Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Around the Word

BEA postscripts: The attendance figures for last week's BookExpo America are out, and the numbers were essentially flat compared to 2010 (down less than two percent). Bad omen? Or good news, all things considered? Check out this report from Publisher's Weekly and you be the judge. Once you are done, you can get a full flavor of who was actually there from this fun, witty analysis from Bloomsbury Press publisher Peter Ginna (aka Doctor Syntax) of the cast of characters who regularly populate BEA -- such as the swagaholics, schnittmans, and carrots.

Wanted, dead or alliterative: Last week we learned that the U.S. government has commissioned an intelligence unit to analyze the metaphors used in various languages for terroristic and other tips. This news inspired quite a bit of tittering from across the pond, with Michael Rosen of the Guardian exploring some of the "frightening" conclusions this over-interpretative Metaphor Program could reach to lampoon our spooks. For example, take these famous lines from Wordsworth: "The world is too much for us; late and soon/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers./ Little we see in Nature that is ours." Might the great romantic poet be labeled "anti-bourgeois subversive -- someone who will need to be watched." Or consider Hamlet's well-worn soliloquy or warriorisms ("slings and arrows of outrageous fortune"). "Clearly, Hamlet is a potential terrorist," Rosen writes. "And indeed he was. Or rather tried ineffectually to be. But the writer who conjured him up? Probably not."

How to become a pro at proposals: If you're new to book proposal writing game, or just looking for ways to sharpen your edge, we encourage you to chew on this tough-love post from the staff at Barrett-Koehler Publishers we recently unearthed. Though many writers think they have a great memoir or other nonfiction work to offer, there are some challenging questions you have to ask yourself before developing a viable, compelling pitch and getting it bought. For example: Is this book really needed? Why am I qualified to write this book? How will you actively market your book?

Finding the write quote: Knowing that writers may be the most self-referential beasts on the planet, literary agent Rachelle Gardner has posted a short, snappy guide to great adages about our craft. While some are philosophical -- "Only a mediocre writer is always at his best" (Somerset Maugham) -- others offer insightful practical advice. Take this gem from Kurt Vonnegut: "When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away, even if it's just a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaningless of modern life still have to drink water from time to time."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Around the Word (Catch-up Edition)

Now that we're done with BEA and our big workshop debut, we have been catching up on this week's news from the Word Wide Web. Here's a sampling of the stuff we found worth sharing.

Ditch the dash: Nothing gets writers fired up like vaguely-defined pieces of punctuation. In the latest flare-up in the grammar wars, Slate writer Noreen Malone recently made a full-throated case -- which we have mixed feelings on -- against the em dash. This all-purpose piece of punctuation is often overused, Malone contends, resulting in clunky, confusing sentences. The em dash was famously a favorite of the poet Emily Dickinson, and some literary critics see her use of the em dash as a sign of mental instability. So if you want to avoid writing that reads as crazy, Malone suggests, cut down on the number of em dashes -- though they can be useful at times -- in your prose.

The books of Ruth: The term "best seller" has been affixed to a wide range of novels, from The Grapes of Wrath to Valley of the Dolls to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Is there a common element to these divergent titles? To try to answer that question, writer Ruth Franklin devoted herself to reading more than 50 years worth of chart-toppers -- from the historical fiction of the early 20th century to the scandalous literary fiction of the 1960s to the crime-dominated charts of today. You can find her fascinating findings on Book Forum.

Leading literary locales: Amazon.com just released a list of the top 20 most well-read cities in America. Amazon created their list by compiling magazine, book and Kindle sales by location. Though New York didn't make the list -- maybe we're too busy hanging out at independent bookstores? -- cities from Seattle to Cincinnati to first-place Cambridge, Massachusetts did. And, since Florida is blessed with beach-read season pretty much year round, it was the state with the most cities on the list.

Learn to speak R2D2: Researchers at an Australian lab are deepening our understanding of how language develops by working with robots that have created their own lexicon. According to the BBC, the brilliant bots are programmed to make random sounds to signify locations around the office, name the places, tell other robots about them and play games using the locations. Sounds pretty cool to us, as long as they don't turn evil and we have to rely on Will Smith coming out of his super-sized trailer to save to world.

How to bring brio to your CEO bio: Executive biographies often read like laundry lists of leadership feats. But Ragan writer Russell Working reminds us that they don't have to be boring, offering a passel of tips from PR experts for spicing up this corporate staple. Using quotes, anecdotes and even a little humor can help you create a statement that will showcase your CEO's most likeable attributes and read more smoothly than a stuffy resume.

Call for commencement speeches: Our friend David Murray of Vital Speeches of the Day is compiling exemplary commencement addresses for the August issue of VSOTD. If you have written, read or heard a fantastic speech this graduation season, send your tip to him at vseditor@mcmurry.com by the June 27 deadline.

Ghostwriting Workshop Takeaways (Part II)

In the first installment of our workshop recap yesterday, we broke down the advice from our expert panel (Ellen Neuborne, Jason Ashlock, and Dan Gerstein) on how to go about landing your first ghostwriting client. Today we delve into the logistics of getting down to business and what it takes to build a ghostwriting practice.

Look and Act Like a Pro

Even though you're just beginning to navigate the waters of writing-for-hire, it's essential that you establish yourself as a professional. Writing may be your art, but that's only one half of the project at hand: you're also running a business -- a business for which you're the CEO, marketing department, and administrative assistant all rolled into one. Neuborne estimated she spends about half of her work day writing, and the other half building and managing client relations.

For the freelance ghostwriter, "work day" is a key term. Even if you're working on projects round the clock, Neuborne advised that you make your availability clear to your clients -- and that you make sure your availability isn't 24/7. "I don't give out all my numbers," she said. One business number and one emergency number is plenty, and just because you have three email addresses doesn't mean your clients need them all. Drawing boundaries between your personal life and your professional life helps develop what Neuborne called a "business mindset," and, she added, "people pick up on the vibe."

Similarly, all three panelists were quick to stress the importance of your web presentation. Personal vacation photos and over-sharing blogs may have their place on the Internet, but they definitely shouldn't appear on the page you use to present yourself to potential clients. Any content should be "an extension of your professional self," said Gerstein -- "that means no pictures of your cat."

The Act/Art of Pricing

At some point, you have to have "the talk" with a potential client: how much, exactly, are you going to charge? For better or worse, there's no easy answer. The fee depends on a confluence of considerations: the skill and experience of the ghost, the resources of the client, the scale and scope of the project, and the expected turnaround time, for starters. In other words, it's almost impossible to quote a fair price without first discussing the project details.

What do you say, then, when a prospective client asks you for numbers? The trick, says Gerstein, is to avoid getting too specific too fast -- you don't want to dodge the (perfectly reasonable!) question, but accuracy is key. Once you've tossed out a number, renegotiating tends to breed ill-will, and it's all too easy to find yourself working for less than minimum wage. A simple, direct answer -- something like "I want to get you a realistic quote as soon as possible, but I need to know more; so let's talk about it. . ." -- can help you get the information you need without alienating the client.

The Paper Chase (aka Contracts 101)

Negotiating contracts might not be the most glamorous part of the ghosting gig, but it's an essential piece of the professional puzzle. While Ashlock advocates enlisting an attorney - -or an agent, if you have one -- to look over your standard contract, Neuborne said she's managed just fine drafting solo. Over the years, she's honed in on her contract essentials, though she stressed that the details come down in part to the personal preferences of both the ghost and the client.

Neuborne says she works from two standard agreements, depending on the exact nature of the project. "Some gigs (in which my name will appear on the cover or I have a royalty share in the final book) require a collaboration agreement," she explained. "Some, such as book proposals and other 'work made for hire' arrangements, just need a basic fee-for-services contract." Either way, expectations should be set as clearly as possible from the get-go -- not only what's expected of you, but also what's expected of your client. How long do you have to deliver? How long does your client have to make changes before accepting your draft? How many rounds of revisions are you offering, and on what timeline?

Then, there's the question of pay. Neuborne and Gerstein both recommend breaking up your fee into a series of installments (usually two or three). That offers you some insurance -- if the client is in financial trouble or otherwise unreliable, you'll know before you get in too deep. The contract is also the place where you'll specify at what stage in the process you'll see returns. Do you get a check when the client receives your chapters, for example, or when the client approves them?  For more on contracting basics, Neuborne recommended aspiring ghosts check out her late ASJA collegue Sarah Wernick's website.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ghostwriting Workshop Takeaways (Part I)

The intro to ghostwriting workshop we co-hosted with ASJA Tuesday night brought together a crowd of more than 40 aspiring ghosts (and a few established pros) at the NYU Journalism Institute, with many others watching the livestream online. We plan to have the video available for download in the next few days if you want to watch the full program on your own time.

But for now, we thought it might be helpful to break down the main takeaways from the discussion, which was led by Gotham President Dan Gerstein and featured master ghostwriter Ellen Neuborne and Movable Type literary agent Jason Ashlock. We'll start today with the expert panel's advice on how win to your first client. Tomorrow we'll get down to the nuts and bolts of establishing yourself as a ghostwriting pro.

Landing Your First Client

Like so much else (exercise regimens, spring cleaning), getting started is the hardest part -- it's the classic "you need experience to get experience" job-hunting conundrum. So how do you establish a ghosting track record? Neuborne, formerly a business reporter at USA Today and Business Week, began her professional ghostwriting career by collaborating with a former source. "That's the way a lot of journalists get into it," she said. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to drum up business, Neuborne counseled, is to let your professional network know you're setting up shop writing-for-hire. The goal, initially, is to get an anchor client -- someone with a story they want you to help them tell.

As with any business venture, kicking off your ghosting career will have start-up costs. While Neuborne said she's now able to support her own literary projects entirely through ghostwriting, she took a loss on her first few projects. Be prepared, she said, for the first book (and maybe the second) to be a "loss leader" -- at this stage, you're being paid less in cash than in experience and professional credibility.

Once you've got a book -- or two or three -- under your belt, you can start advertising yourself as a "professional ghostwriter." It's a title that's in demand, said Ashlock, who counts finding writers to attach to "established platforms" among his primary duties as an agent. If his first task is to find people with great stories who are well-positioned to sell books (think politicians, reality TV stars, celebrity chefs, etc.), his second task is to find the writers who can guide those stories to paper. Accordingly, agents can be a key source of work for ghosts with bookish ambitions.

A lot of the ghosts Ashlock now works with regularly were already collaborating with author/experts when they first caught his attention. Still, he said, it's possible for an aspiring book ghost to get the attention of an agent without being attached to a pre-existing project. It's even possible before you've got a bibliography of books to your name. Ashlock's main consideration: "What intersection does a potential ghost have with a particular market?" Often, he said, he'll work with a ghost who doesn't have a trail of best-sellers behind them if they have a track record of writing for national audiences about a particular topic and in a particular voice that matches a project he's got percolating. In other words: along with a healthy dose of serendipity, a strong package of targeted clips delivered at the right time can be enough to win a first gig.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Kardashian Name Game

As you may have noticed, we have been taking a brief break from our regular perusing of the Word Wide Web while we've been preparing for our free workshop Tuesday night and attending BEA. But we felt we had no choice but to interrupt our interlude when we saw the following, too-good-to-be-bad headline on Publishers Marketplace this afternoon:

The Kardashians Are "Writing" A Novel, Together, and Fans Can Help Title It

We were not sure what was more shocking/amusing about this news -- that the first sisters of reality TV were being paid handsomely to pen a piece of fiction, or that they were inviting the Twitterverse to submit names for the book as part of a contest (first prize is a "walk-on role" in the novel). Who knew these special K's were as gluttonous for punishment as they are for attention generally?

If you'd like to enter, here are the instructions provided by the publisher:
Follow @HarperCollins.
Tweet your 2- or 3-word title suggestion in ALL CAPS.
Use the hashtag #TitleMeK.
(Deadline is May 27 at 12 noon)
We literally can't wait to keep up with the comedic entries this will inspire. So we invite our friends to chime in with their suggestions in the comments section below. We'll get the ball rolling with Gotham President Dan Gerstein's blue ribbon submission: FROM HERE TO PATERNITY.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Around the Word

Book biz breakthroughs: In case you were unplugged over the weekend, the publishing industry got quite a 1-2 punch of news heading into this week's BEA extravaganza. First, Amazon reported on Thursday that e-books have outsold print books on its site for the first time ever. Though analysts are quick to caution that e-books still make up a relatively small share of the market (around 14 percent), this is sure to add to the digital buzz already surrounding BEA. Second, Liberty Media announced a $1 billion offer to buy book giant Barnes & Noble. Though its taken the booksellers more than a year to find a buyer, analysts at the Wall Street Journal attribute the beefy buyout to B&N's significant share of the e-book market. Is a Kindle-Nook battle royale on the horizon?

Change you can believe in: With the publishing industry's e-volution accelerating on a daily basis, Men With Pens blogger Vangile Makwakwa today suggests that writers should be asking themselves what they can/need to do to adapt and keep pace. Among her tips: Reconnect with your personal mission, acquire new skills and surround yourself with writers you admire.

Best Indie Books of the Year: The Independent Publisher Book Awards recently announced the winners of their 2011 IPPY Award gold medals, honoring 13 books out of 4,000 entries. Prize categories included: Most Outstanding Design, Most Inspirational to Youth, Most Original Concept, and (our favorite), Most Likely to Save the Planet. You can find the full list of winners here.

You don't say: Our early favorite for the word nerd list of the year is a throwback -- a compilation of "Words We Don't Say" that New York magazine editor Kurt Andersen posted Luther-ian fashion on an office bulletin board before being fired in 1997. The document was recently rediscovered by Andersen's successor, Hugo Lindgren, and republished on the 6th Floor Blog of the New York Times Magazine (which Lindgren now runs). Reflecting on his unwitting inheritance, Lindgren said that it is "still a pretty useful list of phoney-baloney vocabulary that editors are well advised to excise from their stories." Some of the proscribed bits of pretension: "queried,""fin de siecle," "duo," and "zeitgeist." Take a look for yourself and let us know if you think any of Andersen's cross-offs were off-base.

REMINDER: How To Break Into Ghostwriting Workshop on Tuesday

Calling all aspiring ghosts. . . . We hope you can join us for the free workshop we are co-hosting Tuesday night with ASJA on how to get into the ghostwriting game.
We will be meeting at the NYU Journalism Institute, 20 Cooper Square (at East 5th Street), on the 7th Floor. The discussion will start at 6 p.m. and run until 7:30. Snacks and drinks will be served.

For those of you who would like to watch online, ASJA will be livestreaming the workshop on their site. You can find the link at: http://www.asja.org/calendar/calendar.php

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Around the Word

How to spend a Daisy summer day: Looking for some literary-themed summer fun around New York? Why not take a twirl on the Great Gatsby Boat Tour. Our friends at GalleyCat turned us on to this the two- hour cruise around Long Island Sound and Manhasset Bay, which familiarizes riders with the harbor that inspired Fitzgerald's imagination, taking them to the peninsulas of East Egg (Sand's Point) and West Egg (King's Point). So ladies, don your flappers, and gents, hold tight to your fedoras, as you try to envision where Gatsby's mansion might have stood.

Gradmaster flashes: To mark this year's graduation season, and make the most of us who had to suffer through a Dr. Smartypants drone of a speech jealous, Ragan has assembled a list of the 10 Most Memorable Commencement Speakers. Those who made the cut include brand names like Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Bono, and Will Ferrell, though what makes them stand out is not their celebrity, but that they were spunky, candid, and not afraid to tell it like it is. Take this quote from Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss: "And as you partake of the world's bill of fare, that's darned good advice to follow. Do a lot of spitting out the hot air. And be careful what you swallow."

More than Portnoy's complaint: Philip Roth, one of American letter's great engines of turbulence, is at it again. The revered novelist's recent selection as this year's winner of Britain's presitigious Man Booker Prize has set off a very public controversy, with one of the three judges on the panel, Carmen Callil, resigning in protest of the award. "I don't rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear I wouldn't have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn't admire," Callil told The Guardian. Callil also claims the decision process was rushed and un-collaborative, "You can't be asked to judge and then not judge." Callil plans to publish and essay in the Guardian Review this Saturday about why Roth didn't deserve to win.

The most awe-ful word of the year: "Awesome" is no longer just the jarring province of rich pre-madonnas like Cher Horowitz in Clueless -- it is now regarded as the most over (and mis-) used word in the English language to date. We forget that awesome not only captures moments of "joyful awe" but can also inspire terror, as evidenced by the phrase, "the awesome power of the sea." As a public service, Ragan has taken to sources ranging from Wikipedia to Thesaurus.com to find alternatives for the word, and has currently assembled a list of 45 synonyms including astonishing, dazzling, and groovy. What alternatives do you think could be added to their Anti-Awesome List?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Around the Word

Love child lit: Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger is in full scandal retreat, and Maria Shriver is pleading for space for her and her family to heal, it's safe to assume both will have a fair amount of time on their hands. To help keep the star-crossed couple occupied, and the rest of us titillated, the Los Angeles Times has compiled a tailor-made reading list of love child lit. Included are five titles on infidelity (for Schriver), five titles on fatherhood (for the Governator), and a bonus book -- Joint Custody with a Jerk -- for the housekeeper who had Arnold's child.

Follow the "lead": Our good friend David Murray at Vital Speeches of the Day suggests in his latest blog post that speechwriters take a page out of the journalist's handbook and replace the term "introduction" with "lead." Referring to the first few sentences of a speech as a "lead" gives it more urgency, starting off with the most important information instead of a boring list of introductory thank yous. For inspiration, Murray says, look to President Obama's announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden -- he draws the audience in by getting right to the point.

LinkedIn for lit fiends: For those of you looking to e-longate your e-networking connections, GalleyCat compiled a list of 45 LinkedIn groups in the publishing industry. Editors, publishers, writers and illustrators can all find a home in one of these many LinkedIn groups, which connect you with other like-minded professionals. Once you are logged in, you may want to take a few cues from social media guru Chris Brogan on how to spiff up your profile.

Ask not what you can do for your publisher. . . : With so many publishing types wringing their hands about the looming death of the book biz, it's nice to see that there are forward-leaning folks like  Meghan Ward thinking creatively about what could be done to help save it. Today on her blog Ward suggest 10 small things that literary lovers can do on their own to keep the reading lights on. Her main advice: Buy book. Read book. Repeat.

How to fun up your fan page: If you're like most people, you probably spend more time scoping out your high school gym teacher's Facebook page than scrutinizing your own profile. Well, as our friends the Book Doctors advise, most of us in the writing field might be wise to take a moment to take stock of our fan pages. On their blog today, the good Doctors offer several tips for getting the most out of this under-utilized tool -- from setting up your landing page to increasing traffic to maintaining your privacy. Do it right, and you'll soon be a time suck for your visitors.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Around the Word

Giving a new meaning to literary license: After reading a piece in The Economist about the proliferation of licensing requirements in the U.S., our friend Hal Gordon was moved to ponder a chill-inducing question -- should speechwriters be certified too? Gordon points out, with tongue at least half in cheek, that anyone can pass themselves off as a speechwriter without any credentials, and highlights the potential menace this poses to the public. 
"Consider the number of wedding receptions that turn into fiascos every year because the wedding toast was written by an uncredentialed speechwriter," Gordon, a top speech pro, writes on his blog. "Consider the number of aspiring politicians or rising young executives whose careers have been irretrievably blighted by a bad speech crafted by an amateur. Consider the effect that just one incompetently-written commencement address could have on hundreds of graduates. Ruining this major rite of passage in their lives by second-rate oratory could cause them untold psychological damage – even scar them for life." 
What say you speechifiers out there? Badge of integrity -- or sign of the apocalypse?

More learning, less lending: Marketing guru and futurist Seth Godin is making waves in literary land with a provocative blog post calling on libraries to change their core mission to go with the digial flow. Godin argues that pre-Gutenberg books were an expensive commodity, rivaling the price of a modest home, and as result the creation of shared books was a necessity. With the digitization of books and the overflow of information available electronically, libraries as warehouses are becoming obsolete -- but the need for librarians, to help us navigate the overflow of information out there, is greater than ever. The future, according to Godin, is the librarian as "... producer, concierge, connector, teacher, and impresario." Is this realistic? Tell us what you think.

App-ealing news for NYPL users: Speaking of library evolution. . . .The New York Times reports today that the New York Public Library has unveiled its first iPad research app. Biblion: The Boundless Library, is the name for what will actually be a series of apps that will highlight different elements in the library's research collections. The first edition in the series highlights the library's 1939-1940 World's Fair Holdings, which are among the most consulted collections by researchers; it's currently available for free at the iTunes Store. As we move into summer, be on the lookout for an app that allows you to reserve books.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Around the Word

Everyone is a critic: Once upon a time writers only needed a good review from the New York Review of Books to consider their work a success. Now it seems that authors need to impress just about everyone with access to a keyboard and an Amazon account. At the PEN World Voices Festival last month, top critics delved into this trend and debated the merits of Amazonian reviewers and their influence on the publishing world. Reactions ranged from fatalistic ("The democratization of reviewing is synonymous with the decay of reviewing," said critic Morris Dickenstein) to mildly pessimistic. We'd be curious to hear from our author friends who have had books praised and/or panned by the masses about their experiences.

Living high on the blog: Is it just us, or does it seem like every third book you see for sale these days was born from a blog? Does this mean the "blook" is the new black in publishing? Publishing Perspectives takes an in-depth look at this how new trend and their main takeaway is an analog as it gets -- nothing still succeeds like success. Publishers are taking notice of blog-to-book goldmines like Post Secret, The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking, and Sh#t My Dad Says, and are scouring the Internet for the next big web thing to cash in on

Taking a few tips from the big top: Inspired by the new circus movie "Water for Elephants," our friend Cindy Starks is counseling speechwriters to get in touch with their inner Barnum as a way to better engage their audiences. For starters, instead of opening your speech with a mundane list of people to thank, Starks suggests on her blog that "perhaps we should take a page from the circus-master’s book and begin the talk with the most exciting piece of information we’ve got. An anecdote, a story, a question, a striking statistic, a joke." You should probably leave your bullhorn at home, though. 

Tweet revenge: Most speakers are now grudgingly used to audience members tweeting away during their presentations. But the Eloquent Woman suggests that speechwriters are better off seeing Twitter as opportunity to seize more than an annoyance to tolerate. She offers a few handy hints on how to capitalize on the tweet-speak relationship, like tweeting audio samples from your speech or conducting market research using your Twitter network.

2011 BEA Preview

The 2011 BookExpo America kicks off next Tuesday, with thousands of publishers, editors, and authors -- along with booksellers, librarians, bloggers, and a few Gotham Ghosts -- descending on New York City's Javits Center for the largest publishing conference in North America. For those of you will be attending, or just keeping score at home, here's an early look at what to expect for this year's word nerd Woodstock.

In addition to the countless exhibitor booths, author presentations, and book-signings, the 2011 BEA
features three days of "Big Ideas" conference sessions. The topics range from the acutely practical  ("How to Shoot Video that Doesn't Suck! And 10 Things Book People Need to Know") to the trend-watching ("Back to Basics: Why Home Economics Books are the New Retro Chic") to the globally-minded ("Translating Italy"). Not surprisingly, a significant number of the fair's events center on the evolving digital landscape -- e-books, Twitter, and multi-platform publishing are all on the docket for discussion, as are more general sessions on "The Future of Books" and "New and Evolving Publishing Models."

Even with what Publisher's Weekly calls the "digital revolution" at "the epicenter of this year's Expo -- big time," though, BEA show manager Steve Rosato tells the industry mag that "the value of personal interaction still trumps all." At The Girl from the Ghetto, one book blogger offers tips on how to capitalize on those face-to-face connections and other ways to make the most of the show. From annotating the business cards you collect with the details of your meeting to making the most of the time you spend in line, her common-sense guide is a welcome pep-talk for BEA newcomers.

Not up for the convention but still hankering for a literary fix? Echoes of the BEA resound throughout the City next week, with a diverse menu of author-focused events set to take place around the Big Apples as part of New York Book Week. The free events run the literary gamut: check out star journalist and author Susan Orlean at the Soho Apple store and run across town in time for Granta's panel on the Spanish writers in translation -- that is, unless you've got plans to check out celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's talk and book signing or the author-studded (and open-bar) Lower East Side book party. Remember, though, to make time for the free workshop on how to break into ghostwriting that we will be co-hosting on May 24 with ASJA.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Around the Word

Freelancer family fun: Just because you don't work in a cubicle doesn't mean your work life isn't still full of zany Dilbert-esque moments. Freelancing has its own set of head-to-desk frustrations, and Mashable directed us to a quirky cartoon game that captures the trials and tribulations of being your own boss. Styled like the Game of Life, the cartoon freelancer goes to work in his PJs, does his own taxes, pulls an all-nighter and eventually retires early after a successful career.

Logical commas: Just when you thought you had figured out your 10th grade English teacher's grammar lessons, Slate's Ben Yagoda makes the case for changing a particularly thorny punctuation rule. "Logical punctuation," that is, putting commas and periods outside of quotation marks, is standard practice in the U.K. and is gaining popularity on the Internet. Though professional editors aren't likely to change their ways anytime soon, Yagoda predicts that the fickle grammarians of the Internet are bound to make "logical punctuation" the digital norm.

Free to be you and "e": There may not be such a thing as a free lunch, but if you look hard enough, you can find free lit all over the Internet. Mediabistro has made things a bit easier by compiling a list of websites that offer free legal e-book downloads. Check it out and let us know if you find any free e-books that are worth reading.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Around the Word

It's a relatively slow news day in the online realm of the word, but our friends at GalleyCat had a couple tidbits we thought were worth sharing.

Grim News for Giveaways: Over the last few years Facebook has been a favorite platform for  authors, publishers, and other book industry professionals for hosting contests. But thanks to a few barrier-raising format changes Facebook recently instituted, that tool may now be toast. As Jason Boog reports, contests must now be hosted on a Canvas Page or Page Tab created inside Apps on Facebook. Then there's the new rules for registering participants. "You must not condition registration or entry upon the user taking any action using any Facebook features or functionality other than liking a Page, checking into a Place, or connecting to your App. For example, you must not condition registration or entry upon the user liking a wall post, or commenting or uploading a photo on a wall." Before hosting your next giveaway, be sure to familiarize yourself with all the strict, new guidelines and lengthy restrictions.

A Return to the Traditional: Our friend Jason Allen Ashlock, Principal of the Moveable Type Literary Agency, is one of the best analytical thinkers we know about the e-volution of the publishing industry. Today he was kind enough to share a few insights about how agents work with self-published authors like Victorine Lieske, a Moveable Type client who has sold more than 100,000 copies of her self-published e-book, Not What She Seems. You can hear more from Jason at the free workshop we'll be co-hosting with ASJA on May 24 on how to break into ghostwriting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Around the Word

Book that trip: If you're planning an exotic getaway this summer, or just want to escape to a faraway  land while sunning on your local beach, the Telegraph has just the ticket for you. Offering a new twist on the summer reading list, the U.K. paper has compiled a menu of favorite fiction by location. Their "Around the World in 24 Books" showcase takes you from Italy to India and from classic authors like E.M. Forster to modern stars like Cormac McCarthy.

Slang "thang": In yet another sign of the impending apocalypse, slang words "innit," "grrl" and "thang" have been added to the Collins Scrabble Dictionary. Offering a more accepting perspective, American Sarah Churchwell writes in the Guardian that, while "innit" may be an abomination, English is constantly evolving and change is necessary for survival. As she puts it, "There's no language so pure as a dead one."

Rules for the unruly: There are few things scarier than speaking to an unfriendly audience, especially for an inexperienced or unconfident speaker. The Eloquent Woman today provides some helpful coping mechanisms -- 12 tips for establishing credibility and winning over a tough crowd. Some hints: don't brag when introducing yourself, don't over-apologize, and be bold.

Sour Apple: While tablets may be all the rage, magazine publishers are having a hard time getting a cut of the action. Last week, Hearst and Conde Nast were the first two big magazine publishers to release their subscription agreements for the iPad. Women's Wear Daily revealed that the publishers are less than happy about the terms of the deal with Apple and that sales are not living up to expectations. We wrote on Monday about new research suggesting that people aren't using their iPads to read. Maybe Conde Nast should just buy Angry Birds.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Around the Word

Konrath the Contrarian: We see a lot of articles offering marketing tips for writers, but few are as informed by experience and of true utility as this post from thriller author Joe Konrath's blog sharing the lessons he has learned about e-book selling through trial and error. While acknowledging up front that many factors outside an author's control affect sales, Konrath points out a few ways that writers can boost their odds. The obvious place to start: by exploiting all available sales platforms (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Overdrive in particular). He also pooh-poohs some of the traditional marketing avenues -- paid advertising, making public appearances, and putting out spam. "I fully believe that the ultimate reason I am selling so many e-books is because I got lucky."

Nice guys finish. . . . seventh? If you've ever played the game Telephone as a child, then you know first hand how easily words can be misunderstood, misrepresented, and ultimately mangled beyond their original meaning. The New Republic this week offers a fun little reminder that great figures in history are every bit as vulnerable to this phenomenon -- a digital slideshow of legendary misquotes from prominent public figures like George Washington, Voltaire, and that favorite American quipster, Patrick Henry. Indeed, if you've been repeating Henry's most famous exaltation, "Give me liberty or give me death!" you probably ought to thank his biographer, William Wirth, for penning the quote.   

For future reference: While Ronald Reagan may have had a slew of superb speechwriters at his disposal, none of them ever took the place of what our friend John Barnes refers to as his "future file." USA Today reports that the Gipper famously kept a stack of note cards where he jotted down lines from poems, meaningful quotes, and hoary jokes to hold for future reference. Recently rediscovered in a cardboard box at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, these cards have been edited into a book by historian Douglas Brinkley, The Notes: Ronald Reagan's Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom, that's set to hit shelves today. Do any of you keep your own "future file" to incorporate into later speeches? How often do you draw from it? 

Piggy-bank publishing: Financially-strapped writers take note -- author Mindy Klasky is currently testing a novel twist on literary fundraising that bears watching. According to GalleyCat, Klasky's new book, Fright Court, will be published by chapters online. At the end of each post readers are encouraged to send donations through PayPal. Donors will receive a myriad of small gifts including magnets and personalized, signed posters for their support. Klasky has opted to try this approach -- dubbed the "Reader-Supported Serialized Novel" -- after already putting out several books through traditional publishing channels with limited success. 

Short is sweet: Researchers at the Poynter Institute have found that the key predictor of what keeps peoples' attention when they read online is paragraph length. "The bottom line," according to Ragan, "is that stories with shorter paragraphs got more than twice as many overall eye fixations as those with longer paragraphs." If you feel that your writing falls on the lengthy side of the spectrum, Ragan provides a few tips on how to tighten it up. For example, simply hitting the "return" key more often and using bullets to break up a series of three or more items can instantly clear up clutter.

The (Publishing) Empire Strikes Back

The latest sign of just how dramatically the publishing industry is e-volving came late last week with the unveiling of Bookish.com, the online literary clearinghouse that three of the largest American trade publishers will be launching in July to directly challenge the digital hegemony of Amazon and iTunes.

The goal of the new venture, hatched by Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, is to leverage the publishers' comparative advantage of inside insight and to position Bookish as "one-stop shopping for consumers to find everything they want to know about books in one place,"according to S&S CEO Carolyn Reidy. In practice, that means the site will aggregate the various publisher-produced marketing and supplementary materials, feature reader reviews, and advise bookfiends where to get their hands on copies of the latest titles -- both by recommending local bookstores and by offering books for sale direct from the site.

We will be watching this experiment closely, especially for its impact on authors. It's hard to say at this point just what that will be -- details about how Bookish will work are still fuzzy, and all the early focus has been on consumers. But it seems to hold some promise as a platform for writers to reach out to new readers and broaden their audience. Not only will the site host each book's promotional materials, it will also link books together via the recommendation engine -- one more way for your would-be audience to stumble upon your work.

Are we being overly bullish on Bookish? We'd love to hear your take.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Around the World

The media's self-publishing crush grows: The latest major mainstream media outlet to discover the self-publishing revolution is the Washington Post. Over the weekend the paper showed some big love to the growing number of romance novelists and other unknown writers gone rogue who are making a killing selling online at rock-bottom prices. The Post feature focused on the success story of romance writer Nyree Belleville, who made more than $19,000 in one month from her online sales. Any writers flying solo out there who have found similar paydirt? We want to hear your stories.

Hear ye query: An author's life is full of rejection, but when you know your manuscript is good, that rejection can feel more like a bad break-up than a failed pick-up line. To help writers avoid that sting, agent/blogger Sarah LaPolla gives tips on applying "band-aids" to a strong story that has failed to capture an agent's attention. For starters: avoid redundancy, don't have characters say what they're thinking, and "Pass Writing 101."

From keyboard jockey to junkie: Facebook is one of our favorite ways to procrastinate, and we know it's a weakness for other writers too. Though it is useful in many ways for promoting your work and connecting with others (the new Journalists on Facebook function is pretty neat) sometimes surfing The Book can turn into a full-fledged addiction. To find out if you're veering into junkie territory, check out this Social Times article on Facebook Addiction Disorder and see if you have some of the symptoms.

There's a scrap for that: Speaking of Facebook, Simon and Schuster is debuting an eye-catching new app for the site called Book Battle, which the New York Times describes as "a literary version of hotornot.com." The application matches up two books and users choose their favorite cover, author and characters. So far, it focuses mostly on young adult novels, but we'd love to see some other works go head-to-head, too. How about Sherlock Holmes vs. Miss Marple? The DaVinci Code vs. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Greg Mortenson vs. James Frey?

More e-news you can use: Here's some interesting new digital data points to shed some light on e-reading habits. First, new research shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, few iPad owners are using their device to read books. Substantially more e-books are being bought for the Kindle, Nook, Sony devices and other e-readers than for Apple's new iT toy. The one exception: kid consumers. USA Today reports today that children's books are the top-selling book apps at the iTunes store.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Around the Word

The last word in gifts for Mom: If you're still looking for a present for your book-loving mother, Galley Cat has made things easy for you by compiling a variety of Top 10 Lists of Literary Gifts for Mother's Day. Our favorite: the "Top 10 Books To Make Mom Cry -- In a Good Way." Cards and iPad batteries not included.

Maybe the kids are not alright: Examining gender bias in literature is usually the province of upper-level college English courses. But in today's New York Times we learn the issue can also be child's play -- a staple in children's books, in fact, for the past century. Drawing from a new study in the April issue of "Gender and Society," the Times reports that, in a study of 6,000 children's books published between 1900 and 2000, 57 percent had male lead characters and only 31 percent had female. According to the researchers, these imbalanced representations, especially with respect to animal protagonists, "suggest that these characters could be particularly powerful, and potentially overlooked, conduits for gender messages."

Introducing the cook club: Do the serious discussions in your book club ever leave you wishing you could trade pondering plots for provolone and prosciutto? Well, you might be in (pot)luck. The San Jose Mercury News reports that culinary book clubs are springing up across the country, often sponsored by bookstores or foodie boutiques. While members congregate to dish on mouth-watering memoirs, they rarely discuss straight cookbooks, which sets these clubs apart from other cooking related groups. So if the idea of Alice Medrich passing around hot cookies from her book, "Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies" sounds appetizing, get reading.

A speech barometer?: Objectively measuring the effectiveness of your speech might sound like a lost cause (unless you have your own dial testing equipment). But communications guru Angela Sinikas has come up with some convincing ways to see quantitatively how speakers actually register with their audiences. There are three key outcomes she suggests focusing on: finding the extent to which the speech increases knowledge, creates more favorable attitudes, and changes the audiences decisions and behaviors. Obviously to measure these impacts you need to have an idea of the baseline, so Sinicom provides some innovative ideas on how to set up your speech metrics as well.

Twin speaks: Certain grammatical nuances can allude even the most seasoned writers. . . . wait, I'm pretty sure we mean elude. . . . and if you can relate to our moment of confusion then you might want to check out Ragan's take on "terrible twins." Sifting through troves of mis-used words compiled from a variety of grammar sites, Ragan has compiled a great cheat sheet explaining the differences between a host of homonymns -- such as founder and flounder, bated and baited, and, of course, allude and elude.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Around the Word

Signed, SEAL-ed, already delivered: Though the killing of Osama bin Laden is bound to be an event that launched a thousand book deals (security expert Peter Bergen just scored one), a new memoir coming out this month can already give us some insight into the elite force that completed the mission. SEAL Team Six is the memoir of Howard E. Wasdin, a former member of the elite counter-terrorism strike force responsible for finding and killing bin Laden. Like a successful operation, the launch of this book has managed to combine thorough research with precise timing. We bet Wasdin and his publisher are even more thankful than the rest of us for Sunday's turn of events.

Self-help for self-promotion: The comments section on most online hubs can be dodgy places, containing a lot more missives than hits. But every once in a while you can find some real diamonds in the rhetorical rough. Case in point: Galleycat stumbled upon a rather enlightening thread on the Amazon discussion boards this week of authors sharing lessons learned from their experiences self-promoting their works. The editors at GC culled the best tips into a Top 10 list of untraditional ways to get your book noticed. The be-all-end-all of the list (literally and figuratively): Paid advertising with Armegeddon Books

E-lancing made E-Z: As many of our writers can attest, the Web has quickly become a treasure trove of freelance writing opportunities, with dozens of sites posting job openings and new projects. But navigating the multitude of sites has turned into a challenge in its own right. How's a working writer to separate the wheat from the trash? Well, Mashable has come to the rescue, compiling a list of the top five online communities for freelancers. Have you ever used Elance, Sologig or any of the other top five freelancer social networks before? If so, we'd love to hear what you think.

Say hello to the "questolon": In our constantly evolving language of emoticons, LOLs and bloggable memes, surely there's room for a new punctuation mark. Katrina Olsen makes the case for the "questolon," a mark combining a question mark and a semicolon that signifies the pause between a question and a related statement. Olsen jokingly advocates for the establishment of the Questolon Establishment Support Team, asking "Will you join me(questolon) I hope you will!"

As Monty Python said. . . .: In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard professor and librarian Robert Darnton has an interesting piece deconstructing five prevailing information myths of our time. Not surprisingly, his biggest beef is with the presumed obsolescence of the physical book and its primary residence, which he argues are far from dead. Though the wealth of digital information is certainly expanding rapidly, Darnton believes that old and new technologies can and will still exist side-by-side. "Old books and e-books should be thought of as allies, not enemies," he says.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Announcing Our First Free Workshop

With all the turns and churns going on these days in the content business, and all the journalists now seeking new ways to get paid, interest in the specialty field of ghostwriting has been rapidly rising. But outside of the recent Roman Polanski film, most of the writers we hear from who are looking to diversify know relatively little about how this traditionally opaque sector works -- in particular, how to get started in it and how to succeed at it.

To help provide some clarity to the curious, and give working writers a better sense of whether ghosting is for them, our firm is teaming up with the American Society of Journalists and Authors to host a free introductory workshop with a panel of experts on May 24. Among the topics the discussion will cover: the state of today's ghostwriting market, the mechanics of ghostwriting a book, marketing your services, building and maintaining a client base, and contract and payment issues.

Leading the conversation will be:
  • Dan Gerstein, President of Gotham Ghostwriters
  • Ellen Neuborne, former USA Today reporter, ghostwriter of more than a dozen book projects, and creator of the online course "The Writer's Guide to Ghosting
May 24, 6-7:30 p.m.

NYU's Carter Journalism Institute
20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor
(at East 5th Street)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Around the Word

Go the — to the bank: Our favorite story from over the weekend was the New York Times' account of author Adam Mansbach's Facebook joke turned bestseller, Go the — to Sleep. Mansbach was just trying to blow off a little steam about his daughter's refusal to hit the hay when he posted a note on his FB wall to look out for his next book with that immortal/immoral exhortation. But Daddy Dirtiest was so overwhelmed by the response, he decided to tun his rant into a collection of rhymes. Now, thanks to digital word of (potty) mouth, Hansbach's book is climbing the Amazon bestseller list on the strength of pre-orders alone. 

I'll tweet when I'm dead: Not to be outdone by Fake Steve Jobs or the Bronx Zoo Cobra, more than a few famous deceased authors are turning up on Twitter to offer their bite-sized words of posthumous wisdom. The Atlantic has done us the favor of compiling a best of the dead list. We were particularly taken with this tart tweet from Edith Wharton: "Thoughts on this return: travel has improved. New York has not. #talkingdead."

The oldest sales trick in the book: While self-promotion may sometimes seem like a unique burden for authors in the digital age to deal with, writer Tony Perrottet assures us that it's nothing new. Writing in this past weekend's Times Book Review, Perrottet recounts that Hemmingway posed for beer ads, Virginia Woolfe went shopping with British Vogue and Walt Whitman wrote his own anonymous reviews -- all to promote their own work. When put in historical perspective, Tweeting doesn't look so bad after all.

Books love LA: In case you missed it, the L.A. Times Book Festival was held this weekend at USC. To get a re-cap of all the major (and merely curious) happenings from the two days of panels and presentations by authors, check out the coverage today on the Times' Jacket Copy blog.

From Insider Humor to Human History: Obama's Last 24 Hours

By Cynthia Starks

Saturday night President Obama had a lot of fun with his humorous remarks at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Then, on a quiet Sunday, history arrived. The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops at a compound in Pakistan stunned and surprised us, and called forth both strong and heartfelt remarks by our President. The New York Times reports he wrote the speech himself.

He did a beautiful job. He began in a straightforward manner: “Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden…”

Next, he drew a picture of the dark day for which bin Laden was responsible: “It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history.”

Then, in elegiac prose, the President recalled the lingering pain of the deaths on that day, “the empty seat at the dinner table. Children who were forced to grow up without their mother or their father. Parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace. Nearly 3,000 citizens taken from us.”

He thanked the military: “Over the past 10 years, thanks to the tireless and heroic work of our military and our counterterrorism professionals, we’ve made great strides in that effort” -- referring to the war against Al Qaeda to “protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.”

And throughout his remarks, Obama wove in the “American Story” -- who we are as a people, what we stand for. He said, “In our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”

He continued, “The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens.” And later, “Americans understand the cost of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and our allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are…”

Near the conclusion of his remarks, he said, “Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people. Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history…”

Finally, “Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A beautiful, beautiful speech. At its heart, it told a story. Not just the story of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but our story -- the story of the American people. We are a peaceful people. We suffered a vicious, unprovoked attack. Because we are a good and great nation, committed to justice and protecting our people, we pursued Osama bin Laden. Even though it took 10 years, we did not give up. This is who we are. We can do anything we set our minds to do. And we are this way because we are one nation, indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Speechwriters may live for events like the White House Correspondents Dinner remarks -- where they can let their hair down, and write funny stories and anecdotes based on popular culture, current news and newsmakers.

But on a more regular basis, speechwriters also live to tell stories like this one -- not specifically about Osama bin Laden’s death, of course -- but stories that should be at the heart of every speech. Why we do what we do. Why we care. Who benefits. Why it uplifts us and calls upon the “better angels” of our nature.

A speaker’s audience, no matter who it is -- employees, customers, industry peers -- wants to be reminded that they can make a difference in the world. That they are part of something larger than themselves. It is the speaker’s job -- and the speechwriter’s -- to articulate this through the stories they tell. 

Starks is a freelance speechwriter based in Indiana