The Flashback Structure

In terms of basic book shape, I’ve used the same approach in all three of mine: I start with a flash forward that shows what’s at stake emotionally for me over the course of a book, then tell the story in straightforward, linear time.

I wouldn’t suggest that shape for everybody, but I would say you have to start out setting emotional stakes – why the enterprise is a passionate one for you, what’s at risk – early on. That’s why the flashback structure, which I borrowed from Conroy and Crews (among thousands of other story tellers), is a time-honored one. It’s sitting on the coffin, telling the tale of a death – or rebirth, in my case.

– Mary Karr “The Art of Memoir”

Always Writing

I am always writing but not always writing a book. Days come when I am hitting in the cage, trying to stay sharp. I try to keep my swing grooved so when game time comes, the time to write a book, I am as ready as I can be.

I scribble away on other things, trying to keep my swing up to snuff.

I recommend all writers do the same.

I suggest journaling for one thing.

I began my first journal when I was twelve. I started out using an ugly little paperback with a Peter Max cover that my father gave me for Christmas. Over the years I have come to fill about two sketchbook pages a day with notes and comments, observations and wondering, thanksgiving and tirades.

The stillness and the quiet inherent in this daily exercise can help a writer stay in touch with what is going on in his heart and mind in the hours and days and weeks of his life. The simple act of reporting to himself helps him learn to talk straight about things that matter. A journal forces a writer to listen to his life.

A journal provides a place for him to learn to speak truth to himself about himself or discover his capacity for disingenuousness. A place to discover when he writes too fast or too glib, too carefully or too safely. A place to discover his voice slowly over time so that when the real game is afoot, he can trust it.

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside,” writes Dag Hammarskjöld. “And only he who listens can speak.”

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

Follow A Process

The healthy creative life follows a process…

• What do I know about the process of creativity?

• What have I discovered about my personal part in that process?

• What happens to me in the course of a creative work?

• Am I open to the influence this larger process can have on every aspect of my life?

• Am I willing to go where the process takes me?

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Interview with a Book Publicist: Shanon Stowe

– by Jana Burson

I thought it would be interesting to interview an expert in the field of book publicity. I asked my long-time friend and colleague Shanon Stowe if she would be willing to be interviewed and she graciously accepted. Shanon is co-founder and president of the book division of Icon Media Group. She has 17 years of experience in book publishing and has launched more than 50 New York Times bestselling books. Shanon formerly served as Director of Publicity for Hachette Book Group, Publicist for Thomas Nelson, Inc., and also co-owned PS Media Relations.

Shanon, you’ve been doing book publicity for quite a few years now. What would you say are some of the biggest differences in publicity today from when you started 17 years ago?

Books and authors are two of my very favorite things! I’m fortunate to have worked in the book publishing industry doing publicity for my entire career. Many things have changed over the years, but the first thing that comes to mind are the types of media coverage opportunities.

Back when I first started, opportunities seemed unlimited–we had everything from a huge variety of daily radio and TV talk shows to countless daily newspapers and a plethora of magazines to choose from. Writers and editors were aplenty and you could always find a book editor who was likely to care about your project.

As the digital age has grown, we’ve seen a huge shift in all forms of communication and gone are the days of every newspaper having a book editor and countless radio and TV opportunities to choose from.  But we’ve quickly seen a rise in other forms of media including social media platforms, podcasts, blogs and online news sites. Initially it felt like all the good opportunities were gone, but in reality, we have more now than ever before. We just have to be more creative and open-minded about new media and digital opportunities.

What are some of the greatest challenges to having what you consider to be a successful publicity campaign for a book launch?

The number one component of a successful publicity campaign is a willing, able and eager participant. The engagement of an author is vital to the success of the campaign. Believe it or not, some authors are just not interested in promoting their book. Others are only interested in promoting it with “major outlets.” And others cancel their media interviews a few hours before going on air, or simply don’t show up … which is even worse. This behavior sends a message to the media outlet and the publicist about just how seriously the author takes promoting their book and how little they value another person’s time and investment in their message. This kind of behavior also hurts the publicists’ credibility and relationship with their media contact.

Another major challenge is the competition for coverage created by the sheer volume of books being published. Estimates are that anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million books are published in the United States each year, with at least half of them being self-published. And they all want to be on the TODAY Show. Can you imagine a producer or writer wading through their email, voicemail and regular mail from all the publicists pitching these books? Having a well-connected publicist is key!

What would you say are your primary responsibilities when your firm is hired for a book publicity campaign?

My first responsibility is to know my media contacts, understand their wants and needs, and to serve them well. If I don’t get that right, I cannot be an asset to my clients. My primary responsibility to my client is to invest in their project and help craft the best messaging and pitch for positioning to media. Once the messaging is right, our sole focus is pitching and pitching and more pitching. Bottom line: we’re paid to garner as much impactful coverage as possible for the book and author.

What, in your experience, are some of the biggest misnomers about book publicity?

  • It’s easy.According to CareerCast, a PR professional has the 6th most stressful job in America, falling just after military, firefighter, and airline pilot! Enough said.
  • Media responses/bookings are in the hands of the publicist.Nothing is more frustrating for your publicist than a media outlet that isn’t interested in or is unresponsive to a pitch. A publicist wants to land as much coverage as possible for their client, but it takes time. Sometimes it takes a really long time. I recently landed a major show for a well-known author that was 5 years in the making. Seriously, I pitched the producer on this piece for 5 YEARS! In the end it was all about timing–the media outlet’s timing. It’s also worth noting that after the piece was taped, it took 5 more months to make it on the air.
  • My book failed and it’s the publicist’s fault. I’ve heard it all: the publicist didn’t do their job, wasn’t good at their job, didn’t pitch me/the book correctly, didn’t make any follow up calls, doesn’t have the best contacts, etc. At some point you have to realize that sometimes a topic doesn’t resonate, or the timing isn’t right, or that the media contact just flat out does not care. Berating the publicist about whether or not they called a producer two more times or over the exact wording they used in their pitch is not helpful. If your publicist has a proven track record of success, I promise, it’s not them.

You’ve worked with some of the most well known authors in the business, as well as with first-time authors and everyone in between. What advice would you give to an author who’s just secured their first book deal and will be working with a book publicity team in the coming months?

First of all, congratulations! Being published is an honor and the professionals inside and outside the publishing house who are helping you carry your message to the world are a treasure. A few things to remember about the publicist you encounter:

  • Your publicist is excited about you and your message.
  • Be nice to your publicist. Your publicist is the person on the front lines representing you and your message to media. Send them flowers. Or chocolates. Or jewelry. Just kidding … kind of.
  • Ask questions and be open to honest feedback. Ask your publicist about her media goals for your book and for her honest opinion about media possibilities. Be willing to hear it: your publicist is talking to media on a regular basis and has her finger on the pulse of what will and won’t work.
  • Be flexible and available. When your publicist asks you to do an interview or write an article on the fly, try to accommodate. Be willing to move heaven and earth to promote your book. Not only will it show your investment, but it also motivates your publicist to work harder for you.

 

The Universal Book

So what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas? Four things:

First, works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near zero audience they usually have now. It becomes easier to discover that labor-of-love masterpiece on the vegan diets of southern Indian priests. Far out in the long tail of the distribution curve – that extended place of low to no sales where most of the books in the world live – digital interlinking will lift the readership of almost any title, no matter how esoteric.

Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked. That includes all the yellowing newspapers, unused telephone books, dusty county files, and old ledgers now moldering in basements. More of the past will be linked to today, increasing understanding today and appreciation of the past.

Third, the universal networked library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority. If you can truly incorporate all texts – past and present in all languages – on a particular subject, then you can have a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do and don’t know. The empty white spaces of our collective ignorance are highlighted, while the golden peaks of our knowledge are drawn with completeness. This degree of authority is only rarely achieved in scholarship today, but it will become routine.

Fourth and finally, the full, complete universal library of all works becomes more than just a better searchable library. It becomes a platform for cultural life, in some ways returning book knowledge to the core. Right now, if you mash up Google Maps and monster.com, you get maps of where jobs are located by salary. In the same way, it is easy to see that, in the great networked library, everything that has ever been written about, for example, Trafalgar Square in London could be visible while one stands in Trafalgar Square via a wearable screen like Google Glass. In the same way, every object, event, or location on earth would “know” everything that has ever been written about it in any book, in any language, at any time. From this deep structuring of knowledge comes a new culture of participation. You would be interacting – with your whole body – with the universal book.

– from ”The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

Life Itself Has a Plot

– by Frederick Buechner

 

The alphabet of grace is full of sibilants-sounds that can’t be shouted but only whispered: the sounds of bumblebees and wind and lovers in the dark, of whitecaps hissing up flat over the glittering sand and cars on wet roads, of crowds hushed in vast and vaulted places, the sound of your own breathing. I believe that in sibilants life is trying to tell us something. The trees, ghosts, dreams, faces, the waking up and eating and working of life, are trying to tell us something, to take us somewhere. If this is above all a Christ-making universe, then the place where we are being taken is the place where the silk purse is finally made out of the sow’s ear, and the word that life is trying to speak to us is that little by little, squealing and snuffling all the way, a pig either starts turning into at least the first primal, porcine version of a hero, or else is put out of his piggish misery. At the heart of reality-who would have guessed it?-there is a room for dying and being born again.

 

How do I happen to believe in God? I will give one more answer which can be stated briefly. Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots. After awhile, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot. And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.

 

– from The Alphabet of Grace

Get in touch!