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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Legacy Of A Book Publicist

Those in the book PR industry should appreciate/realize that when we work with an author we are doing more than helping them promote their current product or service or brand enhancement.  We’re actually helping them grow in a number of ways, participating in their evolution. We may not realize it at the time, but when we help on messaging and question things and suggest changes, we are helping them advance to another level, one in which there is no turning back from.  It’s parallel to parenting…one day my kid flounders in the pool and soon after he is diving; one day he has training wheels on his bike and then he doesn’t. We open doors to the author’s mind, to see into rooms they didn’t even know existed.  Publicists are sometimes seen as a friend, a therapist, or a partner to the author.  But we are also like a teacher or a parent – we’re raising them to become more than what they had originally thought they were.  We train ourselves to see them in the ideal, not for what they currently are.  By envisioning them in the optimum light, we help them become what we would want them to be and to make them more promotable. That’s an important responsibility for us. We must ask ourselves: What are we helping our authors turn into? We are like a mirror, one that first must show them who they are, but then magically show them who they can be.

How do we help nurture an author’s growth?  A few ways are below:

1.      Ask a lot of questions – act as if you know nothing about anything.  Make no assumptions.

2.      Brainstorm with others to develop an unexplored concept.

3.      Suggest new ways to say something.

4.      Suggest new ways to look at something.

5.      Show the author why a failed idea of the past can work under a new climate today.

6.      Inquire what they are trying to accomplish.

7.      Ask them how they got to where they are.

8.      Find out how they compare to the competition and then ask them how they are different, better, newer.

9.      Display empathy for their situation or status.

10.   Inspire them with creative ideas, good research, and the support of a friend.

As publicists, we should realize that we don’t just promote a book for today but rather we help shape an author for tomorrow.


Interview With Ink Drop Blog Writer Kathy Reinhart

1.      Kathy, you used to own a restaurant and now you’re writing books. How did you make the career transition? My transition was rather unusual. While I still owned the restaurant I was involved in a riding accident. I was laid up for some time. Unable to do much else, during that time I read a lot. An awful lot. It was after reading an author I used to admire a great deal that I thought, ‘I can do better than this’, (the book was THAT lousy), a friend suggested I try it. Although that first book never made it into print, I’ve gotten better with each one that followed.

2.      What inspired you to create your blog: Ink Drop Interviews  (www.inkdropinterviews.com)? Ink Drop Interviews was the brain-child of my belief that you have to pay it forward. I never dreamed that I was going to write a book, publish and easily and effortlessly cruise into best-seller status. I always knew it would take a lot of work (and a lot of try and fail) and if you don’t take that time to support others who share your dream, how can you expect anyone else to support yours?

3.      What do you love most about writing books? Well, I’ll let you in on a secret, I hate the ‘act’ of writing. I do. The technical end of it bores me half to death, but I love ‘creating’. I love getting lost in another world. Maybe it’s my way of unleashing creative energies or maybe it’s my way of escaping reality, I’m not sure, but I love seeing where the story will take the characters and going along for the ride is what keeps me writing.

4.      Where do you think the book industry is heading? As writers, we’re asked this all of the time. I do believe that Kindle’s, Nooks and such are the future. I don’t think traditional books will ever disappear, but I believe the shift is already evident. I believe the digital age has opened up publishing to many good writers that for whatever reason have been unable to secure a deal previously. Conversely, eBooks have also opened the door to many whose work is nowhere near ready for public consumption! Once buyers find a way to weed out the polished prose from the I-have-a-pen-therefore-I-write authors, I think digital and traditional will each find their homes.

5.      Any advice for struggling writers? Although I have won an award or two, I’m not really the one to be answering this. I mean, I have suggestions, but I’m not on any best-seller list, no movie options, no Pulitzer… I would say, keep at it. Study those who are similar, but never emulate. Read a lot. Write and re-write, repeat. It’s like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. Do I believe everyone has it in them to be the next Jodi Picoult or John Grisham? No. But do I believe everybody has it in them to write something worth reading. Absolutely!


Interview With Fiction Editor, A. Leonard Lucas

Adam, what do you love most about being the fiction editor of an ezine? I want to say it's pulling stories from the slush pile.  And it's true there's an adrenalin high from choosing something other magazines glossed over and rejected, knowing a piece only has legs because we gave it a chance.  But the longer I do this, I realize I'm more selfish than that.  The thing I love most about being an editor is the way it's helped me become a better writer.
 
I get an inside look at submissions--the process, the competition, the trends.  It's strengthened the cover letters I write.  It's stripped clich├ęs out of my stories.  And because I get to nitpick other people's writing, I've become a much stronger self-editor.

What approach do you take to the editing process? Almost purely grammatical.  If a story makes it to acceptance, it's normally so good I won't dare ask for plot or character changes.  And I especially don't like to intrude on the author's vision. I've already read the story at least four times before we bought it, so I begin editing with a slow, line-by-line nitpick session.   Then I edit while reading it backwards.   Finally, I read it one last time straight through to make sure everything sounds good and send the changes to the author for approval.

Where have you been published as a writer? Rather than give you the whole list (I collect publications like merit badges), I'll name a few of my favorites.

My story at Every Day Fiction has garnered the most praise/comments.  I like it because it walks the fine lines between horror, comedy and sci-fi.  Plus it was accepted at the first place I sent it. http://www.everydayfiction.com/dr-xiang-and-the-mouth-in-his-stomach-by-adam-lucas/

I like my story at Jersey Devil Press because it's only 300 words and reads like a dirty joke.
http://www.jerseydevilpress.com/?page_id=1215

And I recently had a story published in Kerouac's Dog Magazine that was rejected by 10 venues over the course of an entire year.  Sometimes acceptance is all about finding the right editor.   A full list of my publications is at www.lucasliterary.com

What do you make of all the changes in the book industry? Everyone's talking about self-publishing and eBooks and paranormal trends and so-on; as for that, I don't think it makes a difference.  I don't care how a story is published or what format it's in, so long as it's read.  I don't care what a story is about, so long as it's good.  Just give me an engaging story that's well told and I'm happy.

But there's a change I've noticed that's seldom talked about.  The publishing industry is losing courage, gravitating toward safe, meaningless literature, and that’s a threat people need to notice.  

There was a time when stories brought about world change.  Controversial books were hot topics in pop-culture.  Magazines were boycotted for printing bold fiction.   Books were burned for opposing the status quo.   Now we have to go to reality TV, rap music and Super Bowl halftime shows to find this same type of controversy.  And sadly, these platforms aren't as effective at producing change as a good book. 

I'd like to open my (almost) weekly copy of The New Yorker and find something other than a slow-paced, sentimental story that reflects the soft-side of the world we live in.  There's more controversy in their cover-art than their fiction.  I'd like to pick up Nicholas Spark's new bestseller and see something that challenges what love is and what it could be, rather than read a formulated romance with tragedy, separation and southern belles.  Now I know there are exceptions to this.  And don't get me wrong, this is not meant to attack these well-respected publishing machines; the problem is much more wide-spread.  I only mention these examples because they came to my mind first, and high-market platforms are where a little courage has the most effect.  It's where bold stories could reverse this sad trend.

What advice do you have for struggling writers? In this industry, perseverance is as important as writing ability.  Keep your butt in the chair.  Write every day.  Submit stories weekly.  Read, read, read in all genres and story lengths.  And don't let rejection get you down.  I reject great stories all the time.


Interview With Book Reviewer Mayra Calvani

Mayra, you’ve reviewed over 300 books in the past 12 years.  What do you love most about critiquing the works of others? Each book is a world, a complete universe onto itself. As a bookworm, I love to submerge myself in that universe of fictional characters and situations. So there’s the sheer love of reading. When I review a book, however, the experience acquires a different nature; it becomes educational and it also becomes a mental challenge. Reviewing is a learning experience because when I analyze what works or doesn’t work in a story, I’m automatically absorbing, as if by osmosis, what I should do or avoid when I write my own books. The mental challenge comes with articulating in a clear and intelligent manner what is good and/or bad about a book. This often takes keen perception, so it sharpens my thinking skills. So I’d say that what I love most, is that challenge.

As the author of 10 books, how do you handle reading reviews of your own works?  I once heard an author say about negative reviews: “If you’ve never received a negative review, there aren’t enough people reading your book.” That’s become one of my mantras.

That’s not to say negative reviews don’t sting. Of course they do—a little. But I always put the situation under perspective. A review is, after all, one person’s opinion, and the fact is that not everybody is going to like my book. Some might love it, others might hate it. If I can please some people some of the time, that’s enough for me.

If you read reviews of well-known books by famous authors, you’ll see a wide range of reviews, from the very good to the very bad. If famous New York Times best-selling authors sometimes get bad reviews, why can’t I? I don’t let my ego get in the way of my common sense. That said, positive reviews are definitely ego boosters!

What inspired you to write The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing? I wish there had been a book on how to write reviews when I started reviewing. It would have prevented a lot of amateurish mistakes from my part. Actually, on second thought, I’m glad nobody wrote such a book—that’s the reason I came up with the idea in the first place! J

After several years of reviewing, I felt confident enough to put together a set of ‘rules’ and guidelines for beginners, a manual of sorts to help aspiring and beginner reviewers hone their craft. I mentioned my idea to my dear friend, author and reviewer Anne K. Edwards. She was excited about collaboration and we jumped into it. In six months we had the first draft.

Where do you see book publishing heading? This is such a thrilling time in the world of publishing. I feel fortunate that I’m witnessing the ebook and POD revolution firsthand. Everything is happening so fast, and changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on. This is definitely the most exciting time if you want to become an author. The arena is full of possibilities.

More and more authors are self publishing their books, more and more books are being published each year. This means more competition and more aggressive and innovative marketing efforts from the part of the authors. After all, how do you make your book stand out among millions of others? For one thing, promoting a book only around its release doesn’t work anymore; the marketing strategies must continue on an ongoing basis. More and more, self published authors have learned the importance of hiring a professional to edit, design and format their books.

There will be more interactive books and also, with time, more ebook reading devices in the hands of younger people. So far, young adult novels have done well as ebooks because lots of adults read them, but middle-grade novels and picture books are still waiting to be exploited in the same fashion.

I read somewhere that serial publishing (selling books by the chapter) will become popular, as well as digitally signed Kindle copies (http://www.kindlegraph.com/).  I’ve also heard talks about author and reader interaction and how readers will be able to provide input to authors based on pre-released advanced copies, thus having an effect in the finished product.  

As I said, this is a thrilling time in publishing. I wonder what new things people will come up with next.

What advice do you have for struggling writers? I have always found Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and The Right to Write, incredibly inspiring.

She says: “Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”

These powerful words were very revealing to me and changed the direction I took with writing. If I have to ‘think something up,’ writing becomes something lofty, something I may not be able to grasp. I’m straining. On the other hand, if I focus on getting something down, I have a sense of attention but I’m not straining. It’s like I’m taking dictation. Or like I’m watching the movie in my head and writing down what I see.

This simple philosophy completely freed and revolutionized my writing. 

What mistakes do you commonly find in the books you come across?  They’re not ‘mistakes’ per say, as they don’t have to do with typos or grammatical and spelling errors. The problem most often has to do with developmental editing. For example, a protagonist that I, as a reader, don’t care about; or a plotline that is mostly flat and doesn’t have rising action, climax and resolution. Other times, the stakes, the conflict aren’t high enough or compelling enough. Now and again the book might be well written yet it leaves me indifferent. These are the hardest books to review because I have to ponder what’s wrong with them, and often enough it isn’t obvious.

These days, the major problem with self published books is developmental. The writers think that if they hire a copy editor and the book is free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation mistakes, that it’ll be fine. But it isn’t. I think the best investment an author can do is to hire a professional editor who will handle both types of editing.

How important are book reviews for the sale of a book? Book reviews are one of the most effective tools of book promotion. In fact, some experts consider reviews the most effective tool.
For librarians, top review publications such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, School Library Journal, etc., play a vital role in the selection of titles. Reviews are the strongest criterion for selection. While it’s true booksellers look at different criteria when making a decision about which books to stock, reviews are a tremendously useful and helpful factor, especially when in doubt or when the author is unknown. Pre-release review publications like the ones mentioned before play an important role in the selection of books, allowing bookstores to order titles in advance of their official release dates, thus making them available to the public immediately after their release. Online reviews are particularly important when selecting titles from small presses or unknown authors who often don’t get reviews in the major pre-release publications.

The fact is, most people read reviews. Reviews and readers go together like wine and cheese. Before spending money on a book--especially in the case of expensive hard covers--most people turn to reviews to get an idea of the book’s quality and whether or not there’s a recommendation. In this age of computers when almost every person has a PC at home, it’s easy for booklovers to access the Internet and read book reviews. With the rise of so many niche review sites, book blogs, and readers sharing their reviews on sites like Amazon, it’s popular to read reviews. Also, the more reviews about a book, the more buzz and exposure.

For more information, please consult www.mayracalvani.com   


Interview With Lisa Rojany Buccieri, COO & Publisher, NY Journal of Books—West

Lisa, what do you love most about working with authors? What I love most of all about working with writers is their enthusiasm. Regardless of their level of skill or experience, every author I have worked with is absolutely excited about the fact that they have committed words and stories (and sometimes even art for the author/illustrators) to the page. Everyone seems to have a story to tell or valuable experience to share, whether it is a novel or a nonfiction narrative memoir, or a picture book, or a YA novel, or a general nonfiction book. And these days, that includes a lot of eBooks and self-publishing, which deserves the same editorial expertise as any other written piece.

The reason I love my work so much is that it is extremely gratifying for me to help writers make their work the best it can be. I take everything I have ever learned from working in publishing as a Publisher and Editorial Director, a writer who has been through the publishing process dozens of times, and an editor of lists of books both as a full timer and through my business (www.EditorialServicesofLA.com) and they get a brain dump from me. This brain dump includes detailed commentary both on the manuscript—where I note every single issue that needs to be addressed—and in the detailed, sometimes 20-page critique letter that is specific to their work.

I always provide suggestions as to HOW to address the issues (writers are instructed to put them in their voice, of course), as opposed to providing amorphous information or terminology that no one gets: e.g. I would never say, OK, you need to flesh out your protagonist without giving a writer exact details and a process by which to accomplish the improvement to their work. And this level of detail applies to everything from character arcs, plotlines, environment/context development, grammar, style, voice—everything a book writer needs to understand to make their work shine.

And when they come back to me with their rewrite or I hear that they have acquired an agent or snagged a publisher and are going to be published, or if they are published and win an award or a great review, I feel both gratified that I was able to help them achieve that goal and grateful to have been part of the process.

At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I really am one of those people who loves what she does and cannot believe that I am lucky enough to spend my days working with words and stories. It doesn’t even feel like work.

What approach do you take to the editing process?
I am one of those editors or writers who does not charge by the page, I charge by the project. I do this because I want the writer to be able to afford to come back after they have made their edits and get more feedback if they feel they need it.

I also believe that editing is a collaborative process, that I have to get inside the writer’s head so that I can glean what they are trying to accomplish and where they are going with their story. That is why I only work on one project at a time. I want to be able to concentrate solely on one voice, one story, one writing endeavor.

I also am absolutely incapable of even reading a manuscript without pen in hand. I am always and forever compelled to help improve what I am reading. A blessing or a curse, who knows? I also work on hard copy whenever possible because track changes is such a mess and does not allow the work to flow or the edits to flow as well as an edit on hardcopy does. When rewriting a manuscript as a ghostwriter, or helping a self-publishing or eBook writer to lay out their manuscript text and pages, of course I do it digitally, but I still prefer the old fashioned way. It helps writers learn about the process so they can apply it to their next writing project.

And I never use red pen. I have used a purple pen exclusively for over 20 years. It’s less scary and a tad whimsical, sort of lightening up the process for the writer so they do not get too overwhelmed.

What are the challenges and rewards of working with words all day?
Hmmm. Well, I would say that the only challenge is to get inside the writer’s head to make sure that I can mirror their intentions with my edits. The rewards are endless. I think I elaborated on them above.
What do you make of all the changes in the book industry? I think eBooks are the best invention in the universe. I loved my Kindle, and when I graduated to an iPad (then an iPad two because I am a gadget/tech whore, I even added magazines and newspapers to my queue. I love the instant access to the written word and the fact that you can take 1,000 books with you wherever you go as long as there is an outlet to recharge. Not like I ever have time to read everything I want to!

But as a partner in and the Publisher of the premier online book review site www.nyjournalofbooks.com, I feel much better read than I actually am because I edit every single book review that comes in. These are long-form reviews and so I feel that I have read many more books than I actually have!

I also think that it is empowering for writers to be able to choose to self-publish or publish an eBook as they do not have to rely on agents to place their work or publishers to offer them a contract. On the other hand, many self-published works are so desperately in need of an edit that it’s shameful.

What advice do you have for struggling writers?
I have worked with literally hundreds of writers in every format and genre and they all have different levels of skill. But the writers who have succeeded in mainstream publishing are the ones who are determined and do not give up. Sometimes, many times, that determination can make up for less than stellar writing skills, believe it or not. One of the weakest writers I ever worked with had four thrillers in a series published simply because she attacked the process and kept at it, did not allow herself to get discouraged by rejection because she believed in herself, and finally succeeded—and how!

Did you know that Kathryn Stockett, the author of the blockbuster The Help that got made into a successful movie as well, got something like 60 rejections from publishers until she hit the 61st that recognized her obvious talent? Talk about the one that got away!

Also, the writers who understand that publicity and marketing are a full-time job and that they have to engage with SEO and social media and everything else that goes into pushing your book into the public eye are the ones who will accomplish the most notice and longevity.

Another very important aspect of getting published is that you cannot be a dilettante. You need to educate yourself about the process. From the simple aspects like how to properly format a manuscript for submission to how to write a query letter to the more important aspect of a submission that I address such as: Is your protagonist compelling? Is your story interesting and plausible? Do you adhere to the conventions in your genre—or are you talented enough to subvert them? Is your grammar correct? It’s amazing how many people think that they can just write a book and the world is going to love it because they do.

Join writer’s groups. For instance, children’s book writers and illustrators benefit greatly from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators that provides lists of agents and query letter hints and so much more to its members (www.scbwi.org). Writers of books for young adults have to have read the best and latest in their genre and format and know what they’re up against so that they can play in the game in the first place—and that goes for every other format and genre.

And for god’s sake, if you are writing a picture book and don’t know that a 3,000-word manuscript will never get published buy a mainstream publisher (do your research and you’ll know why), then you have not done your due diligence and as far as I am concerned, you don’t deserve to get published. It’s so easy online to find out how to do things properly, and anyone who doesn’t do the research is simply asking for rejection—and will have blown that precious opportunity of first impressions that can never be recovered.

But here’s what I tell all my writers: Hope means having something in some agent’s or editor’s inbox. So always keep writing and improving your skills and someday, if you don’t give up, maybe, just maybe, you’ll get to be a Kathryn Stockett as well.
For more information: www.nyjournalofbooks.com 

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for the interview, Brian, and for the opportunity to appear on your informative blog!

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    1. Hey, Mayra,

      Great interview. I love what you said about most new authors needing help with developmental issues. So true....

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  2. What a fabulous series of interviews. I came over to read Mayra's but ended up reading all of them. She's such a talented author. I've read her book on reviewing and highly recommend it.

    This comment by A. Leonard Lucas really caught my eye:

    "The publishing industry is losing courage, gravitating toward safe, meaningless literature, and that’s a threat people need to notice.

    There was a time when stories brought about world change."

    I feel this is true on more than one level. It seems like the industry isn't willing to step outside of trends and take a chance on something edgy these days. As a blogger I don't always review a book if I feel the controversy would be too hot for my readers. But it is those controversial books that force us to think.

    It also seems, however, that publishing is losing the courage to try new talent as often as in the past. It's like every time you visit the bookstore you see the same bestselling authors filling the shelves. Is it any wonder that many have gotten tired of waiting around for a contract and opted to self-publish instead?

    Thanks for these great post.

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  3. This was a very helpful, informative set of interviews. You've given me lots to think about!

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  4. Like Cheryl I visited to read Mayra's interview and stayed longer to read all the interviews! All informative and enjoyable to read. I especially enjoyed the opening "The Legacy of a Book Publicist!"

    Well done!

    Best regards,
    Donna

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  5. Loved your interview Mayra and as a fellow reviewer, I could certainly relate to the relationship between the moment of reading (the job of the fictive dream) and the analytical challenge afterwards when reviewing.

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  6. What great interviews. I too came over to see Myra (I guess you have a fan club) but really enjoyed all the interviews. Thanks

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  7. Wow, thorough interview! I have to agree with Magdalena about reviewing -- reading the book is the easy part. When it comes to writing your review...that's when it takes a LOT of thought, in my opinion. :-)

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  8. What an amazing blog! As a new writer, I found it most helpful. Ebooks are taking over the industry. As a writer, I still hope one day I will write a book worthy of a hardcover-dare to dream! It's even more unlikely now that print is becoming obsolete. Dina Rae

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