David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: book editor

Book Doctors Free Webinar

The Book Doctors offer a free webinar, where they will give you some of the keys necessary to unlocking the door to the publishing kingdom. How to get a book deal. How to find an agent. Whether to publish traditionally or with a hybrid publisher? Is self-publishing the right path to take? Ask questions! This is your shot. Are you going to take it?

Book Doctors Get Sweet Message from Student at UNM Summer Writers Conference

I came away from our workshop inspired, hopeful, informed, and once again in love with writing, writers, and even agents (well, some of them)!

Book Doctors David Sterry, Arielle Eckstut

The Book Doctor Client Leslie Sorrell Wins Texas Writers League Memoir Contest

Our absolutely fabulous client Leslie Sorrell, whose amazing memoir just won the Texas Writers League Memoir Contest. Can an absolutely fabulous book deal be far behind?

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Irvine Welsh Talks to The Book Doctors on Huffington Post About Writing, America, Rejection and the ‘Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’

To read on Hoff Po click here.

Well, he’s at it again. Yes, Irvine Welsh has produced another wild tale full of maniacal madness. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. Naturally it’s got Siamese twins sexing it up and being surgically sawn in half. Murder, envy, fat chicks, lunatic kidnappers, media feeding frenzy, dildos pumping away like there’s no tomorrow . But this book is very different. First of all, it’s set in sun-splashed Miami, where Mr Welsh currently has one of his residences. It’s also written from the perspective of two women. And two women who couldn’t be much different from each other. I must confess I loved this book. I devoured it in a weekend, like a junkie binging on China white. You know, the good shit. And this book really actually changed my life. I became horrified by how much empty-calories I was shoving down my pie hole and I’ve been working out like a psycho-trainer was screaming in my ear about how I had to feel the burn. So I thought I would pick the brain of Mr Welsh and figure out how, & why, he did it.

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The Book Doctors: What inspired you to write a book that is so incredibly different from the dark, beer-stained, junky-filled landscape of Scotland that made you famous?

Irvine Welch: Miami – a different world altogether from Scotland, a much more visual, body-obsessed culture. I’ve a place there and I’m in the town often.

TBD: Many successful writers seem to write the same book over and over and over. But this book is so far removed from what your fans are used to. Did you think about that in terms of the Irvine Welsh brand? Do you feel pressure, either from yourself, or from your publisher, to just stick with what you already know works?

IW: I don’t think so. I love writing about where I come from, but you also need to step outside your comfort zone from time to time. Unless you are doing genre fiction and are more conscious of deliberate brand building, you can only really write the book you write. I have a blank page and that’s a great luxury. I don’t need to start the first sentence with ‘Harry Potter said…’ or ‘Inspector Rebus rose early…’ and that’s a luxury. I can bring back Begbie or Juice Terry, but only if they are the right tools for the job. In this case they weren’t, so I created Lucy and Lena to tell the story.

TBD: Was it difficult to write in the voice of 2 women who are American & so removed from the dialect of your home turf? What are the methods you used to capture these voices?

IW: The biggest problem isn’t so much the language and dialect. I’m quite tuned into that through living in the States and being married to an American. The toughest thing is the cultural references, all the TV shows etc, that inform conversations. I had to make sure a lot of American friends saw early drafts.

TBD: The main character in the story seemed to me to bear a striking resemblance to Frank Begbie, the notoriously violent psychopath in Trainspotting. Except for the fact that she’s a bisexual body trainer who (mostly) disdains alcohol. What draws you to these extreme characters and how do you manage to get into their heads so successfully?

IW: I like uncompromising characters. They are tough to deal with in real life, but great fun in fiction. With a character who is ‘out there’ you can literally have them do anything. That’s a blessing for a writer

TBD: I don’t want to spoil the plot, but there’s such a fantastic switch, actually several of them, toward the end of your book. Do you outline where your story is going? How do go about constructing plot?

IW: I tend to let the plot come from the characters. Sometimes I might have a vague idea of where I want to go, but I like to throw away my GPS and give them the wheel. “Take me to Miami…or anywhere else interesting” is my only instruction.

TBD: How is it that you’ve managed to get away without ever using quotation marks?

IW: I hate quotation marks. I read a Roddy Doyle novel years ago when I was starting out – The Commitments-  and his use of the dash seemed to convey the urgency of the characters better. So it’s Roddy’s fault!

TBD: I was fascinated by the theme of numbers. Did you do a lot of research for this book?

IW: Numbers and stats are huge in America. Especially sports. The idea of measurement is ubiquitous. I did a fair bit f research, but not as much as might be imagined. I suppose watching sports and reality TV is research…

TBD: When I am in Europe, the only fat people I seem to see are American tourists. This is of course one of the big themes of your new book. Why do you think Americans are so fat?

IW: The rest of the world is catching up! But consumerist culture is huge in America, as is fast food. You put those two together and you are heading for lardland.

TBD: Have you ever had a book rejected?

IW: Yes, I wrote a terrible ‘experimental’ novel for my third book. My editor said something along the lines of ‘this is shit. You’re just trying to show off. Go and write the book you really want to write.’ So I binned it and came back with Marabou Stork Nightmares, which is a book I’m very proud of.

TBD: Do you have any tips for writers who want to you explore the dark parts of human nature that would seem, at first blush, to be difficult to sell to the mainstream of the book world?

IW: If you think about the market you are in a very different game. Write what you want to write; work out how it sell it when it’s done.

Irvine Welsh is the author of Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Glue, Porno, Filth, Marabou Stork Nightmares, The Acid House, Skagboys, and, most recently, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. He currently lives in Chicago, IL.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

 

The Book Doctors Bring Pitchapalooza to San Antonia Book Festival

Pitchapalooza April 15, 2015!

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Lee Wilson on Memoir, Ballet, Broadway, Editors and Choreographers

The Book Doctors met Lee Wilson at a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books) at a fantastic bookstore called pages: a book store, in Manhattan Beach, California. She was so warm, funny, passionate and professional. And she had excellent posture! Turns out that was no accident. She had been a professional dancer at the highest level. She blew us away with her pitch. We helped her with her proposal, and with the help of the amazing Toni Bentley, we hooked her up with a fantastic publisher, University Press of Florida, who does the exact kind of book she was proposing. And now, the book, Rebel on Pointe: A Memoir of Ballet & Broadway is coming out. So we thought we’d pick her brain about books, publishing, writing, and dancing.
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The Book Doctors: Is it harder to be a professional dancer or writer?

Lee Wilson: I made my professional debut as a classical ballet dancer when I was sixteen. At that time, and for the next ten or fifteen years, it would have been harder to be a writer. I didn’t have the life experience, the perspective, the knowledge, or the patience I have today. At sixteen, I wanted to be financially independent. I wanted to tour the world with a ballet company and work with great dancers, like Nureyev, Bruhn, and Hightower. And I did. I danced for royalty in Monte Carlo, gun-toting revolutionaries in Algeria, American aristocrats at the Metropolitan Opera, and a galaxy of stars on Broadway, and I loved every minute of it. But the highpoints of my dance career are past, so today I would find it difficult to be a professional dancer. On the other hand, as a writer, I’m just getting started. I’ve written for TV, but Rebel on Pointe is my first book. Everything about publishing is new and exciting. Every day brings a new challenge — every day a new thrill. So today, I’d rather be a writer.

TBD: What made you decide to write a memoir?
LW: People have been telling me ever since I was twenty-one that I should write my life story, but I didn’t think about it seriously until 2008 when I was finishing my degree in Performing Arts through St. Mary’s College of California. I was writing about the subculture of dance and the great dancers and choreographers of the late 20th century, and I saw how my personal story intersected with the story of women’s rights and the transformation of American dance during the 1950s and 60s, and I thought that was a very interesting story.

TBD: What were some of the difficulties and pleasures of writing about your life?

LW: The biggest difficulty was getting a balance among the stories — personal, political and dance — because they’re all intertwined: I decided to become a dancer not only because I loved to dance, but also because I wanted to live in a community where men and women were equally respected and equally paid, and in the 1950s, that rare community was dance. While I was writing the book, I wanted to make sure that even young readers would understand the culture of the 1950s when the majority of American women were housewives, and it was legal and common to deny women jobs simply because they were women. Getting the right balance of information was tricky.

The greatest pleasure of writing about my life was reliving and reassessing the highlights of my dance career and recognizing how very fortunate I was to be a professional dancer and to live in the multicultural community of dance.

TBD: How did you go about finding a publisher?

LW: The publisher found me — thanks to you! I went to Pitchapalooza at {pages} bookstore in Manhattan Beach because I knew that when you heard my quick pitch for my memoir, you could make it better. You not only improved the pitch, but after we refined my book proposal, you sent the proposal to Toni Bentley, who sent it to the University Press of Florida. Bingo! I had a publisher.

TBD: What was it like working with your editor and publisher? How did it compare to working with a director in your dance career?

LW: I loved working with both of my editors. My acquiring editor, Meredith Morris-Babb, is the Director of the University Press of Florida. She worked with me on the big picture–content and tone. She also sent the manuscript to dance historians and gave me the benefit of their comments. After that, my project editor, Nevil Parker, worked with me on the details.

The writer/editor and the dancer/director relationships are both collaborations, but the dynamics are different. As the writer of a memoir, I was telling my own story, and the editors advised me on how to tell it. As a dancer, I was working with directors to help them tell their stories or someone else’s story.

TBD: What life lessons did you learn from being a dancer?

LW:1) Hard work is essential for success. If you don’t work hard, you can’t compete.
2) Auditions are never a waste of time. The job you don’t get today might lead to a job tomorrow.
3) Find your passion. Passion will give your life meaning and direction and will lead you to a community where the passion of others will reinforce your own.

TBD: What life lessons did you learn from being a writer?

LW: 1) Writing about a subject–no matter how well you know it–gives you greater insight.
2) Make sure the big decisions are right because if they aren’t, the little ones don’t matter.
3) When you start down a road where you’ve never been, find people who know the road and let them guide you.

TBD: What advice do you have for dancers?

LW: Dance will enrich your life whether or not you have a career as a professional dancer. I’ve never met anyone who said, “I wish I’d spent less time dancing,” but I know many who say, “Dance is the joy of my life.”

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

LW:In his iconic book Screenplay, Syd Field wrote, “The ending is the first thing you must know before you begin writing.” For me, this has been excellent advice. I know that some writers like to throw their characters into the ocean and see what happens. I don’t. When my characters hit the water, they’re swimming toward a specific point in the distance. They may take interesting detours; they may flash forward and flashback, but the end is a defined place, and my characters are moving toward that place from the moment I write “Chapter One” or “Fade In.”

Lee Wilson made her debut as a classical ballet dancer in a command performance for Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in Monte Carlo. She toured Europe with the Hommage au Marquis de Cuevas, was première danseuse of the Bordeaux Opera Ballet, and danced with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Her Broadway shows include Hello, Dolly!, How Now Dow Jones, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Meet Me in St. Louis. Lee wrote and produced the award-winning TV movie, The Miracle of the Cards. Her website is leewilsonpro.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

Jackson Michael on Bart Starr, Frank Gifford, Bob Griese and the Men Who Made the NFL Great

I first met Jackson Michael in Austin, Texas. He pitched us a book about interviewing old-time NFL players. Men who played the game before there was money. Men who made the NFL a multibillion-dollar franchise.  And then in many cases were simply tossed away, physically broken and emotionally shattered. Michael had never written a book before. He was not a football insider. He was just a man with an incredible passion. So I helped him put his proposal together. AIt took almost a year. Polishing, tweaking, researching. Turns out Jackson is one of the hardest working man in show business. By the time he was done with the proposal, he had talked to some of the greatest names in the history of professional football. Frank Gifford, Bob Griese, Walt Garrison, Don Maynard, and Bart Starr. Then, without an agent, he sent the book to bunch of publishers. He got three offers. He chose University of Nebraska Press. The book, The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Man Who Built the NFL,  just came out, so thought I’d pick his brain about books, football and money.
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David Henry Sterry: What was your biggest take-away from talking to all these great football players from the past, before the game was all about the money?

Jackson Michael: The life lessons. Most players dropped a chestnut of wisdom inside their football stories. Bart Starr not only told the backstory behind his Ice Bowl touchdown, he talked about how Vince Lombardi demanded excellence over simply being good. That makes a huge difference, and applies to anything in life — being a parent, spouse, or writer. My aim was to document football history but readers will pick up some valuable teachings along the way.

DHS: What were some of the highlights of talking to these gridiron legends?

JM: Just getting a chance to chat with these guys was the highlight beyond all highlights. Every interview was just as exciting as the last. It was like having your childhood football card collection come to life.

DHS: What were some of the most horrific things that you heard when talking to the men who built the NFL?

JM: Most of the book is positive, but early African American players dealt with the racism of those times. George Taliaferro told me that (Washington owner) George Preston Marshall shouted racial slurs at him on the field. Garland Boyette shared what he and his teammates had to do to end segregated hotel accommodations. Irv Cross spoke of hate mail and someone threatening to shoot him. Also, I had firsthand interaction with dementia. I called one player about interviewing and his wife told me he doesn’t remember playing.

DHS: What you think needs to be done to rectify the abuse and neglect of retired NFL veterans, many of whom are in such terrible physical, mental and emotional shape?

JM: The oral history gives players a chance to share their stories rather than put me in a position to suggest solutions. For example, fans learn that the pensions of men who played in the era the book covers are less than those of recent players. In fact, it was announced this week that pensions are being raised solely for players who played during the 1993-1996 seasons, leaving pioneers even further behind on the <a href=”http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11408531/nfl-players-union-increases-pensions-1722-former-players” target=”_hplink”>pension scale</a>.

The increases older retirees have received over the years apparently haven’t matched inflation. Don Maynard told me that he collected under $450 a month before the 2011 collective bargaining agreement — for 17 years of NFL service.

Moreover, injuries can worsen over time, requiring surgery and physical therapy. For example, several players I spoke with had their knees replaced long after retirement. The NFL doesn’t pay for that, and pensions often don’t compare well with the costs of insurance premiums and copays. Conrad Dobler states that he spent more on knee surgeries than he earned over his entire 10-year NFL career.

It was clear to me that these guys aren’t sitting around feeling sorry for themselves. They are proud men, retired from a game requiring immeasurable toughness. Furthermore, many do extremely well after football, but enough struggle that real issues exist. Guys seem most concerned about ex-players in harsher situations than they experience. Some set up charities, like Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats and Bruce Laird’s Fourth and Goal Foundation. Even the Hall of Fame has an Enshrinees Assistance Foundation.

DHS: We surprised by the generosity of these American icons?

JM: Although I was surprised, I felt more fortunate and thankful. Nobody had any reason to speak with me other than kindness. I felt this enormous responsibility afterward to get the book published. These guys gave me their time, opened up to me. Now it was up to me to get their fantastic stories out there. Getting published was a more ardent process than I had expected.

DHS: What was the process of getting this book published like?

JM: Writing the proposal was a tremendous amount of work. Spending considerable time on a query letter only to hit “delete” built character. Additionally, I had previously only published a handful of magazine and online articles. Nobody welcomed me into their publishing house on a chariot.

DHS: What were some of the things that you did to make this book sellable, and in fact, sell it?

JM: Getting the proposal to communicate the project in terms publishers understood was crucial. At first I thought the mere fact that I collected interviews from all these fabulous players was enough. A great idea, however, only buys you thirty seconds of attention. Publishers invest thousands of dollars in each book, so you better show up with more than “I’m really creative and this is super cool.” The Book Doctors provided indispensable guidance in conveying information publishers need: possible marketing strategies, relevant demographics, how the book tied in with current news. Stuff artists despise, but you need to show commitment to the marketing end because you’re asking people to market your book.  The other important thing I did was I objectively considered what publishers told me the book needed. That led to timelines and introductions before each section, and a table converting player salaries into modern-day dollars.

DHS: What were some of the pitfalls that you fell into when you tried to get this book put together, and then published?

JM: I expected the first publisher I contacted to enthusiastically offer me a contract. Instead, I was told I needed a platform. I actually had to Google the term. After learning what a platform was, I bought a book appropriately entitled Platform by Michael Hyatt, and did what I could to start building one. Another pitfall was agents. One condescendingly asked me who I thought I was because I didn’t work for Sports Illustrated. Another said oral histories weren’t interesting to readers. A third said people weren’t interested in football books. I decided to go straight to publishers, figuring it was easier to obtain one “yes” from a publisher rather than two from both an agent and a publisher. That might not work for everybody, because it did probably cost me money and it’s impossible to pitch to the Big Five without an agent. I was most concerned, however, with getting this book out while guys were still alive, and the University of Nebraska Press team has been great.

DHS: Did talking to all these former players change the way you think about the NFL?  About college football? Professional sports?

JM: Most of the book is players recalling their golden moments, so it’s predominately a feel-good story. I love pro and college football as much as ever. After getting to speak with players, however, I’m more aware of the game’s human element and don’t get as upset over fumbles and interceptions. Playoff loses still bum me out, though.

DHS: As a first-time author, do you feel like you want to write more books, or never write another book as long as you live?

JM: If anything, completing this book made me crave more. Call me weird, but spending 10 hours editing or doing research is as much fun as the beach. One of life’s dirty secrets is that most artists are simply glorified workaholics. I’m currently working out an idea for a Texas music book suggested by Robert Hurst, an outstanding painter who connected me with several players in The Game before the Money. I’d also like to see my novel, Broke and Famous, get published. Then there’s that notebook full of fiction ideas, and a desire to record a Civil Rights oral history.

Jackson Michael grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. He currently lives in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and the Maxwell Football Club. A true sports geek, Michael possesses a near encyclopedic knowledge of sports history. <em>The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL</em> is his first book.  Michael worked for several years with the Austin Daze, as the alternative newspaper’s entertainment writer and music critic. He also conducted interviews for Tape Op magazine, the most widely distributed periodical in the field of audio engineering.  The Game Before the Money is his first book.

He additionally enjoys a successful music career, having released solo five albums. He has recorded with Barbara K (Timbuk 3), Kim Deschamps (Cowboy Junkies) and Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey). Also a skilled audio engineer, Michael has recorded albums for a number of Texas music acts. Twitter: @JacksonMichael

<em>David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. His first memoir,  Chicken, was an international bestseller and has been translated into 10 languages.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors, who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has appeared on National Public Radio, in the London Times, Playboy, the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls. He can be found at: www.Davidhenrysterry.com

PITCHAPALOOZA Main Point Books: September 21, 3PM

PITCHAPALOOZA MAIN POINT BOOKS  Bryn Mawr, PA

SUN. SEPT 21, 3PM

SPECIAL GUEST JUDGES: CARLIN ROMANO & ANNE WILLKOMM

Copy of pitchapalooza Naperville

WHAT:   Pitchapalooza is American Idol for books (only kinder and gentler). Twenty writers will be selected at random to pitch their book. Each writer gets one minute—and only one minute!  Many writers have gone from talented amateurs to professionally published authors as a result of participating in Pitchapalooza, including Genn Albin, our KC winner who got a 3-book mid-six figure deal with Farrar Straus & Giroux.

WHO: Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company dedicated to helping authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully(Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 18 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of seven books and the co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 12 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today.

HOW: At Pitchapalooza, judges will help you improve your pitch, not tell you how bad it is. Judges critique everything from idea to style to potential in the marketplace and much, much more. Authors come away with concrete advice as well as a greater understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Whether potential authors pitch themselves, or simply listen to trained professionals critique each presentation, Pitchapalooza is educational and entertaining for one and all. From Miami to Portland, from LA to NYC, and many stops along the way, Pitchapaloozas have consistently drawn standing-room-only crowds, press and blog coverage, and the kind of bookstore buzz reserved for celebrity authors.

PRIZE: At the end of Pitchapalooza, the judges will pick a winner. The winner receives an introduction to an agent or publisher appropriate for his/her book. 

PRICE OF ADMISSION: To sign up to pitch, you must purchase a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Anyone who buys a copy of receives a FREE 20 minute consultation, a $100 value. If you don’t want to pitch, the event is FREE.

WHEN: Sun Sept 21, 3pm

WHERE: 1041 West Lancaster Ave Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 (610) 525-1480

New York Times article: http://tinyurl.com/3tkp4gl.

Pitchapalooza on Kansas City Public Radio: http://bit.ly/eBlMUy

Pitchapalooza video trailer: bit.ly/mVj4uA
Pitchapalooza mini movie: http://tinyurl.com/3jr8zte.

Pitchapalooza on NBC: http://www.thebookdoctors.com/the-book-doctors-pitchapalooza-on-nbc-television

Here’s what people are saying about Pitchapalooza: 

“We came to Pitchapalooza with an idea and six months later we got a book deal with a prominent publisher. We simply couldn’t have done this without this opportunity and without David and Arielle. We had been working on this project for several years, on our own, and struggling without any guidance. We were really discouraged by the entire process. Winning Pitchapalooza, and working with these two, really helped us focus and renew our enthusiasm in the project. And now we’re going to be published authors!”—Nura Maznavi and Ayesha Mattu, Pitchapalooza winners Litquke, San Francisco, Oct. 2010

Read more testimonials

Here’s what people are saying about The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published: 

“I started with nothing but an idea, and then I bought this book. Soon I had an A-list agent, a near six-figure advance, and multiple TV deals in the works. Buy it and memorize it. This little tome is the quiet secret of rockstar authors.”—New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferris, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,

 

James River Writers Conference: Pound 4 Pound the Best in America

The Book Doctors are so excited to be going back to Richmond Virginia – btw you probably have no idea how rockin Richmond is – doing Pitchapalooza at James River Writers Conference, Oct 18-19.  Hanging out with lots of cool cats and kitties, agents and publishers editors illustrators and lots and lots of writers..  There are still a few slots open, if you’re not already signed up, I highly suggest you do so.  We’re going to be kickin it with Barbara Kingsolver this year.  Here’s a most excellent video.

Joe Montaperto on Memoir, Self- Publishing & The Edge of Whiteness

One of the cool things about the Internet is that you get to meet people that you probably never would in real life.  This is the case with Joe Montaperto.  I don’t know where exactly we ran into each other in cyberspace, but I read some of his writing and I really liked it.  Very honest, very real, and he’s writing about such powerful subject matter, at a time when the world, and America in particular, really needs to take a step forward when it comes to race relations.  So I thought I’d pick his brain about his memoir, and see what he had to say about black, white, Sicilian-American, and all that jazz.
The_Edge_of_Whitenes_Cover_for_Kindle joe montaperto
1.) Why in God’s name did you decide to write a memoir?
Well, in my particular case, I just thought – THIS is a story that needs to be told! (: I felt like I was coming from a somewhat unique perspective at a very interesting time period in our country’s history. I think there’s been quite a bit written about the 1960’s from a number of different angles, including the social/political upheaval and race relations that were prevalent in this era, but much less about the period directly following it – the early 1970’s. The 60’s didn’t end in 1969, they continued into the early-mid 70’s when the government actually implemented many of the new programs and policies being called for by society, which included racial integration of the remaining schools where it was still largely segregated.
       It was a whole different world back then – much different than today – and the characters I grew up with were pretty unforgettable! (:  Also, being a first/second generation Sicilian-American, but always being mistaken/passing for Puerto Rican, i was kind of able to skate on the edges of different ethnicities, cultures, and races, which allowed me a rare perspective for the time – hence the title of my book – The Edge of Whiteness.
2.) What were the worst things about writing your memoir?
I had never actually written a book before. I had been an actor, comedian, and had done a one-man show, but had no idea how to write a book, which is a whole other art form! So it took a tremendous effort, many hours, and a good deal of trial and error to finally get it done, which took about 5 years. Plus, at the time I was travelling and living alot in Ecuador and South America, and exploring the Amazon… thank God Rob Mc Caskill, my former acting coach and a writer himself, guided me through the process or  inever would have completed it.
3.) What were the best things about writing your memoir?
Oh, there were many good things about it! Just to be able to write about the events in my life, and open myself up to things I thought I had long forgotten – it proved to be very cathartic and therapeutic in a lot of ways. The accomplishment to actually be able to finish a book, and have many people enjoy it and tell me how they really related to it… that was very gratifying!
4.) Did writing your memoir help you make some order of the chaos we call life?
Yeah, I’d had a very chaotic life in an equally chaotic environment, so it was great to actually be able to piece things together and fill in the blanks. There were  quite a few of those AHA! moments, and I think anytime you go through such a long process as that, you come out of it enriched, with some more clarity and understanding.
5.) How did you make a narrative out of seemingly random events that happened to you?
To be honest, it was mostly just intuitive, it just kind of came to me  and flowed through me, but the memories and events and people were  pretty vivid, and it was mostly a matter of putting those events into some kind of order that would move the story along.
6.) How was the process of selling your memoir?
              At first it was really confusing – I had NO idea of what i was doing! Then there was my own resistance and negative feelings about whether other people would really be interested in my story, and if deserved it, but once I got over that, i definitely gained some clarity and focus. At that point, it kind of took on a life of it’s own.
7.) How did you go about promoting and marketing your memoir?
Having no experience with this, I really had to do my research! At first, I had it published on Kindle through an independent company, Oak Tree Press, but I felt like i couldn’t wait forever to have it published in paperback, so I went through Createspace to self publish. Then, out of pure luck, a good friend of mine, Steven Williams, who happens to be certified webmaster, designed a great site for me, where I posted my reviews, interviews, videos, and the like. I went from there to a fan page on Facebook and pages on Authors Den, Goodreads, Bublish and Smashwords, as well as doing a number of public readings in the New York/New Jersey area.
8.) Did you have difficulty speaking in public about the intimate aspects of your memoir?
          Not really. I have been onstage so many times as an actor/comedian and performing my one man show that doing readings, interviews and cable tv/radio shows was a chance for me to get back up onstage again, which I love and actually relished the chance to talk about my book and experiences!
9.) How did your family, friends and loved ones react to your memoir?
            It was funny. It took a while for my family and relatives to actually read it, as I think initially they were pretty much apprehensive about the whole thing, but after that they really embraced it, I think. My friends and acquaintances seemed to really enjoy it too, and wrote many good reviews, but I think I was most suprised by how much  the people I had never met before liked it… that really boosted my confidence.
10.)  I hate to ask you this, but do you have any advice for people who want to write a memoir?
             The main advice I would have for somebody who wants to write a memoir is – be prepared to put in alot of HOURS – it’s a pretty huge undertaking! And as with everything in the arts, it’s a process, and the process usually takes much longer that you think it will, but you also grow in alot of unexpected ways, I think. Be open, and be willing to have consistency and a committment to putting in the work!
Joe Montaperto can be found at www.joemontaperto.com His bok is also available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle – amazon/the edge of whiteness/joemontaperto – also on Smashwords, Bublish, Createspace. Goodreads and Authors Den. He has many videos on Youtube and his fanpage on Facebook.

Self-Publishing Literary Fiction: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Cari Noga Reveals All to The Book Doctors

The Book Doctors met Cari Noga in 2011, when she won our National Novel Writing Month Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for books). Her pitch was spectacular, haunting and superbly crafted. Her story is about a 12-year-old boy with autism who witnesses the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash, and how he and other crash witnesses and survivors find their lives intersecting and transformed by the extraordinary event—and by each other. We worked with her on her novel Sparrow Migrations and discovered it was a richly wrought tapestry of human emotion, both beautifully plotted and a delightful read. The novel was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and the spring 2013 winner of the ForeWord Firsts contest sponsored by ForeWord Reviews. Cari herself was already a published author (Road Biking Michigan with Globe-Pequot Press in 2005). When we sent her book out to our agent and publishing contacts, we were shocked that no one snapped it up. The problem is she’s not famous. There are no zombies or werewolves in her book. No S&M involving rich people. Just a great story with great characters about a world-famous event. So Cari decided to self-publish in April, 2013. Sparrow Migrations was just named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. So we thought we’d pick her brain and the beauties and terrors of self-publishing literary fiction.

SparrowMigrations_LowRes CNoga_Color_LowRes

The Book Doctors: The general wisdom is that self-publishing literary fiction is especially difficult. Do you agree with this wisdom? If so, how have you gotten around these difficulties? If not, why not?

 

Cari Noga: I think publishing anything that isn’t directly aimed at a genre-specific audience is more difficult, whether you go the self-pub route or traditional. The upside is that if you do reach a literary audience, the potential is much wider. I seem to have found a niche with book clubs, starting right in my own community, and rippling outward—I just did a Skype chat with a club in Phoenix. My town has a strong sense of locavorism –people like to buy local, eat local, etc. I think that extends to reading, too. One suggestion to make locavorism work for you: Check whether your library offers book club kits – multiple copies of the same book, available for simultaneous checkout. Mine does, and when I did an appearance, I asked that they create a kit

TBD: What has been the single most difficult thing about self-publishing?

CN: Retail distribution. I was aware that I would  have to offer discounts, but I did not appreciate enough the importance of offering returns. My book is available through Ingram & Baker and Taylor, but as a POD book there is no way to return it.

TBD: What has been the single best thing?

CN: Hearing from readers, especially in the book club settings. Free time is my own most prized resource, so to know that people are spending theirs reading my book is incredibly gratifying. Hearing that they like it, that the characters resonate authentically, and that they’ve learned something – whether about autism, birds, or something else – is like having my cake, icing and ice cream, too.

TBD: What marketing strategy has been most successful? What has been least successful?

CN: Most successful by a longshot: Kindle giveaways. I’ve done two (June 2013, 5,400 copies downloaded; Jan. 2014, 33,600 copies downloaded.) Paid sales increased after each and reviews soared. The January one was advertised on Bookbub, which I also recommend.

Least successful: Advertising in trade journals like PW Select. Not because the ads were bad or poorly designed, but the brick-and-mortar bookseller audience that reads them are predisposed against self-published books, especially POD like mine, due to the inability to return unsold copies and the inconvenience of dealing with an individual publisher.

Book clubs are still proving a good audience – I’m a guest at three different live discussions here in town next month and my first by Skype, with a club in Phoenix that somehow latched onto it.

TBD: How have you convinced independent bookstores to carry your book?

CN: Goes back to locavorism. I have two indie stores in my town that are both eager to work with local authors. I had a relationship with one (Horizon Books) going back to a nonfiction book (Road Biking Michigan) I published traditionally ten years ago and was fortunate to have one staff member be a beta reader. They have two other stores in northern Michigan as well. The other newer store is Brilliant Books, a cozy, customer-centric place that hosted my launch. I showed them both copies while in proof stage, asked them to carry it and offered industry standard discounts. Another store contacted me after reading local media coverage. A few other stores have been receptive to cold calls.

TBD: Would you still like to see your book published by a major publisher? If so, why?

CN: I would like to see my book in more bookstores. At the book clubs I visit, more people bring paper copies than Kindle, so I’m concluding there’s more potential for the paper copy than I’m getting in my half-dozen stores and on Amazon. However, I’d be much more cautious about the deal I’d sign than I would have two years ago. More than a publisher, right now I would like an agent who could advise me about the best moves to make not only for this book, but career-wise.

TBD: Are you working on a next book? If so, what is it about? Tentatively titled Tres Vidas, my next novel is, like Sparrow Migrations, a story about relationships. The three lives that intersect are Lucy, a suddenly-orphaned 9-year-old who must leave her NYC home to live on a northern Michigan farm with her prickly aunt Jane, and Miguel, a migrant worker who becomes a bridge between the two.

CN: How did you get 180 reviews of your book on Amazon?

TBD: Reviews spiked after the giveaways. After the initial release in April 2013, when I ran into people who told me they liked the book – in person, by email, on social media –my standard reply was to ask them to write a review on Amazon or Goodreads. A surprising number actually did, and I got up to about 20 reviews that way. That doubled after the first giveaway. After the second giveaway, timed to the fifth anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson plane crash, which is the starting incident in the book, they just came pouring in. I’ve not solicited any reviews in months.

TBD: You enrolled in Amazon’s KDP select program. Was the exclusivity they requested worth it?

CN: Yes – see the giveaway results above. I do plan to expand to other platforms (Nook, Kobo) this year.

TBD: We can’t help but ask how you view the Amazon/Hachette tug of war since you used Amazon’s publishing program. Thoughts?

CN: I think there are far more shades of gray to the situation than have emerged in the mainstream narrative (Amazon: evil corporate behemoth; Hachette, guardians and saviors of literature.)

J.A. Konrath http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ says that in this mad, crazy publishing world of the moment, the only two people who matter are the writer and the reader. Everyone else in a middleman who has to prove their value. Right now, Amazon is connecting those two best. They also treat authors better financially (Both my books are priced at $14.95. I get about $4 per novel sold vs. 75 cents for my Road Biking book, which was taken out of print.*) More people are reading, thanks to the Kindle, which has added another revenue stream for authors.

Meanwhile, the ranks of indie bookstores are actually growing as they embrace what they do best: curation and customer service. In my town, Brilliant Books, for example, offers free shipping. At Horizon, membership program fees drop by a dollar every year, encouraging renewals. Healthy marketplaces do generally have more players vs. fewer, so I hope Hachette and the Big Five can survive. But in terms of blame for the situation they’re in, as others have said (See exhibits A was, B and C ) I’d point to the mirror as much as Amazon.

Cari Noga self-published her debut novel, Sparrow Migrations, in April 2013. The novel was a semifinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, the spring 2013 winner of the ForeWord Firsts contest sponsored by ForeWord Reviews, and was just named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. A former journalist, she also traditionally published Road Biking Michigan with Globe-Pequot Press in 2005. Read her blog or sign up for her author newsletter at www.carinoga.com.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of  The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

The Book Doctors: How to Get Successfully Published TODAY: Big 5, Indy, or Self-Publish?

It’s the greatest time in history to be a writer.  There are more ways to get published than ever before.  While it’s great to have so many options, it’s also confusing.   But when you break these many different ways down, they sort themselves out into just three primary paths:  1) The Big 5: HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Macmillan, 2) Independent presses that ranges in size from the hefty W.W. Norton to the many university presses to the numerous one-person shops. 3) Self-publishing.  In our over 35 years experience in the publishing business as agents, writers and book doctors, we have walked down all three paths–and we have the corns, calluses and blisters to prove it. To help you avoid such injuries, we have mapped out the pluses and minuses of these three paths in order to help you get successfully published in today’s crazy Wild West world of books.

1) The Big Five:  Since publishing has gone from being a gentleman’s business to being owned, run and operated by corporations, you have a much better chance of getting your book published if you are Snooki from Jersey Shore hawking your new diet manifesto than if you’re an unknown (or even established but not famous) writer who’s written a brilliant work of literary fiction.  And since the corporatized publishing world continues to shrink at an alarming rate, there are fewer and fewer slots available, even though the competition is every bit as fierce for those ever-dwindling spots.  Add to this the fact that, unless you are related to and/or sleeping with Mister Harper or Mister Collins, you will need to find an agent.  Most of the best agents only take on new clients who are at the very top of the cream of the crop. Even new agents who are trying to establish themselves only take on a very small percentage of what they are pitched.

Writers who haven’t been published by The Big 5 assume that once they get a deal with one of these big fish, they’ll be able to sit in their living rooms and wait for their publishers to set up their interviews with Ellen and Colbert.  They assume they’ll have a multiple city tour set up for them where thousands of adoring readers will buy their books, ask for their autographs, and shower them with the love and adoration they so richly deserve.  We can tell them from hard-won experience that this is absolutely, positively, 100% not the case.  Our first book together was with one of the Big 5.  We won’t mention their name, and when we’re done with the story you will see why.  When we went into our meeting with our publicity team, we were full of grand and fantastic ideas about how to promote and market our book, and were wildly enthusiastic about having a giant corporation that specializes in successfully publishing books behind us.  Turns out our “marketing team” consisted of one guy who looked like he was 15 years old, and had 10 books coming out that week, and 10 books coming out the next week, and 10 books coming out the week after that. When we told him our grand and fabulous ideas he said in a cracking voice, “Well, good luck with that.”  He did what he does with every book that comes out of this giant publishing corporation (unless of course your name is Stephen King, Bill Clinton or Snooki from Jersey Shore).  He sent out a bunch of press releases along with a few copies of our book to all the usual suspects.  Our book died on the line.

2) Independent Publishers.  These publishers almost always specialize in a certain kind of book.  They usually appeal to a niche audience.  As opposed to the Big 5, who are generalists, and in theory at least, publish books for everyone.  Again, these independent publishers are not owned by big celebrity-obsessed bottom line-driven corporations.  That’s not to say they can’t be big companies.  Workman, who published our book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, is one of the most successful publishers in the world.  They’ve published everything from What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Bad Cats to the awesome Sandra Boynton oeuvre. But many independent publishers tend to be small, and run and/or driven by individuals who are passionate about the subject which they are publishing.  A good number of these publishers are very well respected, and their books can be reviewed in the largest and most prestigious publications in the world.  There are many stories of small publishers having gigantic successes.  Health Communications, Inc., which published Chicken Soup for the Soul. Naval Institute Press, which published Tom Clancy’s first novel. Bellevue Literary Press, a publisher affiliated with New York University’s school of medicine, which published Tinkers, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  Greywolf, Tin House, and McSweeney’s are all small independent publishers who regularly produce beautiful high-end fiction that wins awards and garners great press.

Chances are, you’re going to be the big spring book from your independent publisher.  We speak from experience that it is so much better to be the big spring book from a well-respected independent publisher than it is to be book number 2,478 from Penguin Random.  Because they’ve got Stephen King, Bill Clinton and Snooki from Jersey Shore to promote.

And the great news is, you don’t have to have an agent when querying most independent publishers.  Almost all indies expect writers to submit directly to them.  If you go onto their websites, they almost always give you very explicit instructions on how to submit.  Do yourself a favor, give it to them exactly how they want it.  Even better, try to research the editor at the press who would be best for your book and send your query directly to him/her.

Yes, there are limitations to many independent presses. Most independent publishers have limited resources.  Most of them won’t send you on a tour because they don’t have the money, so you will be called upon to do your own book tour and events.  That being said, our publisher Workman, sent us on a 25 city tour, which they paid for in its entirety–hotels, airfare, escorts (don’t get the wrong idea, these are book escorts, not industrial pleasure technician escorts).  But there’s a good chance you’ll get to work with at least a decent and maybe even a great editor, who will help you shape your book.  They will proofread your book.  They will copyedit your book.  They will design and execute a cover for you.  And often times they’re much more flexible about author input than the Big 5.

The other issue with fewer resources is that if, for some reason, you should happen to catch literary lightning in a bottle and your book blows up, an independent press may not be able to capitalize on your book’s success.  They may not have the bookers for Ellen and Colbert on their speed-dial.  And often they have to do very small print runs, so there’s a good chance your book will sell out of its printing very quickly and there will be no books available.  Whereas if you’re with one of the Big 5, and your book blows up, they’ll do a giant print run, and they’ll be making calls to all the big guns.

3) Self-publishing.  William Blake. James Joyce. Virginia Woolf. Rudyard Kipling. Edgar Allan Poe. Ezra Pound. Mark Twain. Gertrude Stein. Walt Whitman. Carl Sandburg. Beatrix Potter. What do these authors have in common? All self-published. What a cool group to belong to. The fact is, self-publishing can be a ball. It can launch you into superstardom and turn you into a millionaire (okay, rarely, but just ask EL James, author of the fastest selling book in the history of the universe, Fifty Shades of Grey).

Self-publishing has recently been dubbed independent publishing, not to be confused with independent presses.  This is in part because self-publishing has for decades been the ugly duckling/redheaded stepchild of the book business.  Janis Jaquith, an NPR commentator and self-published author of <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Birdseed-Cookies-A-Fractured-Memoir/dp/0738849111″ target=”_hplink”>Birdseed Cookies: A Fractured Memoir</a>, says, “When I announced to my writer friends that I was planning to self-publish, you’d have thought I’d just announced that I had syphilis or something. Such shame! Such scandal!  I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers, because I’ve had a ball.” The bottom line? This is not your daddy’s self-publishing.  The onus of the ugly duckling redheaded stepchild is gone.

“Nowadays, because there is no barrier to publishing, we’re seeing people give up faster on the traditional route. These are people who are writing good books and turning to self-publishing. This means the quality of self-published books has gone up,” says Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at Boulder Books. More writers are, indeed, seizing on the new technologies and low costs of publishing on their own because try as they may, they cannot break through the gate of the castle that holds agents, editors and publishers.

More than ever, we are talking to writers who are not even going after agents or publishers, because they don’t want to spend years being rejected.  People are publishing books on their own because they choose to–because they see opportunities in the market and want a bigger share of the pie than publishers offer; because they want full control of their book; for some, because they just want a relic of their work to share with friends and family.  And many writers choose self-publishing because they don’t want to have to wait for the sloooooow publishing machine.  If you start looking for an agent or publisher right now, it can take years to find one.  Maybe you’ll never find one.  Then after you get a book deal, it’s typically going to take between 18 months and two years for your book to come out.

Here are some good reasons to self publish:
1)    You have direct access to your audience
2)    You want a bigger chunk of the retail dollar of your book
3)    You have a time-sensitive book and want to publish fast
4)    You want full control of your book inside and out, from your hands to your readers’
5)    No matter how much you rewrite and how hard you market yourself, you can’t find anyone to agent or publish your book
6)    You’ve written a book that falls outside the bounds of typical publishing–either because of its niche audience, regionality, experimentation of language, category, theme, etc.
7)    You really want to publish a book, but you just don’t have the personality to market it to an agent/publisher.
8)    You’ve written up your family history or the lifetime of a loved one that will be of great interest to Aunt Coco, Cousin Momo and a handful of other blood relations but no one else

The good news about self-publishing is that you get to do everything you want with your book.  The bad news is that you have to do everything.  Which means that unless you are a professional proofreader, graphic designer, and layout expert for printed books and e-books, you’re going to have to get someone else to help you.  And writers can only edit their books themselves so many times before they lose all objectivity.  We highly advise, if you’re going to self-publish, get a trained professional to edit your book.

As with any entrepreneurial project, you can spend between $0.00 to $100,000.00.  David bartered with a top-drawer cover designer, proofreader, editor, and specialist who formats printed and e-books.  It cost him exactly $0.00 to produce his <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Maniac-David-Henry-Sterry/dp/0985114908″ target=”_hplink”>self-published book</a>.  So he started making a profit immediately.  As someone who is an instant gratification junkie, it was absolutely fabulous how quickly it all came together.  And when that box full of his books showed up at the door, he felt a special kind of life-affirming, rapturous ecstasy.

The good news is that anyone can get published.  The bad news is that anyone can get published.  So whatever you choose, you have to be the engine that drives the train of your book.  And the same principles underlying a successfully published book are remarkably similar.

1)    Research.  Before you give up any rights or money or agree to work with anyone, make sure you research them thoroughly.
2)    Network.  Reach out to readers and writers, movers and shakers.
3)    Write.  Yes, it really helps if you write a great book.
4)    Persevere.  One of David’s most successful books was rejected over 100 times, by everyone from the top dogs of the Big 5, to some of the greatest literary agents in America, to countless University and independent presses.  100 top publishing professionals told him his book had no value.  But tweaking and polishing and making it better, he finally landed a deal. That book ended up on the front cover of the <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Hookers-Call-Girls-Rent-Boys/dp/1593762410″ target=”_hplink”>Sunday New York Times Book Review</a>.

To find out more about how to get your book successfully published today, ask questions about your book and your various options, and perhaps get a chance to pitch your book to The Book Doctors, sign up for their <a href=”http://bit.ly/1mzSGY7″ target=”_hplink”>webinar</a>, which will be on July 16.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

Peter Reynolds, Picture Book Master, Talks to The Book Doctors about Books, Kids, Writing, Twins & How to Get Published Successfully

We met Peter Reynolds at the New England Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators Conference, when he gave one of the best talks we ever heard.  Whimsical and serious, passionate and jovial, wise and yet curious, Mister Reynolds was everything you’d want in a wildly successful picture book writer.  Plus, he was inspiring.  Much like his books.  The Dot, which has become a classic, is deceptively simple.  Like all great books, it works on many levels.  It can be read as a simple romp.  It is also a child’s coming-of-age story.  On a deeper level it’s about Art, how people become artists, and how the Artist torch is passed from one generation to the next.  So we thought we’d sit down with him and have a little chat about kids, writing, art, and life.  By the way, if any writer has an interest in writing a book for kids, all the way up to Young and New Adult, you’re crazy not to join the SCBWI, and going to their conferences.  They have chapters all over the country.  They are awesome.

The Book Doctors: How did you get into the business of professionally writing books for kids?

1IQEfSIQEuyTY94stlBnnB9RcYwx_ak_0cqvdhRgzUEcpP_mOKydlrGatExgba9W0ahcQ3pcZCo76o-hXMb8n1VgUO7RrMQMiw=s0-d-e1-ft preynolds21HiRes_approvedPeter Reynolds: I took the Long and Winding Road at the junction of Serendipity and Daydreaming. So many things “set the stage” for me being a writer for children (and grown up children), but I owe a lot to my daughter, Sarah Reynolds whose voracious appetite for stories demanded that I start coming up with stories to supplement what we could fit on her shelves or take from the library.  Writing for her reset my creativity compass. You can get lost among the forests, swamps, and thickets of possible plots and characters, but she helped me focus on telling her a story- and instinctively I felt a need to give her something worthy of her intelligence and perhaps a scrap or two of wisdom I had clumsily gathered along the way.

TBD:  Teachers have played such a big part in your development as an artist (& a human it would seem), why do you think we undervalue teachers so radically & horribly in our society?

PR: How long do we have? Seriously, I could go on for days on this subject.  I actually think most of us DO value the role of teachers, but we allow politicians and policy makers–who spend little to no time with children in learning environments–to strip away the resources and flexibility for great teachers to “do their thing.” If our government could control restaurants the way they do schools, you’d find Gordon Ramsey working as a fry cook at McDonalds.  America takes pride in being independent and innovative. Our public education system-being a system–inherently strives to be efficient and in doing so, chops out all the “messy bits.” It’s this very “fringy” stuff that is required for innovation.

Book Doctors, you’ve inspired me to go out and hug the nearest teacher and cheer them on. Actually, the creative teachers DO know how to sneak in the good stuff. That, combined with the fact that technology is getting cheaper and into the hands of kids, is about to transform radically the world of schools as we know them.

TBD:  How do you go about developing a picture book story?  What’s your process, from idea through publication?

PR: We should have booked a week long Caribbean cruise. Here’s the nutshell version: My “story radar” goes off, I jot the idea down, and sometimes just one image or even a rough version of what the cover might look like. I roughly storyboard the images and add captions. I share with a few people. I read it out loud. Finesse and tweak. Then I share it with my agent, Holly McGhee at Pippin Properties who is a fabulous editor, thinker and guide. Then it’s on to find the right publisher. Once the book has a “home,” I work with the editor and art director to refine. The sales team gets into the mix when it comes time to confirm or change the title of the book and create the cover. When we’re all happy, it goes off to the printer and the long wait begins before getting that first preview copy. It may be a few months after that before the book shows up on bookshop shelves. That whole process can be squeezed into a year, but most often–from spark to finish–it can be about two years.

TBD:  You seem to have many projects going on, how do you juggle all of them, running your business, and having a life?

PR: I do indeed, but I have great people around me to help get it all done. I have my wonderful team in Boston, FableVision, my bookshop staff at The Blue Bunny, my agents at Pippin Properties, among other great friends and colleagues. Balance though is key. I’ve worked hard in the past few years to get the formula right. Less is more. Less travel, more time with my 3 year old son. I have a new studio called The Sanctuary which, in theory, is my very own thinking and creativity temple, but I do occasionally find my son sprawled out painting mostly on sheets of paper, but also the floor. He actually reminds me of what freedom really looks like.

TBD:  I’m so jealous that you have a twin.  What’s that like?

PR: For me, it’s amazing. We both feel blessed. Not sure how you “singletons” do it. The journey is so much easier when you have a twin to share it with. While we are technically “identical” twins,  Paul is not a “duplicate” of me. He is the being who is connected to me and able to extend my sensing of the universe (and vice verse.) It’s like two spaceships shooting in opposite directions to explore the universe, but in constant communication and transmitting to the one database back at ground control.

Our advice to everyone, if you don’t have a twin- go out there and find one!

TBD:  So many picture book authors stress the lesson they’re trying to teach kids instead of character & story. Could you address this?

PR: I think that is a common trap. That “being on the nose” is a fear that kids won’t “get it.” Kids are mighty smart and they can smell “a lesson” a mile way. Hey, sometimes it’s a place to start, so whatever works for you, but then try to find a more creative way to get the audience to “connect the dots” after they’ve closed the book.

TBD: Why do you think there is a prejudice against rhyme in the picture book world?

PR: Well, on a practical note, rhyming books make it difficult to translate into the many other languages on the planet. It would be a real doozy to find equivalent words for “kale” and “pail” in Persian.  Having said that, I think you can put that on ignore and just make a rhyming story that works. Rhyming books, done well, are a lot of fun to read aloud. My upcoming book collaboration, YOU & ME is a rhyming delight from Susan Verde. Do what makes you happy and the kids around you.

TBD: What are the greatest joys & frustrations about writing picture books?

PR: It is mostly JOY. I absolutely love sharing my stories with so many people around the world. Seeing the “ripples” that just one story can make is a “wow.” International Dot Day is a great example. Over a million teachers and students put down their regular work and tests on Sept 15th to celebrate creativity.

 

The frustration is having to schedule creativity. The publisher might have a deadline for a book due in September which means that I have to be ready to roll and really feel it in January. Trying to find that “surfer’s perfect wave” in the middle of a cold, winter’s day might not happen.  Eventually, a wave appears and you ride it in to shore.

TBD: How did The Dot become such a great success?

PR: The Dot was my way to come to rescue of children (and adults) whose creativity and confidence had been steamrolled. As it turns out, there are plenty of folks facing this challenge. While it often gets labeled as an “art book,” the idea is really about bravery. Bravery is a universal concept. That helps a book find a big audience.

TBD: What advice do you have for beginning writers trying to break into the picture book racquet?

PR: Start with a real story. A startling memory of your own. A wee bit of advice your Dad shared. A wish you have for yourself – or for the world. Find the idea you know or believe in. One that you’d be very sorry if you lost along the way.

Find your network. Could just be your “twin,” or it could be a gaggle of Twitter friends, or the kids at the local library, or an organization like SCBWI .

Be brave. Make ONE book where you throw out all the rules, all the advice you have been given, all the notes in all the writing workshops, and create something just for YOU.

The most important advice I can give is this: KEEP GOING, NEVER STOP.

I’m planning on doing the same.

Peter H. Reynolds is the author and illustrator of the Creatrilogy series which includes The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) Other books in his collection include I’m Here (Simon & Schuster), The North Star (Candlewick Press/Walker Books), as well as many collaborative works, which include The Judy Moody series (Candlewick Press/Walker Books) with Meghan McDonald. He is also co-founder of FableVision, a children’s media studio in Boston. His family runs The Blue Bunny Book & Toy Store in his hometown of Dedham, Massachusetts.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010).

The Book Doctors on Books, Writing, How to Get Published, & May 22 Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City

The Book Doctors talk about publishing, pitching, how to successfully get your book published, & May 22nd Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City, in the Digest.

http://bit.ly/1fud9w6

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Book Doctors Early Interview on How to Get Published Successfully

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.

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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

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.

Tamim Ansary, the Wisest Man I Know, on What America Should Do About Afghanistan

Tamim Ansary is the wisest man I know. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways he’s as big an idiot as you or I. For example, he’s not nearly as smart as his smartphone. But I know lots of clever geniuses who can make their smartphone dance the chachacha while reciting the Gettysburg Address, but none of them are very wise. Tamim says things that make you kick yourself and go, “Why didn’t I think of that?” And because he spent his Wonder Years in Afghanistan, and has a large web of family (many of whom, apparently, he has no idea he’s related to) in Afghanistan, he knows things that hardly any of us know. About how they think, how they live, who they are, what they want, these people with whom we are so intimately involved yet understand so little. Since he spent the last year or so writing a book about the history of Afghanistan called, Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan, I thought I’d pick his big brain about a subject I want to understand, one which will, I hope, make me seem smarter at parties.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Reading your book, it becomes more and more clear that Afghanistan has a long history of being invaded. Is there something particular about the people, the culture, the country that screams: Invade me?

TAMIM ANSARY: Afghanistan is the land in between. It’s the place where the age-old “great powers” to the north, west, south and east overlap. It’s the real estate that empire-builders have had to march through over the centuries to get to other, more desirable places. In the 19th century, Russia had to take this land to get to the Arabian Sea, which they coveted because it would at long last give them a year-round port and access to the oceans. Britain was determined not to let the Russians sink roots here because time and again over the centuries, empire-builders have swept down from this platform to conquer India — which was now Britain’s prize possession. In all the tussles of the twentieth century, the powers trying to invade didn’t care about Afghanistan per se. They invaded it so that their rivals would take it. In the mid-twentieth century came the Cold War. Now, Afghanistan was the nut between the pincers of the Soviet Union to the north and the U.S. and its allies to the south. Pakistan and Iran were firmly under U.S. control but Afghanistan was in play — non-aligned. If the U.S. could get it they really have a fence around Soviet power; if the Soviets could get it, they’d poke a hole through that “containment” fence. Once again, Afghanistan mattered for strategic reasons and no one (except Afghans) cared about who or what was actually in this territory. And strategically, Afghanistan still matters today. Oceans aren’t so important anymore, but Afghanistan makes a perfectly situated air-base. Planes taking off from here can reach Iran, China, India, all the Central Asian former-Soviet-republics, and even Russia.

DHS: In America we seem to have turned the Taliban into the bogeyman, like if we could just get this one group of evil villains under our thumb and into Guantánamo, the problem would go away. Reading your book, I now suspect that this is wrong. Who are the Taliban exactly? Who are they not?

TA: When they first emerged, the Taliban were a single, specific, cohesive group. They had a leader, they had top officials, they had cadre, they had an ideology. They were organized by elements in the Pakistan military, were bound together by a radical Islamist ideology, and served as a tool for Pakistani domination of Afghanistan. Their period of rule was, to some extent, just another foreign invasion of Afghanistan, just like those the British undertook. But then in 2001-02, the United States toppled and scattered that Taliban and they fragmented. Today’s insurgents, so frequently and so casually labeled “the Taliban,” are a motley hodge-podge of anti-government rural folks, remnants of guerrilla armies that roamed the land for two decades, drug traffickers, tribal lords whose power is threatened by the reemergence of a central government, newly emerging criminal networks, fragments of the original Taliban that have re-congealed as rural gangs, and so on. A few al-Qaeda-type Jihadists from the Arab world are sprinkled into the mix, and saboteurs from Pakistan are said to be active in Afghanistan as well; but then, “Talibanist” saboteurs from Afghanistan now roam into Pakistan as well, to make trouble. Basically, the area once divided by a distinct border between two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) has dissolved into a belt of unruly, anti-government (any government) militants whose power derives from local sources and amorphous demographic is who we are calling “the Taliban.”

DHS: When you hear about Afghanistan in American media you get the impression there is the Taliban and those against the Taliban. Is Afghanistan really divided like this?

TA: Afghan society features a continuum of values, attitudes, beliefs and affiliations. At one extreme are radical reactionary fundamentalist Islamists, and outward-looking, secular-tending, modernist urban folks friendly to Western values and ideas at the other extreme. But these are merely the extremes, Between the two you’ll find every shade of grey. So it’s not a case of the Afghans being one group and the Taliban another group, with the one attacking the other. It’s more a case of a culture torn by its own contentions and contradictions, a contest that goes a long way back into Afghan history.

DHS: What is my moral obligation as an American, when it comes to Afghanistan?

TA: When the U.S. went into Afghanistan they established a plan that would transform Afghanistan into a secular, Western-style parliamentary democracy and a society in which women participated in public on a par with men and enjoyed equal rights and opportunities. Many Afghan men and women staked their lives on this American project succeeding. They bought into it. They went into businesses that depended on the country moving in the direction the West had laid out. Women dared to emerge as activists, they ran for and won parliamentary seats, they challenged laws, they led demonstrations, they became public figures. If Afghanistan crumbles back into the sort of chaos that wracked it in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and all the foreign powers completely withdrew not just military but civilian and economic involvement in Afghanistan, the people who bought into the project are probably going to be in trouble. Many of them may perish. The U.S. has no choice but to move forward with a withdrawal of at least most of its forces, but this withdrawal has to be conducted in a responsible manner, with some guarantee that America’s partners in Afghan society won’t simply be overwhelmed.

DHS: How much of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is self-serving? And how?

TA: The U.S. has strategic interests in Afghanistan. For one thing, this will be the corridor through which oil and gas from the Caspian Basin will have to pass, in order to reach the West once that oil comes into play; so it’s important that Afghanistan be safe, stable and peaceful in that near future. Also, this land holds the key to the stability of the region as a whole. Chaos in Afghanistan would almost surely trigger chaos in Pakistan, would invite Iran to rush in, would bring China into the picture, which would trigger a reaction from India… Pakistan has nuclear bombs. Even as it stands, Pakistan is unnervingly reckless; if even this simulacrum of a state dissolves, there is no telling who of the many potential successor groups in the country will end up with those bombs. Powerful elements in Pakistan nurse an almost crazed paranoia about India, a hostility that has brought these countries to the edge of war within this decade — if an irrational group fueled by paranoia and hatred gets possession of Pakistan’s bombs, it might decide to settle matters once and for all with India — which also has nuclear weapons. (And now Iran could get such weapon-capability.) What America doesn’t seem to have, particularly, is a self-interested motive related to Afghanistan’s vaunted mineral wealth — the trillion-plus dollars worth of copper, iron, rare-earth minerals and such. The United States has made no move on those minerals, at a time when others, such as China, have worked vigorously to acquire the rights to them.

DHS: What do people think of Americans at this point in Afghanistan?

TA: Over these last few years, a number of events have eroded goodwill toward America among Afghans. Of course sporadic mistaken bombings of wedding parties, of rural children grazing herds, and of other civilians have contributed to this erosion. Of course, Sgt. Bales’ massacre of 16 civilians didn’t help. The NATO policy of conducting “night raids” to arrest suspected terrorists has been a public relations disaster. But to my mind, the single most consequential error was the incineration of Korans in a trash fire by soldiers at Bagram Air Base, especially because Western observers never really understood the gravity of this act in the eyes of Afghans. And yet… and yet… even though many people I spoke to there wanted NATO to leave, some of those very same people expressed the hope that they wouldn’t. All this, however, is in the cities. In the countryside, especially in the south and southeast, I imagine people are more uniformly hostile to the American presence.

DHS: What will it take to have peace in Afghanistan?

TA: There is no certain path to peace. Every road passes through difficult terrain. In the long run, the foreign powers have to find a way to declare Afghanistan a non-aligned zone whose neutrality all outside parties pledge to observe and respect. At the same time, an international consortium needs to oversee continued aid to Afghanistan, ideally to help the country take control of its own vast, rich mineral resources and to develop that wealth. Once outside interference in Afghanistan is curtailed, Afghans will begin to settle scores among themselves. This might be very painful for outside observers to watch, and it might be very tempting for one party or another to intervene in order to make sure the struggle comes out “the right way.” But the outcome in Afghanistan will be meaningful only if Afghans attain it on their own.

DHS: What should America do about Afghanistan?

TA: Build connections, contacts and relationships with all the various factions and forces in the country, leaving a door open to have a diplomatic relationship with whoever emerged as the ruling group, do the hard work of global negotiating needed to ensure Afghan neutrality in the global contests of today, and play a peacemaking role as best it can while gradually easing out of the scene. But that’s easy for me to say. The devil is in the details.

Tamim Ansary can be found at his website. His new book is available online or at a bookstore near you.

 

Khaled Hosseini on Workshops, Editors, and Calling Yourself a Writer, Book Doctors on Huffington Post

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My man Khaled sits for a brain-picking by the Book Doctors on the Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/khaled-hosseini-on-worksh_b_3721494.html

WORD Bookstore: We Love You

WORD bookstore in Brooklyn is a fantastic bookstore. We had a lovely Art of the Novel event. Thanks to Jenn!

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The Book Doctors Workman Pitchapalooza in the Wall Street Journal

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“One time, I only held a job for three hours. I hired as a lighting technician at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the early 1970s,” recalled author Steve Turtell. “I nearly killed someone when I lost my grip on a ladder that I was holding up—it just started falling and I froze! Luckily, a lighting cable stopped it from falling all the way over. After that, the guy who hired me asked me to leave.”

Mr. Turtell was in the sunken auditorium at the office of Workman Publishing, an independent publishing house in the West Village on Thursday evening, ready to pitch his book “50/50: 50 Jobs in 50 Years, a Working Tour of My Life.” (He has also worked as a nude artists’ model; a research assistant at PBS; a janitor at Gimbel Brothers; a fashion coordinator at Joyce Leslie; a butcher; a baker; and the director of public programs at the New-York Historical Society.)

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Click —> HERE to read the full story on the Wall Street Journal.

Mort Morte: “Masterful, whimsical, laugh-out-loud hilarious!”

Here’s a new review for David Henry Sterry’s Mort Morte. To buy the book, click here.

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“Mort Morte by David Henry Sterry reads like an elegantly simple children’s book designed for adults. The chapters are rarely more than a page long and sometimes just a few words in length. While the format of the book is basic, with beautifully placed and executed illustrations by Alain Pilon, the story centers around adoration, violence, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and revenge.

Mort Morte is a brutal coming-of-age story that’s frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The narrator, Mordechai Murgatroid Morte provides a rollicking ride through the culture of a sophisticated and rough-and-tumble Texas with a dash of Harvard thrown in. Sterry’s use of the English language is masterful and sometimes whimsical, i.e. “The animal heads started spinning round faster and faster like I was on some kind of sick Taxidermilogical Tilt-A-Whirl….” At times Sterry’s writing is so raw it’s painful which is quickly eased by the guilty relieving pleasure of high humor. mort morte the bull pic

Sterry has created a sympathetic character in Mort which is no easy challenge. Throughout his young life Mort suffers from fantastical anxiety dreams, he pulls rhythms and lyrics from melodies that mirror his moments of ecstacy, and at one point sums up his life “as a curious mixture of violent nausea and dizzying sexual fantasy.”

There’s a lot to like in this short, breezy book, notably its imaginative style and David Sterry’s love of language. No words are wasted here; Mort Morte succeeds mightily by saying a lot with a little.” – Liz Bulkley

 

Swedish Writer Uses The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published to Land Major Swedish Publisher

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – A Surrogate Agent
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The Swedish publishing industry differs from the American in one fundamental way: except for handling foreign rights of already established authors, we don’t do agents. As an unpublished author, you send your unsolicited manuscript directly to the publishing companies, and in the rare an unlikely event of being accepted by one, you’re on your own. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published helped me navigate in the strange and uncharted waters that are having your book published, acting all the way as a sort of surrogate agent.

Before submitting my manuscript, I read the chapters on The perfect package and Locating, luring and landing the right agent and worked hard on perfecting my pitch and writing the perfect personal query letter – eventually eliciting comments from my publisher on how refreshing it was to read such a professional personal query letter.

After having signed up with one of the major publishing companies in Sweden, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published kept me informed through all the different stages of the process. It allowed me to relax, secure in the knowledge of what would happen next, and made it possible for both me and my publisher to focus on the important issues – namely, making sure my book was everything it could be. Above all, it helped me to be professional and friendly in my dealings with my publishing company: delivering on time, doing slightly more than what was expected of me, and acknowledging the hard and dedicated work several people did for my book. It resulted in an incredible support and personal commitment from my publisher, editor, publicity and marketing team, and sales representatives. If you’re only going to read one section – it’s Agent Relations.

Katarina Bivald is the author of The Readers in Broken Wheel recommends about a Swedish book nerd suddenly stranded in a small town in Iowa. It will be published in Sweden in September 2013. For more information, please contact Judith Toth on Bonnier Group Agency – Judith.toth@bonniergroupagency.se

The Art of the Novel: Agents and Novelists Show You How to Write It & Sell It

3 lucky writers get to present their pitch/query!

July 10, 7pm Word Books Greenpoint, New York 126 Franklin Street Brooklyn

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It’s the greatest time in history to be a novelist.  From the traditional approach of finding an agent and getting a big splashy six-figure advance with one of the Big Six (or Big 5, with the merger of Penguin and Random House into Penguin House), to partnering with a cutting-edge independent publisher, to taking matters into your own hands and DIYing it with e-books and print-on-demand, there are revolutionary new avenues for writers to reach his or her audience.  But first, of course, you have to write a book that people want to read.  You have to learn how to pick the right idea, develop deep fascinating characters, write believable dialogue, build a world, create suspense, hone your voice, craft a plot with a satisfying beginning, middle and ending, edit edit edit, rewrite rewrite rewrite, and use beta readers wisely.  Novelists and agents will discuss how to write and sell a novel successfully.  At the end of the presentation, we will randomly pick three writers who will get 90 seconds to present their pitch/query, which the panelists will then critique.  So, all you novelists, come prepared to listen and learn, and maybe get a chance to kickstart your writing career!

David Henry Sterry is the author of 14 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  He authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his ex-agent and current wife, with whom he co-founded The Book Doctors, who have helped hundreds of talented amateur writers become professionally published authors.  His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and 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.  He has been featured everywhere from National Public Radio to the London Times to Playboy, and he is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  His new illustrated novel is Mort Morte, an Alice in Wonderland meets Tin Drum coming-of-age black comedy about gun violence and children, and a boy who really loves his mother. www.davidhenrysterry

Arielle Eckstut is an agent-at-large at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, one of New York City’s most respected and successful agencies. For over 20 years, she has been helping hundreds of talented writers become published authors. Arielle is not only the author of eight books, but she is also a successful entrepreneur. She co-founded the iconic company, LittleMissMatched, and grew it from a tiny operation into a leading national brand, which grossed over 30 million in retail sales last year, and now has stores from coast to coast, everywhere from Disneyland to Disney World to Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Ayesha Pande is founder of Ayesha Pande Literary Agency.   She loves to work with writers who dare to innovate, take risks, express something meaningful about our world. She develops concepts and ideas and strategizes long-term career goals, sells foreign, film and other subsidiary rights, brainstorms marketing and publicity plans; and advocates for her authors. She is especially passionate about discovering and nurturing talented new writers. She also consults with clients on creating an effective online media platform and advocate for their interests with the publishing companies.  She works closely with her clients to edit and polish their work. She provides every client with personal attention and because of this, she limits the number of clients she takes on. Her interests include literary as well as popular fiction, including young adult, women’s, African-American and international fiction.  She is also seeking authors of nonfiction, including biography, history, economics, popular culture, cultural commentary, memoir, graphic novels, and humor.

Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands Bookstore on How Writers Can Work with Booksellers to Achieve Success

We first met Gayle Shanks when we did an event at her bookstore Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona. Never having been to Tempe, our expectations were low. Our expectations were blown out of the water. They packed the place. We were duly impressed. Turns out Gayle and Changing Hands have managed to make themselves an essential part of their community. They’ve got a phenomenal collection of books, amazing T-shirts and merchandise, and a wildly knowledgeable staff that absolutely loves books. They also bring in fantastic authors to do events, and really encourage self-publishers. So we thought we’d sit down and have a conversation with Gayle to see exactly how she has managed to keep her bookstore thriving, and in fact expanding at this moment in history when people keep trumpeting the death knell of the bookstore.

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The Book Doctors: So, what prompted you to get into the ridiculous book business in the first place?

Gayle Shanks: When we started thinking about selling books it wasn’t a ridiculous business. Publishers and booksellers were thriving in 1974. There were dozens of independent stores in most cities and people were reading and and buying books. The chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble were smaller and named B. Dalton and Walden Books. They were mostly in shopping centers and didn’t seem to have a large impact on booksellers on Main Streets. Our stores for the most part were small, intimate spaces catering to our local communities and building readers from childhood through old age.

How has the book business changed since you first got into it?

Dramatically. In addition to the “B” chains expanding throughout the country and knocking out the local stores with their over zealous number of stores and retail selling space, Amazon joined the ranks in the 90s and changed the way the public thought about buying books. It’s not necessary to write about the impact Amazon has had but more interesting I think is the innovative ways that indie stores have struggled and evolved and managed to stay around in spite of the stiff and often unfair practices from the chains.

We keep hearing how bookstores are in terrible shape, but we’ve noticed that there are certain bookstores that are going gangbusters, and we would definitely put Changing Hands into that category. What do you do to keep your bookstore relevant and booming?

We change every day in small and large ways. We respond to trends, to our customers’ suggestions, to our employees ideas, to our community’s desires. We think outside the box and have made our store a destination, a Third Place for people to hang out, interact, bring their children, meet authors, have fun. We are an event producer and have over 400 events — large and small — each year inside and for really large events, outside our store. Our gift department with larger profit margins keeps books on our shelves longer and have helped create Changing Hands as a one-stop shopping experience for our customers. We provide gifts for all major holidays and birthday party presents for many, many children in our town. Books and gifts are a natural together and compliment one another. Our used books and remainders offer bargains for those who can’t afford full price new titles and the quality and quantity of them on our shelves offer people lots of choices and price points.

What mistakes do you see amateur writers making over and over again?

Oh so many mistakes — bad covers, not finding a good editor, writing a story that is great for their family but has no commercial appeal, bad writing in general, boring stories. And, an unwillingness or no knowledge of how to market the book once they have written it. It’s a very hard world for writers and self-published writers have an even harder time than those who can find agents and publishers to support them.

What things do you see professional writers do that help them become successful?

They learn to speak well in public. They are great social media people with followers on Twitter and Facebooks and they write great blogs. They interact with their readers and encourage them to share their books with their friends. They befriend their local bookseller and establish relationships with them that will carry over book after book. They make connections with key buyers at indie stores all over the country and cultivate those connections.

When you read a book, what attracts you and what repels you, in terms of putting it on your shelves?

Good writing and an interesting subject always attract me initially, but I have so many books to read that the arc of the story or good character development must happen quickly or I go on to something else. I am always looking for new authors and rely on my sales reps and fellow buyers to alert me to new books coming own the pike. I relish books by authors that I’ve read and loved and can’t wait for them to write another book. Sometimes I’m disappointed but usually not. I read about a book a week and 52 books isn’t that many to read in a year when there are so many published. I have to be somewhat selective but rarely go a day without starting something new. I have a book on CD in my car at all times and listen as I drive even though my commute is only about 10 minutes.

What you see as the future of books and publishing?

I think people are always going to read and I think the trend of reading on devices is going to be short-lived beyond those whose eyesight prohibits them from reading physical books. I think people are tired of staring at computer screens all day and will, after a few more years, not choose them as the way to read for pleasure. E-books will work for long trips to Europe when the weight of many books is too unwieldy for our suitcases but reading in bed and on the beach and on the couch, in my humble opinion, is best done with a book resting on my stomach or in my lap while I sit on a beach chair.

We understand you’re expanding, how did that come about?

A huge hole exists in our community now that most of the chains have left central Phoenix. Most of the indie stores were closed years ago because they weren’t supported by customers who became enthralled with Amazon and buying ‘cheaper’ at the chains. People have been begging us to open a Phoenix store for years now and the opportunity came up when a developer whose vision of a gathering place for the community centered on a bookstore asked us to partner with them on a project that will be truly exciting, innovative and creative. We are rehabbing an old adobe building and it will include our store, a great restaurant and a collaborative/flexible office space. We are planning a store that is smaller by half the size our current store and it will be carefully curated and include a wine and beer bar as well as a commons area where we can host events. The building is across the street from a light rail stop, will include lots of bike racks and we will encourage the urban shopper to
‘think green’ and shop locally.

What can writers do to connect with their local independent bookstore, and why should they?

Buy books at our stores — not on Amazon. Encourage their friends to do the same. Give readings at our stores. Converse with our customers. Suggest books to the buyers that they are reading and are excited about. Don’t stop talking about how important indie stores are to the community of readers and writers. Understand that without indie stores there will be no discovery of new authors, no support of mid-list writers, no venue for discussion and discourse. No young readers growing up attached to their booksellers and their books.

We hate to ask, but what advice do you have for writers?

Keep writing great books so those of us addicted to reading great books can look forward to the next great read. Stay true to your profession and study it. Learn from your mentors and favorite authors. Stay connected to the culture.

When Gayle Shanks isn’t not working in her garden, she is usually reading or watching reruns of West Wing and ER. She loves contemporary fiction, mysteries and memoirs. Occasionally you’ll find her reading essays by people like Malcolm Gladwell, Paco Underhill, Daniel Pink or John McPhee.

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