Monday, February 19, 2007

Picture Perfect

This Monday's author interview is with Erik Sherman, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Canon EOS Digital Cameras. He tells us how he got into authoring series books and how he established his expertise in the subject.

Tell us about yourself:

I’m a full-time freelance writer and photographer living in rural western Massachusetts with my wife, our two kids, seven chickens, and a couple of computers.

Tell us about your book:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Canon EOS Digital Cameras sounds like an extended camera manual for that line of cameras, but it’s really about how to use the features common to virtually all digital SLRs to take better pictures. It starts with an overview of the equipment line and continues through the basics: how to keep the camera steady, composing images, dealing with the technical requirements of digital image files, and dealing with exposure and lighting. Then there are more advanced topics such as editing images and choosing settings for specific types of subjects.

How long have you been a photo subject matter expert and how did you develop that?

I’ve been a photographer since I was a kid and have learned a lot about the topic over the years. This was an outgrowth of a personal interest and also listening to my wife who, shortly after I started in freelance writing, suggested that using a camera could mean additional income.

As a writer, how did you build your platform in your expertise?

What I had for this was expertise, not platform. Platform refers to having an existing audience for an existing topic. Expertise is what lets you competently write the book. Because it was part of a series and the publisher’s idea, they needed someone who could produce the manuscript on time and who had a plausible background in the topic. I already was using Canon equipment, which gave me an in.

How did you find your agent and publisher?
It was a referral from another writer – Jennifer Lawler. She had worked with agent Marilyn Allen before and heard that Alpha/Penguin was looking for someone to write this book. She remembered my offering photo advice to people in Freelance Success and so emailed me asking if I might be interested. I was and forwarded some background information. Marilyn got in touch with me, put my name forward with another writer who was probably more qualified from a background/platform view, but who wanted to do a different type of project.

How did you propose a book in the Idiot's Guide series?

It is a series, and I didn’t propose that book. However, after doing the first one, I was chatting with the editor and asked about upcoming titles that might need a writer. She mentioned a book on pizza, and I have a long-standing practical interest in cooking. I said I’d be interested, she brought my name up to the publisher, noting that while I didn’t have a food platform, I had done some food writing, knew food, and had experience with the series. So the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pizza and Panini will be out in early August. I’m just waiting for author’s review.

Were there particular challenges to doing a book in a series (following their format, etc?)

I’ve done series books in the past on technical topics and those also required formatting. Once you get used to it, it’s not a problem at all. The only tough thing was the deadline, and because I was writing about something I knew so well, I was able to do the whole book in about five or six weeks without a sweat.

What advice would you give to writers wanting to develop a "how to" book in a particular subject?

There’s the classic advice of “write what you know,” but while you can stretch the boundaries with most types of reporting, I think a how-to book needs practical experience. Without having that knowledge, the research has to include becoming practices, and getting up to speed can make the entire project arduous. If you want to write a book about something you’ve never done, try doing it first. You might find that you don’t enjoy it, and that’s a great way of saving yourself from agony.

Any other advice for writers?
Understand the business end of writing as well as you understand the actual writing. Both are important when you’re looking to write for money. Also, keep pushing to break old writing habits and to open new horizons in the craft. If your writing isn’t improving, then it’s getting stale, and who wants that?

When and where will your book be available?

The book is available now online (Amazon, B&N, Powell’s, and so on) and it should be in the stores, though I don’t know if it’s hit the physical shelves yet.


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