Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Around the Word

Self-published, agent approved: Self-publishing was invented to avoid the literary establishment, but one literary agency is already cashing in on self-pub frenzy. Dystel & Goderich Literary Management announced on their website that they will officially "represent" self-published authors and help them navigate the process. Having already represented self-publishing successes John Locke and J.A. Konrath, DGLM is well-positioned to help other aspiring authors. Is it only a matter of time before other agencies join in?

E-readers sprint ahead: E-reader popularity continues to soar and score headlines. The percentage of people who own an e-reader has doubled in the last six months -- from 6 percent to 12 percent, according to a new Pew survey. Tablet ownership, on the other hand, is smaller and growing more slowly -- only 8 percent of people own tablets, while it was 5 percent six months ago.

Wise words about Winston's words: Our friend Alice Griffiths pointed us to an excellent article in the most recent issue of American Scholar about Winston Churchill's forgotten legacy that will warm the hearts of our fellow speech nerds. Historian George Watson's piece primarily focuses on Churchill's overlooked contributions to the modern welfare state. But what caught our eye was the admiring nod to Churchill's oratorical skills and the underappreciated art of speechifying. "In academic schools of literature oratory is by far the most neglected of all literary forms," Watson writes. "It was not always so, and Churchill would not have countenanced such neglect."

When the novel-ty wears off: Many creative types dream of ditching their office jobs to write novels full-time. But journalist and social media expert Alexis Grant says not so fast. Having once devoted all her time to writing a book (and living with her parents to afford it), she's now a believer in the benefits of being gainfully employed. She argues that a job can provide a steady paycheck, inspiration and a chance to hone your writing skills. "I know my writing wouldn't be what it is without my day job,"  Grant contends. "When it comes to your writing career, [a job] is likely to pay off in the long run."

Our Next Free Workshop: July 18

At our inaugural workshop for aspiring ghostwriters in May, the most common questions we heard from the audience were about setting fees and getting paid. That came as no surprise -- figuring out what and how to charge is the biggest challenge for professional ghostwriters, speechwriters and other writers for hire. There’s no universal standard or industry guidebook to follow. And many freelancers feel pressure to keep their fees relatively low to keep work coming in. As a result, even many accomplished pros end up questioning their judgment -- and worse, feeling under-compensated.

So we and our partners at ASJA thought it would be helpful to hold a follow-up session for the broader ghostwriting community focusing on these vexing financial issues. Our panel of pros will share the practical and (often) painful lessons they have learned from years of writing and pricing for others, including rules of thumb and traps to avoid. Among the topics we will cover: benchmarking fees for books, speeches and other projects; figuring out the right negotiating strategy; and the relative benefits of charging by the hour, word, and project.

Leading the discussion will be:

Laurie Lewis
Author, What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants

Ellen Neuborne
Ghostwriter of more than a dozen book projects, creator of the online course “The Writer’s Guide to Ghosting,” ASJA member

Linda Konner
Principal of the Linda Konner Literary Agency; nationally-recognized editor, author, and frequent lecturer at publishing conferences; ASJA member

Monday, July 18
6-7:30 p.m.

NYU Journalism Institute
20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor

Monday, June 27, 2011

Around the Word

We start the week off with several new turns in the publishing e-volution. . .

Politico goes publisher: In another sign of the book market's democratizing times, Politico announced today that it is getting in on the digital publishing game. The influential political news site is teaming up with Random House to produce a series of e-books about the 2012 election. It's a chance for journalists Mike Allen, of Politico, and Evan Thomas, of Newsweek, to stretch their long-form muscles and for digital readers to get a look behind the scenes of the 2012 race -- the books aim to provide "details and analysis beyond the day-to-day headlines." Politico will also launch an online bookstore, with links to other titles that relate to the news of the day. Think we can expect other news brands to follow suit?

BOGO books: Publishers are doing everything they can these days to get customers to set foot into brick-and-mortar bookstores, including bundling print books with digital copies. One publisher, Algonquin, has launched the most recent in a series of digital-print packages: buy a paperback book at Barnes & Noble and get a discounted e-book. As the New York Times reports, publishers are trying to innovate the way they sell books in order to get people to buy hard copies. We want to know: Do you find a digital discount enticing enough to purchase a print book? 

In defense of analog: As e-readers get snazzier and tech-ier -- with links, hastags, photos and videos -- it's easy to see complete interactivity as the ultimate in publishing. But looking at the other side of the equation, the Independent's Johann Hari makes the opposite argument: the physical book has to be boring so that the words can stand out. "If you read a book with your laptop thrumming on the other side of the room," Hari writes over the weekend, "it can be like trying to read in the middle of a party, where everyone is shouting to each other." Without separating yourself from the digital, it is too difficult to achieve the concentration necessary for reading a book. How do you stay focused when reading on an e-reader, smartphone or tablet? 

Judging an e-book by its cover: Though self-publishing is on the rise and getting more credible by the day, Futurebook pointed to a cautionary tale about the DIY trend. In March, a British literary agent circumvented her publisher and published the books she represented directly to the web. Now these books have hit the Kindle store, and the covers looked beyond amaterurish -- like "ten-year-old-with-a-copy-of-Microsoft-paint bad." The moral of this story: when weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing, Futurebook's Simon Appleby advises, make sure you take design into account. When your artistic skills are limited, sometimes you really need a professional on your side.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Around the Word

Gender studies: George Eliot (or rather, Mary Evans) would have been out of luck using her gender-bending nom de plum if she had been writing in the digital age. Turns out scientists have developed new software that can determine the gender of a writer by using written cues. According to a report in this month's New Scientist, women are more likely to use "emotionally intensive adverbs and affective adjectives, such as really, charming or lovely." Men are more likely to use "I." The scientists think that the software had been used, it could have caught the fake "Gay Girl in Damascus" blogger sooner -- the software predicted that the writer was 62.3 percent likely to be male.

The dark side of the e-book: The e-book revolution has opened up the publishing marketplace to all kinds of new authors. But sadly it has also paved the way for e-scammers to sell fake books to unsuspecting customers. These dastardly deviants repackage public content like Wikipedia or plagiarize someone else's work, sell it as an e-book and rake in the profits, reports the Guardian. While digital distributors like Amazon and Smashwords are trying to eliminate the illegitimate from their e-shelves, it's up to readers and writers to report any fake work they find. A tip for authors: do a Google search of phrases from your book to make sure their isn't an impostor out there selling your hard-written words. 

Reading social: With new social media networks for lit lovers popping up all over the place, your book club is no longer limited to your living room. We took a writer-oriented tour around Penguin's Book Country recently, the closest thing to a goliath in this digital domain. But there are plenty of up and coming sites worth checking out too. eBook Newser put together a list of ten social networks for readers, from the newly launched InReads to Scribd ("the largest book club on the planet") to Shelfari ("a community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers"). Which of these networks do you use?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Around the Word

Banker, Lender, Author, Moneymaker: Banker-turned-author David Lender is the newest self publishing phenom to ride the e-book wave all the way to the, well, bank -- a result, in large part, of his strategic pricing strategy. Bloomberg reports that Lender, who has wanted to be a writer since college, uploaded his first e-book, Trojan Horse, onto Kindle and Nook in January. He initially priced the book at $9.99 but after dismal sales reduced the price to only .99 cents. Interest exploded. The three books he has published this year so far have sold more than 100,000 copies and generated $35,000 in revenue. Though Lender has now been approached by literary agents, he has reevaluated his original goal of being traditionally published, saying, "My view is that this is the platform I can use going forward. If I don't go with a major publisher, I don't think it's really going to hurt me."

Twitfalls for writers: Twitter can often be trouble for professional writers, many of whom struggle to clear their throat in 140 characters in less. To help wordsmiths avoid the Twitfalls of this increasingly important platform, GalleyCat has complied a list of five common Twitter mistakes that we should watch out for. Among their tips: don't fudge the description of who you are in your profile (cheeky ones sound cool, but they make it difficult for people to decide if they want to read your work). Also, don't leave out your picture. And perhaps most importantly, don't wall off your tweets. "It's fine to keep your tweets protected in a personal account... however, if you are submitting your feed to directories and trying to build and audience, protected tweets are very frustrating for potential readers."

"Pottermore" to live up to its name: The curtain has been lifted for all the Harry Potter fans chewing their nails over J.K. Rowling's secret announcement. The Wall Street Journal reports that J.K. Rowling has announced she will finally take the digital plunge and sell ebook versions of the treasured tales for the very first time, directly through the Pottermore site. Since Rowling owns the rights to her books herself, and has the capital and clout to distribute them through an innovative social networking site, she was able to make the decision to sell directly to consumers, instead of going through sites like Amazon or Apple. Rowling will also use the site to release coveted background on major characters, places, and plots that didn't make it into the books. "Pottermore is a full-on Harry Potter universe that allows readers to join a Hogwarts house and travel through the first Harry Potter book while collecting points and playing games." The site launches for the first 1 million users next month, but opens to the general public -- with the online e-book store -- in October.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Around the Word

Self-pub's prodigal pair: Two of the poster children for self-publishing made quite a media splash over the last few days, giving our favorite industry trend another shot of credibility. First, Amanda Hocking, the new "it" fantasy writer, received a blowout profile in the New York Times Magazine over the weekend, where she opened up about her multi-million dollar deal with St. Martin's, her humble beginnings as a writer, and the evolution of her prose. The piece offers some fine insight into a girl we've all heard about but whose past has remained as mysterious as the paranormal trolls inhabiting her novels.

Then it was reported early this week that mystery-thriller writer John Locke, author of the Donovan Creed series, is the first self-published author to join the Kindle million-seller club. Locke joins the elite company of only seven other authors, including superstars like Steig Larson, Nora Roberts, and Michael Connelly. If you're looking to get up to speed on this newest literary legend, GalleyCat has compiled a collection of free samples from his online ebooks, available on their website.

Illustrious conclusions: Australian author and illustrator, Shaun Tan, who won the Astrid Lindgren Award (think Nobel Prize for children's literature) a few weeks ago, recently gave a rather unorthodox interview that we thought our writer friends might appreciate. "Speaking" with the Germany's Der Spiegel -- and we use that term loosely -- Tan chose to express himself using only pen and paper, drawing his replies to a series of questions. Considering Tan has also worked as a concept artist on animated films including "Horton Hears a Hoo" and "Wall-E," this must have seem quite natural to him. Be sure to read the article to check out his illustrious conclusions on topics ranging from Hollywood to love to "things that are difficult to draw."

Read it loud, read it proud: We came across a recent New Yorker blog post by writer Flora Armetta  that makes a compelling modern plug for the old literary custom of reading aloud. Studies show that this particular oral tradition has substantial benefits for children, E.S.L. students, and (in a way) even dogs. Reading aloud also has a storied place among lovers, Armetta contends, and a renaissance could help today's couples strengthen relationships. One pair she spoke to ". . . saves the best sentences from their recent reading for each other, to read aloud together when they have a chance -- it's a bit like bringing home flowers to your sweetheart, but it lasts longer." Do you ever read aloud, either to your partner or your children, or just to soothe yourself?

Worth the price of admission? Some struggling independent bookstores have implemented a controversial survival strategy -- charging admission for author readings. The New York Times reports today that book store owners are fed up with readers who come to a free book signing with an Amazon-purchased copy, so they're charging admission to help make ends meet. Though many bibliophiles are scandalized by the practice, some fully support it. "I think it makes it more fun," said author and editor Keith Gessen. "I don't think you should be able to walk into a Barnes & Noble and get to look at Joan Didion."

Dis-proofing the editing crisis: The conventional wisdom these days is that publishers no longer edit books, leaving published manuscripts without professional proofing and causing readers to decry the sad state of publishing. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner puts these rumors to rest in her latest blog post today, explaining that publishers have always fallen on a wide spectrum of proofing proficiency. Though budget cuts have strained every publishing house's resources, Gardner holds that "most publishers' level of commitment to editorial excellence has remained stable."

"I'd like to thank the...": One of our favorite traditions was on display at last week's Webby Awards, where the honorees for digital excellence are asked to limit their acceptance speeches to five words. Our friend Cindy Starks provides an excellent round up of the the highlights from this year's ceremonies on her blog today. Our favorite? From Weight Watchers, "Losing is our specialty. Winning's nice."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Around the Word

The search for the Craigslist Thriller: Most ghosts know that Craigslist has been regularly featuring help wanted ads looking for writers for book projects for years. But this is oddly news to, the supposedly with-it culture site. Someone over there stumbled upon an ad on the New York listings  seeking a ghost who can mimic the style of best-selling author James Patterson -- or as the ad says, to "help pattersonize our novels" and duplicate his fast-paced thriller style. Even weirder still, Nerve writer Jeff Mills seemed as scandalized as he was mystified. "Is this just an extension of what people like artist Jeff Koons and author James Frey are doing, farming out the work as a business proposition?. . . What's next, Dr. Franzenstein's House of Prose?"

How's that new cliche working out for ya? Sarah Palin's folksy colloquialisms -- and Tina Fey's brilliant impression of them -- have been making headlines ever since she emerged on the national scene in 2008. But one classic Palin-drome from last year -- derived from the tea party punchline, "How's that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?" -- has gotten particularly hot. In fact, "hopey-changey" has been repeated so often in so many different context that the New York Times took the trouble this past weekend of cataloguing the usages of our new favorite term of snark, in reference to   everything from Hezbollah to DSLR tripods to American Idol.

Book burns: We wrote recently about some of the saltiest resignation letters from writers, and now we have another collection of clever zingers from wordsmiths to share. Flavorwire has compiled a list of the best insults from one famous writer to another. A fellow author can be your harshest critic, and we would never like to be on the receiving end of any of these literary disses. From Charles Beaudelaire calling Voltaire the "king of nincompoops" to Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway ("I read him sometime in the early 'forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it") these author-on-author insults are sure to have you laughing.

Unrevised and overpriced? Want another sign of how the Internet is transforming the publishing marketplace? Rare review copies of famous literary works are selling for big bucks on some online bookselling sites. As Salon reports, a proof copy of a beloved book can cost you thousands of dollars. A rare Canadian review copy of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four costs $1,837, while a proof set of the first three Harry Potter novels will set you back $27,500. And here we thought print was dead.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Around the Word

Caveat editor: One of the biggest challenges of being a freelance wordsmith for hire, if not the biggest, is how to price your services. There is no one industry standard for rates or even agreement on the unit for charging (word? hour? project?). But there are some helpful benchmarks on the Web you can consult, and one of the best is put out by the Editorial Freelancers Association. The EFA recently updated their suggested rates for editors (h/t GallyCat) and we would encourage all  editor types to check out the new table if you have not seen it yet. We'd also be curious to get your feedback on their recommendations. How do they compare with what you are seeing in the marketplace?

Identi-defining your best dictionary: The explosion of instant information online presents today's writers and editors with seemingly unlimited sources for checking the meaning and usage of words. But now that we have moved from the era of OED to TMI, how are we to separate the word-nerd wheat from the chaff? This week Ragan surveyed the lexicographical landscape and offered a handy guide to determining which dictionary is best for your needs. The first step is to decide whether you're looking for a dictionary that's prescriptive (evaluating whether usage is accepted or not) or descriptive (which defines how the language is used- but is less inclined to rule out widespread usage.) Barabra Wallraff, author of "Your Own Words" and a member of American Heritage's advisory panel of writers, offers the following advice, "The best way to decide which book to buy is to check out a list of problem words, neologisms and other terms to see how different dictionaries handle them."

Lessons in literary perseverance: Feeling beaten down by the vagaries of the publishing marketplace these days? You might take some inspiration from this Philadelphia Inquirer article, which profiles some new writers who have gone to the extremes of creativity and persistence to market their books. Jen Miller lured a group of potential buyers to a rather unorthodox signing location, the front porch of the Princeton Inn, with just one tweet. Stephen Freid, whose book "Appetite For America," describes how Fred Harvey's service empire helped usher in middle-class tourism to the west, spent months setting up a train tour that would only stop at locations near or at Harvey's hotels and restaurants. At the stops he would arrange speaking engagements with historical societies and museums and viola! he had an instant audience. What are some creative ways you've taken to reach your audience?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Around the Word

The purpose scriven life: Seems like this is a meditative moment for some of favorite friends in the speechwriting community. Vital Speeches editor David Murray set off a suitably vital conversation about the moral value of what we scribes do with a terrific blog post yesterday entitled, "What is the higher social purpose of leadership communications?" The day before, Cindy Starks tried to answer a different but related question -- how to give your speech lasting significance. Her advice: build in and up a "moment" that will give your audience something to hold onto. Citing a line from a speech given by Jesse Jackson more than 20 years ago that she still remembers, Starks argues that a well-written phrase can stick with your audience for years.

Know thy self(publishing): We are big fans of self-publishing's democratizing effect and all the doors its opening to unconventional authors. But April Hamilton, author and founder of the indie publishing blog Publetariat, today points out one of the dispiriting downsides to this trend in the non-fiction sector. She suggests that many novice authors are confusing experience with expertise, and that it's not bad writing that kills their self-published dreams -- and threatens the growth of this emerging market -- but self delusion. Just because you lost 15 pounds or created a popular YouTube video, Hamilton writes, does not make you an expert on dieting or going viral. Want to stand out and break through the clutter of self-published titles? Write what you really know.

Inspiration for your stay-cation: Travel memoirs are hot this time of year, with tales of sweeping vistas and grand adventures in foreign lands. But for those of us who are bitter about staying home this summer, Flavorwire has collected the best essays on vacations gone wrong to make us feel a letter better. From David Sedaris's sad journey in an Amtrak bar car to David Foster Wallace's neurotic ride on a cruise ship, these bad trips will make you laugh, cry and never want to leave home again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Next Stop: Book Country

It's a cross between a writing group and an open mic night -- hone your craft among your peers and, fingers crossed, stumble upon your big break in the process. Such is the mission of Book Country, the buzz-generating online community for writers of genre fiction that Penguin launched last week. We took a quick tour around this new land over the weekend to see what it offers writers today -- and what it portends for our ilk in the future.

Here's a quick summary of how the site works. Authors upload all or part of their manuscripts, and the community responds with reader comments, constructive critiques, and a star rating. To keep things honest -- and to cultivate a sense of fellowship among the writers -- you have to offer at least three peer reviews before you can offer up your own novel for work-shopping. And the more frequently you comment on other participants' work, the more your two cents are worth: the rating system is weighted, giving extra credence to more prolific reviewers. The more novels-in-progress you read, in other words, the more your opinion counts (and the less likely you are to be a friend of the author in question).

The site also hosts author discussion forums, where writers can hash out everything from "how to get inside the head of a psychotic character" to how to craft a high-powered query letter, and supports a Facebook-like structure of "Connections" that allows users to follow the reading activities of one another, social-networking style.

But the big draw for many users will be the hope of Getting Discovered. "Penguin hopes the site will attract agents, editors and publishers scouting for new talent," reported the New York Times this April, and Molly Barton, Director of Business Development at Penguin USA assured MediaBistro that "Penguin editors are reading material on the site and looking for potential acquisitions."

How effective the site will be in fulfilling this promise is anyone's guess -- a digital slush pile is still a slush pile. But recent history suggests there's (at least some) reason to believe the hype. In February, HarperCollins, which operates a similar online writing community for aspiring Y.A. authors, acquired a novel they scouted from the site.

Even if your novel doesn't catch the eye of the industry, Book Country is aiming to be your ticket to publication: starting later this summer, the Times reports, the site will offer writers the option of self-publishing their books by ordering printed copies.

Sites like Book Country are remapping the publishing landscape, but are they the future of the industry? So far, Penguin's version is geared exclusively toward writers of genre fiction, and the HarperCollins's site, Inkpop, targets the Stephanie Meyers of tomorrow. We wonder: would the model work for other kinds of fiction? What about non-fiction? Can we expect a world where the next 4 Hour Workweek is plucked from an online forum for business writers?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Around the Word

Juris-prudent writing tips: Most writers don't look to Supreme Court justices for linguistic precedents, but we often forget that those on the high court spend a lot of time putting pen to paper and therefore might have some wordly wisdom to impart. With that in mind, NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg pulls back the veil of the black robe today to offer an inside look at The Nine's writing processes, their disdain for "legalese," and the authors who inspire them. Among the more interesting revelations: Ruth Bader Ginsberg falls back on lessons from her European literature professor, Vladimir Nabokov (Yes, that Nabokov), for writing guidance; Clarence Thomas says a good legal brief reminds him of the show "24"; and Chief Justice Roberts sounds much like an editor-in-chief with this reminder: It can always be shorter.

All a-Twitter: Our peers in the media-sphere love to talk about Twitter. Most see the social media platform one of two ways: a twee and quirky means of conversation or as the pseudo-starter of revolutions and the nemesis of the traditional news narrative. These two perspectives love to battle it out on the web, but Neiman Journalism Lab editor Megan Garber argues that it all boils down to how you think about Twitter: is it speech or is it text? She delves deep into the semiotics of Twitter, asking important questions about how the 140-character messages function in our digital society. As Garber puts it, if you see Twitter "as text that also happens to be conversation" then you find the medium "understandably lacking." But if you see it "as conversation that also happens to be text," then you find it "understandably awesome." Which side of the Twitter-divide do you fall on?

From downsizing to hamsterizing: Between writing, blogging, commenting, tweeting and writing again, being a communicator in the digital age can feel like running in a hamster wheel. The Federal Communcations Commission recently issued a formal validation of that feeling, coining the cheeky term "hamsterization" to describe the multi-platform multi-tasking that more and more journalists are expected to perform to stay ahead of the news cycle -- often at the expense of shoe-leather reporting. We want to know: are you feeling the same digital drain? How are do get off the writing wheel?

GG in the News

If you can't get enough of the "vampire words" discussion we started last week, PR Daily is out with their take on this verbal plague. Reporter Russell Working's list of eight leading sentence-suckers includes a nomination and quote from Gotham President Dan Gerstein, along with one of our favorite writers, Brian Solon.

Also of note: Dan recently did an interview about the work life of ghostwriting for a great website called Work Stew, which is a hub of essays and conversations on the changing nature of work in America today. The interview is available as a podcast here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Around the Word

In closing. . . . don't be close-minded: Speechwriting is often a balance between distinguishing originality and respecting convention, and David Murray of Vital Speeches of the Day today has some wise warnings about avoiding the trap of the latter. It's understandable for the the President to always ends the State of the Union by asking God to bless America as a matter of tradition and ceremony. But sometimes it pays to take the less chosen closing, Murray notes. Take the example of Mamata Banjeree, the newly elected Chief Minister of Bengal, India, who concluded her recent victory speech with these refreshingly unorthodox words: "People who have gathered since this morning, please go home, rest, and take a bath." You know what? It works, Murray says. "If the last lines of speeches are ceremonial... the equivalent of 'amen'... then at least infuse them with good advice." What's the most unorthodox way you've ever ended a speech?

Is corporate journalist the new jumbo shrimp?: Though it might seem strange for journos and CEOs to be joining forces, freelancing pro Nic Wertz wisely advises fellow reporters -- especially the newly liberated -- to get used to the idea. In a featured blog post on Ragan this week, Wertz explains why we can expect more and more journalists to split their time creating corporate content in the future -- and why that shouldn't cause ethical anxiety for reporters. To the contrary, Wertz argues freelancers should see it as an opportunity to leverage their top skills -- researching, writing and multi-platform production -- in a different sector and diversify their income. 

Saying "sayonara" with style: Be careful when dissing a writer -- they're likely to retaliate with a pen mightier than the sword. With writers being laid off left and right, Slate has curated a few of the best "thanks for nothing" letters from writers and journalists who have been fired (or resigned) recently. Our favorite? When Richard Morgan left Gawker after one day, he quit with this quip: "Jesus spent three days in Hell. . . . I could only handle one."

Triumphing over the technical: We all know that presenting gobs of technical data in a speech or paper can be deathly boring. On his Public Words blog, Nick Morgan offers a few helpful hints for writers on preventing your tech from drowning in dreck. His favorite strategies include using vivid metaphors and analogies and staying focused on audience persuasion. If all else fails you can always turn your presentation into a contest, as Morgan did with a public speaking class he taught at Princeton. He transformed the class into a Jeopardy contest and his students woke right up, though he's quick to add, "Do remember to give out prizes."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Around the Word

Mao's ghost: The Chinese blogosphere is abuzz this week with speculation that the Communist Party's ur-text, Mao's Little Red Book, may have been ghostwritten. Once you get past the sensationalist aspect of the Hu-dunnit, the rumors offer an interesting case study on the changing perception of our field. While older Chinese are horrified that the Marxist-Leninist Book may not have come straight from the Chairman's pen, the Independent reports, younger people don't see the problem with collaborating with an editor or ghostwriter. Regardless, Chinese officials, including the rumored ghost Hu Qiaomu, are vehemently denying the rumors to uphold the godfather of modern China's superhuman status. 

ZOMG! It sure is easy to get into the OED: The Oxford English Dictionary has been putting a lot of effort into trying to keep up with digerati these days. Recent additions like "ZOMG," "NSFW," "nom nom" and "nekkid" are all born from Web-speak and Internet memes. While some language lovers see this as an abomination, PR Newser sees opportunity in the alphabet soup. Branded phrases and marketing terms that catch on on the web have been immortalized in the linguistic bible. The recently added "Cyber Monday" started as a marketing term created by the National Retail Federation and caught on as an Internet meme. So just create a blog-worthy catchphrase and you too could make it into the OED. 

Port authority: The worst part of freelance writing for hire, most of our peers will tell you, is the marketing work you have to do. Most ghosts would rather stick an ice pick in their eye than have to make cold calls on a daily basis. Fortunately, as marketing guru Michael Port points out, there are alternatives. Port's book, Book Yourself Solid, is chock full of unconventional tactics that take advantage of your writing skills to reach a broader universe of potential clients. If you'd like a taste of Port's advice, Copyblogger has been kind enough to post an audiocast of an interview with him that focuses on the business of freelance writing and blogging. 

The digital price is right, Part II: Following up on our item yesterday on the logic behind e-book pricing, we saw today that eBookNewser provided some helpful new data to chew on. They surveyed the top 100 paid e-books in Amazon's Kindle store to see which price points were the most popular. A $.99 e-book held the top spot, but lots of popular titles fell at the sweet spots of $9.99, $5 and $7. Even a $12.99 book made the top 10 list. We're curious -- how much are you willing to pay for your Kindle fix?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Around the Word

Plotting past security: Laguardia's Terminal D may seem an unlikely locale for a literary event, but the Wall Street Journal reports that multiple authors including Magic Johnson, Madeleine Albright, and Donald Trump have contributed to the growing trend of using airport bookstores to promote their work. Many authors stop to sign books in between flights, and Hudson bookstores in Newark and Kennedy were recently treated to unscheduled signings by Ice-T and Rob Lowe. "Airport signings won't supplant traditional book tours anytime soon, but maximizing publicity opportunities, even during an author's travel layover, makes sense for publishing houses as marketing budgets shrink and traditional bookstores vanish." Just remember not to use your boarding pass as a bookmark! 

Twitter and Twellow and Tumbleweeds, oh my! You've got your book. You've got your blog. You've got your Facebook page and Twitter account. You are now fully interactive. But what happens when the messages start flying and the fans hit the fan? For those of you who need a little help managing your following and tracking your progress, check out this hilarious, knowing post from Tumblr blogger Jill Morris, How to Become a Published Author in 237 Simple Steps. Or if you'd like the abridged version, GalleyCat narrowed down those 237 suggestions to spotlight their four favorite social media managers: Listorious, Muck Rack, Twellow and Tumbleweeds.

Anglo-American rhetorical relations: A recent column by British commentator Steve Richards denouncing the current state of political oratory in the U.K. has caused a minor stir in the speechwriting community -- and met with some skepticism on this side of the pond. Upon reading a post by U.K speechwriter Max Atkinson echoing Richards' argument, Vital Speeches of the Day editor David Murray posted an open letter challenging their dour assessment of speechmaking in the digital age. "Doesn't it give you the least bit of pause (as it does me) when you see the world declining at the same rate as you?" Murray quipped. Are things as bad in the U.S.? Tell us what you think.

The price is right: With the e-book market in its early stages of development, publishers and authors are still struggling with how much to charge for digital lit. E-books are sold at a wide range of prices, from $.99 to $19. So where should an author price their e-book to get the most exposure and rake in the most royalties? You can find some useful answers in this blog post from author Bob Mayer, which aims to demystify the pricing process and help publishers and free agents alike find their sweet spot.

The Bloodsucker Proxy

Late last week we stumbled upon an old post on Copyblogger about the mortal verbal threat posed by "vampire words" -- qualifiers like "rather," "pretty," "very," and "little" that "suck the lifeforce from sentences." Once we read the author's personal list of greatest nits, we were curious to get the perspective of other writers and find out how prevalent this peeve is. So, naturally, we polled the ghosts in the network to name their vampire nemeses.

Boy did we hit a nerve -- or should we say in this case a vein. Our poll unleashed a torrent of rhetorical bane-naming: words, phrases, even a thorough debunking of Strunk and White-ing. Many responses fit the basic Copyblogger standard of bloodsucking qualifiers ("important," "generally," "often," "actually," "basically,""literally," "unique,""impactful,""iconic"). Many others took a more expansive reading of the question and pointed fickle fingers at annoying/officious constructions and noxious cliches ("that is why," "just that," "the fact that," "perfect storm," "value-added," "silver bullet," "a myriad of," "plethora," "whence").

One writer, Richard Eskow, went so far as to take a stake to adjectives en masse.
"Every adjective slows the momentum of a sentence.  And every adjective imposes the writer's biases on the reader.  Therefore, every adjective inhibits the free flow of imagination that makes reading a collaboration between writer and reader.  It stifles off one-half of the human capital available for that act by excluding the reader from the interpretive proces. But while every adjective is a vampire word, some draw far more blood than others.  The more syllables an adjective has, for example, the more vampiric it may become. . . The worst adjective of all?  Maybe 'unsurprisingly.' For one thing it has too many syllables.  For another thing, if it's not surprising why waste my time by making me read about it?
Peter Roff, on the other hand, went to the other extreme. "There are no bad words," he wrote. "There are only bad writers."

The one clear takeaway -- hackery, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, for your venting pleasure, is a sampling of the more revealing and creative replies we received.

"It goes without saying" (then why say it?) that I've been resisting the urge to take a "deep dive" into this topic. (How deep, and why dive?) I can't decide, is it better to take a "deep dive", "jump in with both feet" (as opposed to jumping in with one foot), or just "dip my toe into the water?"  At any rate, I'm sure this group can "get to the bottom" of it. Who knows, we might even "change the paradigm" for identifying vampire words.  Meanwhile, let's all " know..."
-- Boe Workman

If I hear one more person say "at the end of the day" I think I'll throw myself off a building. . . but not until the day is over.
-- Jacqueline Gold

I've found that even though I might not object to something on my own, finding out that another editor does, particularly for a clever reason, has swayed me over. For example, some years ago I heard that the editor of the Journal at one point announced that if he saw the word "upcoming" in a story again, he would be "downcoming" and the reporter would be "outgoing."  I had never really thought about it before but was convinced from that day forth.
-- Steve Hirsch

Too many otherwise good writers use "palpable." To me, it is similar to saying something is obvious or noticeable. If it wasn't either of those, you wouldn't be able to write about it.
-- Zachary Janowski

Have your own pet peeve to share? Feel free to write in your nominations in the comments below.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Full Ghostwriting Workshop Video Now Available

If you missed the workshop we recently co-hosted with ASJA on how to break into ghostwriting, the full video is now available online for download to watch at your convenience. Just go to the ASJA recordings page and follow the instructions for downloading in either WMV or MP4 formats.

P.S. Since we got such a positive response to this event, we are working on developing a follow-up workshop for ghostwriters of all experience levels in the next several weeks. Stay tuned for more details.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Around the Word

Commencement 2011. . . The good, the bad, and the lengthy. Our friend Fletcher Dean, one of the top speechwriting pros around, deploys his fine-tuned ear to flag the best and worst of this graduation season's speeches -- and what professional communicators can learn from them. Some speakers -- like Denzel Washington and broadcast journalist Robert Krulwich -- soared and scored by engaging their audiences and keeping their anecdotes snappy. Less impressive were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and New York Academy of Medicine President Jo Ivey Boufford, who spent large chunks of time fixating on policy instead of giving concise, relevant advice to grads.

For more Commencement 2011 highlights, check out the Huffington Post's video slideshow of some of the most high-profile speakers for this season. From Amy Poehler's hilarious Harvard routine to Michelle Obama's speech at Spelman to Tom Hanks at Yale, you can get some instant grad-ification and experience the best of class among 2011 speakers. Have your own favorites to share? Post a note in the comments below or email us at:

The book club goes global: Next time you're reading and have an OMG-moment, try turning to Twitter -- chances are there are other bookworms in the Twitterverse discussing the exact same title. In fact, publishers are beginning to take advantage of this insta-community by attaching a hashtag to printed books in order to facilitate an ongoing digital discussion. The ladies at Women on Writing are among the leading evangelists for the concept, since it enables readers to connect with a much broader universe of like-minded literary lovers. Though book hashtags still have some kinks (what to do about spoilers?) it's definitely another way to bring traditional print into the digital age #thefutureishere.

Highlights of the Kardashian Name Game

Thanks to all our friends who sent us their entries for the Kardashian Name Game, our mock version of the contest that the Special K sisters are running to title their soon-to-be released novel. As promised, here is a list of our favorite submissions (most of which were submitted anonymously), with the gold(digger) medal winner at the bottom.

Tweet, Play, Loaf
-- Mike Spoodis

For Whom the Cellphone Texts
-- Tom Teichoz

Three Babies and No Men
-- Jeff Kreisler

Nothing Butt Love
-- Anonymous

Remembrance of Thongs Past
-- Anonymous

Are You There Camera? It's Me Kardashian
-- Anonymous

Lay It As It Plays: Or How To Bed An Athlete (power forward by Lamar Odom)
-- Anonymous

Naked Lunch, Breakfast, and Dinner
-- Anonymous

Lack of Atonement
-- Anonymous

A Green Room of One's Own
 -- Anonymous

And the gold(digger) medal goes to. . . .

To Shill A Mockingbird
-- Anoynmous

P.S. To update you on the real contest, Harper Collins has selected five finalists and is asking fans to choose the winner from among them. Alas, none of our submissions made the cut. But if you're still interested, you can vote here.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ghosts in the Celebrity Machine

By Dan Gerstein

Last week we had some pun fun with the contest the Kardashian sisters were running on Twitter to name their soon-to-be published novel (we'll post some of our favorite submissions soon, FYI). But as the New York Times points out today, celebrity chick lit is fast becoming serious business. To wit (and we're using that phrase loosely): Nicole Richie, Hilary Duff, Lauren Conrad have all joined the Kardashians in scoring big bucks book deals relatively recently, while Snooki had her fiction debut (A Shore Thing) land on the Times best-seller list at the beginning of the year.

This trend raises a seemingly juicy question that the Times dutifully uses as a hook for its story: did these starlets actually write these books themselves? The authors and their publicists adhere to their reality TV training and try to maintain the fiction that their fiction is their own -- when the question was put to Snooki on the Today Show, she replied, “I did. . . . Because if you read it, you’ll know the first page that I wrote it. Cause, like, it’s all my language.” But the Times reporter rather effortlessly confirms that they've all used ghostwriters; Richie's publisher contradicted her claims of authorship in the bat of an eyelash extension.

Reading this, I could not help but have a Claude Rains in "Casablanca" moment. We're supposed to be shocked, shocked that there is ghostwriting in Hollywood. That women who are paid to look good reading other people's writing on camera might get paid for using other people's writing in print. That a self-appelled "Guidette" who admits to having read two books in her life might have had some help writing a 304-page novel. Seriously, the news here would have been if any of these actresses and/or professional publicity chasers had written the book without the aid of a ghost.

What the article did expose, though, was an implicit prejudice/disdain for ghostwriting that remains all too common among journalistic and writing elites. Most average Americans understand and accept that politicians work with speechwriters, late night talk show hosts use jokewriters, CEOs hire professional business writers to help craft their leadership tomes. And yet when it comes to the Kardashian sorority producing a novel for a major publisher, perhaps the most obvious case of literary assistance imaginable, the Times felt compelled to search for a non-existent ethical issue. What's next: an investigation into the veracity of professional wrestling?

Now we suspect that Times' overreaction is due in some part to the apparent novelty of ghostwritten novels, that such a personal form of individual imaginate could be subbed out mostly or wholely to another writer. But the fact is even top fiction writers like James Patterson and James Frey have been employing small armies of ghosts to support their prolific output. And we can attest from our recent experience, with dozens of non-writers calling us for help in turning their inspiration into a novel, that this practice is only going to become more and more common-place as the barriers to entry for publishing a book disintegrate.

That's a subject for a longer dedicated meditation. For now, we would suggest that if the Times is looking for a scandal here, it should seek out and talk to all the promising young writers who are being Snooki-ed out of publishing deals.

Gerstein is president of Gotham Ghostwriters

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Around the Word

The grad-daddy of all commencement gifts: New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan confesses to an unusual side gig -- he's a graduation speech groupie. He finds the field so inspiring, in fact, that he was moved to pen a book that tries to capture the best advice he's heard -- Everything is Going to Be Okay: A Book for You or Someone Like You. Our friend the Eloquent Woman, who is no pushover, gives it two tassels up today, calling it "a book that will delight anyone who's had to give a speech" as well as recent grads. To read more about Kaplan's ode to pomp and circumstance -- and to see a slideshow of illustrations from the book -- check out Kaplan's article in the Huffington Post.

Social studies for authors: As many of our writers can attest, authors are under growing pressure these days to master or at least muster social media to promote and market their work, and that can be quite a problem if not downright intimidating for the techno-challenged among us. To help out these digital newbies, editor and blogger Meghan Ward has compiled a list of the best social media books for authors. Add these volumes to your personal library and you'll be blogging, tweeting and Facebook-ing like a pro in no time.

Loving your inner luddite: For those writers who proudly embrace their inner analog, and want to rage against the digitizing of the light, you may want to join Garth Risk Hallberg's anti-Kindle crusade. He's mastered the art of making your book unpublishable on the Amazon reader, and is freely sharing his secrets for e-voidance. The black-and-white Kindle can't handle inventive typefaces or color illustrations, Hallberg points out, so if you want to make sure your book stays in pristine, printed form, pile on the experimental formatting. Other suggestions? Make your book a boxed set, encourage your readers to interact with the book (for example, by taking scissors to it) and add tons of end-notes.

Calling all literary cool kids: Here's a new website to watch, especially for our younger friends in the publishing biz. Publishing Trendsetter "is where young book professionals can gather guidance and share knowledge and ideas" as well as "a place for industry veterans to engage with the most creative and gifted up-and-comers." This collaboration between Publishing Trends and Market Partners International has a host of talented up-and-coming bloggers on staff and we're looking forward to seeing what these publishing pups come up with.