“Open a Vein” by Frederick Buechner

The following meditation is from a talk on the occasion of the presentation of the Whiting Writers’ awards:

 

I WISH THAT I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them, and I also wish that I had told them what Red Smith said about writing although I suppose it is possible that he hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet . . . What Red Smith said was more or less this: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”—another hematological image. From the writer’s vein into the reader’s vein: for better or worse a transfusion.

I couldn’t agree with Red Smith more. For my money anyway, the only books worth reading are books written in blood. . .

Write about what you really care about is what he is saying. Write about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing about them. Write not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion. Then the things that your books make happen will be things worth happening—things that make the people who read them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human. I believe that those are the best things that books can make happen to people, and we could all make a list of the particular books that have made them happen to us.

 

– Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Listening to Your Life

Written in Blood

 

The following meditation is from a talk on the occasion of the presentation of the Whiting Writers’ awards:

 

I WISH THAT I had told my writing students to give some thought to what they wanted their books to make happen inside the people who read them, and I also wish that I had told them what Red Smith said about writing although I suppose it is possible that he hadn’t gotten around to saying it yet . . . What Red Smith said was more or less this: “Writing is really quite simple; all you have to do is sit down at your typewriter and open a vein”—another hematological image. From the writer’s vein into the reader’s vein: for better or worse a transfusion.

 

I couldn’t agree with Red Smith more. For my money anyway, the only books worth reading are books written in blood. . .

 

Write about what you really care about is what he is saying. Write about what truly matters to you—not just things to catch the eye of the world but things to touch the quick of the world the way they have touched you to the quick, which is why you are writing about them. Write not just with wit and eloquence and style and relevance but with passion. Then the things that your books make happen will be things worth happening—things that make the people who read them a little more passionate themselves for their pains, by which I mean a little more alive, a little wiser, a little more beautiful, a little more open and understanding, in short a little more human. I believe that those are the best things that books can make happen to people, and we could all make a list of the particular books that have made them happen to us.

 

– by Frederick Buechner; Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry and later in Listening to Your Life

 

Planning a Launch

The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.  Stuff like:

  • Relationships (personal, professional, familial, or otherwise)
  • Media contacts
  • Research or information from past launches of similar products (what worked, what didn’t, what to do, what not to do)
  • Favors they’re owed
  • Potential advertising budget
  • Resources or allies (“This blogger is really passionate about [insert some theme or connection related to what you’re launching].”)

It is essential to take the time to sit down and make a list of everything you have and are willing to bring to bear on the marketing of a project. Aside from racking your own brain, one of my favorite strategies to kick off this process is simply to ask your world.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

The Jury of Twelve

While I wandered my way through my favorite sections of my favorite bookstore one evening, a voice over the public-address system announced that the acclaimed southern novelist Doris Betts was about to read from and answer questions about her new book. I confess to knowing little about her or her work. But the woman to whom I am married and her book club friends—a dozen or so of the smartest women I have ever known, by the way—rave about her. So I wandered over to the place where famous writers read in the hope this not-nearly-as-famous writer might learn a new trick to make him better at the craft.

 

After Ms. Betts read from her book, she took questions from the audience. Most of the questions were about characters and plot lines from previous books, questions asked by people who had been reading her novels for years. I kept listening because she was such a delight to listen to.

 

At some point I began to lose concentration. Probably I was surreptitiously glancing around the store to see if any of my books happened to be visible on the shelves, hoping that maybe even one or two might be face out, and so I did not hear the next question. But Ms. Betts’s answer came to me as clear as a bell. And a door of some sort opened for me.

 

Ms. Betts said that when she writes, she writes for a jury of twelve. It was an entirely new notion for me. She went on to say that some of the same people are always in the jury. At least one of her parents is always there, because she wants to please them. Permanent seats are marked for an old friend or two as well. She fills the remainder of the seats in the jury with specific people she wants to hear this particular story—a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, another writer, a reader who wrote her a letter, a character from a previous novel who was modeled after someone she knows. Then she writes the book to them and for them. Maybe even at them on some days, if I may bear witness from my own experience.

 

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

 

How Important Are My Title and Subtitle On My Book Proposal?

– by Christopher Ferebee

 

You know the old adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But all surveys on this topic point to the fact that book buyers do, in fact, do this. In a physical setting, the average buyer’s first impression is the cover, followed quickly by the title and subtitle, then they typically turn the book over and read the back cover copy, and if they’re still interested, they’ll open the book and look at the table of contents.

 

The digital space is causing somewhat of a shift, but in a way that is making a book’s title all the more important. The thumbnail size of your cover in most digital shopping spaces is too small for the artwork to significantly influence buying decisions. This moves your title and subtitle to the top of the list.

 

Typically, your book proposal is not going to include a cover for obvious reasons. But in my experience, acquisitions editors go through a pretty similar review process. This means your title and subtitle are paramount.

 

Your title and subtitle are the lenses your prospective agent or editor puts on and sees the rest of your proposal through.

 

One way to think of your title and subtitle is your book’s promise and premise. You are communicating right up front what the main take away from the book will be for your reader, and how you will deliver on that promise. The same is true in your proposal. The remainder of your proposal will be evaluated based on how well you are delivering on the promise and premise in your title and subtitle.

 

Now, having said all of this, I’d recommend holding your title and subtitle lightly. They often change from proposal to publication. But do not let this knowledge excuse your work on this. You want to come up with the very best title and subtitle you can because of the impact it will have on the evaluation of the rest of your proposal.

 

The above applies to non-fiction. Fiction is a different animal. I’m not aware of any real hard and fast rules in fiction titling other than you want something compelling. You want to engage the emotion of the reader in some visceral way, and this is an art form. But when it comes to non-fiction, I also often get questions about more obscure titles. What about successful books like Blue Like Jazz or Velvet Elvis? All I can tell you is, sometimes they work, most of the time they don’t. Unless you are an established author with a ready audience waiting for your next work, you need to broadcast clearly what your book is about, and your title and subtitle are where you do that.

 

When the Muse Shows Up

I have noticed over the years that when the Muse finally shows up, I am usually wandering around.

 

Wandering through the books I read over and over, I stumble upon an interesting notion, and the next few days and weeks are spent thinking of what draws me to that notion, and then words begin to come.

 

Wandering through my old journals—I try to read one or two of them each year while on retreat—I am reminded of a forgotten bit of my life, and the once-lost story finds a home.

 

Wandering the sidewalks in our neighborhood or through the park a few blocks away opens up a way of seeing something I never noticed before, and a bit of light appears in the dark of what I am trying to write.

 

“To remain silent and alone is to be open to influences that are crowded out of an occupied life,” writes Peter France in his book aptly named Hermits. Wandering around alone, in the absence of other voices, helps me find what I have to say, or at least what I have to say today. Tomorrow will be another day.

 

I rarely trust the Muse to show up on her own. I worry she has better things to do, better writers to inspire.

 

I do have complete faith that the best way to be found by her is to wander around, both literally and figuratively. If necessary, put the top down. Take a stroll through the park. Open up a book of quotes. Thumb through your journals.

 

If she is going to show up for me, it will be somewhere on the road between Horse Creek and Medicine Bow, between my house and the park, in the midst of the dance I do with the fountain pen on the page.

 

It will be when I am wandering, when I am following my nose.

 

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

 

 

What’s a Platform?

In my definition, a platform is the combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work – not just once, but over the course of a career.  So a platform is your social media and the stage you stand on, but it also includes your friends, your body of work, the community your work exists in, the media outlets and influencers who appreciate what you do, your email list, the trust you’ve built, your sources of income, and countless other assets. A platform is what you cultivate and grow not just through your creative work, but for your creative work, whatever it may be.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

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