A Sense of Place

A haunting sense of place should ripple off any good memoir once the cover’s closed, and you may reopen the front again as you would a gate to another land. Anybody with crisp recall can get half decent at describing stuff with practice. Hilary Mantel explains her own confidence in her memoirs as growing from their vivid physicality: “Though me early memories are patchy, I think they are not, or not entirely confabulation, and I believe this because of their overwhelming sensory power, they come complete, not like the groping, generalized formulation of the subjects fooled by the photograph. As I say ‘I tasted,’ I taste, and as I say ‘I heard,’ I hear; I am not talking about a Proustian moment, but a Proustian cine-film.”

As they do for Mantel, the sharpest memories often give me the spooky sense of looking out from former eyeholes at a landscape decades-since gone. The old self comes back, the former face. When that transformation happens inside me, it’s almost like I only have to set down what I see.

– Mary Karr “The Art of Memoir”

“Nothing Really Happens Until I Write”

Artists have long spoken of “the Muse,” inspiration personified. According to Webster’s, the Muse was “any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences.” Well, you are not at the mercy of the Muse. Repeat this statement to yourself until you believe it. You are not an artist who is unable to work until Miss Muse appears with her charms. You are not an empty vessel waiting to be filled or an instrument in God’s hand waiting for the hand to do something.

You are a participant. Even when God performed miracles out in the Old Testament wilderness, God required that some human being do something, such as talk to a stubborn pharaoh or pick up a staff and start walking. Even when we are waiting for further instruction or for an idea to form more clearly, we are active in some way. Creative work requires that we do something, and keep doing it. It’s the doing that brings the results.

As a writer I know that nothing really happens until I write. Now I may write for hours or days before what I write turns into anything meaningful. But I have to write for all those hours in order to arrive at the hour in which the “inspired” writing happens.

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

Sample Chapters in a Book Proposal

– by Angela Scheff

When putting together a nonfiction proposal, it’s important to have sample writing, but not your entire manuscript–unless specifically requested [see here for the reason]. So how many chapters should you include?
A good rule to follow is to include the introduction along with chapter one and two. That said, there are often reasons to deviate from this.

I often guide authors to submit a good sampling of what their actual manuscript will look like. For example, if you spend the first section discussing history or research in your manuscript, then also include another chapter or two from the middle of your manuscript so agents/editors can evaluate your writing from your other sections as your tone and subject matter will be different.
If your chapters are on the shorter side, you may want to include more so agents/editors can view more of your writing instead of just a few pages.

A few things to keep in mind:

• Your proposal as a whole (including sample chapters) should not be more than 50 pages or you run the risk of the entire thing not being reviewed.

• Your sample chapters should showcase your book, so pick the introduction (your proposal overview introduces the book to the agents/editors; your introduction introduces it to your readers) as well as the ones that best represent your concept and writing.

• Your sample chapters should be long enough for authors/editors to experience your writing. If you’re unsure and your proposal is under 50 pages, include another chapter.

• Have a few additional chapters completed that are not included in your proposal in case you receive a request for more.

• While you don’t have to have your entire manuscript written yet, you must know how your book will be laid out [see here for why].
Bonus tip: have your proposal reviewed by a few peers before you formally submit to an agent. Do they want to read more? It’s important to lay out your book so reviewers understand the entire concept and then leave them wanting more.

Accessing vs. Possessing

A reporter for TechCrunch recently observed, “Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provide, owns no real esate. Something interesting is happening.”

Indeed, digital media exhibits a similar absence. Netflix, the world’s largest video hub, allows me to watch a movie without owning it. Spotify, the largest music streaming company, lets me listen to whatever music I want without owning any of it. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited enables me to read any book in its 800,000 volume library without owning books, and PlayStation Now lets me play games without purchasing them. Every day I own less of what I use.

Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important that ever.

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

“Creative” Writing – by Frederick Buechner

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

SOMETIME IN THE early 1950s, for two years running, I taught creative writing at the summer session of the Washington Square branch of N.Y.U. . . . I was uneasy about teaching creative writing for a number of reasons, one of which was that I’ve never been sure that it is something that can really be taught—for better or worse, I don’t think anybody ever taught it to me anyway—and another that I had absolutely no idea how to teach it right if it was. But my main uneasiness came from somewhere else. Suppose, I thought, that by some fluke I did teach it at least right enough so that maybe a couple of people, say, learned how to write with some real measure of effectiveness and power. The question then became for me what were they going to write effectively and powerfully about? Suppose they chose to write effective and powerful racist tracts or sadistic pornography or novels about warped and unpleasant people doing warped and unpleasant things? Or, speaking less sensationally, suppose they used the skills I had somehow managed to teach them to write books simply for the sake of making a name for themselves, or making money, or making a stir. It seemed to me and still does that to teach people how to write well without knowing what they are going to write about is like teaching people how to shoot well without knowing what or whom they are going to shoot at.

– Originally published in The Clown in the Belfry

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.

 

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