Tag Archives: books

Recommended Reading: The Editor’s Eye

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The Book: The Editor’s Eye by Stacy Ennis

The Take-Away: The Editor’s Eye is a great introduction to the craft of editing for authors who are writing a book and wondering how the editing process works. It also makes a compelling case for WHY having your book professionally edited is necessary to ensuring the tome’s success.

The Review: I have a reputation in my family for being ridiculously “meta,” so when I heard about this book – which provides an overview of editing a book – I knew I would love it. And in today’s changing publishing environment, it’s no longer a given that everyone involved implicitly accepts that editors are an integral part of the process.

The Editor’s Eye is aimed at first-time authors, but is studded with tips that can help more experienced writers find a good editorial team and can provide editors with new and powerful ways to explain what they do and how it adds value to a manuscript.

One of the biggest strengths of the book is that it is able to provide a reality check for those new to publishing. She provides advice that helps writers learn how to incorporate editing into the writing process from the very first draft – wait, scratch that, from the outline of the book – and devotes a chapter on how to find and work with an editor. Her guidelines, while not dictatorial or rigid, provide boundaries that can help would-be book authors know of they are on track … or not.

The Editor’s Eye is a great gift to a new author embarking on a project, an editor who wants to move into book editing (or explain what he/she does more clearly), or anyone interested in the process of how books come to life.

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“Your story is your power and your truth” – Author Gloria Feldt on advocacy writing

Photo of Gloria Feldt courtesy of MaryAnneRussell.com

Today we present an interview with Gloria Feldt – an author, blogger, and advocate for women. I met Gloria through my work at Arizona State University, where she teaches a course each spring relating to women, power and leadership.

Gloria is a former national president of Planned Parenthood, and author of the books “Send Yourself Roses,” co-authored with actress Kathleen Turner; “Behind Every Choice Is a Story”; and “The War on Choice.” Gloria’s most recent book is “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power,” which recently came out in paperback. In that book, Gloria interviewed dozens of women politicians, business owners, and activists and concluded that the doors of opportunity are wide open today, but too few women are leading the way to claim their power and reach parity with their male counterparts. To counteract this, her book provides 9 practical “power tools” that help women to embrace their power in their relationships and at work, in order to lead unlimited lives.

In today’s interview, Gloria discusses how writing can be used to fuel one’s social activism, and how writers who want to change the world can make a living doing that sort of work.

You can keep up with Gloria’s writing and advocacy work at her website.

Give us an overview of your career, and the place of writing within the work you were doing.

I knew when I was five that I wanted to be a writer. I carried a notebook and pencils with me at all times. My teacher shared a poem I wrote about Halloween with the whole class and kept it to teach future classes. That sealed the deal.

But life intervened. As a teenager, I drank the cultural Kool-Aid and focused on being popular, especially with boys. After marrying and having kids, I fell into my career first as a Head Start teacher, then leading Planned Parenthood affiliate offices.

Though writing was always a part of my work, it wasn’t till I was 60, national president of Planned Parenthood, and had a board chair who made my life miserable, that I decided I had to start writing books or I would die inside. So that’s when I wrote my first book, “Behind Every Choice Is a Story.” Then a few years later, after writing “The War on Choice” and realizing that its thought leadership was greatly appreciated by the general public but not so much by those inside the organization, I knew it was time to speak in my own voice. It was time to free that five-year-old to fulfill her original vision for herself.

What was the first piece of advocacy writing you had published in the media? What did that experience teach you about yourself as a writer?

The now-defunct Phoenix Gazette published an opinion column I wrote exhorting moderates to get as passionate about advocating their beliefs as the zealous right or be steamrollered by policies they don’t support. That must have been in 1979, not too long after I became the CEO of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. The experience taught me the value of devoting the time and effort it takes to do cogent opinion writing.

And by the way, I was right.

Which of the “power tools” discussed in your book No Excuses involve writing?

All of them. Over and over, depending on the day. You write the book you need to read.

Certainly, writing is a part of

  • Employing every medium to get your words out,
  • Wearing the shirt of your convictions,
  • And it plays a role in telling your story, using what you’ve got, knowing your history, embracing controversy, carpe-ing the chaos, and defining your own terms.

Even in the case of the power tool of creating a movement, which seems like a communal act, writing plays a role, because advocacy always involves joining with others.

Yes, they all apply. They are versatile tools and tips to help anyone use the power of her or his words.

How does writing empower women?

Your story is your power and your truth. Women are too often looking for external validation. Writing is its own validation. It comes from inside.

How have your professional writing assignments changed over the years? What has stayed constant?

Blogging didn’t exist when I started out. Now I am asked to blog by many outlets and that has opened up new opportunities to showcase my thinking, though not necessarily to earn money.

What has stayed constant is that I write nonfiction, mostly opinionated in some way about the current social and political issues as they apply to women. I love controversy.

Has there been a new form of media or a new genre that you’ve found particularly daunting? How did you eventually master it?

I break out in a cold sweat about writing book proposals. I can write the book but the proposal daunts me. I have not mastered it.

What new writing projects are you most excited about now?

My next book, but I can’t talk about it yet.

I’m starting to blog for ForbesWoman.com, which is exciting because it puts me in contact with women in the business community and expands my knowledge of their concerns.

What tips would you give to readers interested in using their writing skills to advance a cause?

Think first of being a thought leader and second about being an advocate. It’s a subtle but important distinction. How can you write about your advocacy topics in a way that is fresh, persuasive, interesting? Where should your writing appear to influence the people you want to influence?

How can advocacy writers make a living with their craft?

Think as you write about how you can parlay your writing platform into paid speaking opportunities and articles. It took me years to realize that you have to think about the marketing of a book with the same intensity as you think about its content. They are inseparable.

Also, know that most advocacy organizations and political leaders are desperate for great writers to help them with speeches, op-eds, books, and media messages.

INTERVIEW BONUS – For those of you who are members of the She Writes community, you will want to check out the “Countdown to Publication” blog series Gloria wrote before the initial publication of “No Excuses” in 2010. It’s a great look at what she went through to prepare the book for publication!

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for October 18, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer | The 99 Percent
Jocelyn K. Glei has compiled a great list of insightful snippets from 25 famous authors, from P.D. James and Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood and Annie Dillard.

Here’s a sample of the quotable wisdom provided, from Cory Doctorow, author of “For The Win”:

Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

The 5 Step Process That Solves Painful Writing Problems
Copyblogger contributor Brian Clark presents a simple regimen for avoiding writer’s block, bloated copy and do-nothing endings. The most surprising part of the system he recommends? Headlines and subheads should be developed before the rest of the body copy – which is rarely the order in which they are developed for magazine articles.

Spend Some Time Living Before You Start Writing | Advice to Writers
Jon Winokur quotes novelist Annie Proulx, who confronts the old saw “write what you know” head-on, saying, “It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. “

Game Changer | Fast Company
Do games have any place in the training of future journalists? Adam L. Penenberg, a journalism professor at NYU, reports on the improvement in learning retention in his graduate classes after he layered in game mechanics (prizes, walking tour treasure hunts, social media leader boards) to his business and economics course. An intriguing article and interesting reading for anyone following the emerging trend of schools employing simulations and games to stimulate learning.

If “He Said, She Said” Journalism Is Irretrievably Lame, What’s Better?
Jay Rosen, journalism educator and author of Press Think blog, discusses his criticism of a recent NPR investigative series on security at the Mall of America and shares examples of paradigm-busting online publications that insist on fairness but do not hide behind “objectivity” as a way of coming to a well-researched and well-reported conclusion about the facts as a reporter has discovered them.

How to feed your journalism cow
UK journalist Adam Westbrook suggests a number of idea-sparking sources for writers of nonfiction and those in associated genres (filmmaking, photography, design). I’m most interested in exploring Adam’s own Video.fu film library, which focuses on nonfiction films that tackle their topics in a story-based way, and using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter as a source of ideas that their owners are trying to make viable.

Bonus!

Forget the candy, give books for treats this Halloween
Book editor Barbara McNichol shares a link related to the Books for Treats campaign, which aims to replace the candy-begging ritual in American neighborhoods at Halloween with adults giving out books to kids instead of candy. What a great idea!!!

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Making a Statement Without Saying a Word: One Very Awesome Book Trailer By Jessica McCann

Novelist and nonfiction writer Jessica McCann

Jessica McCann has written for the magazine I edit at my day job. She’s interviewed me for an article on the college and university magazine market. I’ve interviewed her about writing fiction and nonfiction on this blog.

But the reason I’m posting today is to introduce you to the book trailer that Jessica developed for her novel, “All Kinds of Free.”  Book trailers are increasingly becoming an integral part of selling a book, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. The trailer for “All Different Kinds of Free” is an incredible demonstration of how to repurpose compelling material from print into a multimedia format and create a persuasive video to sell a historical novel.

Even more inspiring to me is the fact that Jessica made this trailer almost entirely by herself. In an interview on the Wolf and Redhood Media blog, Jessica revealed that she made the trailer herself, using Windows MovieMaker and photos and music from istockphoto.com.

Here’s what she had to say about how she crafted the trailer:

“The text for the trailer came from a variety of materials that had been written over the past couple of years – from my original pitch letter to my agent all the way down the line to the current back-cover copy. Writing and editing those types of materials helps you hone down to the key points in a small amount of space.

“For the trailer, I just whittled it down a bit more, while still hitting the highlights with fewer words. Then, once I had all the pieces in place in MovieMaker, it was a matter of tweaking the timing. I’d watch the trailer and take notes about which slides seemed to linger too long, which ones flashed by too quickly, if they seemed too copy heavy or took too long to read. I’d watch, then fine-tune, watch again, and fine-tune some more. Then I had a test audience (my husband and two teenage children!) watch and give me the same type of feedback, which led to still more fine-tuning.”

Writers of every genre can learn something by watching Jessica’s book trailer. And there is a bonus to going and watching the trailer on YouTube: If you leave a comment, you may win a copy of the book! The publisher will begin giving away one copy of the book to a random commenter when the page reaches 500 views and the book give-away will continue with one book given away for every 500 views until the trailer reaches 10,000 views or Dec. 31, 2011, whichever happens sooner. You can review all the details of this give-away on Jessica’s blog.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for August 8, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

The book is not dead, it’s just shape-shifting | The Observer

Robert McCrum gives an upbeat assessment of recent changes in technology surrounding the book and asserts that, “As in every previous IT revolution, there will be (already is) a creative dividend.”

College Students Miss the Journalistic Potential of Social Media | PBS Media Shift

Devin Harner reports on a curious phenomenon he has witnessed when asking current journalism students to present original reporting on a blog and then market it through social media channels: they don’t see it as “real journalism.” He explores why this might  be so.

Here’s a sample quote:

“If students can’t see that there’s journalism lurking in the everyday things they do with information, especially now that technology has made such things constant, instant and ubiquitous, then we truly do have reason to worry about the future of journalism — particularly if the original digital divide is still a factor.”

HOW TO: Find and Land Freelance Work

Mashable’s Josh Catone interviews 3 freelance professionals to provide targeted advice on how to land work. His best (of 5) tips? Network, network, network; be precise; show passion. (Oh, and following a potential client’s application instructions never hurts either.)

The Jargon of the Novel, Computed | New York Times

Ben Zimmer reports on the work of the Corpus of Contemporary American English, or COCA, which brings together 425 million words of text from the past two decades, with samples drawn from fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, academic texts and transcripts of spoken English. The compiler of COCA, Mark Davies at Brigham Young University, has designed a freely available online interface that can respond to queries about how contemporary language is used.

7 Apps For Writing On Your iPhone | Lifehack

Chris Smith presents 7 iPhone applications that can facilitate quicker and more efficient writing from one’s mobile device. Apps described cover plain-text editors, outlining and mind-mapping, and journaling functions.

Teaching Creative Writing with Programming

Intriguing short post by Klint Finley of ReadWriteWeb, discussing a presentation by Adam Parrish at OSCon 2011. Parrish teaches Reading and Writing Electronic Text at New York University as part of the Interactive Telecommunications Program. Although the title emphasizes teaching creative writing through programming, the reverse is also true: the course teaches programming through experimental writing.

Parrish’s course doesn’t deal with artificial intelligence, or attempts at creating narratives or creating interactive hypertext. It covers, for lack of a better term, procedural poetry. Typically, a student takes a starting set of text, writes a Python program to modify that text and then interprets the results.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 8, 2011

Photo courtesy of SXC.

Lee Gutkind, Almost Human: Making Robots Think | AT&T Tech Channel

Author and editor Lee Gutkind, dubbed by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” discusses his new book. To research “Almost Human: Making Robots Think,” Gutkind immersed himself in the world of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where students, researchers, scientists and engineers are attempting to create robots that can react autonomously to changing circumstances.

Twitter Announces Twitter For Newsrooms, A Best Practices Guide For Journalists | 10,000 Words

Jessica Roy posts about a new Twitter initiative, Twitter for Newsrooms (#TfN), a compelling resource akin to Facebook for Journalists, that will help optimize the platform’s reporting potential. The guide contains four sections, #report, #engage, #publish and #extra, each with a variety of best practices geared towards streamlining Twitter reporting and making Twitter a more efficient journalism tool.

The end of ‘television’ | Adam Westbrook

Online/entrepreneurial journalism expert Adam Westbrook discusses some of the currents moving in the world formerly known as “television” (and secondarily “film”) and exhorts those interested in making inroads in this world in the future to stop competing for training slots in the “old” paradigm channels and pick up a camera and start creating content NOW.

8 painless steps to make time to write a book | WordCount

Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,” presents an awesome guest post that gets right to the heart of what keeps most writers from completing a book-length manuscript – time issues – and offers great suggestions for surmounting those challenges.

7 reasons journalists make good entrepreneurs | Poynter

Matylda Czarnecka provides some solid and inspiring thoughts about why journalists can and do succeed as entrepreneurs in a for-profit business (whether news-related or not). Some of my favorites from her reason list: journalists are good researchers and connectors, journalists know how to ask open-ended questions and journalists are used to negative feedback.

Periodic Table of Storytelling by *ComputerSherpa on deviantART

Wild, complex, amazing visual based upon the “Tropes of Legend” from the TV Tropes Wiki that outlines basic storytelling structures using the periodic table of the elements as a frame. Aimed at fiction works, but the examples of how the “elements” can be combined (at the bottom of the post) could be a useful cross-pollinating reference for nonfiction writers.

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Biography of a biographer: Marshall Terrill on writing about the lives of others

Celebrity biographer Marshall Terrill

Today I present my interview with celebrity biographer Marshall Terrill. I happened to know Marshall slightly through my day job at Arizona State University (where he also works), but did not know until recently about his sideline of writing celebrity biographies – or the incredible dedication he has given a craft that is, in his words, an “expensive hobby.”

His interview provides a very candid look at his book writing career, and offers lots of specific advice to writers who are interested in pursuing this nonfiction genre.

Tell us about your professional background and your introduction to writing nonfiction.

My introduction to writing came as a result of unfortunate personal circumstances.  Let’s just say my writing career was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone else.

In the late 1980s I worked in the mailroom for Phoenix businessman Charles Keating, who was later sent to federal prison as a result of a savings and loan scandal.  At the time I worked for Keating I was attending college, studying business and was in the first year of my marriage.  I had hitched my wagon to his star in hopes that one day I would work in a higher job capacity for him when I graduated college.  When Keating went to prison, I was out work and my future looked bleak.  Because of the stress, my wife left me and so I was very much at a crossroads in my life.  My father called me from Washington D.C. and said, “Well, you just lost your job and your wife left you.  What’s your next trick going to be?”

What I said took us both by surprise. “Actually, I want to move back to Washington D.C. and write a book on the life of Steve McQueen.”  The Library of Congress was not far from my parents’ home, which is where I conducted a majority of my research.  My dad said, “Why on earth would you want to do a thing like that?  I could barely get you to read in high school.”  I told him that I had always wanted to write a book on Steve McQueen and that something had compelled me to do this.  He thought for a moment and said, “Well, you might as well do it while you’re young because if you fail, you can recover.”  So that was it.  I moved back into my parents’ home at the age of 24 and stayed there until I was 28.  “Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel” was published in December 1993 just as I turned 29.

What motivated you to write your first book?

I had read other books on McQueen and felt they focused on the bad-boy behavior, the man on the motorcycle if you will, and zipped through his film work.  They had only covered parts of his life, but largely ignoring his acting.  There was not one all-encompassing biography of his life and I felt the market had demanded it.  I’ve always felt he was a terrific film actor, perhaps the best of his generation, and was greatly underrated in his lifetime. Turned out I was right.  Every co-star I interviewed said McQueen was gifted and that he was the best actor and they had ever worked with and had this incredible screen presence.  What’s amazing to me is that his legacy grows with each passing year. Today he is the most emulated actor in Hollywood and in the last few years, he’s made Forbes’ Top 10 list of dead celebrity earners.  Not bad for a guy who died more than 30 years ago.

How did you settle on biography as a nonfiction writing genre?

Because I think like most non-fiction readers do – if you’re going to take the time to read a book, you might as well learn something.  Fiction to me is more of an escape and if I wanted to escape, I’ll go to the movies or rent a DVD.  There’s so much you can learn about life when you read non-fiction.  You can learn about history, human behavior, psychology, triumph and tragedy, and invaluable life lessons.

What is the greatest challenge in writing a good biography?

The monumental effort it takes to put it all together.  It’s the ultimate jigsaw when you really come down to it, and you never know what challenges or roadblocks you’ll face.  I wrote a book with boxer Ken Norton that I thought would take maybe a year at most.  However, before I met him, he was in a life-threatening car accident and his memory was completely wiped out. So instead of him telling me his story, I went to the library and researched his entire life, which took almost four years.  As I began to outline his life, I had to repeat back to him his life story, which triggered his memory.  It was a very strange experience, but luckily we pulled it off.

Another interesting experience that took me much longer was the seven years I spent “Maravich” (a biography of basketball legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich co-authored with Wayne Federman) but two of those years were committed to transcribing 300 interviews.  That is a very tedious process.  On top of that I spent another few years culling other information that included newspaper and magazine articles, official documents, memorabilia and interviews with people who knew the subject.  When you’re done with the research, you have to assemble all of that information together to tell the story.  It’s a Herculean effort.  Then there’s the post-production process: editing, trying to find an agent/publisher and finally, promotion.  You can write the greatest book in the world but if no one knows about it, you’ve simply wasted your times.  Those are all skills learned along the way that aren’t taught but are self-learned.  You either sink or swim.

You’ve managed to write 15 books over the past 20 years, often while holding down day jobs that involve writing as well. What are your tips for managing one’s writing time effectively?

It all boils down to dedication, which is 90 percent of the battle.  People always ask me, “What’s the secret of getting published?”  I tell them there’s no real secret to writing a book – you get on the computer and you write.  I mainly see two big problems: 1.) People give up way too easily.  Are they willing to put in the time that is required to finish the task?  Sometimes that task is a year; other times it is seven years.  … When I wrote the first book, I worked 8 to 10 hours a day for three-and-a-half years straight.  You have to have that sort of dedication to get a book published or it’s just not going to happen. 2.) The other problem I see is a form of self-sabotage and it happens more often than not.  I’ve seen many writers start a book, write about half the manuscript, then drop that project and start another.  Or they’ll write a chapter and then go back and edit it to the point where they can’t go forward.  They think this is perfectly normal.  I don’t.  I say finish the first book to the point of perfection and then move onto the next project.  I’ve seen so many stalled careers because the writer can’t complete the first project.

Set aside a time each day and write.  What worked best for me was to write an hour a day before/after work and four to five hours on Saturday and Sunday.  Someone who has kids is going to have a harder time, and that’s the harsh reality.  I don’t have kids and a very understanding wife, who made a lot of sacrifices so I could write my books.

How have your day jobs augmented your career as a celebrity biographer?

It took a while for me to get it through my thick head that I couldn’t earn a living at simply writing non-fiction books.  I dedicated 10 years of my life to make it work and I just couldn’t.  I owned a house and took in boarders (that’s a book in and of itself!), took part-time jobs to bring in some sort of income to pay the bills and I was financially treading water the entire time.  That gets old after a while.  Unless you are selling millions of books, it’s just not going to happen because of the way book that deals are structured, which is always in favor of the publisher.  And that’s not a negative – the publisher is putting up the money and taking the risk, so they should be rewarded.  For example, a typical hardback book will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to produce.  The publisher sells that to the wholesaler/retailer somewhere in the range of $12 to $15.  The publisher makes somewhere between $7 and $10 per book and the royalty for the writer is around $2 to $3 depending on what you’ve negotiated.  Everybody thinks they’re going to get on Oprah Winfrey and sell a million books, but that’s not reality.  It’s like banking your future on winning the lottery.

Most of my books sell somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 copies, depending on what kind of publicity I get and if the timing is good (most of my books are timed on anniversaries and key dates so I have a news hook to pitch to the media).  Realistically, I make between $20,000 to $30,000 a book, and keep in mind royalty checks are spread out six months apart.  It’s not as if the publisher is going to let you have all that money at once.  But if you weigh the paycheck vs. the time I’ve put into writing the book, money spent on editors, travel, postage, research, long-distance phone calls and office supplies, it’s literally pennies on the dollar.  It’s supplemental income at best, but the work is full-time.  I call writing my “expensive hobby” because it costs money to write a book.  Ask any published non-fiction writer if it cost them money to pursue their books and they’ll be able to show you their tax receipts.

After 10 years of writing books from home, I decided it was time to get a job because I didn’t want to be 40, have no pension or a big hole on my resume.  So when an opportunity arose at a local newspaper as a journalist, I took it.  It was a practical decision because it’s what I loved to do and I could continue to write my books on the side.  I would have remained a journalist for the rest of my life but then the economic crash hit our country, and I could see the handwriting on the wall.  Newspapers got hit very hard and so I made the switch to the other side – public relations.  I knew how to get publicity from my books and what made for a good news story, so it was a very easy transition.  I work now for Arizona State University in Public Affairs.

Your website mentions you write your books with Cheryl Hosmer, a developmental editor/writer. How does your partnership work?

I instinctively knew that a big part of my success was that when I turned in a manuscript, it was fully edited.  Many reasons why other writers don’t get published is that their manuscripts needed a lot of editing.  This is where the ego gets in the way.  I’ve talked to many young writers who say, “I’m such a good writer that I don’t need editing,” or they didn’t have the money to pay an editor.   I’ve been in publishing now more than 20 years and most of my manuscripts have at least two editors, sometimes three and four.  If you write a 150,000 word manuscript, there’s bound to be mistakes, typos and grammatical errors.  My first draft always has mistakes, and it’s simply a part of the process to clean it up.  I also like to have input and the very first thing I tell editors is, “Don’t be afraid to tell me when I’m wrong or off base.”  Just because I’ve had success getting published doesn’t mean I’m perfect or can be wrong.

Every finished manuscript will have mistakes.  Publishing houses no longer have line editors who will comb over your book looking for mistakes.  They expect your manuscript to be near perfect, and they don’t have the time or money to help you clean it up.  So that’s why I’ve formed a partnership with Cheryl Hosmer, who has edited several of my books. So we offer these editing services to writers who are serious about getting published.  And of course, they get to pick my brain on the publishing industry. I’ve helped many people turn their manuscripts into books.

What are some benefits of writer-editor collaborations such as the one you have with Hosmer?

Many benefits come to mind.  The first is that I am not alone in the writing process.  I have a sounding board in case I am way off.  The trick is to find someone you completely trust, someone who will tell you the truth but not step on your creative toes.  I recently read a great book called “Starting Over,” a book by Ken Sharp on the making of John Lennon’s “Double Fantasy.”  The producer of that album was a veteran named Jack Douglas.  Douglas said Lennon was such a force of nature that his job was to sit behind the recording console and not get in Lennon’s way.  That’s what a good editor should do.  Stand back, let the author do his/her thing, but be ready to give advice when called upon.

What writing projects are next for you?

None in the foreseeable future.  This last book, “Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon,” took a lot out of me in terms of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.  Each time I start a book, it’s like going to literary boot camp for five years.  While I like the end result, the experience isn’t always so pleasant because of the intensity of what I have to go through to get published. I’m not saying I’ll never write again, but I’m taking a very long break.

Any advice to nonfiction writers in today’s unpredictable market?

Know the market, know what publishers are looking for, and know who your readers are.  Publishers certainly care about the writing, but they care more about the number of books they can sell.  Not only do they want you to tell them why it’s a great book, but they want to know how you’re going to sell the book, who is the market, why readers will buy and how many books will they sell.  It’s a tough business and failure is not an option in these fiscally tough times.  Learn how to write a killer proposal and take the guess work out of it for publishers.

Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

I don’t want to come off as sounding very negative because that’s not my intent.  My intent is to paint a very realistic picture of what a writer goes through in order to get a book published.  Everyone seems to think it’s a glamorous profession or something they can do if they don’t want to get a real job.  The reality is that it is extremely hard work.  People think that writing a book is a warm and fuzzy experience and an easy lifestyle.  If you talk to any published author, you’ll find that’s not the case.  I once interviewed Jackie Collins and I asked her about her work ethic.  She puts in 8 to 10 hours a day on the computer.  I hear Steven King writes 12 hours a day.  And something needs to be explained here –writing is physically and emotionally exhausting.  It’s a serious workout.  When you are finished, you are absolutely wiped out at the end of the day.  Needless to say it’s a lot of hard work, sacrifice and time spent alone.  There were many times when my wife had to eat dinner by herself, or spend weekends with her friends because I was working.  I’ve also had to sacrifice time away from my dog, a bike ride around the lake, or an evening with family and friends.  However, there’s a positive here – my work has granted me friendships and life experiences I would have never otherwise had, and worldly experiences that can be taught in a textbook.

My final piece of advice is to write every book with the idea that it’s going to be a labor of love because most likely there won’t be a financial return.  And if there is any return at all, then it’s all gravy.  The only reason you should ever write a book is because your heart and soul is aching to do it, and you can’t move on in life unless you do.

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Marshall’s latest book, “Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon,” is available on Amazon and at major book retailers.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 24, 2010

Photo courtesy Julia Freeman-Woolpert via SXC.

Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words « Steve McCurry’s Blog
An amazing photo essay with lots of shots of people around the world interacting with the written word in various ways. Beautiful!

The powers and problems of the audio slideshow « Adam Westbrook
A British journalist discusses the pros and cons of audio slideshows as an online media format and provides links to some good examples.

AP Begins Crediting Bloggers as News Sources
From The Next Web. In a major shift in policy, the Associated Press released an announcement to its affiliates that bloggers could and should be sited as news sources in AP stories.

3 iPad Apps that Reinvent News Reading
Jennifer Van Grove, writing on Mashable.com, reports on Pulse News, Flipboard and FLUD, 3 iPad apps that allow readers to customize their media reading experience and share information on social networks.

The Future of Social Media in Journalism
Vadim Lavrusik outlines some very provocative, but possibly accurate scenarios for how journalism will be affected by the evolution of social media and how it is impacting journalism.

Storyful.
Storyful uses professional curators to gather social and web content and produce a story out of it.

BONUS LINKS!

Can Twitter Make You a Better Editor?
Erin Everhart, a marketing associate for 352 Media Group and a freelance journalist, argues on the Journalistics blog that Twitter has forced writers to become better at editing their own work — especially when that work has a character count of 140!

Confessions of a Recovering Bookaholic
Victoria Vargas, author of the Smaller Living blog, discusses applying her philosophy of simpler living to her passion for collecting books. Good tips, and the comment stream includes a variety of solutions and perspectives on the importance of books in our lives.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for January 12, 2010

Photo courtesy SXC.

Bloggers, like other writers, can make yearly resolutions, and one of mine related to my Write This Way link posts is to trim them down so readers can spend more time digesting and acting on the information I’ve linked to and less time reading.

In 2010, I’ll pick my top 2 links and comment on them each time we run Write This Way, and provide one additional bonus link for fun and edification. Be on the lookout for a new feature—Write This Way, Condensed—which will be a quick post of my favorite links of the moment, all presented “bonus link” style.

Let me know if you enjoy this new slimmer format, or if you see any writing or editing-related links you think need more exposure!


News orgs’ goal for 2010: Imagine tomorrow’s media world today

Gina Chen has written an insightful post on what news organizations should be doing this year on the Nieman Journalism Lab blog.

As she puts it,

“The legacy press — or the traditional media, or whatever we’re calling newspapers these days — has one main challenge for 2010, and it’s not finding a new business model. It has to do with vision. It has to do with being able to imagine a world that does not yet exist.”

This quest is more difficult than it first appears, but Chen notes that this is not the first time in history that a business entity has faced such a challenge related to figuring out how to make products that customers will find useful. IBM face a similar challenge in popularizing the concept of a personal, desktop-based computer, and the inventors of the microwave had to wait nearly a quarter century from the time the device was first offered in the late 1940s until it caught on in America’s kitchens.

In both cases, the businesses had to make a guess as to how future customers would want to interact with their products, and overcome resistance related to attachment (both by customer and manufacturer) to the current state of technology. According to Chen, journalists need to focus their attention on these areas, as well.

“The challenge for the news biz is to look ahead and imagine how people may want their news and information. It’s about format (online, by phone, through social media) and content (aggregated, local, tailored to their needs.) For local news operations, this mean “organizing a community’s information so the community can organize itself,” as Jeff Jarvis puts it.

“ …This doesn’t mean news organizations should be inventing technology. I think that’s probably out of the pervue of most journalists. What I’m talking about is envisioning a new way to use technology, in this case the Internet and the cell phone and likely other tools that others will invent. The new business doesn’t need to invent the tools — just figure out how to use them to best serve their readers.”

Chen’s post hones in on the primary issue that’s strangling the news business right now, particularly in print newspapers: lack of forward-facing customer focus. I’ve seen post after post about stop-gap measures such as government grants for investigative reporting and setting up nonprofit foundations, but this post does something that those do not—it assumes that news media organizations can still survive as business entities, and it provides the million-dollar (or more) question that they must answer in order to thrive: what do our readers want from us?

Forget E-Books: The Future of the Book Is Far More Interesting

This post is Number 8 in Adam Penenberg’s very interesting “Viral Loop” series on FastCompany.com. The author of 3 books, including one on the Viral Loop theme, he posits a provocative vision of how the printed book, and the book-reading experience, will evolve.

He argues that e-books do NOT represent the long-term future of reading matter.

“It’s the end of the book as we know it … It won’t be replaced by the e-book, which is, at best, a stopgap measure. Sure, a bevy of companies are releasing e-book readers … but technology marches on through predictable patterns of development, with the initial form of a new technology mirroring what came before, until innovation and consumer demand drive it far beyond initial incremental improvements. We are on the verge of re-imagining the book and transforming it something far beyond mere words.”

Penenberg argues the reading experience of the future will be one that, like our online (and increasingly, our mobile) experience, is rich and multi-faceted.

“For the non-fiction author therein lie possibilities to create the proverbial last word on a subject, a one-stop shop for all the information surrounding a particular subject matter. Imagine a biography of Wiley Post, the one-eyed pilot from the 1930s who was the first to fly around the world. It would not only offer the entire text of a book but newsreel footage from his era, coverage of his most famous flights, radio interviews, schematics of his plane, interactive maps of his journeys, interviews with aviation historians and pilots of today, a virtual tour of his cockpit and description of every gauge and dial, short profiles of other flyers of his time, photos, hyperlinked endnotes and index, links to other resources on the subject.

“Social media could be woven into the fabric of the experience–discussion threads and wikis where readers share information, photos, video, and add their own content to Post’s story, which would tie them more closely to the book. There’s also the potential for additional revenue streams: You could buy MP3s of popular songs from the 1930s, clothes that were the hot thing back then, model airplanes, other printed books, DVDs, journals, and memorabilia.”

Novelists won’t be left out of the cyber-cornucopia, either, he says. Imagine video games where readers alter the storylines as they see fit, or digital “rainstorms” of words, images and audio to reinforce metaphors for the reader.

The specifics of his prophecy are “out there,” to be sure, but not by much. I’m in agreement with Penenberg that “all writers should be optimistic” because “where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.” Much like the previous link, the author’s willingness to focus on a literary world that doesn’t exist yet, and play with product ideas that would meet reader/audience needs in a new way, is exciting and has set my mind to imagining rich-media extensions of the book proposal ideas I’m currently incubating.

Bonus Link!

8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist

Vadim Lavrusik defines 8 roles that 2010-era journalists need to be ready to fulfill–including entrepreneur, programmer, curator, blogger, community builder, multimedia storyteller and more.

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Holiday nano-practice for writers

Photo courtesy SXC.

It’s a week before Christmas.  We’re in the middle of Hanukkah. Yule, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are just around the corner. If you’ve got a writing project (or projects) you’re trying to keep on track, it’s very easy to get distracted by holiday festivities and end up both frustrated at your lack of progress and sad that you couldn’t enjoy your holiday recreation fully because you were fretting about your writing in the back of your mind.

I’m just as guilty of giving into this tension and distraction as everyone else. However, I was lucky to recently come across a series of very helpful blog posts by my cyber-pal Christina Thompson, who is a trombonist, creativity coach, music teacher and author of a new book, Women Embracing Creativity.

Her 2008 “No Time To Practice?” (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) series has a lot of good tips, broadly applicable to artists of every discipline, for maintaing a connection to our creative work. And it’s inspired me to write this short list of “nano-practice” tips for writers, who actually have more opportunity than most, I believe, to keep their skills sharp during holiday breaks.

So if you’re in the thick of your holiday preparations or celebrations right now, consider channeling your writing mojo into these activities …

1. Take your Twittering and status updates to a new level. I’ve blogged about using Twitter as a writing coach before, and in this age of social media, being able to say something rich and evocative in a few words is an even more valuable skill than ever before. The poetry of some people’s tweets or updates can make connecting with them far more than a perfunctory experience. What can you say in 140 characters or less that might move your personal network and express your feelings and observations succinctly?

2. Revive the art of correspondence. Many of us send paper or electronic greeting cards or annual family letters, but do we think about more than just providing a news report for friends and colleagues? My father used to write a family letter that placed our entire clan in a Renaissance era motif and made its readers howl with laughter. He was following in his mother’s footsteps, who played off her first name to create a yearly missive entitled “The Perils of Jewel and Pauline,” which mimicked the theme of a popular series of films during her youth.

It’s not necessary to summon literary greatness to get your Christmas cards or family letters out, but they are another place where your writing and editing skills can create a story that touches your audience and pleases your “sources,” who are those closest to you!

3. Catch up on your “craft” reading/listening. If you’re flying or riding in a car to your holiday destination, how about absorbing some good books relevant to non-fiction writing? I’m partial to Jack Hart’s A Writer’s Coach and Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools, but reading or listening to a well-written novel is also good for picking up tips on how to handle dialogue, expository passages and other writing challenges. Even if you’re only able to read a few chapters, or a few pages, you may pick up something valuable.

4. Practice one-sentence journaling. The point of journaling isn’t to meet a production quota! It’s to convey meaning in a form that will stick with you later. Early last year, I conducted an interesting interview on my creativity blog, Creative Liberty, with journaling instructor Quinn McDonald on this technique. Much like the more public tweet/status update suggestion, the length limitation on this sort of journaling encourages you to both writing something each day and choose your words very carefully.

5. Engage in intentional conversations. If you’re at a family holiday gathering and are surrounded by people, listen to them! Even if you have precious little common ground with your relatives, practicing the art of conversation sharpens your ear for dialogue and accurate quotations, allows you to understand your “subject” on a deeper level, and may improve your interviewing skills.

If you want to make use of your time with your loved ones to record some conversations for posterity, the StoryCorps program can help you get started. They have excellent interview guides, tips on managing audio recording devices and plenty of audio files on the site to hear other families reminiscing. The goal of this non-profit is to create a “nation of listeners” in 2010, and your little conversation could be a part of it, if you choose to be involved.

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