Archive for the ‘American Society of Journalists and Authors’ Category

More Than A Memoir

May 10, 2007

The writing community has been stirred and drawn to “memoirs.” It’s given writers great hope they can find a traditional publisher for their personal story. Such hope is filled with danger because many of those personal stories don’t have the national pull to become a bestseller. The majority of them are rejected almost immediately and if they appear in print, they are magazine articles. To all of these “regular practices” and “unwritten rules” within the publishing community, there are exceptions. I wanted to tell you about one of these exceptions and why you should rush out to read: If I Am Missing Or Dead, A Sister’s Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation.

Behind the scenes, I’ve been gently cheering for this book and I’m glad to be able to tell you about it here–and other places such as my Amazon review. Janine Latus is a long-time friend and fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. From a distance, I’ve watched her hone her writing craft in many mainstream magazines and excellent journalistic writing. In October 2005, O magazine ran an intense personal story called “All The Wrong Men.” Janine’s article was selected as an award winner at the ASJA 2006 conference. This article was the springboard for Janine’s book proposal for her first book. The proposal set off an intense bidding war which Simon and Schuster eventually won.

Janine wrote the book at a nearby coffee shop. In my view, the writing process of telling such a personal story must have been difficult and draining. The process of reliving the experiences captured in this book must have been tough. For a first-time author, I was interested to learn S & S printed over 120,000 copies, which indicates their expectations for this book. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review (scroll down to see it from this link). Other reviews have appeared in People and Entertainment Weekly. If you go to Starbucks (I’ll admit not to being a frequent customer), then I understand If I Am Missing is selling a flash drive with the first chapter of the book and part of the money goes to Amy’s Courage Fund. The book is a tool to spur the movement against domestic violence. It is much more than a moving memoir. If you get the book, you should know besides being riveting, it does include some graphic language. Because I don’t typically read or write these types of books, I just wanted you to be aware of what’s inside the pages and not be shocked at my recommendation. It’s true to life so the material is included. After reading the book, my admiration for Janine has grown. Her desire is for the book to be an integral part of a movement against domestic violence. I celebrate the creation of things like Amy’s Courage Fund as a means to help women who are trapped escape these abusive relationships.

I will probably write more about If I Am Missing Or Dead in the future. For now, celebrate this new book and go to your favorite bookseller and pick up a copy.

A Stirring Place for Ideas

April 27, 2007

For the last several years (maybe five), the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference has included a feature called the Idea Marketplace. Different vendors who want to reach writers have a little exhibit and pass out information during the conference. I’ve always found my interaction with these people stimulating for ideas and research.

Many of these exhibitors try to stir interest with interesting giveaways that make an impression. This year Memorial Hermann Health Care Systems was giving away jump drives or memory sticks which contained their press kit. It was not a hard sell to get me to put one of these little boxes into my bag and then use it. The New York Public Library gave away a beautiful full-color bookmark along with information on their services. Pharmavite was handing out vitamins with their information plus they gave out a DVD that shows how vitamins are manufactured. The American Academy of Osteopathic Surgeons were back with their writing pens that look like a large bone (always a conversation piece and a functioning writing instrument). The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing people were handing out small Teddy Bears along with ornate luggage tags and a reporter’s notebook (each item included their website address and contact information). Even the United States Government was exhibiting with their little red, white and blue uncle sam hats (a stress relieving device). The Society of Professional Journalists were handing out plastic mugs which asked the question, “Has your career gone cold?” Then when you add a hot beverage, it changes and shows logo for (part of their society).

Ok, I picked up a bunch of different gadgets and stuff. What’s the pay off for that exhibitor? They are stirring ideas and resources for writers. Months down the road when I need some bit of copyright information, I can turn to the USA.GOV website and search for it because I have a little uncle sam hat stress relief gizmo. Or if I write about health and need some resources to interview, I can contact Memorial Hermann because their press information is on a memory stick that I carry with me.

The payoff for the writer is stimulation of ideas for magazine articles or books. It was a terrific spot to walk around and collect information and another one of the benefits from attending the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference. As writers, we have many different ideas. The key will always come in the execution. How can you take one of these ideas and carry it into action?

Learn From the ASJA Award Winners

April 25, 2007

One of the annual highlights of the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference is the member day meetings. This year for the first time, the information about the member day was included in the public brochure. Only ASJA members can attend the member day, which is held the Friday before the public Saturday and Sunday conference. Because of this restricted access, there is typically a rush of applications to the membership committee in the weeks prior to the conference.

Each year, the number of members attending the annual conference has been increasing. In the last five years, the ASJA has grown from 1,000 members to now over 1,300 members. This year for the Friday awards luncheon, the event was moved from a smaller ballroom into a much larger place so the entire group could comfortably fit into the room.

Over ten years ago, one of our members wrote a book with Roselynn Carter. President and Mrs. Carter were invited to attend the ASJA members-only luncheon and came to the event. I received an incredible opportunity to meet a former President of the United States and I told the full story several years ago.

At the luncheon, the awards committee presents a series of awards to members for their outstanding contributions to nonfiction writing in books and magazines. They announce the winners and normally the articles are available at the end of the session for members to read and study the craft of these writers. This year, the committee tried something different. Instead of massive duplication of these articles, they gave us a press release with links to each of these articles. The press release is available online. I suggest you study these articles as another means to increase your insight into the craft of writing.

A Dose of Encouragement

April 24, 2007

No matter where you are in the writing world, each of us need it–a solid dose of encouragement. While some people think I make it look easy, it’s not. I continually struggle with writing the right things at the right time on the right day. Like every writer, I have screaming thoughts as to whether I’ve put the right thing down at the right time.

I’ve returned home from a whirlwind trip of five days at a family wedding in Southern California. We drove back from California to Arizona a little over a week ago. That evening I reorganized my suitcases and took off early the next morning for five nights in New York City. I’m delighted to be home for a few days (very few since I travel again in less than a week). My trip to New York was predominately a part of the annual conference for the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which is the leading nonfiction writers group in the nation. I was a bit amused when a fiction writer stopped me in the hall way and said we should have more on our program for novelists. This writer noticed my “board member” ribbon on my name badge. I patiently explained the nonfiction emphasis of the society and how we had intentionally limited our fiction offerings. It didn’t help this writer figure out which panel she would attend for her next session (which was her immediate need). I had countless interaction on many different levels during these sessions. It’s part of the reason that I attend this conference because I never know what terrific thing can happen from a single conversation. I’ve seen it happen many times in the past and know it will come from these meetings as well.

While the link to the tapes of these sessions is not yet on the ASJA website, please keep track of this link. If you could only choose one offering (and there were many outstanding sessions), I’d suggest you get Jeannette Walls keynote address on Saturday. Jeannette is the author of the bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle. If you haven’t read her book, I recommend it. If you don’t know the story, Walls is a journalist who writes about celebrities for MSNBC. The Glass Castle is her personal memoir about her growing up years. The book remains on the paperback bestseller list and many reading groups and others are using this book. Her talk was a great encouragement to any writer. I will give you several of her points. First, she underestimated people’s reaction to her story. Walls was certain that she would lose her job at MSNBC if people knew her true story. Then she spoke about how each writer needs to determine what is the story and what is their own perspective on the truth? “The truth is whatever you choose to make it. With any story that you tell, you choose how you will tell it and how you will shape it.”

“Painful memories are difficult to include but you have to put it in. You need to get the whole story down on paper then choose which parts you will ultimately keep,” Walls told us. “Substantial nonfiction writing is sharing the experience. It’s about honesty and being honest with yourself. We all have our fears. Our biggest demon is to face our fears. It can’t hurt you. Harness it and use it for good. Don’t be afraid to look them in the eye and face them down.” Later she told us, “I believe the truth shall set you free and I’m living proof of that.” Walls encouraged each of us to chase our dreams as she has done.

There were over 700 writers in the room at this luncheon. I don’t know how Jeannette Walls impacted the others but for me, she certainly gained a fan of her work and her writing.

The Value of Papers

March 25, 2007

Allow me to speculate about something for a moment within publishing. I doubt few authors realize the value of their paperwork when they are in the process of creating it. I’m talking about the numerous drafts of a novel or the various gyrations that a nonfiction book passes through during its path to completion. Or what about the correspondence between authors and well-known people for the gathering of endorsements and other parts of the business.

Several years ago, an author now turned agent talked asked me if I had a plan for donating my papers some place. I scoffed at the idea of my paperwork being valuable. Actually I’ve moved and sorted about three or four times since that conversation. Another one of my author friends told me that three moves equals a fire. I believe there is some wisdom in that statement since each time we move I pare down the extra paperwork from different projects. In other words, I toss them into the trash in the moving process. If I really stop and think about it, my files do have a few letters of correspondence with well-known personalities. In terms of single letters, they probably don’t have much value but the gathering of them might.

I started thinking about this matter from an article in today’s Book Section of the New York Times which profiles a true paper chaser, Glenn Horowitz. It showed me a different side of the publishing business which is active and viable yet rarely highlighted.

The Tricky Balance

March 21, 2007

With increasing frequency I hear this little statement, “Talking about writing is much more fun than actually writing.” It’s true in some respects. Carefully crafting words on paper is hard work. It’s disciplined work and something you have to focus on and make happen. I know these elements firsthand because of the writing deadlines I’m facing–doing and completing all the time. For example, in the last week, I’ve completed a new Ebook which you will be hearing about in the coming days (now in the production process).

Often the first step for many writers is to learn the craft of writing and regularly practice their craft through magazine articles, articles for websites, book proposals and books. It’s one part of the process. Also I listen as some writers ignore another key part of the process–the personal marketing, platform building and promotion. Call it what you want but there is also a necessity to devote a certain level of energy toward this process. You can’t delegate this process to your book publisher or you will likely be disappointed with the results. This result is particularly true if you are a beginning writer and new in the process or in the middle-selling part of the pack.

Today I read a fascinating article from Marisa D’Vari who is one of my colleagues in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. We’ve met at our conferences. In the January/ February issue of Pages, D’Vari wrote “Platform Shoe-Ins, How Does Savvy Marketing Build A Bestseller?” This article isn’t available online–and I just found the reason (Pages is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy). Here’s a couple of relevant paragraphs to this discussion from D’Vari, “Victoria Moran, author of the bestselling Creating a Charmed Life: Sensible, Spiritual Secrets Every Busy Woman Should Know, takes a spiritual view of what it takes to create a bestseller, despite the fact she spends several hours a day building buzz for her books and hosts a radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio’s Martha Stewart Living channel. “I do the footwork–the website, the online newsletter, working with speakers’ bureaus–yet what has really made magic for me is just showing up,” she says. “By believing in my message and that there’s a place for it in this world, great stuff has just come to me.”

“Media attention can create awareness of the author’s name, but what makes a bestseller is the right book at the right time with the right buzz. A large promotional budget can help launch a book, but it’s self-defeating for a shy author to appear on Good Morning America or embark on a book tour. Making a personal connection with readers can go a long way to building a readership, but in the end, Moran may be right–all an author can really do is believe in her message, promote the book as well as she can, and leave the rest to the universe.”

Notice the huge “footwork” Moran is doing to get out in front of the public. Also the way she believes in her message then is waiting for the right book at the right time. It’s a tricky balance.

Controlled Success

February 27, 2007

Some days as I slug along in the trenches of publishing, I believe I could enjoy a bit more success if it came my direction. I know success is all in how you define it. Through my years in publishing I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people and have some terrific opportunities. The projects continue to come and I’m grateful for each experience.

In past posts, I’ve mentioned the final page of Publishers Weekly called Soapbox. They have different industry people give their perspective on some part of book publishing. Often I learn something and find it fascinating. February is African American Month. Several years ago I wrote a book which released in this month called Running On Ice by Vonetta Flowers, the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics. In the February 19th issue of PW, Curt Matthews, CEO of Chicago Review Press Inc wrote the Soapbox column titled “A Killer Bestseller.”

How could a bestseller be a killer? It’s one of the rarely explained aspects of publishing–at least to authors. Every author assumes they finally write a great book and it lands on the bestseller list (which is often an orchestrated miracle). Then the author figures their book sells and sells. As Matthews explains in this short article, the publisher has to control their enthusiasm and success. I’m talking about the print runs for your book. If the publisher grows heady and unwise about how many books are moving out of their warehouse into the bookstores, they print too many copies. What happens when these books don’t sell after a certain period and are returned? The returns can be a killer to a publisher–even from a bestseller. While it’s not reported in the press, it happens. The supply chain is a delicate dance. You want it to be full so no one runs out of books yet you don’t want to print too many and get stuck with the returns.

These types of book controls are happening throughout the publishing industry and someone in each publishing house is monitoring these numbers–at least if they want to have a killer bestseller on their hands. Most authors are oblivious to this important part of the process.

In April, the American Society of Journalists and Authors will have our annual conference. Jeanette Walls, author of the bestselling memoir called The Glass Castle, is our keynote speaker for the large Saturday gathering at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. As usual, I’ve ordered Walls’ book and plan to read it before the event. Checking different sources on, I bought my book from Wal-Mart (a first time experience for me with books through their online site). This morning I received an email informing me The Glass Castle is backordered and they are trying to get this situation resolved as soon as possible. I admire that Wal-Mart had a system in place to tell me this information but as a first-time customer, my experience isn’t going too well for future orders. It depends on how quickly they are able to resolve it. I suspect this backorder has something to do with the exact subject discussed in A Killer Bestseller.