Monday, July 29, 2013

New York Times Bestselling Author Shares Publishing Insights

Interview With NYT Bestselling Author Suzy Spencer

What type of books do you write?  I write journalism with an edge, specifically narrative nonfiction books about true murder and true sex. But I’m especially known for my true crime books, particularly Wasted, which is about Regina Hartwell, a wealthy young lesbian who was murdered by her girlfriend’s boyfriend – it was a New York Times bestseller and has been frequently featured on Investigation Discovery (ID) – and Breaking Point, which was about Andrea Yates, the Houston mother who drowned her five children.

What is your newest book about?  My newest book, Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality, is a departure for me in that it’s not written in third person. It’s a revealing memoir about my journalistic research into Americans’ alternative sex practices – such as swinging and BDSM. Secret Sex Lives was a Publishers Weekly fall 2012 pick in the memoir category, a Barnes & Noble editor’s recommendation, and was selected by Tampa’s Creative Loafing as one of the 10 most provocative books of 2012. It was also featured on Katie Couric’s talk show, Katie.

Thank God, Secret Sex Lives has gotten some terrific reviews, but one of my favorites came out just last week. It’s from The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health:

When so much writing about sexuality seeks to sensationalize and moralize, Secret Sex Lives is instead fresh, honest, and beautiful. It can be absolutely powerful and cathartic to hear the story of a person’s sexual journey, and Suzy’s story fits that description. The most powerful thing about Secret Sex Lives is that within it (possibly without meaning to), Suzy invites us to acknowledge, explore, and question our own sexualities. On her blog, Suzy best summarizes a great lesson to be learned from her book: “Think about how much better your life would be if you had someone who loved and accepted you and your sexual desires, just the way you are.” Give Secret Sex Lives a look, then tell a friend, a partner, or even a family member about it. Share and discuss this book, then perhaps we can all grow from this author’s research, exploration, and experiences.

Believe me, when I set out to write books, I never dreamed I’d be writing about true murder and true sex, and I certainly never dreamed I’d be reviewed by an organization called The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, though I’m happy I was.

What inspired you to write it? After nearly 10 years of writing true crime, I was burned out from all the tragedy and desperately needed to laugh. My agent suggested I write about alternative sex. I thought sex – or at least talking about sex – has always made me laugh, so why not? (Those who can do, do; those who can’t, make jokes about it.) I never comprehended how researching and writing such a book would completely change my life.

What is the writing process like for you?  
Painful!  Seriously, it is painful … especially when writing a memoir and being called to reveal things one doesn’t want to reveal about oneself. Beyond that, I’ve learned that writing massmarket paperback true crime is very different from writing trade paperback memoir.

In true crime, it’s all about the deadline and publication date. Since the publication date is often set before the contract is even signed, I’d spend a few months researching the story, then a few months whipping out the story. Both can lead to 12-18 hour days, especially as the book’s deadline draws near. After the manuscript is finished, there’s a quick edit and intensive vetting by the publisher’s attorney, and then the book is shipped.

In memoir, it’s all about the writing and the telling of a very personal story in the best way possible. It’s full of feedback, rewriting, editing, rewriting, feedback, rewriting, editing and on and on. Only after the final manuscript is written is the publication date set, followed by intensive vetting, creation of a publicity plan, prepping for that plan, etc.

Because memoir is so personal, for me at least, some days I could only write for a very few hours. In fact, in great contrast with true crime, I found my best work was written on days when I’d write for no more than four hours.

Let me emphasize, though, both genres involve deep dedication. True crime books require it because they are done so fast. And Secret Sex Lives required it because it took nearly eight years to research and write. This isn’t a job for quitters.

What did you do before you became an author? I was a reporter/researcher for Fortune magazine, then a freelance writer, then an editor for a jewelry trade magazine, then a freelance writer again.

How does it feel to be a published author? Certainly, there is great joy in holding a published book in my hands – that feeling of accomplishment, especially after eight years of researching and writing. But, for me, the joy is always coupled with anxiety as I worry about whether the book will sell, whether it will get any publicity so that people even know it exists, how readers and reviewers and those in the book will react to it, what the Amazon reviews are going to be like, and the, oh, dear, what’s my next book going to be? oh, my gosh, I’ve got to think about my next book.

Any advice for struggling writers? 
Know that your feelings of anxiety are normal. Even the most successful writers have them. In fact, when I freak out, I think of romance novelist Mary Lynn Baxter. For 30 years or so, Mary Lynn was hugely successful in the romance field. And every time she wrote a book she thought it was going to be terrible and after she finished it she thought she could never write another book. But her books were always successes and she always wrote another one, until she decided she wanted to retire and do something else.

Beyond that I would say remember that all writers – even the greatest ones – need an editor and copy editor. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that your work is perfect without editors. By the way, family, friends, and English teachers and professors aren’t editors unless they have worked for publishing houses in that capacity. They are family, friends, and English teachers and professors. Hire pros.

Where do you see book publishing heading? 
I don’t know where it is going, but I know where I’d like to see it go – where readers have options. If they prefer traditional books that they can cocoon themselves in while reading, I want that to be available for them. If they want interactive e-books with video and music, additional information at a click, optional endings, author interviews, and chats with other readers, I want that to be available to them. In fact, that aspect of publishing is what excites me, especially as I get to face the challenge of learning new skills. I’m psyched and ready to take on the challenge!

Now in stores, Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality, a memoir by Suzy Spencer, New York Times bestselling author. For more information, see:


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013

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