Thursday, March 31, 2011

Around the Word

Does America have the write priorities? Over at Slate, the celebrated baseball stat guru Bill James explores why the U.S. is so good at developing world-class athletes yet so lousy at producing comparably accomplished writers. Could the talent that was present in say, Shakespeare's London, be a random cluster? Or, James muses, are we at fault for our inability to hone the type of creative genius that precedes great authors?

The art of Kickstart: One of the most buzzed about DIY services on the Web these days is Kickstarter, a fundraising site that helps creative types quickly leverage small donations from around the globe to finance their projects. Nathan Bransford explains why this is a particularly useful tool for self-publishing authors and offers a series of tips for getting the most bang out of Kickstarter for your book.

In the "No": In her latest public service to struggling authors, literary agent Rachelle Gardner explains why it is so easy for agents to know when to reject a project -- and so much harder to say "yes."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Around the Word

No dough for Huffpo, yes or no? With all the harrumphing in the media universe about whether the unpaid bloggers at Huffington Post are being exploited or not, a team of researchers at UC Santa Barbara has decided to finally ask the bloggers themselves. As Forbes reports today, the Santa Barbarians have launched a survey of Huffpo regulars to find out why they do what they do -- and if they now want a share of that cool $300 million the site made in the recent sale to AOL.

The Justin Bieber-ing of politics: Politico takes on the hot political literary trend of "premature memorization," looking at the growing number of political memoirs being written by relative neophytes like Scott Brown, Christine O'Donnell and Rand Paul before they are even sworn into office.

eBook 2.0: GalleyCat gives us a preview of one of the latest greatest innovations in eBooks -- a cool new app that enables readers to mark up the text, copy and save passages, and tweet with a book title's hashtag without every navigating away from the digital text.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Around the Word

Borders Epilogue: If you are interested in getting past the teeth-gnashing about the Borders bankruptcy and understanding the broader implications, check out this excellent deconstruction in this month's Economist.  

Is there such a thing as being too social? We recently posted an item about how it's never too soon for authors to start promoting their books, even before a page is written. Over at Publishing Perspectives today, they offer a contrasting perspective about the dangers of being overly social online, questioning whether writers are too naked in front of their fans, losing their sense of mystery, and failing seduce audiences to read their work. 

Midwrite snack: Writer Dave Hakkens has done a tremendous favor for pen-chewing scribblers everywhere by creating an edible version made of candy (think sweet tarts or candy bracelets). Flavors range from peppermint to kiwi. Hakkens tells the full (if not filling) story on his site. 

Equal tip time for fiction writers: Most of the tips on getting published we posted yesterday from super agent Larry Kirshbaum applied to non-fiction writers. But we did not want our fiction-focused friends to feel left out, so we wanted to share a few inside words of wisdom from literary agent Rachelle Gardner's latest blog post about what fiction editors look for in a manuscript.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Super Agent Larry Kirshbaum's Top Tips for Writers

By Kristyn Williams

It’s 1996. President Clinton is three years into his first term, and so far as the public knows, he hasn’t yet (not) had sexual relations with a woman whose name, arguably, would grow to be more infamous than those words.

It’s 1996. David Baldacci, an unknown lawyer from Alexandria, Virginia, has been trying, unsuccessfully, for three years, to get his first novel, Absolute Power, published.

It’s 1996. Larry Kirshbaum the then head of Time Warner Book Group receives the manuscript from Baldacci’s agent and reads it over night. He describes the novel, the story of a President who believes everything he does, including his extra-marital affairs, is beyond the reach of repercussions, as “…one of these epiphanies that happen so rarely in ones editorial life.”

Sound like an overstatement? Maybe, but Kirshbaum backed it up by offering what was then an almost unheard of, $2,000,000 advance for the book. It became a best-seller overnight, and David Baldacci would go on to become one of the most celebrated thriller writers in America, with a total of 17 novels translated into 37 languages and more than 40 million copies in print.

So what does Larry Kirshbaum see and know that others don’t? Baldacci is just one of  Kirshbaum’s many noteworthy acquisition: He is responsible for launching the careers of Malcolm Gladwell, Alice Sebold, Anita Shreve, Nicholas Sparks, and Michael Connelly. And since leaving the editing world behind to start his own top-selling literary agency, Kirshbaum has represented books by Steve Forbes, David Ellis, and Anita Hill, among others.

Kirshbaum graciously agreed to share some of his inside insights at a meeting of the New York Speechwriters Roundtable last week, where he offered his Top 10 Tips for Writers searching for literary success. We thought our readers would benefit great from his words of wordly wisdom. So we took good notes – and would encourage you to do the same.
  1. Have a strong, simple thesis. Think “Elevator Pitch”-- you want to simply define your premise, but you also want to make sure you do it memorably.

  2. Whatever book you are writing, you MUST appeal to women. Women purchase about 70 percent of all non-fiction books, many of which -- especially self-help books -- with the intent to give them to the men in their lives. So remember, if you can’t see a woman buying it then you probably aren’t going to sell it.

  3. Have crisp and concise prose. Ever heard the phrase, “too much description spoils the broth?” Kirshbaum recommends looking to writers like Elmore Leonard for examples on how to write mainly using dialogue while interjecting tight, memorable one-liners.

  4. Study the competition. Writing a memoir? Go to Barnes & Noble and browse the first couple of pages of memoirs you think yours resembles. Take notes on what’s working. Like a famous editor once said, “Everything has been done before; the question is how do we get away with it one more time?”

  5. Establish your platform. We recently posted an item suggesting it’s never too early to start using social media to promote your book – the expert we cited advised launching your presence three years before your book comes out. Kirshbaum recommends you think about marketing from Day 1, before you even put the first word on paper. Remember, it isn’t enough to just write a book -- you have to be able to sell it.

  6. Develop a dazzling proposal. According to Kirshbaum, “It is very rare that the book is better than the proposal.” That isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, but just that editors will almost always judge the book by its pitch. Things to keep in mind when writing your proposal: Have a 2-3 page introduction, a few sample chapters (preferably in order, but it isn’t a deal breaker if they aren’t) and summaries of everything else.

  7. Marketing is key. This is one of the hardest things for writers to accept. Be sure to include a marketing section in your proposal. This is where you get to make use of the personal platform you’ve invested so much time creating. Highlight your uniqueness, the edge you have on the competition, and the contacts you have to help promote the work. Remember that you aren’t just writing your proposal for one specific editor, but for his colleagues as well. Colleagues that control the purse, if you get the drift.

  8. Find an agent. It is important to have someone that not only can interpret a book contract, but also understands the industry, negotiating on your behalf with the publisher. Kirshbaum recommends that the best way to find an agent is to look in the acknowledgement section of your favorite books. That way, when you query, you can establish your admiration of a work that they produced and/or know in advance that the agent you are querying is interested in works like yours. Agents can spot mass queries in a second -- and nothing turns like off like seeing their name misspelled. Invest a little bit of time and add that personal touch and you’ll be much more likely to reap rewards.

  9. Once you get a deal, invest in an outside publicist. During the Q&A session, someone in the audience mentioned how unfair it seemed that his publishing company had a dedicated marketing division but that he had to shell out for his own publicist if he wanted any real exposure. Kirshbaum’s comment was a curt, appropriately humorous “life isn’t fair.” The reason many authors should invest in their own publicists is that the publishing house is investing 90 percent of its time and resources in their superstars. Not to sound cruel, but if Stephanie Meyers comes out with a new installment of Twilight, it doesn’t matter if your book purportedly contains the secret location to the Fountain of Youth.

  10. If all else fails, self-publish. Self-publishing is rapidly evolving and no longer carries the same stigma of failure that it once did. Self-publishing gets you a book,  gets you exposed, and can generate great success. (Think Amanda Hocking who has sold more than 900,000 books since opting for a DIY approach.

Williams is an associate at Gotham Ghostwriters

Friday, March 25, 2011

Around the Word

Stories, Neuroscience, and Experimental Technologies. . . Leave it to the Pentagon to come up with a project title as bureaucratic yet mind-blowing as this one. According to The Book Bench Blog in The New Yorker, The Defense Sciences Offices (DSO) of The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at the US Department of Defense (DOD) assembled a group of linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other “ists” to answer the question raised by middle school English teachers across the country: “What makes a good story?”

Why is the government so interested in the nuts-and-bolts of narrative all of sudden? Have the DOD’s researchers found preliminary evidence that the best defense is a good prologue? One possible explanation the New Yorker came up with, courtesy of a Stanford literature professor, is that the project “may have to do with the rise of the conspiracy blogosphere and its power over otherwise rational mind.” Care to share your own conspiracy theory?

The Big Self-out, Continued: If you still think self-publishing is a gateway to the literary ghetto, just consider the gold-plated book deal that DIY author Amanda Hocking signed this week. After Hocking’s self-published books sold more than 1 million copies, St. Martin’s press bought her next four young adult novels for $2 million. The New York Times reports that Hocking has become “a reluctant spokeswoman for the practice of self-publishing,” but opted for a traditional publisher so that she could focus on her writing (though we would guess that the cash doesn’t hurt).

Automatic for the people, copy-editing edition: Are you one of those people who feels compelled to clean up your apartment before your housekeeper comes to visit? Then you will probably love a new tech toy called EditMinion, which writers with OCD tendencies can use to scrub their copy before sending to a human reader. According to a promo for the program on Galleycat, the rhetorical robot is still in beta testing, and it shows. We did a quick test and found it a little limited in its abilities, marking  any sentence with “is” as the passive voice. But maybe you'll have better luck. Try it out and let us know what you think.

GG Featured on Mediabistro

We are proud to report that our new Bookwriters division is being featured as Mediabistro's "Startup of the Week." You can find the full profile on Mediabistro's Webnewser blog.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How To Succeed In Publishing Without Really Writing

Most writers live in fear of the empty page. Shed Simove is cashing in on it.

With his latest effort, What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex, the author-comedian-entrepreneur promises to reveal “the true depth of a man’s mind”—all 200 blank pages worth. The book may be a one-liner made manifest, but so far, the sales have been no laughing matter. According to MediaBistro, Simove’s gag volume has sold out its first print run and hit No. 744 on Amazon, clocking in ahead of more “traditional” bestsellers The Da Vinci Code (2,910) and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2,406).

Capitalizing on the content-free success of his latest venture, Simove told AOLNews there’s more where that came from. "I am thinking about a follow-up called 'Reasons to Trust Politicians,'" he said. Inspired, we want to know: what are your best titles for blank books waiting to happen?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Around the Word

Today's spin around the Word Wide Web brings us a surprising twist to a self-publishing shocker, along with some news you can use about good speech titles and early online tidings.

The young and the restless: For all of the traditionalists who think self-publishing is kid stuff, top thriller writer Barry Eisler has news for you. The Times best-selling author made waves in the publishing world this week by turning down a $500,000 deal to put out the book on his own. But it was the story behind Eisler’s decision, as revealed by Galleycat, that really caught our attention. “My wife and daughter and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about what kind of contract I would do next, and with what publisher,” said Eisler. “And then my eleven-year-old daughter said, ‘Daddy, why don’t you just self-publish?’”

There IS something in a name: With the dust settled on this year’s Cicero Speechwriting Awards, our friend David Murray at Vital Speeches of the day noticed an unusual common element among the winners – there was a high correlation between good titles and good speeches. Some of our favorite examples (courtesy of Master Murray):
  • “Shift Happens”. . . If the speaker is willing to be this irreverent with a speech title, maybe the speech will be edgy too.
  • “Money: The Root of All Happiness?”. . . That’s a reversal of conventional wisdom that inspires the listener or the reader to resolve it.
  • “There Is More Than One Inconvenient Truth”. . . Again, we need to get to the bottom of this one. Is the speaker challenging Al Gore and his movie, or what?
Check out VSOTD to see more.

Social promotion (author style): When it comes to flacking your book through social media, Nathan Bradford argues on his blog that there is no such thing as too early – even before you have written a word. In fact, Bradford suggests the best time for authors to start flogging through blogging and tweeting the drums is three years before your book comes out. To make his case, Bradford cites this insight from social media marketing guru Seth Godin: “It takes three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, and build the connections you’ll need later.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meet SocialBook, a New Way to Get Your Group On

Move over, Google Docs, and, make room: there's a new collaborative writing tool in town. BookRix, an online site that allows writers to upload and share their work for free, has launched SocialBook, a program designed to facilitate one-step collaborative writing. You “design and create a theme or topic for the kind of content you’d like to bring together,” they explain, and SocialBook will automatically compile relevant entries from across the Internet into a custom ebook.

So far, content can be shared from Facebook, Twitter, and BookRix accounts—just identify your post as intended for SocialBook using a specific #hashtag, and the SocialBook software does the rest. Beyond facilitating group writing in general, SocialBook is perfectly designed to anthologize conversations and keep tabs on all those social media comments so often lost to the vortex of cyberspace.

Since both Facebook and Twitter posts have character limits, SocialBook seems best suited to compilations of quotes, jokes, one-liners, and brainstorms. But sharing longer content isn’t impossible—participants can contribute musings of any length via their own (free) BookRix accounts.

What do you think? Does SocialBook address your collaborative writing needs—or have you got some group-oriented tech tricks of your own?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Around the Word

Language may be evolving, but some rules never go out of style.

The times, they are a'changin', at least according The Associated Press Stylebook. As of 3 a.m. EDT, March 19, 2011, "e-mail" will be officially rechristened "email," reports John McIntyre on The Baltimore Sun's blog, You Don't Say. And that's not all. By tomorrow morning, "smart phone" and "cell phone" will also be fused into single words.

Is language doomed? On Sentence First, Stan Carey considers the popular debate, and assures us that--despite the perennial warnings of a certain "subset of prescriptivists"--the linguistic dark ages have yet to descend. "The idea that languages deteriorate is a persistent one, and not without foundation," Carey argues, noting that "languages change incessantly, and sometimes this takes the form of weakening or inflation or degradation. Sometimes it doesn’t."

What do you think? Are alarmed grammarians onto something, or is Carey right that language is simply a "hook on which to hang [our] worries about an uncertain future"?

For now, though, some classic grammatical principles still apply, and Ron Reinalda's here to help parse them. "Buckle your seatbelts," he writes in, "we’re going on a punctuation tour." Kicking things off with a quick review of the "basic and universal" period, Reinalda guides writers through the landscape of proper usage, from semicolons and quotation marks to those surprisingly-pesky question marks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creative Writing

Those grant proposals you've been writing while you pen your memoirs may be doing more than paying the rent. According to a new study, they're also giving your creativity a workout. "People think more creatively when they work on someone else's behalf, as opposed to for themselves," reports the Wall Street Journal. Apply those findings to writing, and ghostwriting may just be some of the most creative writing in town.

"Conventional wisdom is that the best creative work is done for an audience of one, but the authors theorized that people think in a more abstract, wide-ranging way when they work for other people—opening new creative paths," says the WSJ. "They may also be drawing inspiration from the pleasure of providing a good for someone else."

While the study is hardly surprising--anyone who's felt a creative rush from working within client-set limits can attest to the mental merits of "working on assignment"--it's validating news. What do you think? Does writing on behalf of someone else free you up to think in ways you normally wouldn't?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Around the Word: Speechwriting Edition

This spring, everything seems to be coming up oratory.

First off, the moment you speech geeks have been waiting for: the winners of the 2011 Cicero Speechwriting Awards have been announced. According to Vital Speeches of the Day’s David Murray, the competition was the fiercest in the history of the contest. Celebrate a year in rhetoric—and get inspired yourself—by checking out the winning addresses here.

To hear some classic speechifying as it was meant to be heard, tune into Say It Plain/Say It Loud, the new two-part American Radio Works documentary tracing “A Century of Great African American Speeches.” Later this week, Murray will be discussing the speeches—some of the most influential in American history—on VSOTD.

Meanwhile, Gotham friend and speechwriter Colin Moorehouse advises readers on the fine art of streamlining the daily speechwriting grind with technology. His tips range from the basic (encourage clients giving written feedback to use Word’s “Track Changes” feature) to the more advanced (using dictation software to work out a first draft). Moved by Moorehouse, we want to know: what speedy speechwriting secrets have you got up your electronic sleeve?

And what to do with all your newly-revamped speechwriting energy? Apply for speechwriting jobs, of course. Because while much of the media hiring landscape remains, well, less than robust, we’ve noticed an influx of speechwriting gigs in recent weeks: in the past week alone, five senior-level posts have come to our attention. The Clinton Foundation is looking for a senior speechwriter, while McGraw-Hill is on the hunt for a director of public affairs/speechwriter hybrid. The International Bottled Water Association is hiring a VP of Communications, ADP is searching for a new Senior Director of Communications—another “speechwriting plus” type post—and, for the globe-trotters among us, Novartis International wants a Switzerland-based Head of Executive Communications. For more information on any of these positions, drop us a line at (h/t Dana Rubin, David Murray, and Washington Speechwriters Roundtable).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Around the Word

Editors are silent heroes no more, at least not where Hugo Lindgren's concerned. On March 6th, the New York Times Magazine debuted its new Lindgren-era look (he succeeds Gerry Marzorati as the magazine's editor-in-chief). Among other changes, all  feature stories now end, movie-style, with the pieces' editorial credits. But are editor credits necessary, useful, or, to those outside the biz, even interesting? At Slate, Jack Shafer weighs in with a resounding "no." "I can understand that only as a vanity play to make them feel good about themselves," he writes, citing the new practice as reflective of "the growing fetishization of credit-making and -taking in our culture." What do you think--increased transparency or editorial vanity?

"If you die in some states and your son is appointed to handle your estate, he is the 'executor.' If it’s your daughter, she is the 'executrix.'" The Columbia Journalism Review takes on the history--and politics--of gendered "nouns of agency," from waitress to aviatrix to comedienne.

On the eve of International Grammar Day (March 4), a debate raging about the proper use of "whose" caused Visual Thesaurus' Neal Whitman to wonder: where can you turn when you're in a standard-usage pickle? We blogged about various crowd-sourced Q&A options here, but Whitman has older-school resources in mind. His first pick is the trusty Oxford English Dictionary, a tome (and corresponding website) lauded for its extensive and dispute-arbiting etymologies. Much cheaper is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage, which Whitman calls the "go-to source for questions about when and how just about any prescriptive rule of English grammar came to be." Finally, he recommends the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, a "doorstop" of a comprehensive guide. Whether you're on board with Whitman's choices or you've got some lesser-known tricks up your sleeve, we want to know: what's in your writerly library?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A New Resource for Freelancers

Every career freelancer has a horror story: the client that disappeared, the terms that changed, the check that never came. And in an age of plummeting media budgets, writers--already all-too-frequently paid only in "exposure"--have special brand of cautionary tale all their own.The advocates at the Freelancers Union are on the case, and they've just announced their plans for The Client Scorecard, a new community tool designed to help "make freelance fair."

The Client Scorecard aims to position itself as the freelancer's Yelp: instead of restaurants, though, the database will catalogue freelancers' experiences--the good, the bad, and the ugly. What was a client like to work with? Did they pay on time? Pay fairly? Provide the necessary tools to comfortably fulfill the contract? "Once it's live," promises the press release, "you'll use the Client Scorecard to scout out every new client and to report back after every gig."

To kick off the project, the union is asking contract-workers of all stripes--you don't have to be a member to weigh in--to take a short survey about the prospective service. Whether you freelance full-time or pen the occasional piece on the side, chime in here, and let them know how you see the Scorecard working for you and your fellow wordsmiths.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

For Every Step of the Writing Process, There's an App for That

We’ve been tracking writing-oriented smartphone apps since before the iPhone joined Verizon, from EasyWriter to Instapaper. The folks at Ragan have done us one better: from the sea of tech tools, they’ve culled the best apps to take you through every step of the writing process.

To get you inspiration, there’s 23,000 Great Quotes, which has quotes from over 7,000 authors organized into 20 categories and can be used even when you’re not online. For style guides and dictionaries, Ragan liked the AP Stylebook and the American Heritage dictionary app.
Once you’ve collected your thoughts, Ragan recommends organizing them with the popular Evernote, which can be used to create and reshuffle text notes, Web pages, photos, audio and screen shots.
To access your documents directly from your mobile device, try Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite, which allows you to create, view and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. And when you don’t have time to type, you can opine aloud to Dragon Dictation, a dictating app that gets better at recognizing your voice over time.
And when you get stuck? There’s an app for that, too. Streaks is a motivational goal-tracker that can help you achieve word or page count ambitions. And once your Smartphone-assisted project is complete, Cinch can share audio, text and photo updates across all your social networks.
What tops the list of your favorite writing apps?