David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: publishing Page 2 of 4

The Book Doctors NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza Winner Gets 3-Book Deal with Random House

The Book Doctors are proud to announce 2013 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) winner Stacy McAnulty got a 3-book deal from Random House for The Dino Files, in which a nine-year-old dino expert has adventures at the Dinosaur Education Center of Wyoming, run by his paleontologist grandparents.

stacy-bio-200The 2015 Book Doctors NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza is accepting pitches from now until March 6. Just send your pitch to: nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com. PLEASE DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PITCH, JUST EMBED IT IN THE EMAIL. All pitches must be received by 11:59PM PST on March 6, 2015. The 25 random pitches will be posted on March 15, 2015. Winners will be announced on March 31, 2015. Anyone can vote for fan favorite, so get your social media engine running as soon as the pitches go up!

Like last year, we’re offering free 20-minute consultations (worth $100) to anyone who buys a copy of The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Just attach a copy of your sales receipt to your email and we’ll set up your consultation.

It’s been a great year for Pitchapalooza winners. Cathy Camper and Raul Gonzalez III were our Pitchapalooza winners from world-famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Their middle grade graphic novel, Lowriders in Space, is the first in a two-book deal with Chronicle Books. Cari Noga was the NaNoWriMo Pitchapalooza winner in 2011. Her novel, Sparrow Migrations, 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 named a literary fiction category semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s 2014 Kindle Book Awards. She recently received an offer from Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Then there’s Pitchapalooza winner and NaNoWriMo veteran, Gennifer Albin. After she won Pitchapalooza, one of New York’s top agents sold her dystopian novel in a three-book, six-figure deal. Her third book, Unraveled, just came out this past fall. And these are just a very few of our many success stories!

Are you feeling a little unsure about exactly how to craft your pitch? We’ve got 10 Tips for Pitching:

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

 

Webinar Postponed til 2/12 Get Your NaNo Novel Published Successfully!

The Book Doctors show you how. 2/12, 4PM PST
http://bit.ly/1ADUqCF

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The Book Doctors Bring Pitchapalooza to San Antonia Book Festival

Pitchapalooza April 15, 2015!

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Chicken: Self-Portait of a Young Man for Rent in Slovakia!

It’s official, my memoir Chicken is in Slovakian, I’m huge in Slovakia.

zajacik - chicken slovakia

Chicken: “Laconic as Dashiell Hammett, viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson.” – Irish Times

Chicken: A Mind-bending Ride, Terrifying, Funny, & Honest

David Henry Sterry’s account of his months as a teenage hooker in 1970s Hollywood is dangerous business. But such an unfiltered look at a young man’s fall into and climb out of (almost) the dumpster of the sex trade could easily slide into all sorts of sappy, afternoon talk-show moralizing. But Sterry doesn’t allow his story to become some sort of crusading cliché. Rather, he tells it for what it is–a mind-bending ride through the bizarre and the brutal, through guilt and grace–and allows it to speak for itself. What emerges is, as Sterry suggests, his own portrait of Dorian Gray–a picture of pain, anger, and frustration that nonetheless liberates its subject from his scars. Terrifying, funny, and honest, Chicken is a captivating story told with a virtuoso’s grasp of image and rhythm–a tale of near tragedy transformed through the art of language. -Eric Van Meter

To buy book click here: bit.ly/1ancjuEcopy

chicken 10 year anniversary cover

Low Riders in Space: Cathy Camper on Graphic Novels, Low Riders, & Diversity

The Book Doctors  first met Cathy Camper at a Pitchapalooza (think American Idol for Books) at one of our favorite book stores, Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. As soon as she pitched us her graphic novel, Low Riders in Outer Space”, we knew this was a great book waiting to happen. And now it has. So we thought we’d pick her brain on what it was like to go from talented amateur to professionally published author.

Lowriders in Space_FC_HiRes Raul the Third (credit Elaine Bay) Cathy Camper_headshot_photo (c) Jayson Colomby_sm

The Book Doctors: Did being a librarian influence your writing & your approach to publication?

Cathy Camper: In 2006, I moved to Portland, OR and was working as a youth services outreach librarian. I’d bring books to schools and I got really angry. I was seeing diverse groups of kids, but all the books were about white suburban children. As an Arab-American, I know what it’s like not to see yourself in books. Plus, so many books that feature kids of color are old, or not written for the world kids live in today, but for the past, their parents’ world. The 2050 census says one third of the U.S. will be English-Spanish speaking households – that’s our audience! I also wanted a book for boys, since boys literacy rate is dropping. And I love science, and there’s a big push to get more science in school curriculums. I aimed my book and my pitch at these big audiences, and told publishers why it they were important.

TBD: Tell us about your long & winding road to publication.

CC: First I wrote the book, from 2006 to 2009. Then I emailed Raul Gonzalez, the artist, who was working as a fine artist, and asked if he’d ever considered doing a kids’ book? He said, yes, and so I sent him the script. He wrote back, “This is the book I wanted to read as a kid, “ and within days, he was sending me sketches of the characters. It was just plain luck that we were so well matched; we have a similar sense of humor, similar sensibilities and the same work ethic. We put together a pitch. I found lists of agents who repped graphic novels online, and sent it out as cold calls. It was right as the recession was hitting, and no one wanted it. On the plus side, people loved the art and writing, so I knew that wasn’t the issue…but I’d hear things like “too marginal an audience,” or “not quite right (white enough?) for our audience.” Also I got lots of warnings that bringing in my own artist would be a problem; though it’s common in the world of comics, it’s not done in the children’s book world.

I reached the end of the list of agents, and was lying awake nights wondering what to do. Then I heard about the Book Doctors Pitchapalooza. It’s funny, but I never realized there was a prize, or maybe I thought you just won a free copy of a book or something. I entered thinking, wow, I can test how good my pitch really is, because I didn’t know the judges, the audience, no one. Ironically, the day I did my pitch, I’d just done book talks as a librarian for six classes. So I thought, why not do it for my own book? It wasn’t until the judges were actually conferring that it occurred to me I might actually win.

The Book Doctors were the ones who connected the book to Chronicle Books and to our agent Jennifer Laughran. They made it happen. I think all publishing is like this – part talent, part hard work, and part luck. All creators can control is honing the talent and doing the work. But it’s important to do, because when luck comes your way, you want to be ready.

TBD: Why did u decide to do a graphic novel?

CC: Actually the book could have been a picture book, or a floppy comic, but graphic novels felt like the best fit, so I tried that first. I love comics- how both text and pictures tell the story. Plus graphic novels are hot! When graphic novels first came out, libraries and books stores didn’t know what to do with them. But now there are so many good graphic novels for kids, and they’ve become so popular, I think they’re figuring it out. Both Raul and I love comics and the flexibility they allow – it’s like making a movie where anything can happen – on a budget of Bic pens!

TBD: What were some of the joys and challenges of blending your words with an artist’s images?

CC: When I start writing the script, I have to be very descriptive in the sense that the script is all there is for the artist, editors and art director to work with. So I work very hard to build a world, characters and pictures in their minds. When Raul draws the thumbnails, a lot of the words I’ve written (not just dialog, but description, innuendo, expressions etc.) are now part of the illustrations, and there’s no need to have them in the text. So lots of text gets cut because it’s redundant when the art is there. Raul and I were lucky that we had great freedom to riff off of each other’s ideas, like jazz musicians, and to take as many pages as we needed to make it work. On the downside, we sometimes struggled with not being able to work together in the same place, at the same time…email and different time zones create extra hurdles when you have unwieldy edits to do.

TBD: From the first we heard your title Low Rides in Outer Space we loved it. How’d you come up with it?

CC: I don’t remember the exact moment it hit me, but it was very early on. I think it was a natural extension of the concept, which was that these characters would have a lowrider that got detailed by outer space. It’s only recently that a friend pointed out the cool little twist inherent in the title, the idea of a car designed to go low – that blasts into the highest place there is – space!!

TBD: How did you come up with the idea for the book?

CC: Daydreams. I’m a prolific daydreamer, and all my books start with stories I tell myself. That’s how the story came about. I also noted as a librarian that books on lowriders were super popular, but we only had three or four of them for kids, all nonfiction. I tried to find a book like mine, but when I saw it didn’t exist I thought, well, I’ll have to try to write it myself.

TBD: There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in publishing. What’s your take on that?

CC: We need more diverse kids books, and I’m so glad there’s pressure to change things. At Multnomah County Library where I work, we recently made a booklist of good picture books for African American kids. There wasn’t one set on the West Coast – from these books you’d think African Americans only live in brownstones in Brooklyn! Way too many were dire historical stories about slavery or hard times – where are the books about kids of color building forts, playing make believe, just doing things that kids do?

We need this book primarily so kids of color see themselves in books, but also so white culture isn’t always primary. If a book is about a generic kid, why is that kid always white? It’s important that white readers see kids of color too. I sometimes joke – when a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid is about a girl wearing hijab – you’ll know things are changing!

TBD: How did you learn to be a writer?

CC: On my Arab side, my dad and uncle were writers, and so I grew up with the idea that writing was cool, something I’d want to do. So I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I carried a notebook around, took classes, went to conferences, was involved in writing groups and recently participated in VONA/VOICES writing workshops for people of color. But it was always self-driven, I never got an MFA, in part because I think it changes a writers voice, and also because, as Junot Diaz recently pointed out, MFA programs aren’t that supportive of writers of color.

TBD: What’s your advice for writers, both as a writer & a librarian?

CC: One crucial tip I’ll pass on is that so much of the quirky DIY stuff I did for many years for free ended up being what led to this book. For example, for decades I’ve written reviews of books for School Library Journal, Kirkus and Lambda Literary. I’ve also written and published zines and supported them as a zine librarian. I didn’t see it until now, but those things not only honed my writing skills, they created two huge support networks of people who knew my work. The adventures I’ve had and the people I’ve met via DIY vs. mainstream connections are equal. Don’t underestimate the value of what you do just because it’s not mainstream.

Also, as a librarian, I’d tell writers, don’t write in a bubble. Be aware of the market your book will fall into, its audience, and the reason why people will read it. If you’re going to spend time writing a book, do research, talk to librarians and bookstore folk about what people are reading, read other books in your category so you’ll know who your competition is. Think about what would make a publisher sink time and money to back your work. Your book may fall in a large category everyone already reads or it might be the first to fulfill a long-felt need, but that should to be part of your pitch, and an intrinsic part of the book you write.

TBD: Has Robert Rodriguez called yet?

CC: Wouldn’t that be great? I hear he loves lowriders, and Raul and I are huge fans of his movies, and how he funded them in early days, from the ground up. We love that he made Spy Kids, and that he knows how important it is for kids of color to have and be in good films too. I hope he reads our comic, it’s seems like it’d be something he’d like

Cathy Camper is the creator of Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives. Her work has also been featured in Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, by Amy Sedaris, as well as in Wired, Cricket, Cicada, Primavera, Women’s Review of Books, Utne Reader, and Giant Robot. She is a graduate of VONA/Voices writing workshops for people of color in Berkeley, California. She reviews graphic novels online for Lambda Literary and is a librarian for Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, where she does outreach to schools and kids in grades K-12. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Raúl the Third’s work is drawing much acclaim and was featured in four recent exhibits: The Community Arts Initiative at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Carroll and Sons Art Gallery; the Fitchburg Art Museum; and his first solo museum exhibition at the Museum of Art, University of New Hampshire. He teaches classes on drawing and comics for kids at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Maud Morgan Arts community arts center in Cambridge; and Young Audiences of Massachusetts. Influenced by his youth in the border town of El Paso-Juarez, Raúl’s artwork recalls the old Mercado Cuauhtemoc and its many booths filled with old curiosities, etchings by José Guadalupe Posada, and the ballpoint pen–detailed fan art found in issues of Lowrider magazine. He lives in Boston, 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).

 

 

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.
Wilson, Lee - credit, Lesley Bohm Rebel_on_Pointe_RGB
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).

Mort Morte Review: Delightfully Macabre…Great Black Humor

Revenge is a dish best served cold (‘La vendetta es una minestra che se mangia fredda).  This isn’t just an old mafia saying, it’s what David Henry Sterry delivers in his delightfully macabre coming of age story. Morte Morte goes kind of like this: Boy is born. Mom is needy and one of your many step dads likes to play a game called Farmer and The Bull.  “He was the bull,” writes Sterry, “I was the farmer.  It was the farmer’s job to milk the bull. When my life flashes before my eyes right before I die, this is one of the things that I will see. Me, the Littlest Farmer, milking the Big Bad Bull.” But, just like all great black humor, that makes light of otherwise serious subject matter, Sterry doesn’t dwell on all of the shitty, cruel things that can happen. Instead, he delights us by serving cold, hard revenge on the depraved, brutish and sadistic suitors of his needy, tea drinking, most milky of women, English mother. Morte Morte does to perverts and physically abusive step-fathers what Quintin Tarantino does to revenge fantasy feature films.  If you have ever harbored a deep desire for justice and you love words, Morte Morte is for you. It is the perfect antidote for our human sense of unsatisfied reciprocity. It’s positively pulchritudinous! – Maribel Garcia

To buy the book click here.  To see the movie click here.

mort morte the bull pic mort cover mort sliced-the-bulls-balls-ch-9

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: October 18-19

October 18-19, 2014

Richmond, Virginia

To register click here

One of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

Since 2003, the James River Writers Conference has attracted prize-winning authors and highly regarded editors and agents from around the country to share their wisdom about writing and publishing. More than 300 people attend this multi-day event, known for its inspiring, collegial atmosphere and Southern hospitality.

Read about our first visit to the James River Writers Conference.

Watch The Book Doctors in the conference video.

CONFERENCE EVENTS

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, register for the conference. 

WHEN: Sunday, October 19, 2:00 p.m. Sign up at the conference registration desk all day Saturday, October 18, and Sunday, October 19, from 9:00 to 1:30pm. Sign-up is required to pitch during Pitchapalooza. 

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 Pitchapaloza: 

“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

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).

Pissed Off at Amazon? How to Help Your Writing Career with the Power of Your Purse

To read on Huffington Post click here.

As Book Doctors we always say that independent bookstores are vital to any unpublished author. Right now, as Amazon is standing over the major publishing house, Hachette, threatening to crush them like a fruit fly, independent booksellers couldn’t be more important. Let us explain why.

A few years back, we met a lovely, talented woman at a Pitchapalooza, an event we created that’s like American Idol for books. She didn’t win, but we could see that  she had the goods. She contacted us after the event because she wasn’t having any luck finding an agent. We worked with her to get her manuscript and pitch in shape. This wasn’t hard. She was an exquisite writer with a great story. What was hard was our number one recommendation to her: Go work at an independent bookstore. She didn’t have a lot of time to do this. She had three kids and another part-time job. But she wanted to get her book published, so she took our advice. The bookstore hired this lovely, talented writer because she was a customer, a great reader, she knew about what was on the shelf and how to hand-sell a book. She ended up working with the events person, introducing authors who came to do readings at this store. Through this work, she met the agent of one of these authors. An agent who just happened to be perfect for her book. They chatted and in the conversation, our client was able to pitch her book (a pitch she had been working on for almost a year). The agent asked her to send it. The agent took the book on. And last week the agent sold the book to a top-notch publisher.

No matter how many books you order through Amazon, you’re not going to get an agent and then a book deal by clicking “buy.” As Robert Gray, retired bookseller, once told us, independent booksellers are the last three feet of the publishing business. That means you can go talk to someone in the book industry, without a connection and without paying them, by simply walking into an independent bookstore. The problem is, if you buy your books on Amazon, soon there won’t be any independent bookstores. For those of you who don’t follow the publishing news, Amazon won a major suit against several of the biggest publishers for “price fixing” (though there is much debate about whether this was so), allowing Amazon to take control of the e-book marketplace in what is now damn close to a monopoly (or rather a monopsony, as a recent N<em>ew York Times</em> <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/opinion/how-book-publishers-can-beat-amazon.html” target=”_hplink”>editorialist</a> pointed out).

As our world turns more digital, the lack of competition for ebooks and Amazon’s domination will mean less and less money and opportunities for authors. Right now, authors are already getting the short end of the stick royalty-wise on e-books. This inequity is due to publishers, not due to Amazon, but the more market share Amazon has, the easier it will be for them to determine what they want to keep and what they want to give away. Do you think they’ll want to keep more or give away more? Not a hard question to answer.

If you’re thinking, I’ll just self-publish, then think on this: If you self-publish, Amazon is your number one marketplace for sales. If Amazon controls the percentage of what you receive per sale, and if Amazon is doing what it’s doing to Hachette — which, by the way, is owned by a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporation — do you think they’re going to give one hoot about you? No! They’re going to take whatever they feel like and you will have no leverage whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. And if things continue to go in the direction they’re going, you’ll have nowhere else to go where large numbers of shoppers are looking for books.

If you think we hate Amazon, you’d be wrong. Amazon is an extraordinarily run, inventive, forward-thinking company that has nearly single-handedly led the way in e-book growth. They’ve increased the sales possibilities for any author — for some exponentially. For self-published authors, they’ve created a marketplace that for the most part didn’t even exist. What author wouldn’t be excited by — even grateful to — such a company? We just don’t want Amazon to be the only choice. While Amazon has sold thousands of copies of our book, <em>The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published</em>, so have independent booksellers. And most of the latter sales have come through booksellers recommending our book to customers who never even heard of it. Who may have not even known they were looking for such a book. We don’t want that choice to go away. We want authors to be able to meet their readers face-to-face within the walls of a brick and mortar bookstore, just like we met the lovely and talented writer who now has a book deal. We also don’t want there to be an unbridgeable divide between authors and the publishing industry. If there are no independent bookstores, this is precisely what will happen. There will be no free advice from industry professionals. Just that interminable moat between writers and agents, writers and publishers that has kept so many from getting published.

The result will be books that aren’t as good, writers that are less informed, readers who have to depend on algorithms to know what to read next. So if you’d like to keep your indie in business, think about your purchasing power. That’s the one power you have as a writer. Use it well.

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).

Diana Abu-Jaber on How to Write Literary Yet Commercial Prose

To read on Huffington post, click here..

After three different people recommend the book to me, I always try to read it.  This is the case with Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber.  It was one of those rare books that I found literary yet page turning.  A work of art but also a work of commerce.  So I thought I’d reach out to her, to find out exactly how the heck she does it.

The Book Doctors: What is your writing process from coming up with the idea through writing the first draft and then revising and working with an editor?

Abu-Jaber, Diana credit Scott Eason birds of paradise mech.inddDiana Abu-Jaber: The Book Doctors: I write my novels long hand in the first draft. I used to transcribe them myself, which of course is wildly time consuming. These days I hire a typist and then revise on the computer. I try to get several eyes on a manuscript before it goes to my agent–I’m often in some sort of writing group and will inflict hundreds of pages on them, begging for feedback. My agent always has excellent editorial advice, and my editor is–I say this with a smile–extremely involved. She is brilliant and I’m lucky to have her guidance and support.

TBD: Having written memoir and fiction, how do you approach these two forms differently?

DAJ: Novels I understand better. They’re about trying to get the story down–which is never easy, but the process makes more sense to me. Memoirs are more elusive to me. I’m trying to write a new one now and first I wrote it as straight chronological narrative, then I had to go back over the whole thing, bust it into sensory fragments, then pull up the big themes, then try to weave it together again. There must be an easier way, but I haven’t found it yet.

TBD: What kind of training did you get in learning how to be a professional writer?

DAJ: My father was a story-teller and my mother was a reading teacher, they really gave me my foundation. I took a lot of writing classes and workshops in high school and college, but I think they were most valuable in giving me the justification for pursuing this madness and instilling the sense of an audience.

TBD: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about writing?

DAJ: Start with yourself, work out from there.

TBD: I love the way you use food in Birds of Paradise, how did you come up with & implement the idea of weaving food through the narrative?

DAJ: Thank you. I’ve been writing around and about food for a long time. I come from a line of serious cooks and it was something I thought I’d do professionally to support my writing. I used to keep little writing books in my pocket when I worked in kitchens and it naturally became one of the lens through which I saw the world.

TBD: It seems one of the themes in Birds of Paradise is how disconnected Americans are from each other. Family. City.  Country.  What made you want to write about that?

DAJ: That’s interesting– I hadn’t been conscious of that as I was writing! But it makes sense as it’s a bit of an obsession for me. I think it comes from a lifetime of listening to the Arab side of my family complain about the American side. It’s a real Old / New World divide, the tradition of gathering, talking, cooking, and eating together is still very strong in other countries and I see it getting winnowed away in this country– everything sacrificed to the great American time crunch. I think it’s one of our great and most catastrophic losses.

TBD: What is it like to judge writers for the National Endowment of the Arts?

DAJ: Enormous fun and crazily exhausting. The piles of manuscript boxes that come in before the judging kind of makes you want to weep. But then the actual week of judging is so intense and interesting– the other writers I worked with were so smart and talented, I’m grateful to have done it.

TBD: What advice do you have for writers?

DAJ: As much as you’re able, don’t worry about what others are doing– try to keep your head in the work. Read widely and continually and work on your writing on a daily basis. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Diana Abu-Jaber’s newest novel, Birds Of Paradise, is the winner of the 2012 Arab-
American National Book Award. It was also an Indiepicks selection, named one of the
top books of the year by National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and the Oregonian,
and a finalist for both the Northwest Bookseller’s Award and the Chautauqua Prize.
Diana was born in Syracuse, New York to an American mother and a Jordanian father.
When she was seven, her family moved to Jordan for two years, and elements of both her
American and Jordanian experiences, as well as cross-cultural issues appear in her work.
Her novel, Origin was named one of the best books of the year by the LA Times, the
Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Her second novel, Crescent, won the PEN
Center Award for Literary fiction and the American Book Award. Her first novel,
Arabian Jazz won the Oregon Book award for Literary Fiction and was a finalist for the
PEN Hemingway Award. The Language of Baklava, her cooking memoir, won the Northwest Booksellers’ Award, was a finalist for a James Beard Award, and has been published in many languages. Diana teaches at Portland State University and divides her time between Portland, Oregon and Miami, Florida. She can be found on Twitter at: @dabujaber and on her website www.dianaabujaber.com

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of <a href=”http://www.thebookdoctors.com/” target=”_hplink”>The Book Doctors</a>, 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). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  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. Twitter: @thebookdoctors
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Antonia Crane Talks About Sex Work, Slut-Shaming, Biting Matthew McConaughey and Her New Book: Spent

To read on Huffington Post click here.

I met Antonia Crane when I was putting together an anthology I did about sex work & sex workers. From our first correspondence it was clear she was smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take herself too seriously. I knew she had a book in her. Now the book is out of her and into the world. It’s called Spent, and I’m happy to say it’s smart, articulate, funny, talented, ballsy and didn’t take itself too seriously. So I thought I’d pick her brain about sex, money, work, stripping and moms.

David Henry Sterry: I noticed that a lot of pieces in your new memoir Spent were published in other places first. How did that happen? Did it help you become a better writer? Did it help you get your book published?
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Antonia Crane: I started writing nonfiction in grad school about being a sex worker and raging about my mother’s death. I was grieving. I was doing sex work. I have been braiding those two narratives for a while and that texture/tone became the basis for my book. The first great thing that happened was I pitched a column to Stephen Elliott for The Rumpus and he said Yes. Stephen is a Yes man. He seems like he wouldn’t be — but he is such an energy source: an innovator and loves fresh ideas and voices. I sent out essays to a gazillion places, hungry for more yesses. What I got were hundreds of no’s but I kept trying. I kept pushing. I kept writing and I got better. That’s what happens when you work hard.

DHS: How did you learn to become a writer?

AC: By becoming a voracious reader. I have always been in love with books and in love with stories. As a youth, it probably began with Dr. Suess and then Lewis Caroll’s “Alice and Wonderland.” Then I went crazy for Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” and fell in love with J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey.” To become a writer, I simply had to write badly until it gradually got better.

DHS: You reveal such intimate personal things about yourself, stuff that is forbidden in our culture, things that make people uncomfortable. Were you worried about how people would react? Have you gotten any slut-shaming as a result of this book?

AC: The slut-shamers have been disconcertingly quiet. Frankly, the part I was worried about the most was not the sex or sex work at all. I am a grown-ass woman who made her decisions: good or bad. The euthanasia chapter was my biggest concern because there are legal issues and personal issues regarding who was in the building; who was in the room with my mother and I. My step-father was amazing about it. He is a good man who does great things and he and I are on the same page politically. Also, I wondered how my actual Dad would respond but he’s been very supportive. Right after a therapy session recently, I flat-out asked him not to read it.

DHS: There’s long been a raging debate about whether sex work is tantamount to slavery, or on the other end of the bell curve, empowering. Where do you stand on this?

AC: I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s a hard question and one I have been thinking about and writing about for a long time. In fact, this article just came out in <a href=”http://www.thenation.com/article/179147/why-do-so-many-leftists-want-sex-work-be-new-normal#” target=”_hplink”>The Nation</a> that I plan to respond to this week. The article criticizes the “sex work as ‘normal’ work” battle cry of many educated feminists, of which I am one. And I don’t fully buy into that line of thinking either. Some sex work is slavery, for instance, when it is. That line is not confusing to me. Sometimes women are enslaved and this is a horrific tragedy that needs to end. Because, the picture of the woman on a billboard who graduated from Mills College and is a sex worker looks really different from a girl sold by her family into prostitution or a young girl from the tracks here in LA. When it’s a choice, Sex work can be empowering, validating, fun, sad, lonely, humiliating and lucrative. So can waiting tables. But, they are very different jobs because when you throw sex into the mix, all of a sudden people get uncomfortable and threatened. People don’t go get a plate of pasta in a restaurant because they are dying of loneliness. But they will come to women in the sex industry for that reason. It’s a troubling enigma. I stand in the crossroads of this debate and think you should ask a sex worker if she thinks it’s slavery. Then go ask an employee of Walmart and compare answers.

DHS: The stuff in your book about your mom is so vivid and beautiful and sometimes excruciatingly painful. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried when I was reading parts of it. Was it hard to write? Was it liberating? Painful? Or all of the above?

AC: I love tears. I am glad you cried and am honored my writing had this effect on you. I love reading stories that make me feel strongly. My writing sucks when I am not crying while writing it. Tears are my jam. It makes writing in public places embarrassing for my friends.

DHS: It’s really hard to write a good sex scene, but I really like your sex scenes in the book.  They seem so real and vivid. How do you go about constructing a sex scene?

AC: Thank you. I’m always trolling for good sex scenes. Sex is dirty, messy and awkward. There’s this crazy moment in Miranda July’s story “Roy Spivey” where he asks her to bite him out of the blue and he’s a celebrity, like Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey (who I would totally bite). I love that moment so much because it’s strange. I think about what was awful and what was awkward and then what I felt like in my gut and go from there. Steve Almond writes great sex scenes because he seems most interested in that little box of shame that happens whenever two people get naked together. I try to remember that and make him proud.

DHS: Is it harder to be a sex worker or a writer?

AC: Writing is the hardest thing in the world. I just got 3 big rejections this week that stung. And the writing is not only excruciatingly hard work, it’s impossible to get paid for it and it’s never done. I was just telling my publisher, Tyson Cornell over coffee that I am too good at stripping and it makes it hard to leave. Sex work is a hard job, but I have clocked in my 10,000 hours so I suppose that makes me an expert. Maybe I should write a self-help book for strippers: A Stripper’s Guide to Making a Killing Every Night.

DHS: You say that you became addicted to sex work. What do you mean by that?

AC: Sex work has saved me so many times in my life and this pattern can become addicting. Stripping and sex work has bailed me out, provided me with sexual validation, attention, money, filled me with desire, made me feel confident, smart and pretty. Also, in terms of direct service, this is a service job, when I make others feel desired and good, I feel like I have purpose. It’s a lot of topless 12-stepping lately, meaning, I find myself babysitting a lot of rich drunk men. I call them cabs and they send them away. Offer me their father’s planes or golf trips to Ireland. But sometimes they cry in my arms. Sometimes it gets very very real. Sometimes I kind of fall in love with them for their vulnerability and I take that into my actually pretty great big life and learn from it.

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

AC: Do something else. While you are there, save your money and invest in your future. Play the long game. Try to remember to be of love and service.

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

AC: The best way to serve your writing is to read. The best way to serve other writers is to actually help them in a solid way. The only way to become a better writer is to write every day like your hands are on fire. Write and dig deep. Deeper. Deeper still.

Antonia Crane is a writer, performer and visiting professor at UCSD. She’s a columnist on The Rumpus and editor at The Weeklings and The Citron Review. Her work can be found in: Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Salon, PANK magazine, DAME, Slake Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Review and several anthologies. Her memoir, Spent is published by Barnacle Books/Rare Bird Lit.
You can Tweet her @antoniacrane and find her book here: Spent.

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.

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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Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators’ Kristine Carlson Asselin Give The Book Doctors the Skinny

We first became aware of the Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators a few years ago when David’s middle grade novel came out, and he was invited by Penguin to the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was totally mind-blowing. Wall-to-wall writers, artists, agents, editors, book people of all ilk who were madly passionate about kid’s books. Since then we’ve send countless writers to SCBWI. They have regional chapters all over the country, and a large national presence. This year we were asked to bring our Pithcapalooza (think American Idol for books) to the annual SCBWI New England chapter’s conference, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to pick the literary brain of SCBWI’s own Kristine Carlson Asselin, who is a very accomplished writer in her own right.

The Book Doctors: How did you first become associated with SCBWI?
kristine-asselin_headshot
Kristine Carlson Asselin: In 2007, I was hoping to break into writing for children. I’d finished several picture book manuscripts as well as the short story that would later become my first completed novel.  I attended a one-day workshop sponsored by SCBWI New England. It literally rocked my world. Before then, I had no idea that writers and illustrators came together to learn from each other. Soon after that fall workshop, I attended my first regional conference, held in Nashua, New Hampshire.

That first year, I felt like a poser. I thought for sure someone would see through the façade and kick me out! But everyone I met treated me like a “real” writer. I was hooked. In 2011, partly because I had previous event management experience, I was approached to co-direct a future conference. I spent two years shadowing the conference directors, and it’s been my great pleasure to serve in the lead role in 2014. It’s been the most amazing professional experience of my career.

TBD: What are some of the benefits of coming to the conference like SCBWI NE?

KCA: The SCBWI New England conference staff works hard to select a diverse menu of over 60 workshops for writers and illustrators of all skill levels, and writers of every genre of children’s publishing. Another tangible benefit includes the opportunity to network and rub elbows with literary agents, editors, and art directors. Intangibles include finding inspiration from our incredible keynoter speakers, fangirling (or fanboying) over your favorite children’s author, and making new friends and critique partners.

TBD: How has being part of an organization like SCBWI helped you in your writing career?

KCA: I can’t imagine where I’d be with my writing career, if I hadn’t stumbled upon that workshop years ago. I love being in the same room as successful authors and learning what works for them, and how to apply it to my own work. I’ve also met some amazing critique partners and beta readers, and dear friends through SCBWI.

TBD: What are some of the things you’ve observed that successful authors have in common?

KCA: All the writers I hang out with write for children, so I can’t speak for writers of books for grown-ups. However, children’s book writers are the some of the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. I think most people really embrace the concept of “paying it forward.” I’ve witnessed a lot of effort made by successful writers to mentor and advise newer writers and to “give back” to the universe.

TBD: What have you found effective in promoting and marketing your books? What are some of the things you’ve done that don’t work so well?

KCA: All but one of my published books have been written specifically for the school library market, so the publisher manages the marketing for those books. For me, the priority is to maintain a current blog and website, and to be helpful and supportive on Twitter and Facebook.

TBD: How did you first get into writing nonfiction books for kids?

KCA: I decided early in my career, I wasn’t going to pigeon-hole myself. I knew I wanted to write fiction for children, but I also wanted to experiment with different genres and styles. After my efforts to publish picture books stalled, I stumbled across the contact information for Capstone Press, the publisher of many of my nonfiction titles. I wanted to start something completely different from what I’d been working on. I sent the company my educational credentials and a writing sample, and they offered me my first contract. Of eleven books with Capstone at this point, that first book, WHO REALLY DISCOVERED AMERICA, is still one of my favorites.

TBD: How do you approach writing fiction differently that writing nonfiction?

KCA: I’m under contract for a Young Adult contemporary romance for Bloomsbury Spark (ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT is due out in late fall 2014). It started as a NaNoWriMo book. I wrote 50K words during the month of November–they were raw and awful, but it was so liberating to turn off my inner editor and write fast. I loved it! My nonfiction approach is to research first and then write an outline before I ever start the manuscript. VERY different from fast-drafting without my inner editor!

TBD: How did you go about getting your first publishing deal?

KCA: My first publishing contract for fiction came about from a twitter pitch! It’s true! I pitched a novel during #PitMad in the spring of 2013, and that pitch attracted the interest of Meredith Rich, of Bloomsbury Spark. It wasn’t a slam dunk–she still had to read and like my work. But ultimately that 140 character pitch turned into the contract for ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT.

TBD: What tips do you have for writers?

KCA: We all have different styles, and not everything works for everyone. But my very basic advice for writers is to write. You can’t get better at your craft without practice. So write. A lot. Take workshops, take classes, read blogs, read books in your chosen genre, have your friends give you writing prompts. Write. Write. Write. That’s the best advice I can give!

Kristine Carlson Asselin writes contemporary Young Adult & Middle Grade fantasy. She has written fourteen nonfiction books for the school library market with Capstone Press and Abdo Publishing, the newest (Dangerous Diseases) released in February 2014. She is one of the co-directors of SCBWI-New England this year, and her debut Young Adult novel, Any Way You Slice It, is due from Bloomsbury Spark in late fall 2014. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  Kris on Twitter: @KristineAsselin

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). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  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. Twitter: @thebookdoctors

Phil Donahue on Books, TV, Mohammed Ali and Erma Bombeck: David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post

To read on Huffington Post click here.

In the 70s my mom went from being an immigrant housewife stay-at-home mom to a bra-burning consciousness-raising feminist to a card-carrying the same-sex loving lesbian.  And she loved Phil Donahue.  So from a young age I had a deep fondness and respect for Phil Donahue.  He represented things we believed in our household.  Progress, inclusion, valuing individuals over corporations, trying to get at the truth of what makes America a great place, and how we as average citizens can shape this country into a place where freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just ideals, but concrete building blocks to a better life for everyone, regardless of race, creed, color or how much money you have in the bank.  So when I found out we were both appearing at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop I jumped on the chance to pick his brain.

Donahue-Phil-200x300David Henry Sterry: You basically invented a type of television where the host asks questions about the emotional life of other human beings and it spawned everyone from Oprah to Jerry Springer, and I wondered what your thoughts were when you watch some of these shows and reflect on your part in this and how the whole thing has evolved?

Phil Donahue: Well, I think I said this before that I love them all equally. They’re all my illegitimate children.

[We both laugh]

PD: It’s been fun watching the evolution. We didn’t know it then. We weren’t smart enough to know but very early on, we brought to the day-time schedule a revolutionary idea called democracy. We let the people who own the airwaves use them. I said many times there would’ve been no Donahue show without the studio audience. That was a happenstance; we inherited the audience of the show we replaced. They had tickets for the preceding show, so when they showed up to the studio that day in Dayton, Ohio, they found that the show they’d come to see had been canceled.  And here I was with two talking heads, me and the guest. Everything else we were competing with was spinning wheels and “Come on down.” Monty Hall was giving away about a thousand dollars to a woman dressed like a chicken-salad sandwich. It was visual. It was exciting. People screamed and clapped. But our audience was so involved in the conversation and wanted to get in.  I realized they were asking better questions than I was! During the commercial break during the third day, I jumped out of my chair and went out into the audience with a mic.  We did put the audience up front and put the cameras behind the audience. That was new. Audiences were not that popular among the blue suits that ran the stations. In our case, we really highlighted the audience. Since we had a visually dull show anyway, just two talking heads, we suddenly realized we had something nobody else had. It was a very fundamental idea.

DHS: I feel like this was a precursor to the Internet, where everybody has a voice.

PD: Yeah, you could say that. Somebody who represented you sooner or later showed up in the audience and said what they thought, what you were thinking.  It was a daytime show so usually a woman. We started our show in 1967, locally in Dayton, Ohio. Our first full year on the air Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, the cops beat up the kids in Chicago, gays fought back at Stonewall. We really got very lucky and found ourselves riding the crest of the wave of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement. We put a live homosexual right here on my show in November, the first week of the show. In 1967, nobody was out.

DHS: Liberace was a huge star, women of all ages confessed to having a big crush on him.

PD: Absolutely, Liberace was in the closet. Of course, all the mothers thought their kids would catch it if they watched it.  It was November 1967, and I had never seen such moral courage in my life. Here is this guy—live. “Yes, I am gay, and it’s none of your business. We are people, too. We have every right anybody else has.” I was scared to death. I thought everybody would think I was gay and it would be the end of my career. We did it anyway because even back then we realized this was a civil rights issue.

Then there was the women’s movement…these women coming out and say, “Children in this culture get too much mother and not enough father.” I thought, “Jesus, they’re talking about me.”

We did Madelyn Murray, the atheist, and it made you think about the separation of church and state. Why? You don’t want somebody in the Oval Office who talks to Jesus everyday and Jesus talks back. You know? The framers were correct on the separation of church and state. We have more churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; we throw more holy water and burn more holy smoke than any nation in the history of civilization. It is because of the separation of church and state. People miss that. Having been raised Catholic and a graduate of Notre Dame, it really opened my eyes. It made me appreciate other faiths and that they were just as sincere as mine was. Then, suddenly, you begin to see the sins of these institutions, and how the Christian church, especially, promoted all of them–it promoted homophobia. “The church does not approve of gays, then I sure don’t.” It made it easier to beat them up. You realize the church may be the number one promoter of homophobia on Earth. It’s also the institution that has the largest closet. All these ironies come crashing down on my head and the viewers and our audience.

DHS: You were one of the first shows that featured writers prominently. What did you observe that writers did successfully?

PD: Obviously we wouldn’t put you on the show if we didn’t think the book you wrote was compelling and of interest to the people who were watching the show, especially women. So, first, you know, write a great book that lots of people want to read.  And you have to know your audience, be in touch with your audience. We got pretty good at a knowing what would be compelling. Our audience was mostly women, so I felt we should practice what we preached, and I hired women. They brought a lot of insight about the audience that you couldn’t really expect from a man, especially in 1967. Many times if I balked at an idea it turned out to be fabulous. I knew I didn’t have all the answers, and I was often wrong. The women I hired knew stuff I didn’t know. They had insight I did not have. I went to an all-male institution—high school and at Notre Dame. I came from an all-male world, from a house presided over by a mother who stayed at home, a father who got up and went to work every morning, worked 9 to 9 during Christmas retail season. It was definitely a man’s world.

DHS: When you had an author as a guest, what characteristics make someone a good guest who is an author?

PD: There’s a certain visual dramatic necessity if you’re going to succeed on the air. You’ve got to look the part. You’ve got to be enthusiastic about the subject. The best guests were the ones you had trouble shutting up. The worst guests were the ones I’d ask a four-minute question and the guest would say ‘yes.’ Most of them were scared, and I would be too. The best, most exciting guests for me were the ones who had a fascinating story to tell and were politically inclined to say how they feel, to make statements without regard to being popular.

Nobody wants to make anybody mad, but some of the best shows we did featured people who made people mad. Muhammad Ali is an example of that. A woman in front row said, ‘Why are you always throwing your blackness at us.’ He said, ‘Why do you always throw your whiteness at me?’ She said, ‘I’m not throwing my whiteness.’ He said, ‘Take that white Jesus off the wall. You made Tarzan white. You made angel food cake white and devil’s food cake black. I know plenty of black women who are prettier than your Miss America.’ I’d never seen a man who’s so thoroughly skilled and filled with insight. I stood there really awed at what he’d done for a billion young black males all over the world. You don’t have to take it. Inspire people.

Not that many years later, I actually went to Muhammad Ali’s ranch. He owns the ranch owned by Al Capone, that’s what I hear anyway. I drive in, and I park in a little parking spot in a little parking lot. There’s a little sign that says, ‘GOAT.’ G-O-A-T. What the hell’s that? I’m walking in the front door and I realize it’s, ‘Oh, Greatest of All Time.’ I knock on the door, walk in and he gives me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. What a thrill that was!  So he says he had a teacher told him, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything.’ He goes to the Olympics and wins the gold medal. He comes back and he walks into her classroom and dangles the medal in front of her. He said, ‘You said I wasn’t going to be nothing.’ He tells me that as a child that was the thing that changed him. An insult. He went to the Louisville armory as a teenager to see Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George walks out in a red mink coat with white lining fur and yellow hair, and he says, ‘Don’t you touch my pretty face.’ The boos erupt all over the arena. ‘Don’t you touch my pretty hair.’ More boos. He said he looked around and there wasn’t an empty seat. And he realized: that’s how he learned to sell tickets. What insight this teenager had, and then for him to move on and evolve into the Greatest of All Time, which, honest to god, I don’t believe is an overstatement. I think he was the athlete of the 20th century, and I think he should’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.’ He was pilloried for this. He lost his championship status. Talk about moral courage, he was a rock.

DHS: Let’s talk about Erma Bombeck. I hear you have a long and fascinating with Erma Bombeck, who I consider one of the greatest comedy writers America has ever produced.

PD: She was extremely gifted. In the list of the top ten best-selling books of the 1970s, Erma had two. It is true we lived across the street from each other on Cushwa Drive in Centerville, Ohio. This was one of the first cookie-cutter, suburban community. All the houses were the same: detached, same floor plan, no basement, three bedrooms. Diagonally across the street were the Bombecks. We both belonged to the same church. I was doing the radio program (this was before November 1967), and I worked for the news department of WHIO, the TV and radio.

Erma wrote an op-ed for the Dayton Journal Herald. The executive editor of the Journal Herald recognized her talent. He gave her a job writing her own column. So she comes across the street to interview me for her column. I was doing much of what we began the Donahue Show with: feminist issues, what our children are seeing, daddy goes off to work with a briefcase and mommy does to the basement to do wash and what is this doing to our kids. We’d do shows like that. Obviously Erma had tuned in. ‘Hey neighbor, I’ll do a piece.’ I’d never been this excited in my life. No one ever wanted to interview me. It was very flattering. At that point it meant so much to me.

DHS: I’m curious, why do you think America took to Erma Bombeck? What about her captivated people, besides her obvious talent, in terms of her message?

PD: I eulogized Erma in 1996. It wasn’t just that she was the best; she was the only. Erma was irreverent in many ways. Motherhood was sacred then. There was a lot of pretense. There still is. Motherhood was sacred. How blessed you are to have children. Erma came along and said, ‘Oy, I want to sell my kids.’ Erma said if a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead. Erma said coat hangers breed. And she could also be very thoughtful. Her work was attached to millions of refrigerator doors around the English-speaking world. Erma could be very poignant. She could spot pretense across a crowded room. I remember once we were in St. Louis. Big crowd and little Erma is on the stage. You can hardly see her. They had like three balconies. There she was all by herself. I’m running around like mad with a wireless mic—the big time now. A woman in the balcony, way up, said, ‘Erma, I understand you were Phil Donahue’s neighbor. What’s Phil Donahue really like?’ And she said, ‘He peeks in windows.’ Of course the building falls down.  Years later, after she moved, they had a beautiful home in Paradise Va  ley, Arizona.. She’s walking us through the house, and this is on TV. There was a huge fountain in their home I said, ‘That’s a great fountain, Erma.’ She said, ‘Yeah, the grandchildren pee in it.’

One of the women who eulogized her said she was going to communion and Erma was in front of her. She turned around and said, ‘Be careful. You don’t know where his hands have been.’

She credited Phyllis Diller. That surprises some people, but Erma was very impressed by her. Phyllis Diller said radical, crazy things, like she’d stuff the turkey from the wrong end, and make fun of the wonderful privilege of being a housewife and raising kids.

No one was being irreverent then. Not only did she have that sense and that courage, it took a lot of nerve to obscure all the sanctity and pretense that accompanied discussions about motherhood and being a housewife. She had a brilliant comedy sense. Those two things together made her very unique, evidenced by her book sales. Two of the bestselling books in the 70’s. Her titles were brilliant: If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?  When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home. Things like that made women scream. The wisdom and insight. She wrote a very honest but painful piece about women who’ve had catastrophically challenged children and how it would be so hard for her to not be bitter, angry, not to say ‘why me.’ Her syndicate asked if she was sure. Yes, I do, she insisted, and they published it. A woman called her, ‘I’ll never forget that, Erma. I had a child. I can’t lift her anymore. She can’t walk up the stairs. I want you to know your article spoke truth to me and I felt a little less guilty.’ There were another piece she did about being upset that the grass was tramped down and not growing as vigorously because the kids were rolling on it and running on it. She’d plant a little more seed, water it, and then the kids would roll on it and it would become barren. Pretty soon the kids went away to school and got married. She looked out the window and the place where the kids had played was green and the grass full and vigorous. She missed the bare spot where they were playing.

DHS: That’s beautiful.

PD: It made you cry.

Phil Donahue changed the face of daytime television, pioneering the audience-participation talk format as the host of the Donahue Show, a 29-year run which stands as the longest of its kind in U.S. television history. His TV journalism earned him 20 Emmy Awards — 9 as host and 11 for the show — as well as the George Foster Peabody Award; the President’s Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus; the Media Person of the Year Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance; and induction into the Academy of Television’s Hall of Fame. TV Guide named Donahue one of the Greatest Television Shows of All Time. Donahue has frequently been lauded for his groundbreaking interviews with world leaders and newsmakers — including Muhammad Ali, Johnny Carson, Ayn Rand, Nelson Mandela, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (his first Donahue guest), Margaret Meade and all of the presidents since Jimmy Carter. He was the first Western journalist to visit Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there. Donahue has also headlined numerous network and public television specials, including the Emmy Award-winning children’s special, Donahue and Kids, the landmark Ryan White Talks to Kids about AIDS and The Human Animal; an exploration of human behavior which was also a five part, prime time series that aired on the NBC television network. In 2006, Donahue co-produced and co-directed Body of War, a documentary film about a young Iraq War veteran left in a wheelchair by enemy gunfire who begins questioning America’s involvement in the war.
Universally hailed by critics (“almost unbearably moving,” wrote Time magazine), Body of War captured, among others, the Best Documentary award from the National Board of Review; the Grand Jury Prize at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival; and a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Donahue is also an admired writer, whose opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the best-selling memoir, Donahue: My Own Story; and The Human Animal. A native of Cleveland and the father of five and grandfather of two, Donahue is married to award-winning actress, author and activist Marlo Thomas. They live in New York.

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.  www.davidhenrysterry

 

 

 

The Book Doctors in new James River Writers Video

one of our favorite writers conferences in the whole world, pound for pound possibly the best, James River Writers Conference.  If you want to learn about writing, if you want to meet writers and agents and publishers and have a great time, this is the conference for you.

Jonestown, Kids, Gorillas & Tragic Death: Fred D’Aguiar & Children of Paradise

To read on-line click here.

I’ve long been fascinated by the events surrounding the Jonestown tragedy. I’m particularly interested, as a parent, in what would lead someone to poison their own child. It seems unthinkable. And yet we all know it happened. So I was drawn to Children of Paradise, and I found the treatment of this very disturbing and real-life tragedy beautiful and compelling. The New York Times said, “D’Aguiar depicts the plight of Trina and the other children with heartbreaking immediacy.” So I sat down with its author, Fred D’Aguiar to talk about Jonestown, kids and how he wrote this wonderful book.
ChildrenofParadise hc c
DAVID HENRY STERRY: What was your inspiration for writing a book about the Jonestown tragedy?

FRED D’AGUIAR: Jonestown happened in Guyana. My parents are Guyanese and I grew up there. I was in London when I heard about the murder suicides. In 1998, twenty years after the event, I wrote a long poem in an effort to understand why so many Americans ended up in such an idyllic landscape — the Amazonian basin interior of Guyana — only to die en masse. I made a radio program for the BBC about Jonestown in 2003 and it occurred to me that the psychology of faith had to be explored by me in a sustained work driven by character narrative rather than the lyric of the poem. I’ve been writing (and rewriting) the novel since then until now with breaks for poetry and plays, teaching and life. But don’t ask me about my failed novels — writers hate to air dirty laundry (this writer does).

DHS: You write from the perspective of a gorilla with shocking verisimilitude, how did you research the inner mental and emotional landscape of Adam the gorilla?

FDA: I’ve always believed that the danger of a reflex tendency for anthropomorphizing nature (of always seeing things in terms of our own primate and primary conceits) brings with it an over-assumption of empathy when all that is gained is a domestication of the unknown in terms of our limited, superior colonization instincts. We have an encounter but learn nothing from it. And not only a colonization of nature’s prowess in terms of our limited human understanding of it but a gesture of intuitive admission that nature has a language that we need to learn in order to really function in harmony with the planet. Right now our civilization is built on using up the earth and finding some other location for the future of the species (a stupid gamble, look at Las Vegas; think of Shelley’s poem <em>Ozymandias</em>). I’ve maintained my interest in nature writing from my first encounter with the works of Desmond Morris during my teens to the euphoric and vatic veneration of nature by Barry Lopez.

I wanted Adam (what’s in a name?!) to be the outside figure, in the commune locked in a cage but outside the commune’s reasons for being together, and in league with his Edenic surroundings as he witnesses a slice of humanity spiraling towards self-destruction. I’ve been to Jonestown and seen a bit of the landscape in the Amazonian region. The jungle with its rock escarpments, rivers, trees and waterfalls and flora and fauna, is a cathedral in its grandiosity (here I am anthropomorphizing but in keeping with the Romantics), it is a place of worship, a spiritual reliquary (if only we paid attention to it).

DHS: For that matter, how did you get into the mindset of a kid who was at Jonestown during one of the most unspeakable tragedies of the 20th century?  And the POV of Preacher, who seems very much to be Jim Jones in this scenario?

FDA: I trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse way back in my early 20s and the work experience has remained with me ever since in the focus of my writing on the psychological and psychical aspects of a character’s experience. There are writers who have helped me to frame this in my fiction. First, Wilson Harris (b.1921). His  fiction reacts to the landscape as if it were a structural determinant of his prose. Meaning, when you read him you feel as if the jungle’s architecture dictated his sentence structures. Harris is Guyanese and worked as a surveyor in Guyana’s interior and he wrote a 1996 novel titled <em>Jonestown</em>, which connects the tragedies in the jungle to a tradition of dying and sacrifice going back to antiquity, to Olmec Mayan times. Second, Derek Walcott. He handles imagery with metaphoric zeal. He ties the blood rhythms of thought to a sensuous instruction gleaned from our world. Three other seminal texts have been Alejo Carpentier’s <em>The Lost Steps</em> and Juan Rulfo’s <em>Pedro Marano</em> and Jean Rhys’s <em>Wide Sargasso Sea</em>.

DHS: You gave your novel the same name as a very famous film about the German occupation of France, why was that?

FDA: That happens to be my second most favorite film ever! The definite article in the title of the film means a lot. The sly mechanisms for defying despotism while it surrounds you, all rooted in art has to be instructive or my whole grain bread and peanut butter breakfast consumed this morning for its goodness is a cruel hoax. I wanted to connect with a former period of despotism in history and prompt the reader to think about children in history and how childhood is constructed and destroyed in turn and made anew by the experience of the arts.

Don’t laugh, but my first most favorite film ever happens to be one I got into in my early teens — <em>Roots</em>, the TV series. Yes! Don’t ask me why! Ask me why! Well, Alex Haley’s <em>Roots</em> (include the book as well) made me aware of the importance of knowing about black history and the necessity of art for a vital and examined life, and storytelling, character, landscape, emotion, intuition and persuasion as ethical frames for understanding (though puzzlement endures) and improving (though the work is never done) the world (and what a beauty it is) in a short life (and how prized).

DHS: Why do you think, in the end, people were willing to kill themselves and their children when their messianic leader told them to?

FDA: By the time the moment of murder-suicide arrived the people in the commune had experienced a prolonged period of indoctrination and torture (sleep deprivation, starvation and humiliation through public beatings and public shamings). They were at the end of their tether, nerves strung out, exhausted and ripe for manipulation. Add to that their isolation in Guyana’s jungle interior from the scrutiny of the outside world and the communards entirely subjected to the maniacal will of Jones. What was left of their will had been systematically eroded by Jones’ technique (think of Erving Goffman’s Total Institution) of repression to a point of hypnotic obedience (though it must be said that there was resistance by some to the bitter end as proved by the group that escaped by running into the jungle). They were told to drink or be shot, some choice.

DHS: Do you outline your plot before you start writing?

FDA: No. I began this lucky artsy-fartsy life that I now lead way back in my youth when I was a hungry and angry poet (hungry for meaning, angry for justice). As a result, I continue to write from a feel (mostly of terror) and a string of images (that play havoc with my nerves). The feeling is deeply linked to the imagery. Next, I find the people in the picture who might best exemplify that mood and exude the things that I am feeling. In the case of this novel the plight of the children attacked my nerves and left me wanting to replay their probable instances of childhood before their inevitable and painful deaths.

DHS: You are also a poet and playwright.  How did poetry and writing for the stage affect writing <em>Children of Paradise</em>?

FDA: Poetry is the art of compression, of distillation; fiction appears to expand like an accordion pulled open limitlessly for a beautiful sequence of sound and meanings. Plays speak through characters on a stage in a suspension of real time for a dramatic carve-up of time as feeling and instruction. I crave instances of articulation in all mediums depending on my mood. I blame my multi-genre body on my experience of three landscapes, my birth and long residence in the UK, my childhood spent in Guyana and the adult realities of settling for life in the US.

DHS: You were teaching at Virginia Tech when a student went on a shooting rampage.  What was that like, and how did this lead to you writing about Jonestown?

FDA: April 2007 was a nightmare for me. (I’ll count is as such until I die.) I lost a student who was in my Caribbean class. She was shot dead while in her French class. I happened to be on campus that morning. I have always loathed guns due to my residency in the UK where guns are blessedly rare. But after 2007 I am now so very much desirous of a ban on the possession of all firearms by private citizens — they belong to a primitive remnant of our warlike bodies. And we have a standing army anyway. I worry about the ready availability of personal firearms and the lack of respect for mental illness. It is a serious affliction in need of structural investment by this remarkable country. But what do I know? I think the education budget should be swapped with the defense budget.

DHS: Why do you think “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become part of our everyday vernacular?

FDA: It is a cruel misnomer extrapolated from Jonestown and one of the reasons why I wrote my novel to depict resistance rather than blind obedience to messianic sadism. We apply the term to denote a total surrender to an idea or force. In Jonestown there was resistance to Jones and that is why he needed a remote location and a regime of mental and physical torture that resulted in an erosion of the will of his followers. It seems as if the media has succeeded in its cookie-cutter way of leaving the popular memory with an unimaginative phrase to represent a tragedy. I took pains in my novel to chart the stages of this breakdown of the will of the community and I showed pockets of resistance to Jones as well. The cool aid was just the final act in a play of death, along with bullets, beatings, sleep deprivation, starvation and marathon sessions of Jones’s preaching that was recorded and relayed on speakers around the compound, all hours of the day and night. I wish it amounted to more than yet another example from recent history of a failed ecumenical tool.

DHS: After living with this story for so long, what are your final takeaways?

FDA: I quote as an epigraph, 1 Corinthians 13:13 and I stick with that. If I say it, people will hear the Beatles tune, “all you need is love” pah dap-pah, pah bah-dah, because it is so obvious that it precludes speech. But I’ll say it anyway for the record. Love (with cooperation) is a stronger (and preferable) force to hate (and competition). The evidence for the latter is technological advancement at a price of a dying planet… some advancement when we’ve mortally wounded the host of all species.

DHS: What advise do you have for writers?

FDA: First, Oscar Wilde’s adage that, ‘advice is an excellent thing not to follow but to disregard.’ Second, that they should read, read, read and get involved in something other than writing, and write, write, write. The arts of the imagination help us to understand the present and the past, and live coterminously with the planet and everything on it. Doing so should affect in positive ways what the future will be; not doing so merely accelerates our terminal decline. The literate imagination may well be our most powerful asset of our naturally inquisitive bodies and it is free.  Go for it!

Fred D’Aguiar is an acclaimed novelist, playwright, and poet. He has been short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize in poetry for Bill of Rights, a narrative poem about the Jonestown massacre, and won the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Longest Memory. Born in London, he was raised in Guyana until the age of twelve, when he returned to the UK. He teaches at Virginia Tech. Children of Paradise is his newest novel.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, including <em>Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex</em>, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition</em></a>, has been translated into 10 languages.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.

PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY May 22, 7PM

PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY May 22, 7 PM

Read coverage of PITCHAPALOOZA WORD JERSEY CITY in The Digest Online

 anderson's pitchapalooza

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: May 22 7 PM

WHERE: Word Jersey City 123 Newark Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07302 · 201-763-6611

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 Pitchapaloza: 

“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

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,

 

 

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

9 a.m. – Noon to register click hereAandDwithBooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Doctors: Ah, they got you young.

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

Book Doctors: Who could resist that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer: You are all certainly welcome.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 1: Think Like An Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 5: Build a Mailing List

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

No. 6: Use an ESP

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

No. 7: Be Creative About Your Newsletter Signup

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

No. 8: Use Google Analytics

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

No. 9: Visit Your Own Site Regularly

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

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

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

Good luck with your project!

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

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

 

1) Befriend a Child Mentor

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

3) Find the online platforms that suit you best.

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

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

6) Build your own home on your favorite website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read on Slashed Reads click here.

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

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

The essential guide cover_

NaNoWriMo Webinar: Making Editing Your Novel Fun: Jan. 29 8PM EST/5pm PST

Making Editing Fun: How to Enjoy Revising Your Novel Successfully $60

The first 200 writers who sign up by January 28 will receive invitations via email to participate in this webinar, which will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 29, from 5:00 PM – 6:30 PM Pacific. If you can’t join the webinar live, we’ll happily send you a link to the recording afterward.111411_nanowrimo-1

About the Webinar

One of the hardest thing for Nano writers is to take their beautiful but unshaped pieces of clay and turn them into glorious works of art that agents, publishers and readers will fall in love with.  But what may seem a confusing and slightly terrifying task
can actually be a systematic and easily understood process. And yes, it can even be fun!

Join the Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, who have helped talented amateurs become professionally published authors. Between them, they have over 30 years of experience in the publishing business, and have authored, agented and/or midwived hundreds of books, including The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully.

The Book Doctors will show you how to:

•      Start off with a bang

•      Check character arcs

•      Pace properly

•      Build suspense

•      Open and close chapters

•      Avoid repetition avoid repetition avoid repetition

•      Trim fat

•      Make the most of your title

•      Know when to show and when to tell

•      Avoiding clichés

•      Keep dialogue real

•      Check for words you use over and over and over again

•      Read aloud

•      Kill your babies

•      Find beta readers

•      Get objectivity

•      Use your pitch to perfect your plot

The Book Doctors will also randomly select a number of first paragraphs from attendees’ manuscripts during the webinar to demonstrate what a professional edit look likes. Send your first paragraph in the body of the email to nanowrimo@thebookdoctors.com when you sign up.

Register now!

911: The Power of Small Town Independent Book Stores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K: Thank you.

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

To read on Huff Po click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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