Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Around The Word

The accidental ghostwriter. It has been revealed that an anonymous article posted in one of the journals edited by Charles Dickens about the rights of the working class was written by the man himself. The article, published in 1863 in the weekly magazine All the Year Round, was analyzed by Dickens Journals Online, which is working on digitizing all of the critic’s works. They were given the mystery article and a list of six writers, ultimately deciding that the writing was most similar to Dickens’ himself.

It’s the end of libraries as we know it, but the computers feel fine. Along with the whole of Dickens’ work being digitized, there are many other initiatives to digitize literary archives, for preservation’s sake. Stalin’s personal collection has started to be scanned by the Yale University Press, and the University of Texas began a collaboration years ago to preserve documents and testimonies from the Rwandan genocide, along with various other historical moments. Insert clichéd "those who do not remember history" quote here.

The words behind the man. From June 8 until September 23, the Morgan Library and Museum will host Churchill: The Power of Words,” an exhibit devoted to words, letters, and speeches from the wartime leader. Over sixty documents, including doctors' notes, postcards, and family letters, will show insight into Churchill’s thought process. The exhibit even includes an old report card, describing Churchill as “a constant trouble to everybody.” 

All Mom left me was her diamond tennis bracelet and her 50 Shades of Grey e-book. Over at NPR, Amanda Katz asks the question, “Will your children inherit your e-books?” With the entire industry converting for the digital age, what will happen to the dear tradition of classic books being passed from generation to generation? Will we soon bequeath only our Amazon account password to our grandkids? And will the change make priceless physical books even more priceless? Let us know in the comments what you think will happen with your generational bookshelf.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Around the Word

Gravity's Rainbow Gets a Digital Facelift. Penguin is getting set to release Thomas Pynchon's complete works as ebooks. It seems the author, who has resisted going digital up to this point, was shown the writing on the wall (or the posts on his FB page). Editor-in-Chief Ann Godoff points out that it boils down to business: ''I think he wants to have more readers... Every writer wants to have as many readers as they can possibly get. But I don’t think this will change his public profile." Pynchon himself may be as "analog" as ever, but his catalog is definitely getting a sexy new-media marketing makeover.

Freelancing on Film. UK film-goers are about to get a glimpse into the lives of its estimated 1.6 million freelancers. This year the "7 Days in June" film project, which brings together teams of filmmakers who shoot short films over the course of one week, will open a window into the all-too-solitary world of freelancing. The films will focus on themes like the role of freelancing in shaping the economy and what it's like to be a freelancer. The films will be released one by one, leading up to the UK's National Freelancer's Day on November 23rd.

If You Love It, Let It Go. We all have them, those go-to, buzzy modifiers that we rely on a little too heavily, often without even realizing it. Last week the"After Deadline" blog posted a piece about how we let those words worm their way into our writing in a sort of collective unconsciousness. It points out that a count from the previous week revealed dozens of uses of the word "signature" as a qualifier, i.e. "Mark Zuckerberg's 'signature' hoodie." Redundancy is one of the greatest enemies of good writing, and being conscious of our linguistic crutches is a great way to fight (and win) the battle. Cliche but true, the best advice is "if you love something, let it go." What are the words you need to set free?

Confronting the "r" word in Children's lit. For better or worse, some perennial favorites in the cannon of children's lit, like Babar and the Pippi Longstocking series, are downright cringe-worthy when it comes to race. In a recent article, author Stephen Marche explores the minefield of introducing his six-year-old son to classics, as well as more modern tails, that are full of questionable stereotypes. How do you confront the "n" word while reading Huckleberry Finn with your kid? Take a cue Michael Chabon and turn it into a "teachable moment"? Stick to the "sanitized" rewrites? Avoid the tough stuff all together? It's a question that's definitely worth exploring. 


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writer Poll: "Write or Die" App Is Better Off Dead

Last week we learned about a provocative new app for writers called Write or Diewhich claims to "put the 'prod' in productivity" by not only alerting, but punishing when it senses your output waning. According to the LA Times "Jacket Copy" blog, the app's "accountability mechanisms" range from low-key popup reminders to "kamikaze" mode, a full-on assault that will actually begin deleting your words if you stop typing for too long.

We were amazed by this downright draconian means of behavior modification, so we decided to poll our writers to see whether they thought negative reinforcement was really the best way to combat writer's block. Responses ranged from amusement to "WTF?!" to bemoaning the rise of "Nazi technology." Many pointed out that frustration and taking time-outs are part of the creative process. Most suggested their own alternatives for coping when the juices cease to flow. The most common suggestions to jump-start creativity: take a break, go for a walk, wander around your apartment, and concentrate on something other than the fact that you can't concentrate.

Here are some other ideas from our freelances to help re-motivate when you're feeling like you've hit that proverbial wall:
  • Time really is money. "I don't need an app to be reminded to write. I keep my household bills in a stand-up file right next to my monitor. One glance over there and I get right back to work" —Tim Gower
  • Catch those z's.  "I don't think writers are blocked; I think they're tired. I would suggest ambien. After a good night's sleep, it's much easier to write." —Kate Rounds
  • Deadlines drive. "I find it helps if someone gives me a deadline, even an artificial one. Book writing is a lengthy process, and 'deliver a manuscript a year from now' doesn't help me produce at a daily clip. So for my second book, I contracted a friend to demand chapters by set dates. I felt sufficiently pressured by her to deliver on time!" —Judith Matloff 
  • Let  you mind wander. "I try to have fun, usually by thinking up fanciful names for singing groups, racehorses, characters for novels (à la Dickens) or movies, and, most enjoyably, British pubs that don't or should exist." —Steven Flax
App developers seem to have recognized that tapping into that fear-as-motivator instinct can be lucrative. Other examples include Aherk, a "self-blackmail" service, which has you submit embarrassing photos of yourself that will be posted to your Facebook page if you don't meet your deadlines, and stikK, developed by a Yale econ professor, which will donate your money to a group you hate if you don't accomplish your goals.

But who needs a sadistic app when you have Gotham Ghostwriter polls to inspire? This one spurred some productivity of its own: check out this blog post by journalist and author Claudia Gryvatz Copquin.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Around the Word

All Apologies. Speechwriters know that the mea culpa is probably one of the most difficult to write well. The sweet spot at the axis of sincerity and self-preservation can be an elusive target, especially now that everyone can be a critic, and a public one at that. Who isn't sick of the canned "saying sorry without actually apologizing" celeb atonement? That's why actor Jason Alexander's amends for offensive remarks he made on Craig Ferguson's talk show (referring to cricket as a "gay" sport) was the talk of the Internet last week. Bedsides that fact that Alexander (or his PR flack) made the effort to write more than 140 characters, what was most refreshing was the fact that his apology is an actual piece of meaningful and honest self-reflection. 

Face or Kneecaps? You got the job, you've done the work, and now it's time to get paid... or not. Freelancers know that getting that check in hand can be almost as much work as the gig itself. How many times have you finished a project only to have the client decide that it's a good time re-neg, stop returning phone calls, or just plain disappear? How do you deal with a deadbeat when you don't have a goon squad, or any real recourse besides Small Claims Court? Check out this interview with Sarah Horowitz, president of the Freelancer's Union, in which she discusses the Union's new advocacy campaign for freelancer's rights, strategies to deal with the shirkers, and The World's Longest Invoice.

Fail: a Win in Disguise. Last week intern Abi attended a reading and conversation with Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Ford (part of a great series put on by CUNY's Center for Fiction). She found the most instructive part of the evening to be when the authors discussed the role of failure, an all-too-common theme in the writing life, in bringing about some of the most beloved literary treasures. Oates suggested that she wished she'd had a "phoenix experience," a great moment of failure to overcome and rise above. She reminded the audience that if Faulkner had succeed as a poet or Aldous Huxley impersonator, he never would experienced the emotional turmoil that spawned The Sound and the Fury. Best to embody the immortal words of Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

GG President Dan Gerstein Featured in Johnnie Walker Blue Label Promotion

Great scotch and great writers go together like the Old Man and the Sea (sorry, we couldn’t resist the obligatory Hemingway reference). So when one of the world’s premier scotch brands, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, was looking for a ghostwriting expert to help Father’s Day gift buyers come up with memorable personalized inscriptions on the their bottles this month, it was only natural that they would turn to New York’s premier full-service writing firm, Gotham Ghostwriters.

Johnnie Walker has been offering free engraving on Blue Label bottles for several years through their website, and to help promote this perk, they have set up a dedicated engraving kiosk in Grand Central Terminal for commuters to get their inscriptions done in person and in a hurry.

This year, as an added attraction, the folks at Johnnie Walker asked GG President Dan Gerstein to serve as their in-house inscription expert. As part of his wordsmithing duties, Dan will be hosting office hours at the Grand Central engraving kiosk on Thursday, June 14, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. He will also be available to do phone consultations, which can be arranged by emailing

For those who can’t make it to Grand Central, Dan developed a handy set of tips and tricks to help sons and daughters of all persuasions deliver a gift their dad will never forget.

1) Keep it tight. Remember, you only have 45 characters to say something memorable. So think of your words as being precious as the gift you are giving—to be poured with care. Don't worry about signing your name; write the right thing, and he'll know who the gift is from. Focus on maximizing your message.

2) Make it personal. A special gift like Johnnie Walker Blue Label deserves a special inscription. So leave the generic Father's Day wishes to the greeting card people and show your dad you're thinking of him. It doesn't matter whether you're serious, goofy, cryptic, or simple—just try to be original and personal. Share some inside insight, like referencing his favorite team or the golf trip you took to Scotland together. The surest way to connect with him is to connect the message to you.

3) Know your audience. Most dads love Blue Label. But their other tastes can vary widely, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. What sounds like corn pone to one man can sing like a tone poem to another. So don't feel the need to meet somebody else's expectations. If your dad appreciates wordplay, have some pun. If he's more sentimental, play those heartstrings. Either way, speak his language.

4) Show yourself. Since you are striving to send a special message, it's great to aim high. Should you be inspired to say something profound or witty, go for it. But it's more important for your engraving to ring true as you. So while you're speaking dad's language, make sure it's with your accent. Use words and phrasing that come naturally and sound familiar. There's a straight line from authentic to "Awwwww. . . ."

5) Stay classy. Your inscription should be special to you and your dad. But bear in mind that he may want to share his Blue Label—along with your message—by putting it on display in the den or at the office for all comers to see. It's fine to have some fun. Just be sure, as you have done your whole life, to make him proud.

You can find out more details about the Blue Label Father’s Day campaign here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Around the Word

Because You’re Worth It. If you haven’t already checked out our writeup of the recent presentation by Michael Levin—aka the Business Ghost—here at Gotham headquarters, read it now. And when you're done, check out David Murrary’s article over on Vital Speeches of the Day about not giving yourself away for free. As he says, tryouts are for Little Leaguers, so get your head in the game and don’t sell yourself short—although don’t pull a Linda Evangelista and tell everyone you won’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day.

Sweet Dreams, Missouri. After publishing about 2,000 titles in fifty-four years, the University of Missouri Press is set to close its doors. Known for publishing great works within the historical, journalism, political, and creative nonfiction fields, the company has been struggling since the recession began and faced difficulties with the technological changes within the publishing industry. An exact date for the close is still unknown.
Throw Like a Girl and Still Score. With women still making 60 cents to a man’s dollar, women’s organization Her Girl Friday recently met with a panel of experienced journalists and editors for a discussion about how female journalists should pitch their stories to stand out in a sea of male bylines. The bottom line of the discussion was that when pitching, journalists need to show a supreme level of confidence. Be prepared for rejection, but never back down. “There’s not a lot of support for women in this industry,” said Ally Millar, 31, an early member of the group. “We thought it would be great to have this event to help women connect. If we band together, maybe we can move forward together.”

Like A Million Little Pieces, Without Making Oprah Angry. Clark Kent has Superman, David Bowie has Ziggy Stardust, and many famous authors have their own alter egos that they inject into their stories as sort of a faux autobiography within their works. Flavorwire has compiled a list of some of the best known, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout and Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood. Is it a cheap ploy for character development, or is there a benefit to hiding behind someone else’s name? Who would your alter ego be? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tips to Die for. . . from Our "Killer Book Proposal" Workshop

In today’s competitive publishing world, you not only have to be a fantastic writer, you also have to learn to think like a marketing and PR executive. That was the key takeaway from the workshop we presented last week in conjunction with ASJA: “How to Write a Killer Book Proposal… For a Dead Tough Market.” Leading the conversation were veteran literary agent Marilyn Allen, bestselling author and freelance editor Bev West, and Gotham President Dan Gerstein.

Marilyn and Bev both agreed that the book market isn’t dead, but it is in a state of flux. Although it seems like advances are shrinking, editors are getting laid off by the score, and acquisitions are stalling all around, the truth is, if you know how to properly navigate the new publishing climate, there are more opportunities than ever to get your voice heard and back up your book ideas with solid market research that commands top dollar. The best news? Marilyn reported that last fall and spring she sold more books than ever.

So how do make sure your proposal gets to the top of the pile? Here are some tips from our panelists.

Before you type your first line…
Do your research and gather the data that you need to prove your market. Bev emphasized that one of the most important decisions to make before you ever set pen to paper is to clarify your brand message and define your target audience. Who are you writing for? What is the central message you’re trying to convey, and why will it appeal to your target audience? What’s already selling in your space, and what’s fresh about your project that those books don’t offer? Marilyn suggested reading the reviews of competitive titles to see if there are needs that aren’t being met. If you want to write a book about honey and you learn that readers of the bestselling honey books complained that they all lacked recipes, that’s your cue to write a book that includes honey recipes.

Be the whole package: “hook, book, and cook”
Marilyn said that when she’s considering taking on a project or client, she’s not just looking at the quality of the writing, she’s looking at the whole package. The hook: Why is this book about trees different than all the hundreds of other books about trees? The book: What is in this book that we a haven’t read before? The cook: What makes you the right person to write this book? Bev and Marilyn both agreed that building a platform that illustrates your unique expertise and your connections with your target audience is more important than ever in today’s market.

Get to know social media make the internet your BFF
We’re living in an internet-driven world. If you don’t have a social media presence, you might as well forget about getting a nonfiction project published. Bev said that agents and publishers look for a platform first. Before they even read a proposal, they check out your blog, your social media following, and how large your online footprint is. Marilyn suggested approaching your target community as if you’re networking at a cocktail party. Start by posting your content—and make sure you have something to say—and then mingle with your audience. Don’t neglect SEO when tagging blog posts—you want your audience to be able to find you. And remember: the internet is dynamic, not static, so you need to update your content and engage your audience regularly. Marilyn described how she found one of her latest projects, a book about Pinterest, by seeking out the “expert” who was blogging about it the most and the loudest. This level of audience engagement is very labor-intensive and can seem overwhelming. Dan suggested that one way to save time and energy is to tap into the glut of under-employed twenty-somethings and outsource the job of generating content to them.

Finally, here are ten tips for a pitch that packs a punch:
1. Start with a bang. Jump right in and keep them wanting more.
2. Provide a market overview with strong ad copy. Make it smart, funny, and relevant.
3. Describe your target audience: What are they like, what are they looking for, how are you connected to them already, and what’s your plan to engage them further?
4. Show that you already have a platform and access to your audience.
5. Sell yourself as part of your book package.
6. Do your competitive title analysis right. Don’t ever compare your project to Eat Pray Love or Marley and Me—name-dropping bestsellers is a sure sign of an amateur. Choose perennial favorites and align yourself with books that have staying power.
7. Make sure your chapter outline demonstrates the shape and arc of your book. Include sound bites and emphasize the hook.
8. Make sure your sample chapter(s) show off your voice and give a sense of what differentiates your content from the rest.
9. Be succinct and efficient: engage, educate, and entertain. Have empathy for the person who’ll be reading your proposal, and remember that yours isn’t the only proposal in the world.
10. Be professional. Make absolutely sure your proposal is proofread and typo-free. Avoid unnecessary bells, whistles, and nontraditional formatting.


The whole workshop is available as a streaming webcast over on the ASJA portal site. Check it out!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Spotlight: The Insider's Guide to Book Publishing Success

We're very pleased to spotlight The Insider's Guide to Book Publishing, written by our friends at independent distributor Midpoint Trade Books: Eric Kampmann, Margot Atwell, and Sarah Lucie. Given the drastic shifts in the publishing industry in the past few years, this book could not be more timely. It is truer now than ever before that absolutely anyone can write and publish a book, yet the process remains daunting and opaque to most people outside the industry. This book will go a long way toward demystifying and illuminating the right steps to take on your publishing journey, helping prospective authors determine the best way to bring their books into the world. 

Gotham Ghostwriters spoke with Margot Atwell about the relevance of this book, the publishing industry today, and their new hybrid publishing division, Midpoint Plus.

Without revealing your secrets, can you give me a brief overview of what's covered in the book?
There are no secrets in the book, just straightforward information about publishing that we've learned from years (and, for Eric, decades) of experience in the publishing industry. It is divided into sections, each of which covers one aspect of publishing. "Publishing Overview" describes seven different publishing options for authors, from publishing with a major house to independent publishing with a distributor to an e-book-only launch. Other sections cover the manuscript, production, sales and distribution (two areas many authors know very little about), marketing and publicity, and finance. We also include case studies written by authors and industry professionals to show what a success story looks like from the inside, and how hard it is to make a book successful.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing aspiring authors today?
Right now is a fantastic time to be an author, and options for publishing have proliferated to the point that whatever an author wants to do, he or she can do. There are so many different ways to publish a book, in e-book format or print. Tons of great writers who might have been overlooked by the major houses in the past can take their writing careers in their own hands and publish their own books, build their own markets, and see greater rewards than they would have under the traditional publishing model.

The greatest challenge facing authors is there is not enough information from reputable sources about how to make publishing decisions. Many authors decide to self-publish their books without knowing what it takes to do so, or what all the steps are. I see many authors looking to industry experts for help, and sometimes they find generous, knowledgeable people who can steer them in the right direction, while other times they find people who are much more interested in making money than in working with an author to find out what is right for his or her book. Authors can make unnecessary and costly investments in seminars that aren't helpful, cover designers who overcharge and under-deliver, or printing way too many copies of their book without any way to bring it to the market.

We wrote The Insider's Guide to Book Publishing Success to demystify the publishing process for people who have never seen it from the inside, and to arm them with the right questions to ask themselves and the people they might work with. We hope it will be a valuable tool for authors and new publishers.

Why was now the right time to bring this book out?
The industry is changing fast, and technology is allowing authors to publish their own books more easily and economically than ever before. At the same time, and probably because of that, self-publishing is losing the stigma it once had, and many more people are turning to self- and independent publishing. Even Book Expo America is acknowledging the massive rise in self-publishing with this weekend's UPublishU event at the Javits Center. We will be there giving away free copies of our book, so please stop by and say hi! We'll be at Booth #4345.

What makes your team uniquely qualified to write this book?
Eric has forty years of book sales and distribution experience. He has worked with independent book publishers since 1981, and has owned and run Midpoint, a distributor for over 250 independent publishers, since 1996. He has seen many major changes in the publishing industry and can put the current shifts in a broader context.

I am the Publisher of Beaufort Books, an independent publisher distributed by Midpoint Trade Books, so I have much more of an editorial and marketing background. This helps round out the book and give readers a wider view of publishing. We also called on other publishing professionals to provide information for key sections, such as special sales and social media.

Tell me more about Midpoint Plus.
We created Midpoint Plus to fill a need that we started to see more and more. Frequently, great authors who are becoming first-time publishers will approach Midpoint Trade Books looking for distribution. However, the learning curve for a first-time publisher is enormous, and most often, these authors' books would fail because they had overlooked one (or more) important piece of the publishing puzzle. Midpoint Plus is a publishing services company that can assist, guide, and mentor new publishers. We can help with just one part of the process—like finding and working with a cover designer to achieve a great professional-looking cover, or developing and implementing a marketing plan—or we can help with the entire process, from manuscript development to getting the books on bookstore shelves and beyond. Our books get national distribution into bookstores, wholesalers, online retailers, and appropriate specialty accounts through Midpoint Trade Books, and we have a very sales-oriented vision, which sets us apart from many other book doctors, book shepherds, and consultants, most of whom have an editorial background and might not be able to provide such holistic assistance or access to sales and distribution.

Margot Atwell is the Publisher of Beaufort Books, an independent book publisher based in New York City, and Director of Midpoint Plus, a publishing services company founded in 2011. Before joining Beaufort Books in 2006, she worked at the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. When she is not working on books, she plays Gotham Girls Roller Derby under the publishing-appropriate moniker Em Dash.