agent, Rita Rosenkranz, at a workshop she was presenting on non-fiction book proposals at the conference.

TBD: For many authors, finding an agent is one of the most difficult parts of the publishing process. What was the process like for you?

RE: It was the longest part of the publishing process for me, and the most difficult, ego-wise. I spent many weekends eating pizza in my pajamas and reading “The Rejection Section” of your book. Then, each time, I would decide I’d put in too much work to quit, and start researching other agents. Most of my early queries led to one-line emails and rejection form letters. Then I started getting personal rejections with feedback. Later there were agents who showed interest at first and then said no after months of preparation on my part. This was frustrating, but their demands forced me to strengthen my platform — I launched a website, began performing standup comedy, and began finding public speaking opportunities. I also became a National Board Certified Teacher, which enhanced my credibility within the teaching profession. When I attended Rita Rosenkranz’s workshop about four years into the process, I immediately had the feeling that all of my experiences with other agents — even the frustrating ones — had prepared me so I would be ready when I met her. I handed her a business card and followed up by email the same day. Within a week we had a contract, and less than a month later she got a great contract with our first publisher. Later, when the book went out of print, she acted immediately to get the rights back and find a new home for the book at Sourcebooks, who has done an amazing job with the second edition. Without Rita’s help I would never have had the courage to switch publishers, and even if I did I can’t imagine I would have ended up with such a good one.

TBD: What is different in your promotional plan this time around?

RE: For this edition, I am starting with a much larger network of people who have read the book and are now happy to help promote it. The past four years have also provided a tremendous opportunity to connect with other writers and organizations that work with teachers, which has also helped in promotional efforts. Best of all, in the process of speaking to spread the word about the first edition, I’ve realized I love speaking to teachers and others interested in education. The past few years have brought many new offers for paid speaking opportunities, which has led to an unexpected side-career speaking on a variety of education-related topics.

TBD: We usually hate to ask writers to give writing advice, but you teach writing at a high school — what advice do you give students based on your own experience as an author?

RE: I usually don’t tell students that I’ve written a book until late in the year. Then I do a short unit on the publishing process and also try to relate it to other careers in which people advise you to “keep your day job:” music, acting, art, dancing, etc. I have a Xeroxed packet of my past rejection letters that I pass out early in the talk. Then I tell students the happier parts of the story. In the process, I try to reinforce the same four points your workshop emphasized four years ago, adapted for a high school audience: Put in the time to do it right, make an effort to meet people who can help you, and do your homework to see where you fit into your market. Most of all, be persistent: even if you hit roadblocks along the way, the story is not over until you say it is. But also keep your day job.

Roxanna Elden is a National Board Certified high school teacher. Her book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, is a funny, honest, practical guide with tips and stories from teachers around the country. Elden also speaks on a variety of education-related topics. For more information visit www.seemeafterclass.net.

The Book Doctors have helped dozens and dozens of amateur writers become professionally published authors. They edit books and develop manuscripts, help writers develop a platform, and connect them with agents and publishers. Their book is The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who reads this article and buys the print version of this book gets a FREE 20 MINUTE CONSULTATION with proof of purchase (email: david@thebookdoctors.com). Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. Arielle is not only the author of seven books, but she also co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand that now has stores from Disneyland to Disney World to 5th Avenue in NYC. Her new book is The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.  David Henry Sterry is the author of 15 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, and activist. His new book is a 10 year anniversary of his memoir, Chicken, an international bestseller, which has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, just came out. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Michael Caine, the London Times, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. His new illustrated novel is a coming-of-age, Mort Morte, black comedy that’s kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as told by Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry.com

Art of the Memoir: Alan Black on the Illusion of Chaos, Copernicus and the Straight Railway Track to the Grave

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I’ve known Alan black for many years, and I’m not ashamed to say it publicly.  I met him when he was running literary events at The Edinburgh Castle, in the groin of San Francisco’s seed-filled Tenderloin.  In the name of full disclosure, we wrote a book together.

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

51Os1eNYbkL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_AB: I didn’t write it in His name. I wrote it I my own name. God had already published a couple of biographies, the Bible, the Koran and He even has a global rights deal out in the East with the Upanishads in India. I thought about using His name but then I figured Oprah would find out and I would be exposed as a fraud and I like to keep my fraudulence private like my flatulence.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

AB: Reversing the Copernican model of the solar system. The sun went around me. When you’re at the center, it can be uncomfortable. I felt I was inventing myself. My entire life work of having others define me was in peril. I had to take responsibility for my own story and during the process of writing the book, all I could think of was Jim Morrison yelling at the audience, “No one gets out of here alive!”

DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?

AB: Working with an exceptionally talented editor who kept me straight. When I tried to bullshit him by re-inserting a petulant and infantile chapter in the document, he cautioned me – “Now you’re being a sanctimonious asshole. Let’s just get back to being an asshole.” Pure quality! Refreshing and direct. That’s the editor you want.

DHS: Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

AB: I don’t see life as chaos. I see it as a straight railway track to the grave. The good parts are being able to go back to the restaurant car for a good meal or sitting in the observation car watching the world go by. And you meet the finest people on trains unlike planes or hot air balloons.

DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

AB: None of it was random. I’m a Calvinist. Everything is pre-destined. If you work in a supermarket, you get to understand this. Everything has a sell-by date. It arrives ready to expire. I worked at Safeway as a kid and they still owe me for a week’s wages, the fucking bastards! I never shop there. However, I did learn one think working there – chaos is an illusion.

The beauty of baking the bread in the morning in the store’s bakery was as close to heaven as a person can get. For dough always rises. And tomorrow it rises again.

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

AB: My agent was spectacular, the female 007 of publishing. Within a few hours of it being in the hands of an editor, it was sold.

DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

AB: I tried hard – went on the radio, performed readings from the book, Google bought a box, but real life held me back via time. Having to work as a bartender for a living kept me short of hours to sell myself as “the next big thing.” Yeah right! I was busy throwing drunks into the street, breaking up fights, dodging punches, slopping up geographic vomit spatters in the shape of Long Island and sprinkling Holy Water Jameson droplets on bilious sociopaths while delivering the benediction – “the power of Christ compels you!” I am available for exorcisms at reasonable rates. I have met some evil spirits.

AB: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

AB: No.

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

AB: I don’t think any of them read it. And if they did, they kept it quiet.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

AB: I hate you for asking that question! Yes, write your memoir. It’s your story. What else is there?

 

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition http://bit.ly/1ancjuE, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

chicken 10 year 10-10-13

 

Art of the Memoir: Laura Schenone on Shooting High & Raw Parts: Bonus Video

ravioliPB

To celebrate the release of the 10 year anniversary of my memoir, Chicken,  I’m doing a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I first met Laura Schenone when I saw her read from her James Beard Award winning book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.  She’s a beautiful, lyrical writer, who is somehow as good at reading her work as she is at writing it.  She manages to be one of those rare hybrids, a writer who is literary and page turning simultaneously.  I recently read her spectacular memoir, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and I totally fell in love with it.  And it’s not really my kind of book.  I prefer writing where people are getting their heads blown off and/or are engaged in acts of insane depravity which showcase the darkest heart of humans.  Him but these books are so thoughtful, the storytelling so riveting, and the characters come to life in such a beautiful way, you feel like you’re floating down a warm river through a breathtaking countryside, with some crazy rapids waiting up ahead.  And she also writes about big subjects like family and food and love, using her own experiences often as a jumping off point to illuminate deep human truths.  She’s working on her next memoir, and we thought we would check in with her about what it takes to turn your life into a book.

David Henry Sterry: Why in gods name did you decide to write a memoir?

 

Laura Schenone: I don’t know that I decided.  I think I was writing it in my head my whole life.

 

DHS: What were the worst things about writing the memoir?

 

LS: Complete embarrassment of writing a memoir.  But also trying to make a character out of myself and be honest.

 

DHS: What were the best things about writing the memoir?

 

LS: That’s any easy one:  Italy.  Specifically, Genoa.   My memoir was a quest tale about the search for a long lost family recipe and involved travel there.  I studied the language, and that was wonderful.  I loved the place, the people I met, and the food.

 

DHS: Did writing the memoir help you make some sense out of the chaos we call life?

 

LS: Absolutely.  I felt far more at peace over some things once I’d finished it and still do.  I have much less of a need to look backward.

 

DHS: How did you make narrative out of the random events that happened to you?

 

LS: I had three interwoven themes.  One was the forward momentum of the search for something and an obsession with that.  The other was the flashback associative part in which the past flies up.  The third was me meditating about the present.  I wove them together in the most natural way I could.  In terms of sequence, there was mention of a love story between my great grandparents that had to go more toward the front of the book to hook the reader.

 

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

 

LS: I’d just had a book that had done pretty well, so it was fairly easy.  I loved my editor at W.W. Norton and wanted to stay there.

 

DHS: How did you go about marketing and promoting your memoir?

 

LS: I cooked and made ravioli everywhere.

 

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking to the public about the most intimate parts of you memoir?

 

LS: The raw parts I never read in public.  But there were times I was uncomfortable when people asked me questions I didn’t want to answer.  Sadly, my book didn’t have much sex in it, so that was no problem.

 

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to the memoir?

 

LS: Some loved it.  Some really did not appreciate it in the least.  There were some very painful moments.

 

DHS: Any advice for someone writing a memoir?

 

LS: There are many memoirs out there.  Most are not good.  Your memoir really isn’t supposed to be just about you.  Before you begin, try to really understand the form.  Study the ones that manage to elevate personal experience to something far greater.  Shoot high.

Bonus Video:

How to Get Your Book Published When Everyone Keeps Rejecting It

201201-b-love_inshallah_coverWe first met Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mutta at our Pitchapalooza during San Francisco’s legendary LitQuake. Lots of great writers pitched lots of great books that night. But when Nura pitched her anthology revolving around the love lives of Muslim-American women, we were blown away. She took charge of the room like a seasoned professional, she was funny, charming, articulate, and she had that indefinable It that makes people go: Wow! Plus, the book was so timely, so valuable, so necessary when the world is trying desperately to move from combative intolerance to respectful inclusion. From war and terrorism to peace and understanding. We helped them develop their proposal, hone their pitch, and when the time was right, we introduced them to a fantastic publisher who does exactly the kind of book they wanted to write. This is a mistake so many writers make. They don’t get their book into the hands of the person who is most likely to love, represent and/or publish it. In this case, that publisher was Laura Mazer at Soft Skull. As we suspected, she fell in love with the proposal, and offered them a contract. Right place, right time, right stuff. Nura and Ayesha gathered 25 Muslim-American women writers, and lo and behold, their pitch is now a book. Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women came out last week, and already they’ve had a feature in the New York Times written about them, and the demand has been so large, they sold out of the first printing practically before the book was even out.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: So, this must be a very exciting time, congratulations, we’re so excited for you.

NURA & AYESHA: Thanks, it is. We worked so long and so hard on this book, and there were so many times when we were sure it would never happen, so to have all this great response been fantastic

TBD: So many writers don’t consider who their audience will be, or in fact if there is even an audience, before they write their book. Why did you write your book, and why did you think there would be an audience for it is?

N&A: People are fascinated by Muslim women, but we didn’t see ourselves or our opinionated, independent and intelligent friends reflected in media stories, TV plotlines or movies. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to raise our voices and begin telling our own stories. And what better stories to tell than love stories? As Muslim women, our roadmap to love may be unique, but the destination is universal.

TBD: Most writers don’t understand how important a pitch is. It’s what a writer uses to get an agent and/or a publisher, it’s what the publisher’s marketing team (if they have one) will send out to the media, what the sales team will use to get bookstores to carry your book, what will entice readers on your author page, and on the back of your book, it’s what booksellers will tell customers when they’re looking for a book like yours.

N&A: Exactly! That’s why we spent so much time writing the pitch and practicing it aloud, to make sure it flowed well, that it really displayed what was unique and valuable about our project.

TBD: We always tell people to pitch their book as often as possible. To friends and family of course, but to your mailman, your waitress, your priest, total strangers, whomever. Every time you pitch your book, it’s an opportunity to test market your product. To figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how to make it better. And we meet a shocking number of writers who are afraid to talk about their book because they’re scared someone will steal it. Or hate it. But if you don’t tell anybody about your book, there’s a good chance it will and up just being a file buried in your computer. And you never know who’s going to be friends with somebody in publishing. That’s how David got published. He told an old friend about his book. Unbeknownst to him, her goddaughter was a literary agent. She took him on as a client. Then she married him.

N&A: That’s so romantic!

TBD: In a very book-nerdy way.

N&A: Exactly.

TBD: Since you won Pitchapalooza with your kick-ass pitch, go ahead, lay it on us, what’s your book about?

N& A: Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women is a groundbreaking collection of 25 writers speaking openly about love, relationships, sexuality, gender, identity and racism for the first time. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Muslim women, even (especially!) those who have never met one. We thought it was about time you heard directly from Muslim women themselves. You’ll be captivated by these provocative, funny, moving and surprising stories — each as individual as the writers themselves.

TBD: What made you decide to pitch the idea at our Pitchapalooza?

N&A: Our book proposal was dead in the water, publishers were unwilling to take a chance on this book. When we heard about LitQuake Pitchapalooza in September 2010, we thought it might be an opportunity for us to go public with our hunch that our book’s simple but intriguing concept — American Muslim women’s lives and loves, told for the first time by the women themselves — would have a broad appeal. Pitchapalooza helped us refine our message and hook. The judges’ feedback was invaluable in developing our book proposal. And the audience was so excited about the premise that we knew we’d been right about its appeal!

TBD: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about American Muslim women, dating, and sexuality?

N&A: Muslim women’s lives and sexuality have been politicized by both non-Muslims and Muslims for centuries. On the one hand, we’re seen as oppressed, submissive, and voiceless, and on the other we’re asked to live within a limited definition of the “good Muslim girl”. Neither of these paradigms allows us to celebrate our personal lives, which are full of joy, creativity, beauty, challenges, doubts and mistakes. Both extremes seek to box us into a narrow “real Muslim woman” frame, but by telling our own stories, we are revealing a reality that is far more complex and compelling.

TBD: What were some of the challenges in putting together an anthology with all these women?

N&A: Editing was the most challenging and most rewarding experience of all. We spent a lot of time supporting our writers in taking their stories to the place of honesty and vulnerability that resonates with readers. And, through the process of editing, we developed wonderful relationships with each writer. We deeply love and respect them all!

TBD: Are you afraid that some fundamentalist Muslims will take offense at your book?

N&A: Fundamentalists certainly aren’t limited to Muslims, as we saw with the recent controversy generated by a fringe group in Florida over the TLC show All-American Muslim! There are some people on both sides who want to keep Muslim women tightly inside a box. That said, a filmmaker friend of ours visited over 200 US cities recently and brought back this message: People are tired of the politics of fear and are hungry to connect with each other in more meaningful and compassionate ways. We believe her, and we believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are going to welcome and be excited by this book for that very reason. Any book is going to have its critics, but we’re confident that most people are going to celebrate these unique, thought-provoking and beautiful voices.

TBD: What’ve been some of the difficulties in dealing with the publishing world?

N&A: A Pitchapalooza judge said that large publishers are leery of taking risks on unknown writers or an untested market.

TBD: That’s why I thought Soft Skull would be perfect for you.

N&A: Absolutely. They’re a independent, cutting-edge publisher, and they respected our context and viewpoints on everything from the stories to the cover of the book, which can be a contentious and difficult issue for writers of color. In fact, the cover is a wonderful example of our partnership: The conventional image on most books about Muslim women is of a veil or veiled woman, even when it has nothing to do with the story or writer. After we explained why that was inappropriate, we found a gorgeous, novel and provocative image to use instead: lingerie! The lingerie strewn across the bed is a metaphor for the book: Muslim women revealing their most intimate thoughts and experiences to you.

TBD: What do you hope your book will communicate to the world?

N&A: We are proud to offer this book as our contribution to contemporary, multicultural American literature. We believe these stories will start conversations in families and between communities about the similarities that bind us together, and the differences that enrich us. We hope that this book inspires dialogues in the American Muslim community, particularly among women, who have been waiting a long time to have these discussions. We’re so ready to engage with each other! Regardless of our differences, we can choose to interact with each other in a compassionate and respectful way. By reading these provocative, funny and moving stories, you’ll discover that what we all have in common is the desire to love and be loved for who we are.

Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi are the co-editors of the anthology, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” (Soft Skull Press, 1/24/12). Facebook. Twitter. Amazon.

The Art of the Memoir: Rebecca Tells Her Dirty Little Secret

51312Kszf2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_ Rebecca has a dirty little secret. And now she’s telling the whole world. Because it’s a dirty little secret that way too many girls and boys, men and women carry around with them, locked away in their closets. And she wants to do something about that. We first met Rebecca at our Kansas City Pitchapalooza. When she pitched us her book, it was clear she had something special. But it wasn’t ready to be published yet. There was work to be done. Lots of writers tell us they’re serious about getting their book published. But they don’t build the house brick by brick. Rebecca is one of the hardest working writers in show business. She just kept grinding away and grinding away. Yes, she has tons of inspiration. But she also cranks out the necessary perspiration. Now that her first novel, My Perfect Little Secret, is about to come out, I wanted to ask her about what it was like to write her book, about the publishing process, and yes, her dirty little secret.

The Book Doctors: What made you want to write about such a difficult topic?

Rebecca Glenski Coppage: I wrote about a teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder because it’s something I am very familiar with. It was easy for me to write about something I know and understand so well. I also wrote about this topic because I feel like there are not enough novels out there for teenagers that have a strong character who is dealing with an eating disorder. There are tons of self-help books and textbooks about eating disorders, but I don’t think that’s what teens want to read. I wish a book like mine had existed when I was in high school, and that made me want to write it for teenagers now.

TBD: How did having an eating disorder change your life, and how did you get over it?

RGC: Having an eating disorder impacted my life in every aspect. It made high school and college a very difficult road for me. I protected my secret at all costs, which meant building walls and not getting close to people. I kept friends, boys, and family at a distance because I couldn’t let them find out about my eating disorder. It made it hard to socialize, to make new friends, to keep the friends I had. I didn’t get to have the typical college experience because halfway through my first semester, I had to leave to get treatment for my eating disorder. It made my dreams harder to accomplish, and it took away some really amazing opportunities. I missed out on building strong relationships, I missed out on dating opportunities, and I had to start college over. Keeping a wall up around you is exhausting and it makes every part of your life that much harder. That said, it made me a much stronger and more secure person after having gone through it. It has shaped the person that I have become today. It took many, many years for me to “get over” my eating disorder. The process has been long, with several relapses. Essentially, it consisted of learning to see myself in a different light and retraining my thought process regarding my body and my relationship with food. I credit my family and my husband for their support, love, and open minds with helping me heal.

TBD: Was it hard to write about such a painful thing when it’s so personal?

RGC: To be honest, writing this book was very freeing for me. An eating disorder is a difficult topic to write and talk about but so many people suffer from this in silence. It is a problem that touches so many teenagers all over the country, and all I had to do was remind myself of that when the writing became difficult. I want my book to be a voice and to help teenagers feel like they have someone to relate to.

TBD: Why did you choose to make a novel instead of a memoir?

RGC: For me, there was never a thought of a memoir. I didn’t want to tell my story. While having an eating disorder is a subject very familiar to me, I didn’t want to write about myself. I wanted to create a character, explore her life, and tell her story. It was fun to have the creative freedom to develop Lilly and to not worry about if I was getting the facts straight. I’m not going to deny that Lilly’s character and her life have many similarities to mine when I was in high school, but this novel is not the story of my life.

TBD: Tell me about your road to publication — what were some of the pitfalls and what were some of the joys?

RGC: The road to publication was so incredibly long and difficult. It was filled with a lot of rejection and a lot of waiting. The worst parts of trying to get your book published are the rejection letters from agents saying they aren’t interested in your book. It is also hard to hear criticism of your book when you have spent so much time working on it and developing it. It was especially difficult for me because many of my rejection letters stated they weren’t interested in my book because it was an “issues” book. Essentially, they don’t want to represent a book about an eating disorder because it’s a controversial topic. Even with all the pitfalls, I kept my head up and persevered until I found people who were excited about my book. Now here I am with a published book! I think one of my biggest joys on the road to publishing was receiving my first few reviews! Reading all the positive feedback and finding out that teenagers really enjoyed and related to my book was amazing!

TBD: What do you hope people take out of reading your book?

RGC: I hope that people, especially teenagers, walk away from my book with a sense of being understood. Part of having an eating disorder is that it is this huge secret. No one talks about it but it is around us everywhere. So many people I talk to about my book reveal that they suffered from an eating disorder or that they struggled with poor self-image. If they didn’t, they know someone who did. I want readers to know that they are not alone. I also want the reader to know that having an eating disorder does not negate the fact that she is a normal person with hopes and dreams.

Writers, You Need a Platform: Or the Power of Facebook for Authors

 “Is’t possible that on so little acquaintance you

should like her? that but seeing you should love

her? and loving woo? and, wooing, she should

grant? and will you persever to enjoy her?”
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act V, Scene II

s-GET-PAID-TO-WRITE-A-BOOK-smallEvery day published, self-published and unpublished authors breathlessly ask us, “Do I really have to have a Facebook page, and if so, what the heck do I do with it?” We will endeavor to answer these questions. But there are also a lot of questions we are not asked, but we think authors should be asking. Our goal is to present a roadmap that will help any writer navigate this increasingly complicated — and crucial — cyber-landscape.

While we get our Facebook on every day, we turned to two experts, Annik LaFarge and Antonella Iannarino, to give us the skinny on the latest and greatest ways to use this monster of a tool.

Annik spent 25 years in the publishing business in senior marketing, editorial, and publishing positions. Today she runs her own company that specializes in online project management, editorial work, and consulting on digital strategy. She recently wrote The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do it Yourself (and you can!) or Work With Pros. Antonella, an agent and digital media maven at the David Black Agency, has helped authors like Mitch Albom get their websites and Facebook pages up and running. Here Annik and Antonella offer us both the Big Think about how to use Facebook and also some more granular how-to information (just follow the links…) that will help you get started today.

First, Annik addresses the most popular questions The Book Doctors hear from authors about Facebook:

1) How many Facebook fans is enough to impress a publisher?

What seems like a lot of fans to one publisher might seem paltry to another, so rather than think in terms of actual numbers I urge you instead to think about growth. Facebook’s analytic tool called Insights allows you to easily track the number of monthly active users, Likes, wall posts, comments and visits that your page receives, along with the increase or decrease on a week-to-week basis. So pay attention to that data and aim to present your publisher with a percentage of growth rather than a fixed, context-less number. More impressive will be the fact that with active use and engagement you grew your key metrics by ten or twenty percent over a period of several months or a year. That shows dedication on your part, and demonstrates that you understand how to provide high value content to your readers. Even more impressive will be the number of Likes your page has garnered from fans. Read on and you’ll understand why.

2) Should I set up a fan page for my book or just use my personal page?

You should set up a fan page because these are accessible to anyone on the web, whether or not they’re Facebook members. And they don’t have to be your friends to access it; the page is open to anyone. This way you can post special content or links on your Facebook page and mention it in media interviews. For all of you Luddites out there, Antonella wrote a great primer about how to do this: The 7 Essential Elements for an Author’s Fan Page. Everything you need to know is there, along with screenshots plus a link to a piece that outlines all the important settings for your Facebook page. At the end of this article we’ve offered a few examples of author fan pages that you can use to generate ideas of your own.

3. When should I set up my Facebook page — when I start writing/once I have a book deal/once my book comes out?

It takes time to build an audience. The sooner you begin the more time you’ll have to grow your fan base and start learning — by studying your Insight analytics — what sort of content resonates with them. Start as soon as possible. How about tomorrow afternoon?

4) How often should I communicate via Facebook? What is too much?

You’ll know when it’s too much because the postings will feel forced. Communicate as often as you have something worthwhile to say. Being consistent is good, but not essential. Some people insist that you should post to a blog or Facebook page at least once a week. I think the better rule of thumb is: always default to quality, not quantity. Your friends and fans have other things to read; just make sure that whatever they find on your page is worth their time.

5) I’m worried about privacy issues. What should I do?

You don’t need to include personal information on your page. You do need to provide some details when first signing up for a personal account with Facebook, but that’s for registration and you can keep that information private through your privacy settings. But for your Page, the only details you can elect to include on your “Info” tab that might be of concern are your birthday and contact information. Think carefully about posting your birthday online. The upside is that your friends can send you nice messages, wishing you a happy birthday. The downside is that your date of birth is used by banks and other institutions as a legal identifier, and so there are reasons to keep it private. Antonella points out that some people include their zodiac sign and list their publisher’s address or a P.O. box for fan mail. As for managing information on your personal profile, our best advice is to closely monitor your settings and stay up-to-date on changes that Facebook makes. They happen often, and are widely discussed online. Often, Facebook’s default options are not pro-privacy. So pay attention, and ask your friends what they do if you’re unsure. And of course, use common sense about what information you share. Anywhere.

6) Should I put up pictures? Video? What kind of picture should I put up for my profile?

If your pictures and videos enhance what you’re sharing on Facebook then sure, use them. But don’t post any visual media just because you have it. Post it because the stuff is worthy of being posted — because it helps you amuse, entertain, educate, engage. And use something dignified. A goofy picture of you and your dog is okay for your personal page but not, perhaps, the image you want to leave potential book buyers with. Many authors (myself included) use their book cover instead of a photograph. That’s fine too, just try to keep the image relevant to you and your work.
Now that Annik and Antonella have covered the questions The Book Doctors get on a daily basis, we want to introduce the questions you should be asking, but aren’t. Take notes!

1) So now I know I need to get people to “Like” my page. What’s the best way to do this so I can build my list of friends/fans?

Two ways. First, post relevant, engaging content: questions, insights, books you’ve read, etc. Give people a reason to visit your page, make it interesting, interactive, and a true reflection of you and your work. Then tell people about it in all the ways available to you: link to it from your website or blog; place a link in your email signature; mention it on the flap or back cover of your books; send a message with a link to all your personal Facebook friends asking them to join your book page by clicking the Like button; etc.

2) What’s the deal with the “Like” button and why is it so ubiquitous?

As you may have noticed, the “Like” button that appears at the top of a fan page, is now showing up in lots of other places: on people’s blogs, next to products on online stores, and in nooks and crannies all over the World Wide Web.

I recently had a conversation with Greg Lieber who runs business operations for GraphEffect, one of the fast growing social advertising platforms that Facebook works with closely. They develop and manage Facebook campaigns for large brands that go way beyond the spookily targeted ads you see in the right column of your Facebook page.

He helped me understand the basics of how Facebook works by explaining that its algorithm, EdgeRank, gives a value to all of the items that appear in your News Feed and that a huge component of this is the number of Likes and comments that are associated with it.

So let’s say you have a blog and you’ve installed a Facebook plug-in that places a Like button alongside each post you write. When someone clicks the Like button your post appears in that person’s Facebook News Feed and becomes visible to all of their friends, plus it includes a link back to your blog.

This allows people to discover your work and enables them to either like the post directly in the feed or to click on the post and like it directly from the post itself. As the likes increase via Facebook’s viral channels the value of the post increases in EdgeRank and makes the post more likely to appear in your friend’s News Feed. However there are other factors at play: for example, if there’s a friend or page you interact with frequently on Facebook, then this person or page’s post will likely appear towards the top of your News Feed. Another factor is timing: the older your post, the less likely it is to appear in the News Feed of your friends. Finally, the “weight” of the post’s feedback plays a role, meaning that comments on a specific post are going to have a greater impact than ‘Likes’ of that same post.

[Side note: you may have recently seen that new “Send” button on Facebook. It’s similar to the Like button, but allows you to share a link privately with a friend or Facebook group using Facebook email. Whenever someone clicks it, it does increase your total like count, but it will not show up in the newsfeed.]

3) What sort of landing page should I have?

Creating a special “landing page” that people will see when they first come to your page is an effective way to use Facebook almost as you would the home page of a website. You can convey the “voice” of your site (in words and images) and tell folks what sort of regular content you’ll be providing there. A good example of this is a company called Global Basecamps, a popular eco-tourism business. See how their landing page expresses what the business is all about, tells you a bit about what they offer (weekly travel quizzes!) and, most important, encourages you to hit the Like button. Once you’ve Liked their page you’ll start landing, in future visits, on the wall page where they post all kinds of useful, interesting, amusing, content. The more good stuff they post, the more their visitors hit the Like button. And the more they hit the Like button… well, you know about that now.

But be warned: Facebook recently changed — and made more complex — the programming language that members use to customize their pages. Today creating a landing page requires some knowledge of basic programming. Antonella’s 7 Essential Elements for an Author’s Facebook Page article has some very helpful background information and tips for how to get started (see #7), and she also includes links to third party apps that you (or your developer) can use.

4) Should I connect my Twitter feed or my website to Facebook?

Probably, but if all you feed to Twitter is your Facebook status updates you’re not making your Twitter account unique. Best of all: create unique content for each platform and give people a reason to follow you in both places.
Now that we’ve laid down the basics, look around at some author pages on Facebook and see what you like (lower case…) and admire. Some people share a lot, others very little. But it bears repeating: follow the quality over quantity rule and post your updates and links with care. Offer value to the people who come to your page, and remember that because you’ve made it public anyone can come there — it’s not just your friends and family. Think about all the many different kinds of people who might end up there — young or old, familiar with your work or not, interested in just one aspect of a subject you cover, etc. Visit your page periodically like you’re a perfect stranger, and consider how the content, style and look may strike those different audiences. Then review, update, revise. And for goodness sake, whatever you do, have fun!

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Founder Chris Baty on Writing, Writers, Doing & Dreaming

We first met Chris Baty about a decade ago, when Arielle agented his book No Plot, No Problem: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. We watched as he built this strange, beautiful community of lunatics and dreamers who, every November, write a 50,000 word book in 30 days. NaNoWriMo, as it’s called, now has hundreds of thousands of participants all over the world, writing writing writing. Then last summer, an astonishing librarian named Amy Marshall brought us to rural Alaska with the NaNo team, to make cyber-presentations to libraries in the most remote parts of Alaska. We saw bears and whales and totem poles with Chris. He has boundless enthusiasm, a wicked sense of humor and he listens when you talk. The most telling thing we can say about him is that our daughter loves hanging out with him. She’s five years old. So Chris has moved on from National Novel Writing Month, and we wanted to check in with him to see what he’s working on now, and what he learned from being around all those crazy writers writing all those crazy books.

The Book Doctors: What in God’s name made you want to start National Novel Writing Month?

Chris Baty: I have a history of dragging friends into questionable endeavors, and NaNoWriMo was one of many self-improvement schemes that began with me saying “What if we all got together and…” I thought the 21 of us who agreed to write 50,000-word novels in July of ’99 would do it once, make a complete mess of it and never do it again. But somehow lowering our expectations and transforming novel-writing into a group activity — most of us got together after work to write — ended up doing good things to our brains and books. Our stories definitely weren’t anywhere near bookstore-ready, but they were promising in their own lopsided ways. And the experience of writing them had been more fun than any of us had dreamed.

TBD: Did you have any idea that it would take over your life?

CB: Not at all! It wasn’t until the third year, when I was planning for 200 participants and 5,000 people showed up, that I first realized that the idea might have some appeal beyond my friends.
I kind of blame the name for the event’s growth. For the first two years, everyone who took part in National Novel Writing Month knew it was a homespun challenge run by a twentysomething book nerd with a lot of enthusiasm and almost zero fiction-writing experience. When the third NaNoWriMo rolled around, though, a handful of blogs sent thousands of new folks to the site. They didn’t know the history. They just saw the “National Novel Writing Month” name and the long list of writers taking part and assumed it was some sort of vetted national literary initiative.
I think that gave all the newcomers a healthy jolt of confidence. Behind the scenes, I was worried that the magic from the first two years wouldn’t scale. But because everyone believed our promise that you can write a novel draft in a month, they did exactly that. And that was the tipping point. When those 5,000 people came back the next year, they brought friends with them. By 2006, when we became a nonprofit, we had 75,000 participants. By 2012, when I stepped down as Executive Director, we had year-round programs serving 300,000 writers, including tens of thousands of kids and teens writing books with our Young Writers Program. It was totally unexpected and completely wonderful and I never in a million years could have predicted any of it would happen back in 1999.

TBD: How did being surrounded in the sea of writers change you as a writer?

CB: First off, I think it helped me see that writing can be a great social activity. If you want to get more writing done, try working in the same room with other writers. There’s just something about the sight and sound of people typing that makes it easier to get words on the page.
It also made me a devout believer in the power of shared deadlines. Even if you can’t sit at the same table with other novelists, just knowing that you’re part of a group all working towards the same goal at the same time keeps you writing when the going gets tough. A terrifying deadline, coupled with a supportive community, can work miracles.

TBD: What mistakes do you see writers make over and over and over?

CB: I think a lot of writers set impossibly high standards for their first drafts, which tends to sabotage the creative process. I know why we do it: We’ve read so many great books, and we unintentionally use them as yardsticks to measure our own efforts. When we fall short (which, for me, usually happens around the second sentence), we take it as a sign that our stories are doomed. This is a tragedy because, as Ernest Hemingway said, “the first draft of anything is shit.” Most of the novels that have inspired us started out as horrible messes. Confusing plots. Flat characters. Clunky dialogue. I keep hoping that publishers will offer downloads of the first draft of bestselling novels as a public service to writers. I think we’d be astonished. And relieved.
To me, your novel’s true essence doesn’t become clear until you’ve written an entire draft. Finding out what your book is really about is the consolation prize granted to writers by the Novel Gods for all the hours of TV watching, internet surfing and personal grooming we had to forgo to get to The End. The life-changing thing about second drafts is that you get to take this newly clarified vision for your story and all the best bits from the first draft and shape them into something that’s better than the book you initially set out to write. And the third draft gets even more powerful. Which means that most important thing someone can do in the early phase of book writing is to turn off their inner editor and just focus on getting a beginning, middle and end down on paper. In an early draft, quantity trumps quality. A bad story decision is better than no story decision. There’s a wise saying that you can revise a bad book into a great book, but you can’t revise a blank page into anything but a blank page. Neil Gaiman wrote a fantastic pep talk for NaNoWriMo about how doubting your own writing abilities during a first draft is just part of the process. If you haven’t read it, I totally recommend it.

TBD: Your first book, No Plot No Problem was, of course, nonfiction. We heard on the grapevine that your working on a novel now, what’s it like making the transition to fiction?

CB: Yes! I’m in the middle of revising two NaNoWriMo novels, along with a couple of screenplays that were born in NaNo’s sister event, Script Frenzy. With non-fiction, it feels easier to isolate (and address) problems when something isn’t working in the piece. With novel revision, I get this vague feeling that something is broken in the machine, but it can be hard to know exactly how to fix it. I think this is one of the thing that makes fiction so irresistible and so frustrating — it’s a magnificent puzzle.

TBD: What your favorite thing about Alaska?

CB: Traveling by float plane! I also love the sense of humor that the miserable winters engender.

TBD: What’s it like watching all those NaNoWriMo writers get published? When one of our people gets a book deal, it’s a very happy day around our house.

CB: It’s amazing. Bashing out that first draft in NaNoWriMo is just the start of a long journey, and the writers who make it through to the end of their revisions are heroes regardless of whether the manuscript sells. That said, it’s totally exciting to see projects that started in NaNoWriMo show up on the New York Times Bestseller list or peek out from bookstore shelves. One of my favorite NaNoWriMo memories was going to see the Water For Elephants movie with the rest of the NaNo staff. So cool!

TBD: What are some of things you learned by watching all those people write 50,000 words in a month?

CB: 1) Everyone has a book in them. (Actually, that’s not totally true. Everyone has a bunch of books in them.)
2) Writing one of those books will change the way you see yourself, deepen the way you read and make life feel a little more magical.
3) You can have about a hundred cups of coffee in one sitting before the caffeine becomes lethal.

TBD: Where do you see the future of books going?

CB: I wish I knew! We’re clearly heading into the era of e-books. I’m guessing that within two decades paperbooks will become what vinyl records are now — cool, retro objects embraced by the faithful and seen as quaint and impractical by everyone else. Whatever form books take, though, I still see a big place for them in human hearts. People have been proclaiming the death of novels and reading for a long time. But I’ve watched hundreds of thousands of people voluntarily give up a month of their lives to take part in a writing contest where the only prize is the manuscript itself. I find this very reassuring.

TBD: Is there a huge gaping hole in your life where NaNoWriMo used to be?

CB: Yes! It’s hard not to be working every day with the incredible staff and volunteers who continue to kick so much literary ass. The nice thing about my role as board member emeritus is that I still get to write encouraging emails and give talks. I’m also still a very enthusiastic participant, and look forward to writing my 15th mediocre novel this November. I’ve also continued to work with illustrators to create posters for writers through my latest questionable living-room-based endeavor, Chris Baty Studios.

TBD: I hate to do this to you, but do you have any advice for writers?

CB: Keep going. Keep growing. Finish your book. And have fun.

Chris Baty founded National Novel Writing Month in 1999, and oversaw the growth of the annual writing challenge from 21 friends to more than 250,000 writers in 90 countries. Chris is the author of No Plot? No Problem! and the co-author of Ready, Set, Novel. When not revising his future bestseller about two monsters who find a VHS tape and set out to return it, Chris gives talks about writing and creativity, creates posters through Chris Baty Studios and freelances for such publications as the Washington Post, Afar magazine, theBeliever and Lonely Planet guidebooks. His quest for the perfect cup of coffee is never-ending, and will likely kill him someday.

 

Tegan Tigani, Kid’s Book Buyer: How to Successfully Publish Your Children’s Book

2013-06-13-tegan.jpg We first met Tegan Tigani a few years ago while we were on tour in Seattle. She was so excited to give us the grand tour of her kingdom: the Queen Anne Book Company kids section, where she is the book buyer. Her enthusiasm and passion for books was completely contagious, she was exactly the kind of evangelist you want selling your book. We’ve subsequently used her to edit several of our clients’ children’s books, and she is one of the most knowledgeable people we’ve met when it comes to books in general and kids books specifically. So we thought we’d pick her brain to find out some of the secrets to successfully publishing a children’s book.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: So, how did you get started in the ridiculous business of books?

TEGAN TIGANI: Serendipity!!! I’ve always loved reading, bookstores, and libraries; I volunteered and worked in my high school library back in the day. When I moved to Seattle from Rhode Island after college, I thought I was going to work in museums and education. (I studied History of Science in school.) My first day in town, the first place my then-boyfriend-now-husband took me was Queen Anne Books. As we left, new purchases in hand, I commented to him, “I’d love if I could get a little part-time job in a place like that until I find my real job.” The next day, the owners posted a sign that said “Book lover wanted.” I started working there that week. That was over 14 years ago.

TBD: Tell us what you do at Queen Anne Book Company.

TT: I am a bookseller and the Children’s Book Buyer. We all wear many hats, so I help with event coordination, website design, and all sorts of other things, but I spend most of my time recommending books, ringing up purchases, and meeting with publisher reps to decide what great new books we’ll carry in our kids’ and teen sections each season.

TBD: It’s been an incredible saga, what with the closing and re-opening at Queen Anne. What the heck happened?

TT: I wish I really knew! In April of 2012, a new owner bought Queen Anne Books, which had been beloved in the community for over 20 years. By the end of October 2012, she closed the store. After a truly sad holiday season, the community got the great news that a new owner and management team wanted to start a brand new bookstore in the location of the old Queen Anne Books, and Queen Anne Book Company was born. The new owners were able to hire four staff from Queen Anne Books, so we have some continuity even with our fresh, clean start.

TBD: What grabs you in a children’s book?

TT: In picture books, I tend to gravitate toward books that beg to be read aloud but also stand up to hours of flipping pages independently… I want something that uses clever, age-appropriate language and has illustrations that really contribute to the story. I find that good picture books are so crucial to readers’ developing comprehension; I love a book that makes the adult and child look at the picture and text again and really mull things over.
TBD: Why is there a prejudice in the picture book world against rhyming?

TT: Ha– I almost put “great rhymes” in my previous answer! So I don’t think there’s a prejudice against rhyming; I just think it’s very hard to do it right. If it’s not just right, you shouldn’t force it, so it’s better to go with prose. One of the biggest delights during my bookselling career was discovering Skippyjon Jones. I remember when that first came out, the rhymes were so good, we couldn’t stop reading it aloud to each other in the store. If you can get the rhythms of poetry to work in a kids’ book (Dr. Seuss!), it’s magical. If it’s not, even the youngest listeners will cock their heads, know something is off, and choose another book to read next time.

TBD: What mistakes do you see children’s book authors make?

TT: I have a very hard time with children’s books that are too preachy. Some kids and parents enjoy a concrete lesson, but most readers I know like to draw their own conclusions from books. I also wonder if some children’s book authors actually read their books aloud before they submitted them. Pacing and language are tremendously important in picture books, and I think reading aloud is one of the best ways to check if you’ve gotten it right.

TBD: What advice do you have for people who want to write a children’s book?

TT: Think about the audience. Before, during, and after, children’s book authors need to consider who they want to reach with their book. If they keep the audience in mind, voice, vocabulary, pacing, even subject matter will match, and the book will be more successful. My other piece of advice is to let the professional illustrators do the illustrations. I’m delighted by the layers of meaning well-done illustrations can add. The right illustrator can make a good book great.

TBD: Thanks, see you at the bookstore!

TT: Thanks, you too!

Tegan Tigani loves connecting readers and books, whether as bookseller and children’s book buyer at Queen Anne Book Company, tutor, freelance developmental editor, ghostwriter, editor of nwbooklovers.org, vice president of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, Seattle Book Examiner, blogger at tsquaredblog.blogspot.com, or party guest. When she isn’t reading or talking about books, she enjoys traveling, cooking, eating, and walking (sometimes all at the same time). She lives with her husband in Seattle.

Art of the Memoir: Marion Roach Smith on NPR, Hating Redheads, & Something Larger than Herself

MRS, croppedTo commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire. Marion Roach Smith not only talks the talk, she walks the walks.  She is a memoirist, journalist, and has now written a book which every memoirist should own and scour. Here’s what she had to say about the Art of the Memoir

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

Marion Roach Smith: Ha ha ha. I’ve written and published several, as well as countless radio essays, op-eds and the like from my point of view. My recent book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing and Life, contains lots of personal essays.  I write memoir to understand things. My first book was an expansion of a New York Times Magazine piece I wrote about my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. She was 49 when she got sick, and there had never been a piece in the popular press about the disease. Hard to imagine now, I know. Mine was the first, and went on to become one of the most reprinted pieces in the magazine’ history. The first book followed. My reason for writing the piece was to do some advocacy journalism. Same for the book. Change the world. Get funding. Make people care. It worked.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

MRS: There are no worst things. There are consequences, good and bad. On the good side, I’m quite sure that much like in life, success in writing is all about which aspects of your experience you choose to emphasize. In those terms, the worst thing, as you say, can be learning something you were unprepared to learn.

DHS:  What were the best things about writing your memoir?

MRS: The best thing is learning things you were unprepared to learn. Hey, it beats the hell out of watching reruns on TV or surfing the web. Some of my middle-aged friends tell me they would like to feel something again. Write about your life. I promise, you’ll feel something.

DHS:  Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

MRS:  Order. Absolutely.

DHS: How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

MRS: Random? Really? Says who?

DHS: How was the process of selling your memoir?

MRS: I have found that all my different pieces of memoir have done fine. The first sold off of a magazine piece, as I said. The second book-length memoir I wrote was tucked inside a book called The Roots of Desire, which is on the history of red hair. I’m a redhead. No one had ever written that rich history, so it was a first, and easy to pitch, tracing the mutation of a gene back to its eruption in the genome and looking at all the art and story, drama, iconography worship and hatred of redheads. It was a first. The individual radio essays I pitch to NPR, one at a time.

It goes fine.

DHS: How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

MRS: I learned a great lesson years ago, which is to not go for reviews, but to go for features. So for book-length pieces, I contact newspaper feature editors, beauty and science editors (for the book on red hair, for instance), seeking feature pieces on the topic. It works well. I blog, I promote other writers, and they promote me; I use social media wisely.

DHS: Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

MRS:  Not a bit. Successful memoir is not about me. It’s about something larger, and I am the illustration. That is, if you want anyone to read it. The intimacy with the audience becomes about the larger, universal topic. It’s a great experience.

DHS: How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

MRS: Family is a pizza, and everyone gets a slice. That being the case, no two family members see or remember a single event the same way, so you are going to get blowback. “That never happened, “ is what you’ll hear. And she’s right, the sister who says that to you. “That’s not the way it happened,” I say to that. “To you. That’s the way it happened to me.”

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

MRS: Memoir is about territory, and you have to stake yours out, walk its perimeter. When you do, you’ll find that each good story is bordered by your areas of expertise. I’m a woman, a sister, a wife, a mother, a member of my college board of trustees; I live with a fine dog, I sail, garden, play lots of sports. These are individual areas of expertise. Write from one of those at a time and you’ll never be tempted to write one of those turgid tomes that begins with the birth of your great-great grandfather, and ends with what you had for lunch yesterday.

memoir-project-front-cover_custom-s6-c30

Marion Roach Smith believes that everyone has a story to tell. The author of four books, all of which contain a large degree of memoir, her most recent book is The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing–And Life, (Grand Central, 2011) an irreverent, quirky, provocative product of the countless memoir classes she has taught for more than a decade. Under the name Marion Roach, she is the author of The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Sexual Power of Red Hair, (Bloomsbury, 2005), a wild blend of memoir and history; the co-author with famed forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D., of Dead Reckoning (Simon & Schuster, 2001), a hands-on, behind-the-scenes journey into the world of forensic science; and of Another Name for Madness, (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), the first, first-person account of a family’s dramatic struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. That book was an expansion of a record-breaking reprint of a piece she published in 1983 in The New York Times Magazine. A former staff member of The New York Times, she has written for The New York Times Magazine, Prevention, The Daily News, Vogue, Newsday, Good Housekeeping, Martha Stewart Living, Discover and The Los Angeles Times. A commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, from 2005-2011 she was the author and voice of The Naturalist’s Datebook, heard daily on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius/XM 110.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

 

Art of the Memoir: Sherril Jaffe on Daughters, Husbands & Defense Against the Chaos

To commemorate the publication of the 10 year anniversary edition of my memoir Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, I have decided to do a series of interviews with memoirists I admire.  I’ve known Sherril Jaffe for many years.  Not only is she a brilliant writer, she’s also an amazing teacher of writing.  She is a tenured professor at Sonoma State University, has won a 2001 PEN award and was a 2010 MacDowell Fellowship.  She is the author of many books, novels, short stories, poetry and yes, a memoir.

David Henry Sterry: Why in god’s name did you decide to write a memoir?

sherril-jaffeSherril Jaffe: When she was fifteen, my older daughter became rebellious and ran away from home.  My husband and I were terrified and mystified by her behavior.  Advice and blame came at us from every direction, and we didn’t know what to do, so finally I began to do what I have always done in order to process experience; I began to make narratives out of what was happening.  I thought if I could do this well enough that she would read it and understand my concerns for her and how much I loved her and she would stop acting in ways that created so much anxiety for me.  I was writing a letter to her and I was also managing my anxiety by giving form to it.  Toward the beginning of what became Ground Rules, my agent sold the book on proposal.  Selling the book validated my attempts to take the straw of each day and weave it into gold each night, to give form to the chaos we were experiencing.  If I could do this, I thought, I might be able to grasp what was happening so I could address it.  We were all suffering, and I wanted the suffering to end.  I was now writing a book, and books have ends. I had set up things so I would have help getting it right—acquiring an editor when I sold the book. Other people with teenager crises were relying on counselors.  I had tried that without success, so now I was banking on my editor.

I worked on the end of the book endlessly, tinkering and tinkering.  My editor was rigorous, however, and wouldn’t accept anything that didn’t really ring true. But then finally the true ending appeared—everything begins to turn around finally when the parents learn to see, respect, and support their daughter for who she actually is, rather than who they have wished, assumed or feared that she was.

I speak here of “the parents” instead of “me and my husband,” because as a fiction writer it is difficult for me to think of a character based on me as me.  I had sold the book as a memoir but I didn’t give much thought at the time as to what that really meant.  I was very afraid for my daughter and eager for this situation to resolve. Unusually for memoir writers, I was writing as the situation was unfolding.  The consensus of opinion is that the more distance you have on your material, the better chance you have of getting a proper handle on it, but I couldn’t afford the luxury of waiting for my material to age like a fine wine; my daughter’s life was on the line.  As I worked, I kept wishing I could peek ahead to the end of the book to see how things were coming to turn out.  I called what I was working on “The Uncertainty Principle” after Heisenberg’s discovery that the act of observation changes the measurement of what is being observed.  I could not take any of the draconian measures some were advising us to adopt with our daughter: all I could do to effect a change eisenberg’s fin our circumstances was to observe them as closely as possible, distill and transform them until their meaning was revealed and we were all saved.

DHS: What were the worst things about writing your memoir?

SJ: The worst thing about writing my memoir was that I did not know if there was going to be a happy ending.  Although I was the author, every time I attempted an ending that was one that I wanted but which wasn’t exactly true, it wouldn’t work artistically; my editor would catch it, and I would be sent back to the drawing board.  Meanwhile our struggle with our daughter resolved just as, in the book, the parents come to see and love their daughter for who she really is, and that is where the story ends.

DHS: What were the best things about writing your memoir?

SJ: Since I was writing my memoir— though not in letter format—as a letter to my daughter, it gave me a way to try to reach out to her who had become so mysteriously distant, so I felt I was doing what I could to keep her safe and to stay connected with her.

DHS: Did writing your memoir help you make some order out of the chaos we call life?

SJ: Indeed, it was my only defense against the chaos.  I was also trying to shape the narrative as I went toward a happy ending, trying to make happiness the inevitable outcome of the story, for there are endless possibilities in chaos.

DHS:  How did you make a narrative out of the seemingly random events that happened to you?

SJ: There was no problem, since I believed the book was simply being delivered to me, chapter by chapter, and that though the events transpiring seemed random, the work of bringing the book into being was the act of discovering in what way the events were actually not random at all.

DHS:  How was the process of selling your memoir?

SJ: I had recently signed up with an agent I loved, so I was not surprised that she sold the book on proposal in short order. There was some suspense as to what the offer would be, and I was disappointed that it was only $15,000, but, on the other hand, knew that $15,000 was the inevitable figure, for at that time I had a magical calendar, and the picture for that month was a painting by Charlie Demuth of a target with one five in the bull’s eye, one in a middle ring and another on the outer band. They offered me five thousand upon signing, five more when I handed in the manuscript and a final five upon publication.

DHS:  How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?

SJ: Very poorly!  However, I don’t think it was entirely my fault.  The publisher rejected my title, “The Uncertainty Principle” and made me call the memoir “Ground Rules,” and so the public misunderstood what the book promised. The public expected this to be a guide to controlling teenagers by doing concrete things, like grounding them, for example, not a testament to living with uncertainty.

DHS:  Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?

SJ: No; I have never had a problem speaking in public about anything; my problems came from people speaking to me in private—people I didn’t even know feeling it was okay to give me their opinions about me and my daughter.  I was used to people giving me a critical response to my writing but not to me, personally. This was a shock. I vowed to never again write another memoir.

DHS:  How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?

SJ: I know now that it was very hard on my daughter, being in the public eye, like that, and I very much regret any pain I may have caused her.  But the plain fact is, the story was written with great love, solely with the intention of keeping her safe by daring to look closely at the terrible reality of life, for nothing looked at squarely can hurt you. And our troubles did end—whether because of the effect of the book on reality or because, like a virus, they had run their course.

DHS: I hate to ask you this, but you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?

SJ: Yes.  My advice is, watch out, unless you are an extrovert and the point for you is to have everybody talking about you, passing judgments about you and projecting onto you. It feels good when you are admired, of course, but I’m a writer, not a model; I would rather it was my work, not my person, that was getting the attention.  I felt invaded, and it made me queasy when readers I had never met believed they were intimate with me.

 

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.

chicken 10 year 10-10-13

 

Give a Gift to Yourself or the Writer in Your Life-Free 20 Min. Consultation

A free 20 minute consultation w/ the Book Doctors. We can change your publishing life in 2o minutes! We have helped hundreds of writers go from being talented amateurs to professionally published authors. Click here to buy & send proof of purchase to sterryhead@gmail.com.

“You guys!!  Thank you for that phenomenal all-day session at Stanford a few weeks ago. Can’t thank you enough for providing the most energizing and invigorating forum for getting us all in touch with The Writer Within.”

“I learned a lot about the publishing world but more about pitching my book. Prior to attending I had no idea what a pitch was.  The feedback you provided was never derogatory, or demeaning you offered helpful and hopeful feedback.  As a result I rewrote my own pitch and am hopeful.  Thank you again.”

“I came to The Book Doctors with nothing but a dream. Now I have a book deal and I’m so excited & grateful.”

Untitled-2

The Book Doctors Interview Agent Extraordinaire Mollie Glick on Trends, Self-Publishing & Truth Versus Fiction

 

2013-03-12-molliejacket.jpg
 

A couple of years ago we did a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) in Kansas City. Our winner, Genn Albin, gave an outrageously amazing pitch for her dystopian YA trilogy. This led to an enormous buzz around her book, Crewel. Many agents were interested in her and she asked us for our advice on this most monumental of decisions. We told her, hands down, Mollie Glick was the way to go. Mollie got her a mid-six-figure three book deal with one of the best publishers in America, Farrar Strauss Giroux. Mollie is that rare agent: smart, wise, savvy, and nice. So we thought we’d pick her brain about the state of books.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: First of all what made you get into the ridiculous business of books?

MOLLIE GLICK: I’ve always been a bookworm. In fourth grade my teacher told my mother during their parent/teacher conference that I read too much! So I knew I had to find a job where I’d get paid to read. Plus, I actually get to use my English degree!

TBD: Many writers are under the impression that their manuscript just has to be pretty darn good and then once they get an agent, the agent will help them make it better. Is this is fact the case?

MG: Depends on the agent. Personally, I’m very hands on if I have a clear vision for where a novel needs to go… and that vision resonates with the author. But I actually lose out on a lot of projects to agents who tell writers it’s just perfect as it is, and then get scared off when the first round of rejections come in because they don’t know how to help the author revise.

TBD: Writers often look to what’s already been published to help them decide what kind of book to write. Is it too late to wait until a trend has appeared on bookshelves to hop on the bandwagon? Should a writer even consider trends at all?

MG: Honestly, when I take something trendy on it’s in SPITE of the fact that it’s trendy. For example, Josie Angelini’s STARCROSSED series came to me once paranormal romance had already taken off. At first I questioned whether I should still consider it. But then I started reading and I couldn’t put it down. Ultimately, that’s always my litmus test of whether I’m going to offer representation.

TBD: Do you think it’s easier these days to sell fiction based on a true story than to sell a memoir? If so, are there certain categories of memoirs (like mother/daughter stories, alcoholism stories) that this rule particularly applies to?

MG: Nah– I still love memoir! It just has to be really, really good.

TBD:What is the threshold for sales of a self-published book that make you go, “Wow!”? And in what time frame are you looking for with these numbers?

MG: Good question. I’d like to see someone selling at least 5-10k copies and hopefully more like 20k on their own. And it’s not so much about the time frame as what price they’ve set their novel at. A novel selling hundreds of thousands of copies at a dollar a pop is still intriguing, but you do wonder whether those fans will keep buying once the book costs more like ten dollars.

TBD: Do you respond to all queries, even those that are in categories you don’t represent? If not, why not? How can writers avoid the void?

MG: No– we get hundreds and hundreds of queries a week, and many of these authors are querying dozens of agents at once. I can’t respond to every one and still make a living, But my assistant and I respond to every query that looks right for my list within a week or two of receiving the query– and often much sooner. The best way to avoid the void is to make sure you’re querying a genre the agent represents, that your query letter is intriguing, and that it is grammatically correct!

TBD: What are the most common mistakes you see in queries?

MG: Addressing a query to multiple agents at once. Or sending queries on topics I’ve never expressed interest in.

Mollie Glick is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media, representing literary fiction, young adult fiction, narrative nonfiction and a bit of practical nonfiction. After graduating with honors from Brown University, Mollie began her publishing career as a literary scout, advising foreign publishers regarding the acquisition of rights to American books. She then worked as an editor at the Crown imprint of Random House, before switching over to “the other side” and becoming an agent in 2003. In addition to her work as a literary agent, Mollie has served on the Contracts Committee of the AAR and teaches classes at Media Bistro and the Grotto. Her instructional articles on nonfiction proposal writing and query letter writing have been featured in Writers Digest. Some of her recent projects include Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving; Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell the Wolves I’m Home; Elizabeth Black’s The Drowning House; Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook; Gennifer Albin’s Crewel and Josie Angelini’s Starcrossed.

Page 4 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén