Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Who Is Really Qualified To Write Your Book?

The presentation of your book to others rests on several factors.  People will judge a book by its:

·         Topic or subject matter
·         Benefits potential
·         Competition
·         Cover
·         Title
·         Price
·         Author’s credentials
·         Publisher

There are other factors, some with greater weight than others, that figure into one’s purchasing decision.  But the ultimate decision could rest on authorship.

We know people will buy a book simply because the writer is well-known—a celebrity, a politician, an athlete, a newsmaker.  People will buy a book based on reviews, personal recommendations, out of need, out of ignorance, out of desire, out of impulse, and because they believe it will somehow help them.  It’ll solve a problem, entertain them, inform them, or inspire them.  But whatever the perceived benefit a consumer hopes to gain from reading your book will be tied to how he or she perceives your credentials.

Ask yourself:
·         Am I the best qualified to write this book?
·         Who owns this space and can my background measure up to that author?
·         What can I emphasize in my personal or professional experiences that would be a selling point    
           for this book?
·         Is there something in my background that I have to hide, downplay, or compensate for?

Depending on your book’s genre and topic, your credentials will come under scrutiny.  Would you buy a legal advice book from a non-lawyer?  Would you buy a book about diabetes from someone who is not an endocrinologist?  Would you buy an erotic novel from a 70-year-old accountant?  Maybe you would.  There are extenuating circumstances to everything.  But generally speaking, consumers demand books by “experts” and these experts have titles, degrees, or affiliations that comfort the reader. 

Not all readers demand their authors be famous or professionally qualified to write a book nor is a famous or credentialed author necessarily a great writer.  But all things being equal, as an author, you need to show how you are linked to what you write about.  You are sharing a scenario or image as to why you are the best qualified to write your book.

I have represented people with no credentials and it can be challenging.  I’ve also represented people with personal experiences as their credentials and the media can be hard on them too.  But is it fair that we dismiss an author or a book because we believe such a writer doesn’t pass some unofficial standard or litmus test.

After all, for all the doctors, therapists, and nurses that write books on health, diseases, and diets, are we really any healthier as a population?  For all the books written by CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business school professors, is our nation’s economy really so strong?  Maybe the perceived experts are not the only ones with a license to teach.  Maybe we need to at least hear alternate voices and non-traditional methods or ideas.  After all, today’s minority will be tomorrow’s majority.  How will anything change if we don’t change how we think, how we view things, and how we do things?

I am not suggesting we want books written by a bunch of stupid, under-qualified, counter- intuitive amateurs, but I am also saying just don’t look for cures to anything from long resumes, PhD’s, or the established and anointed.   

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Interview With Yale Publishing Course Director Tina Weiner

  1. Who is The Yale Publishing Course designed for? How long has it been around? The Yale Publishing Course held its first program in 2010 and is now in its third year.  It is a course, not a conference, and its curriculum is specifically geared to mid to senior-level professional from the book, magazine, and digital publishing industry.  The participants come  large and small companies from all over the world.  They hold jobs in all areas of publishing – editorial, marketing, digital media, new business development, finance, sales, design and production.

  1. What are some of the leadership strategies we need to know for book publishing? In today’s world of rapidly accelerating change, it is essential to be nimble, flexible, and willing to rethink traditional methods of publishing.  Publishers must understand the advances in technology and utilize them to full advantage. They also should acknowledge the pressures the transition to new ways of doing things place on their staff and invest in training them to learn new skills.  Publishers must be open to considering non-traditional ways to monetize content, extend their brand, and reach new readers.

  1. Some of the course speakers are leaders in the publishing industry.  Do they agree on everything? Why not? I don’t think it is possible for publishers to agree on everything given the uncertainties in today’s publishing ecosystem.  The goal of the Course is to present a variety of perspectives and strategies and facilitate discussions between the speakers and the participants which will allow them to consider and debate their options.  One thing everyone does agree on is that change, innovation, and uncertainty are today’s reality and, therefore, this is an exceptionally exciting time to be in publishing. Although there are many challenges facing publishers, there are also many opportunities to rethink their business strategies and expand their outreach.

  1. Where do you see the book publishing industry heading in the long-term? Although I believe there will always be a place and market for print, the industry will become increasingly digital and publishers will figure out ways to monetize digital content and expand their outreach as information providers.

  1. Do you think publishers should focus more on the Internet side rather than the physical book side? Is there evidence that a digital genocide of the printed book will not take place? Publishers need to determine what content is best suited for physical books and present and price it appropriately.  The same holds true for digital products which can sustain higher prices for various types of content.  Ultimately, publishers must reconcile how to produce and price content in ways fair to authors and acceptable to consumers.

  1. Any advice for book marketers seeking to figure out the best strategies to market their books? The best advice I can give them is to attend the Yale Publishing Course and hear what carefully selected industry leaders have to say on that subject.  They will also find they learn a great deal in conversations with their peers that take place outside the classroom.

Interview With Tracy Borman

  1. What type of books do you write? History books.  Usually biographies and so far always non-fiction, although I would love to write a novel one day.

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about? A seventeenth century witchcraft trial in England, and the context of the great witch craze during the reign of James I.  It was a terrifying and fascinating time, and this particular case contains all of the elements of a classic witchcraft tale. 

  1. What inspired you to write it? A novel by Hilda Lewis, who was a prolific historical novelist writing in the '60s and '70s.  Her books are impeccably researched, although fictional, and have been a real inspiration to me. 

  1. What did you do before you became an author? I worked in heritage - in fact, I still do.  I love both, and am very lucky to be able to do them.  I'm currently working for the Heritage Education Trust and for Historic Royal Palaces, mostly at Hampton Court Palace, so it's pretty much a dream job. 

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? The novelty of it will probably never wear off.  I still get such a thrill from seeing my books in print.  I would therefore urge any struggling writer to just keep at it, ignore the rejections (but listen to any constructive criticism) and keep the end goal in sight - ie seeing a copy of your book in Waterstones! 

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? Obviously e-books are becoming extremely popular, so it will be interesting to see how that marries up with more traditional forms of publishing.  Personally, I'm a fan of the real (paper) book and hope that they will never be phased out.

Interview With Author Lizzie Stark 

  1. What type of books do you write? I write reported narrative nonfiction books about subcultures.

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about? My first book, LEAVING MUNDANIA, examines the world of larp, or live action role play. Larp is similar to a theatrical play performed with no audience or script. Players assume a character, assemble a costume, and meet up at a pre-determined place or time to live out the lives of their characters. A game master -- the director or referee of this little world -- manages the performance, creating plot obstacles for the characters, managing the setting and props, and occasionally deciding the direction of the story. In the book, I examine the diversity and possibilities of larp as a hobby. The games that larpers play can be silly, serious, escapist, arty, and sometimes, life-changing.

  1. What inspired you to write it? I've always been fascinated by participatory culture, and I found it tremendously heartening that in this age of digital interaction, larpers make time to get together and create shared stories. That sort of community building, done face-to-face in real time has become an increasing rarity in my life.

  1. What did you do before you became an author? I worked as a journalist for the Daily Beast, and as a freelancer.

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? I am thrilled to be a published author, but it doesn't feel like I imagined it would. Like most writers, I often feel like a fraud, as if I've been claiming a title, "writer," that doesn't belong to me. I thought publishing a book would cure that, but the curative powers of publishing are only temporary. "Writer" is an active job description; writers write, so I feel like I always have to be working on new projects. At the same time, I'm delighted to have checked the first item off my bucket list (publish a book), leaving room for the second item on my bucket list (publish two books).

In terms of advising struggling writers, I'd say: don't give up. The most successful writers I know aren't necessarily the ones who write the most beautiful sentences; they're the ones who kept plugging through rejection and setback, the ones who got motivated by criticism instead of crushed by it. And if all else fails, remember why you are writing: it's profoundly satisfying, and it's fun -- even if publication never happens, those are great reasons to keep writing. 

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.

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