Thursday, May 29, 2008

And the Winner for the Right Way to Write...

Mary Nida Smith is our winner this week. Congratulations, Mary! Thanks to all of you who visited and those who asked a question.

Mary: With loads of how-to information on the internet for writers, do you find it
difficult to promote or sell your books?

Patricia: Yes, everyone finds it difficult to promote and sell their books and this is true whether you have a traditional royalty publisher, you go with a fee-based PODpublisher or you self-publish. It’s also a fact for authors of fiction and nonfiction. There were reportedly 400,000 new books produced in 2007 and nearly 300,000 in 2006. Practically everyone who wants to write a book IS writing a book.The competition is terribly fierce for authors of any type of book to sell.

But book promotion has never been a walk in the park, unless the author has a
profound fondness for high level marketing and lots of money to throw at his
project. It is hard work and it always has been. The competition makes it harder.
But the internet makes it easier.

So the fact that there is loads of information for writers on the internet
actually helps sell my books on writing and publishing. Savvy author—those who
take the time to do some internet research about publishing, will come to realize
how important it is that they understand something about the industry before they
get involved. Authors who seek information will learn how valuable it is to know
their options and the possible ramifications of their decisions. They find out how
important it is to write a book proposal and they will start looking around for
more information on these topics.

Rather than shy away from the internet, I use the internet to get word out about
what I can offer authors and many of them will read my articles posted at various
blog spots and in online newsletters all over the web. They’ll read some of the
many book reviews for my books online. They’ll learn about my online, on-demand
courses for writers and authors, they’ll discover my blog site with tons of
information for authors and they’ll stumble across my website.

If you’re pitching a how-to, self-help or informational book, use the web.
Practically everyone goes there for the information they want or need. Write
articles for websites and online newsletters related to your topic—and LOTS of
them, get your book reviewed at those sites and in those newsletters, participate
in online forums on your topic, leave comments at appropriate blogs, start your
own blog and post to it regularly. Become well-known in the internet circles where
your readers travel and you, too, will be acknowledged with a “The,” in front of
your name. Truly, just this week, I was doing some research to see how far and
wide my promotional efforts were reaching on the internet and came across a site
where someone was mentioning my name. They wrote, “Patricia Fry, Yes, The Patricia

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book

A new week following a holiday and a new opportunity to read and learn from an author about the writing process - and another opportunity to ask the author a writing related question and win a book! Today, I have Patricia Fry, who has authored 28 titles, 10 of them on the writing process. Patricia talks about how to get published and about SPAWN. Hit the word "comments" below and ask Patricia a question by 5 p.m. today. If I randomly draw your question, Patricia will answer your question on the blog on Thursday - and you'll win a copy of her book, "The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book." It's easy and if you win, you don't even pay s&h!

Please tell us about yourself.

I’ve been writing for publication since 1973, when I set up a borrowed manual typewriter in a corner of my bedroom and pounded out my first article. I had been studying the article-writing market for 8 or 10 years by then and had an idea about how to proceed. I had learned that it is important to write about what you know. Our family (husband and 3 daughters) were involved with horses, at the time, so I started out writing for horse magazines. The first article I wrote sold because I had taken the time to study the market, study the magazine I wanted to write for and follow the submission guidelines. (This has always been important, but is enormously more vital in today’s competitive writing/publishing climate.) In 1978, I wrote my first book, “Hints for the Backyard Rider.” The first publisher I sent the manuscript to issued a contract and I became a published author.

I established my own publishing company, Matilija Press, in 1983 when I produced a comprehensive local history book. This was before self-publishing was fashionable or even convenient.

I’ve been writing for publication since—having actually supported myself with my article-writing and book publishing, etc. for the last 20 years. I still write articles, but mostly for writing/publishing-related magazines, ezines and newsletters. I have 28 books to my credit. Ten of them relate to writing and publishing. I am also the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network). I travel and speak to writers and hopeful authors throughout the U.S., I teach online courses for writers and authors and I work with other writers and authors on their projects through my editorial and consulting business.

What titles do you have out there to help writers?

My hallmark title is “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,” which is designed to guide the hopeful and struggling author successfully through the publishing process. This book addresses every publishing option and helps the author to make the best choices for his or her particular project. This book points out the possible consequences of poor choices and it clarifies the published author’s responsibilities. Many hopeful authors don’t know, for example, that, no matter what publishing option they choose (traditional publisher, fee-based POD self-publishing service or true self-publishing, which means to establish your own publishing company), it is his/her responsibility to promote his or her book. This book covers the writing, publishing and marketing of a book and everything in between for a newbie or even a seasoned author.

This year, I came out with “The Author’s Workbook”—a companion to “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book.”

Other writing/publishing-related titles are, “How to Write a Successful Book Proposal in 8 Days or Less,” “Over 75 Good Ideas for Promoting Your Book,” “A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles,” and “The Successful Writer’s Handbook.”

My newest book is an ebook called, “The Author’s Repair Kit.” This book features my invention—the post-publication book proposal. It’s for authors whose books are struggling in the marketplace or stalled—folks who probably did not write a book proposal before completing their books.

What made you want to help aspiring writers with the craft?

I’m not so much about helping writers with the craft as I am about helping freelance writers and authors through the publishing process. As the president of SPAWN and in my travels to writers’ conferences and book festivals throughout the U.S., I meet a lot of disillusioned, disappointed and broke authors who have made some poor decisions with regard to their publishing projects. Because I’ve paid my dues in this profession and I’ve learned a lot along the way, I feel a need to reach out and give others a hand up. My mission—my passion, if you will—is to inform and educate authors and freelance writers before they start making costly and heart-breaking mistakes.

I do this through my countless articles published in magazines and newsletters such as Writer’s Digest, Angela Hoy’s Writer’s Weekly, Moira Allen’s Writing World Newsletter, Publishing Basics, SPAWNews, SPAN Connection, PMA Independent and many others. I also write the monthly SPAWN Market Update for the member area of the SPAWN Website. This meaty newsletter is one of this industry’s most valuable resources. Of course, I also help others through my books, my online, on-demand courses for freelance writers and authors (, the many workshops I present every year and my editorial and consulting services. (

Tell us about SPAWN.

SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) is a networking organization and resource center for anyone interested in publishing. We offer a free newsletter and free access to many countless resources at our website, The member area of the website features access to the monthly SPAWN Market Update and 6 years worth of archived issues. We provide a member forum and a discussion group for networking purposes among members. Members also have the opportunity to have their book displayed in our SPAWN Catalog of Members’ Books and Services as well as at book festivals throughout Southern and Central California.

Mary Embree started SPAWN in 1997 as a face-to-face networking organization with 3 Chapters in 3 Counties of Southern California. In 2001, we shifted to an online organization only. I’ve been actively involved with SPAWN from the beginning.

In your opinion, what is the most common mistake that writers make when starting out?

I assume you are talking about writers who want to be published. In this case, the most common and most disastrous mistake they make is not studying the industry—not taking time to become somewhat knowledgeable in the area of their publishing interest. Freelance article or story writers need to learn something about the submission process, the need to study the magazines for which they want to write and, despite what their heart tells them, they really must listen to their head. When Submission Guidelines say “We want factual articles on the positive aspects of adoption—no more than 1,500 words,” don’t send a 3,000-word fiction piece focusing on an adoption gone bad.

Hopeful authors are even more vulnerable than freelance writers because they have more at stake—more emotion, more money and more time invested. It is crucial that authors study the publishing industry before getting involved. I tell audiences that publishing is not an extension of your writing. Writing is a craft, a creative endeavor, a heart-thing. Publishing is a business and must be approached as such.

I tell audiences that there are two secrets to publishing success. First, study the publishing industry so that you know your options, the possible consequences of your choices and your responsibility as a published author. Second, write a book proposal. A book proposal is your business plan and you need this whether you are writing a novel, a nonfiction book, a children’s book or even a book or poetry. Most traditional royalty publishers are requesting some form of a book proposal for manuscripts of every type, these days.

But there’s an even more important reason for writing a book proposal—for you! Even before you start writing that book, you need to know whether or not this is a viable product. Is there a market for this book? What is your competition? What makes your book different, better—more desirable than what’s out there on your topic or in your genre? You must define your target audience and determine where they are and how to approach them. And you really must develop a platform.

These are all necessary to authorship success and they can all be accomplished through the diligent and thoughtful execution of a book proposal.

Many writers are fretting over the economy. I know even some of my regular gigs have cut back due to ad revenue loss already. What's your advice for making it through a downturn in the economy?

This is a very real aspect of a writer’s life, isn’t it? I’ve experienced (and lived through) several economic downturns throughout my career, as you can imagine. And, of course, I’ve written articles on the subject. I recall one in particular called, “How to Recession-proof Your Writing Business.” If anyone is interested in this article, have them contact me at and I’ll send it to them. I have many other articles posted at my site:

I tell freelance writers to step up their promotional activities when times grow lean. Contact those editors for whom you’ve done writing work before and ask for an assignment. You might also have some ideas in mind to present. Try something new—approach companies and organizations in your area and offer to rewrite their company brochures, employee manuals or take over the companies newsletters, for example. Go surfing on the web and locate sites that could use your writing expertise. You won’t have to look far to find misspelled words and grammatical problems. Contact the webmaster with an offer they can’t refuse. One year, when things were going slow for me, I sent letters out to local companies with my list of credentials and tasks I could handle for them. Three out of 10 contacted me with jobs. Of course, you’ll also want to contact new magazines, newsletters, websites, etc. with your credentials and ideas in hopes of landing paying work.

It’s a matter of reaching out with hope and confidence rather than shrinking back in fear and a sense of doom.

You've been writing for over 30 years. What's the biggest change you've seen in the industry?

I tell audiences that the publishing industry is constantly in a state of flux and I’ve never seen so many changes occurring at such a fast rate as within the last 6 or 8 years. Naturally, technology is one reason. In fact, it is probably the major reason. There’s an old standard that says 81 percent of the American adult public believe they have a book in them. More and more of those people are actually writing their books. Why? Because they can. Technology has made it possible. Not only that, there are something like 89 companies that will produce your book for a fee. They call it “self-publishing”—“Let us help you self-publish your book.” I call them fee-based POD self-publishing services. Self-publishing means establishing your own publishing company.

Okay, so what is the biggest change I’ve seen in the industry—the increase in competition for the author. There are more people approaching publishers with their manuscripts and there are more books being marketed. The competition in this industry is fierce, which is why authors MUST lead with their heads instead of their emotions.

You write on many different topics. Do you think it is really that important to develop a platform in one specific niche?

I believe an author should develop a platform for any and every topic or genre he writes on or in. What is your platform, after all, but your following—your way of attracting readers. It is your responsibility to promote your book, so you’d better have some background or credibility or experience in that subject or genre. If you are writing or wish to write novels in more than one genre—a romance, an adventure and a suspense, for example, you can write short stories in each of these genres, submit them to numbers of publications along with your byline and start NOW developing a platform—becoming known—in each of these genres. If you’ve done as I have and you’ve written nonfiction books on a variety of topics—grandparenting, youth mentoring, horse ownership, presenting a Hawaiian luau on the mainland, journaling, a metaphysical adventure, local history and writing/publishing, you’d better have some background or credibility in each of these subjects.

I do not recommend writing on a variety of topics. It is just too hard to spread yourself thin enough to promote effectively. Of course, some of your titles are going to suffer. I recommend, instead, choosing a topic, write a book, booklets, spin off books and articles, for example, related to that topic. Work to build credibility in that one area. Spend at least a couple of years promoting these books exclusively. If you must write on other topics, wait until the original topic is fairly well established (probably 2 or 3 years) before committing your efforts to another topic.

What's next for you?

I can only imagine. I have a book of true cat stories that I’d like to produce one day. I have vowed that I’m going to try my hand at fiction someday. In the meantime, I will continue teaching, coaching, mentoring other writers and authors through my writing courses:, my informative blog (I add to it daily), my books and my appearances (for my calendar of events). I’ll keep promoting my books through articles in appropriate publications far and wide. If you want to read some of my articles, just Google my name. And I hope to continue as President of SPAWN which has become a great venue for helping hopeful and struggling authors.

And now Patricia is awaiting your question!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Big Winner for the Big Book and Paging Babette!

The Big Winner this week was uncontested - c'mon folks, writers still read, don't they?
I'm glad that Suzanne Franco, who also operates the newsletter, Freelance Daily, which lists job postings and is sent to inboxes everday, won this week - she's getting married, so this will be the perfect book for her! If you're interested into checking out Freelance Daily, it's a subscriber service at I've always found enough work through the newsletter to make my subscription worthwhile!

Also, Babette, who won last week's drawing - I stil need you to contact me at If I don't hear from you by next week, I'll need to choose an alternate winner of the copy of Marley and Me!

Here's Suzanne's question:

Thank you both for such a fascinating interview. I got engaged on Valentine’s Day and I can’t wait to pick up your book.

My question is regarding the marketing of the book. You mentioned that Mindy is doing most of the promoting in the way of touring but I was wondering what, if anything, you are doing to promote the book online? Do you feel it’s worth the time and energy to use social marketing to promote your book? What about websites (I saw Mindy’s) and search engine marketing? Is this up to you and Mindy as authors is this the publisher and/or agent’s responsibility?

From Lisbeth Levine:

Congratulations on your engagement!

I think online marketing can be invaluable in promoting a book. We've been fortunate to get some stellar reviews from bridal bloggers, and I think they've helped get the word out. Mindy has added a blog to her web site and she blogged for during April (the release month). Email blasts sent by the hotel and by a local bridal publication helped sell out the author lunch in Chicago. Social marketing is obviously riding a huge wave right now and I'm sure it would help, but we haven't had a chance to test the waters. It would undoubtedly be the author's responsibility. I know the publicist sent review copies to bridal bloggers and is exploring ways to partner with various sites to get further exposure for the book. Any avenue that reaches your audience is worth pursuing – the work comes in figuring out how to reach your target rather than just blanketing the Internet with your message.

Thank you both for participating!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Big Wedding Book

Today, I'm excited to have Lisbeth Levine, co-author of "The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day." This book has received some great exposure in People Magaine and Country Living. Lisbeth talks about writing on lifestyle issues and the importance of celebrity platforms. Click on comments and ask Lisbeth a writing related question of your own by 5 p.m. today (Tuesday)and get entered into a drawing. If I randomly draw your question, she'll answer it and you'll win and book - and this is an awesome book!

Tell us about yourself.
I’m a longtime journalist. I worked on staff at newspapers for 10 years before leaving to go freelance, and I’ve never looked back. As a freelancer, I continued writing for newspapers and then worked my way into magazines. I live in Chicago and am a contributing editor for In Style and In Style Weddings. Only a small portion of my work is local – you can do so much over the phone and via email. I have two children in elementary school, and now that the book is done, I try to take advantage of the flexibility of the freelance life to spend afterschool hours with them. I’m a habitual night owl and can often be found putting in my time at the computer late at night.

Tell us about your new book, "The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day."
The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day (Workman Publishing) is probably the most comprehensive wedding book on the market. Mindy Weiss and I set out to answer every question a couple could have – even ones they haven’t thought of. The level of detail is critical because brides worry about every little thing. We not only tell brides to clean their engagement ring with a soft toothbrush (which brides-to-be may already know) but we tell them that the important thing is to brush underneath the stone, which is where grime accumulates. All of this information is conveyed in the warm, friendly voice that Mindy is known for. The point of view is modern, especially when it comes to etiquette, but Mindy and I love many wedding traditions, so it’s modern with a respect for tradition. This is a book that brides and grooms can turn to throughout the wedding planning process, much the same way that pregnant women rely on What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which is published by the same house.

You've developed a niche in writing about lifestyle issues - entertaining, weddings, etc. How did you become interested in this niche?
I was the fashion editor at The Palm Beach Post and then the Chicago Sun-Times, and I also edited other features sections at the Sun-Times. As fashion editor, I covered runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris and stayed on top of trends. When I went freelance, I got back into fashion reporting for a time, and my assignments usually included a few wedding-related stories each year. Magazine editors really appreciated the way I applied my strong reporting skills and my fashion contacts to all manner of lifestyle-oriented service stories, everything from the best airport shopping to a how-to guide on buying a sofa. An editor at In Style assigned me a few wedding sidebars one year, and it grew from there. I was able to channel my fashion background and trendspotting skills and apply them to weddings. The timing was very fortunate, because this happened just as weddings were becoming more trend conscious. If you had asked a cakemaker a few years earlier what was new in wedding cakes, she would have laughed you off the phone. In Style kept increasing its wedding coverage and launched In Style Weddings, which now comes out four times a year, and the volume of my wedding work and expertise grew as the market grew. The entertaining stories were an offshoot of weddings – as a reporter, you’re dealing with the same sources. Event planners, caterers and florists all do other events besides weddings.

How did you find your co-author and how did the collaboration develop?I first interviewed Mindy Weiss for In Style, and we had such a strong rapport that we would end up on the phone for hours. She has planned many celebrity weddings – Heidi Klum, Eva Longoria, Gwen Stefani, Avril Lavigne, Adam Sandler and Shaquille O’Neal are just a few -- so there was always a reason to call her. We started talking about doing a book together. Then she hired a branding consultant who set up meetings with several publishers in New York. She hit it off with the editors at Workman Publishing. They had an idea for a wedding book, and when they asked her if she had a writer in mind for the book, she named me. I had to send in clips and be approved by the publisher. Mindy has the type of platform that publishers seek nowadays – her events are covered in magazines and on TV and she’s sought after as a wedding expert on TV. She’s the face of the project and I’m the writer.

How did you find your agent/publisher?
The book came about in a way that’s probably not typical, so writers shouldn’t use this as any kind of template. The branding consultant that Mindy hired was affiliated with an agent to handle book deals, and she became both of our agents once Mindy and I signed our collaboration agreement.

How did you develop the idea for this book and how did you know there was a market for another wedding planning book?
The concept for the book was actually developed by Workman. This particular publishing house aims to “own” a category (titles include not only the What to Expect series but The Wine Bible, the Cheese Primer and many popular cookbooks). The editors didn’t feel there a go-to wedding book, and I agreed with them. When I got engaged, I didn’t buy a book – I bought a stack of magazines, and I think many other brides do the same thing. The books I saw on the market were either very expensive, heavy coffeetable books that were big on photos and light on text or not-very-attractive trade paperbacks that were dated in their approach and lacked a sense of style. When the Workman editors met Mindy, they agreed that she was the right fit for their wedding book idea. Once I was approved as the writer and once I’d set up the collaboration agreement with Mindy, I started writing the book proposal. Because the publisher was already sold on the concept and on us, I didn’t have to write a full proposal that covered the market for this book. Our proposal was primarily an overview of the book followed by a very detailed outline of what each chapter would cover (it was more than 50 pages). Once the proposal was given the green light, we got the contract to write the book. The book was originally conceived as a softcover, but closer to the pub date, the publisher decided to release it simultaneously in hardcover. I think this was a smart move, as the softcover retails for a very affordable $19.95, while the hardcover, which is priced at $35, makes a lovely gift. It lets retailers differentiate themselves -- high-end stores tend to stock the hardcover. The books are the same except for the cover – the hardcover design is cleaner and less cluttered, giving it a more timeless, classic look.

How did the collaboration work, did she write some and you write some?As with most of these types of expert/writer collaborations, I wrote the book. Working off a detailed outline that had been part of the book proposal, I interviewed Mindy by either phone or email for each chapter. I then filled in any holes by doing additional research and reporting and also relied on the help of several interns. After I finished each chapter, I sent it to Mindy so she could make comments and corrections.

Do both you and your co-author participate in the marketing?
The book tour and the publicity is focused on Mindy because she has the all-important platform. The publisher sent her on an extensive tour -- half of it took place in April when the book was officially released and the second half will take place in fall 2008. I participated at an author lunch on the Chicago leg of the tour, and I went to New York for the press party. I will probably do more Chicago-area events as we head into summer bridal season.

What's next for you?
That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Working on the book was quite intense and became a seven-day a week project, so I spent several months in what I call “book recovery.” as many other writers have attested, writing a book is very much like childbirth, and I think you need to let yourself process the postpartum experience. I’ve tried to spend time with my kids and husband to make up for some of the time when I was unavailable during the book process. I’ve resumed writing magazine articles on weddings and other topics, and I’m mulling over another book idea that’s nothing at all like this one. It’s still incubating, so we’ll see what happens.

And now, Lisbeth is awaiting your questions!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marley and Me Winner

Thanks to everyone who visited the blog and tried for the book. The randomly drawn winning question comes from Babette! Babette, I need you to contact me:

Q: I was a big fan in your OG days--and now I cannot wait to sink into Marley and Me. I wonder, do you miss the garden writing?

A: No, I really don't. But I still love to read Organic Gardening magazine, where I was managing editor and then editor in chief from 1999-2002. Really, I love to read anything I can about gardening and nature; they are subjects close to my heart. And of course, I really love gardening organically. I love having my hands in the dirt, love turning vegetable scraps and yard waste into rich compost, love multiplying my favorite plants through cuttings and root divisions. I even love pulling weeds; there is something therapeutic about the work, kneeling in the cool grass and moving down a garden bed, loosening the soil with a trowel, grasping the weed low around the stem and pulling with a slight twist and sideways motion to get the entire plant out, root and all. The weeds then go into the compost bin where they eventually become more compost to return to the soil.

But the actual act of garden writing? No, I really don't miss it. I never found it particularly challenging or rewarding, and as an editor my job was less about writing and more about editing and polishing the work of others, which I found even less rewarding. Before coming to OG, I spent twenty years as a reporter and columnist at daily newspapers, and my magazine experience taught me a valuable lesson: It's not always smart to try to marry your career and your hobby. In my case, the career became less fulfilling and the hobby less fun and more like work. Once I left the world of gardening journalism, gardening became fun again. I enjoyed my years at OG and learned a lot from the experience, but when I returned to newspaper journalism -- and soon after book writing -- I knew that was where I really belonged.

John Grogan

Please visit on Tuesday. Lisbeth Levine, co-author of "The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day" will be answering questions. Lisbeth's book has already been featured in People Magazine, as well as Country Living.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Marley and Me

Today, I have John Grogan, author of the bestselling memoir, "Marley and Me," which was just released in paperback. John talks about writing a bestselling memoir, how it's changed his life and yes, a little about the movie adaptation due out this Christmas.
John would also like to answer one of your questions and give a book away to someone who asks a writing related question. Simply click on the word "comments" below and ask your question before 5 p.m. today (Tuesday). You don't even need an account to sign in. If you don't want to sign in with a google account, just click on the option that says name/URL. I will randomly draw one question and John will answer it on Thursday and the person will also win a book!

Tell us about yourself.
You can read a detailed autobiography at, but basically I'm a guy who loves to write, to express myself and explore my feelings and experience with words. When I'm not doing that, I usually have my hands in the dirt. (I'm the former editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine.)

Your book, "Marley and Me" was a huge hit, enjoying a long run on the New York Times best-seller list. Some of the book was taken from columns you had written over the years. When did you know you had a full-length memoir about the human-animal bond?
Over the years, I wrote a handful of newspaper columns about my manic Labrador retriever, and pretty early on I understood he was a source of good fodder. People always responded enthusiastically to my Marley anecdotes. Like most journalists, I dreamed of writing a book, and about halfway through his life, I began to think there might be a collection of funny essays centered around him. But I didn't yet see a fully formed story with a narrative arc. It was only after he died and I wrote a column in the Philadelphia Inquirer saying goodbye to him that I saw the bigger picture -- how he affected the family we became and helped teach us what matters in life.

The buzzword in the business these days is "platform." Do you feel your columns helped build your platform for the book and how important do you think that was in the success of the book?
The column served as a sort of trial balloon to test out ideas and narrative strings, but I don't think it played much role in the book's success, certainly not outside South Florida and Philadelphia where my columns appeared. The fact that I had the titles "Philadelphia Inquirer metro columnist" and "former editor-in-chief" of a national magazine helped me land media attention. The media seems to love people with titles.

In your book, you describe taking an ordinary life and finding the universal. Is this the key to a great memoir? If so, how do writers find this for their own memoirs?
I believe every life is a story worth telling. Every life, even the most ordinary, have extraordinary moments that, when examined with sensitivity, can help illuminate the human experience. When I speak with writing students, I always encourage them to look within themselves for subject matter and tell them they might be surprised what they will find if only they peel back enough layers.

Were you surprised the book was such a big hit? Why?
Oh yeah. Totally surprised. I was proud of my finished manuscript and believed it would find an audience, even a decent-sized one. But it was such a highly personal story that I thought it's reach would be somewhat limited. My editor didn't want me to get my hopes up too high, and before my pub date cautioned that mine was not the kind of book to get a lot of serious critical attention, and sales would likely be a long, slow build. The week before the book came out, Janet Maslin gave it a positive review in The New York Times, then a string of other reviews followed. In it's first week, it landed on the Times' nonfiction hardcover bestseller list, where it remained for 76 weeks, 23 of them at No. 1. No one really saw it coming, least of all me. I spent the first 18 months pinching myself on an hourly basis.

Many journalists aspire to become authors. Was this an aspiration of yours? How do you have to change your writing habits from creating a 1,000 word piece to a 50,000 word manuscript?
In my case, I went from a 700 word column to a 90,000 word manuscript, but I found the process amazingly similar. My column often was grounded in my personal experience, so I had already grown comfortable with writing in the first person and laying my life out there. When I began the book, I psychologically broke it into small column-like chunks. Thirty chapters, and each chapter was roughly the length of four columns. In this way, I was able to build the book one scene at a time without becoming overwhelmed.

How did you initially find your agent? What do you believe is the most important thing writers should keep in mind while seeking an agent?
I sent out a proposal letter and writing samples to twelve agents whom I found randomly off the internet. Eleven of them promptly rejected me. The twelfth, Laurie Abkemeier, saw a spark of promise and asked me to bang out a couple sample chapters. I did and she signed me the day after reading them. What I like about Laurie, and what I would look for in another agent, is that she is not all about the sale. She's all about the book, from start to finish. She was an important sounding board, mentor, and cheerleader as I wrote, revised, and polished the manuscript. As I said on my acknowledgment page, Laurie believed in the merit of my book before even I fully did myself. You can't fake that kind of enthusiasm -- and that's what the best agents will bring to the table.

What is the most important thing you did in your writing career that prepared you for writing a hugely successful book?
I've kept a journal since college, and it was invaluable in preparing me to write a successful book. A journal is a wonderful and safe place to practice the craft, a place you can take chances without risk of embarrassment. For a memoirist, it also is a great document of your life. The first thing I did when I began Marley & Me was pull out my journal entries for the thirteen-year window covered in the book. Not only did the journal have detailed accounts of day to day life, including many incidents that otherwise would have been forgotten; it also helped shape the book, leading me in directions I otherwise would not have thought to go. One example: It never would have occurred to me to put an entire chapter in the book about my wife's miscarriage, but in the journal I found a long entry written the same day, and it was so immediate and powerful that I pretty much pasted it unedited into the manuscript. It became what I consider one of the stronger chapters in the book.

Journalists and other writers might have a few people pay attention to an article for a day, or week - of if it is particularly controversial, maybe a month. Authors first live with their manuscript for a long time writing and editing. Successful authors have the joy (or the curse) to have to live with that book for the rest of their lives. How have you dealt with the huge success of the book?I've been talking about Marley & Me nearly nonstop for the past two and a half years, and I must admit I'm ready to find some new talking points! (Fortunately, my next memoir comes out later this year so I'll have a whole new topic to discuss.) But I've considered every day of Marley's success an incredible gift. The book's success has allowed me to say goodbye to my day job as a newspaper columnist and focus exclusively on book writing, which is an amazing indulgence. I'm working harder than ever but love being my own boss and answering only to my own muse.

Is there pressure to produce another best-seller? How has "Marley & Me" affected what you write now?
Marley & Me was such a phenomenon (a term frequently used in the media to describe it), with more than 3 million copies in print in some 30 languages, that I actually don't feel too much pressure. I don't think anyone expects me to match those kind of numbers. Even before Marley & Me came out, I knew what my next book topic would be. What I did not want was for my publisher to buy the next book on a one-page proposal based on the success of Marley. So I wrote it on spec, not showing it to my publisher until I had a completed manuscript. That allowed me to write the book I wanted to write and to remove speculation from the process. I showed the new manuscript to my editor and publishers at William Morrow earlier this year, and a couple weeks later we had a deal.

"Marley & Me" was just released in paperback. What's next for you?
The film version of Marley & Me is scheduled for release on Christmas day 2008, and I've been visiting the set and consulting on the script. It's exciting for me to see not only my writing but my life adapted for the big screen -- and to have Owen Wilson portraying me and Jennifer Aniston portraying my wife. They're really great. As I mentioned above, I just completed my next book, a memoir rooted in my childhood growing up in an Irish Catholic family in the Detroit area, and it is tentatively slated to be published in the fall. I also have a second illustrated children's book (A Very Marley Christmas) coming out in fall 2008, and two more illustrated children's books under contract with HarperCollins Children.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Irreverent Freelancer Asks a Relevant Question

The winner this week of the random drawing - and a signed book from Jen Miller is also a name in the freelance world. Kathy Kehrli, the author of the blog, "Screw You" ( was drawn. Thanks to all who participated and don't quit entering to win - John Grogan, the author of the bestselling, "Marley and Me" will be on this coming Tuesday (and yes, he does talk a little about having his book turned into a feature movie due this Christmas!)

Kathy's Question:
You say that you're not sure you'd write a book about the North Jersey Shore because you're not sure that area would hold the same fascination. With your book being such a great travel-writing credit, if approached, would you consider writing about an exotic locale that does fascinate you but that you've never been to? Or would you consider such as prospect too much of a gamble?

Jen Miller:
Good quesiton. I don't know (anyone want to offer me a guide about such a locale?) Researching a travel guide is so much work, even if you already know the area. I think I could write that kind of book, but would it be as in depth as this one? I don't think it would be. I don't mind writing travel articles about other locations because the articles are short, but I don't know if I could sustain it for the length of a book if I didn't know the area.

Thanks, Jen!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Jersey Shore

Today, I'm really excited to have Jen Miller, author of "The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City and Cape May." Jen talks about writing a guidebook, where she got the idea (see and working with her brother for the illustrations. Jen's waiting to give a book away to one lucky person who will be randomly drawn. It can't be easier to win. Before 5 p.m. CST today (Tuesday), simply click on the word "comments" at the end of the interview and ask Jen a writing related question. You don't even need a google account. If you don't want to sign in with a google account, just click on the option that says name/URL. I will randomly draw one question and Jen will answer it on Thursday and the person will also win a book!
Easy-peasy and FREE

Tell us about yourself.
I'm a cancer who enjoys candlelight and long walks on the beach...Kidding. Though I do like the beach.
My name is Jen A. Miller, and I've been a full time freelance writer for over three years now. I write about health and fitness for Men's Health, Oxygen, USAirways Magazine and Figure, to name a few, and I'm also a book critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer and St. Pete Times. The reason I'm here today, though, is because of my book, which is about another area I write about a lot: the great state of New Jersey.

Tell us about your book, "The Jersey Shore, Atlantic City to Cape May"
It's a travel guide to the South Jeresy Shore -- yes, just the southern part. While New Jersey may be one state, it has two region identities -- North and South. The Southern part of the state identifies closer with Philadelphia than New York, and I wrote the book for those people who don't go to the beach, but Down the Shore.
The guide includes the basics of where to eat, stay and play, plus a lot of information for nature lovers on the 46 mile stretch between Atlantic City and Cape May. One of the reasons I did the book with Countryman Press is because they allowed me to write about my connection to the shore, too. I spent every summer at the Jersey Shore since I was born -- literally. I was born in July and on the beach in August. So I was able to provide some of that inside information, like what you're better getting at Hoy's 5&10 as opposed to at Seashore Ace. It's those little things that I've been told make the book something you can sit down and read to enjoy.

How did you develop the platform to write your book?
The platform started from my first writing area of expertise: South Jersey, which is where I grew up and lived most of my life. I started freelancing part time when I was 22 years old and in grad school. I didn't have a lot of money or time to dedicate to it, so I stuck with what I knew. I then became editor of SJ Magazine, which is all about South Jersey, and learned more about my own backyard. When I went freelance, I kept NJ as one of those speciality areas -- I do a lot of work for New Jersey Monthly and have written about New Jersey in USAirways Magazine, Bust, Arrive, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer. I've done travel writing gigs where I'm sent somewhere to research and write about an area, but I've always been more comfortable digging deeper into an area I already sort of know.

This book is about a place you've loved all of your life. Do you think it is important, especially on a long book project, to write about things you are so passionate about?
I don't know if you have to be THIS passionate about the area, but you should be fascinated and invested in your topic because nonfiction books take so much time and work, especially travel guides. Someone asked me if I'd ever do this kind of guide book about the North Jersey shore, and I'm not sure because I don't know if I'd have that same fascination. I think a good sign that I picked the right area is that, when the book was over and I wanted to get away for a short vacation, I went to the shore for that break. I didn't think it was work -- now that I knew where to go and what to do, I wanted to do it and enjoy it.

When we are familiar with certain things, we become so acquainted, that we miss the obvious. How did you keep your eyes open for new things that you might not have known about?
By reading what other people have written about the area. I have a google alert set up for every town in the book, and I read through them once a week. That pointed out what other people thought was impotant, and kept me in the loop on news. I also read magazine articles about the shore (Philadelphia Magazine and New Jersey Monthly both publish extensive shore issues), the Jersey Shore Zagat Guide, and even older books from the library about the shore area -- older travel guides I found in the library were priceless sources of information because they showed me what had been around and noticed and needed to be written about.
I also spent a lot of time on the ground. Just walking the areas gives you a different point of view. Sure, I may have passed Dreamcatchers in Ocean City a zillion times, but looking at it with a notebook in hand is a lot different than browsing. It was very time consuming, but necessary.

You told me you talk to strangers. Alot. Did you ever listen to your mother about not talking to strangers (HA!) Seriously, how do you just approach people and ask for inside scoop?
This is probably what made my parents most nervous about my research! But it's necessary because I'm only one person with one point of view, and I knew I needed other perspectives.
When I started freelancing, I did a lot of concert reviews. I usually had to go by myself, and while that was uncomfortable at first, I soon realized that it gave me an amazing opportunity. Not only could I move all over the concert floor, but I could strike up conversations with other concert goers, and I soon found that there are a lot of people who go to shows solo, and they're great fun to talk to. I also go to meetings and conferences by myself, so I started trying to read people to see if they were open to conversation.
Two things that usually help are "I'm a writer" and alcohol, and I usually approach people in social situations. Quizzo nights at shore bars were perfect because people are already in groups talking, and they're not going anywhere until the end of the game. I joined a Quizzo team of shore locals one night, and they gave me pages of insider information that I researched that then went into the book. Sometimes people just look darn friendly. I can usually find something to comment on, and if the person smiles and seems friendly, I keep asking questions. If not, I drop it and move on. It's almost like being a pick up artist!

Your blog has helped you develop your platform and a reader fan base. Tell us about structuring that, making it interesting and keeping some tidbits only in the book and not giving them away on the blog.
I started the blog while I was writing the book, in part because I had seen how blogs can help you find your fan base, and because I wanted an outlet for what I couldn't put in the book -- news that wasn't that relevant to the research, my experiences writing the book and, honestly, a place to vent about the process because it was incredibly stressful. I also think (and hope) that it make me more a 'person' rather than a name on a book jacket, and that people want that personal aspect when reading a blog. For example, I posted about when the book was done by listing stats for what my life was like that last month and what my office looked like:
That's not something for the book obviously, but I'm glad I did it.
I eventually developed some regular features. On Moday, I post a Q&A with someone who has ties to the Jersey shore. This sprung from realizing how many people love the Jersey shore, even if they don't live in Jersey, and that they all have wonderful, rich memories about the area. It also drives traffic to the site, especially if the person I'm interviewing has a blog and links back to the post. On Thursdays, I go through those google alerts and write a round up of Jersey Shore news, which one person described as "People magazine of the shore." I inject comments here and there, and also link to other shore blogs -- again, increasing traffic. On Saturday, I'll post a video of something shore related -- more for fun than anything else.
None of the stuff I just described fit in the book, but it keeps the blog going. Now that the book is out, I'll start drawing features from the book, like cheap eats, best shopping, and things like that, but not reprints from the book. I need to leave something left to buy!

Your brother did the maps for your book. There must be a lot of talent in your family. How was it working with a relative? How do you resolve creative differences without causing a rift?
There is a lot of talent! My younger brother is a budding writer, too, and my sister a pastry chef. My dad said he'd always hope that of his four kids, one would become a doctor, another a laywer, another an accountant and another a mechanic so he'd have all his bases covered, but all in all, he's pretty happy with how we turned out..
I was really excited that my brother Jim [link:] got to do the maps. He approached me about it, and the publishers were thrilled with his samples and then his finished work. We had to follow the publisher's protocol, which was a little odd -- I had to send the maps to the publisher who then sent them to him when what I really wanted to do was call him and say "hey, here's what we'll do." He did call to gripe a few times about how difficult it was to map that coast, but I rolled with it because I knew he needed to gripe. But I like working with family. Jim also did my websites, and my cousin designed my business cards. They do good work, but I've learned you can't lean on them too hard because they're doing you a favor. Patience is key.

How did you develop the idea for the book and sell it in a book proposal?
I've written about the Jersey Shore here and there, but I never really thought about doing this book until I saw on a market guide at Freelance Success that Countryman Press was looking for guidebook proposals. I wrote the editor a quick note seeing if she would be interested in a book on Atlantic City, and she said that they needed a bigger area. So I thought about regions and looked at what would fit with AC and proposed the South Jersey Shore book. That's where most people in Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs go on vacation. They go down the shore, and that region has created its sort of own identity. She gave me the tentative thumbsup, so I wrote the proposal, drawing from my previous articles and knowledge. I also pointed out how connected I was with local media and that it would roll over into possible promo for the book (which has turned out to be true). Plus, I couldn't find another book that catered just to the South Jersey area, and I think that cinched the deal!

Now, Jen is waiting for your questions...the winner will be posted on Thursday

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Question for Gary Wilson

The winner this week to ask Gary Wilson, author of "Sing, Ronnie Blue" a question and get one of his books is Heather Larson. Heather is a travel and pets writer near Seattle. I know she's going to enjoy this book:

Do you belong to a writing critique group? Who do you have read your writing to critique it or are you your only critiquer?

From Gary:

Great questions. Let me try to answer the last part first. As I tell my students, in the end the writer him- or herself has to become his or her own best critic. What you are writing, after all, is yours and yours alone. You have the final say over what appears in print and what doesn't. Of course, you want that to be the best writing you are capable of. You want to be proud of what you make public. And in the end you have to make all the final decisions about character, conflict, voice, setting, dialogue, words, commas, paragraphs and so on. That's what I mean by becoming your own best critic.
I think I've learned over time to weed out problems as I go along in a manuscript, whether it's a novel or a short story. Each day that I start writing, I go back a few pages and reread aloud what I've done to pick up the "sound" of the writing, the rhythm of it, so that when I begin writing, I'm in step with what I've done already. During that process, I'll come across words that don't seem right or punctuation that doesn't work the way I want it to. There may be whole sentences or paragraphs that need revising, rearranging or to be cut all together. After I've reread things several days in a row, the writing gets to a pretty refined state so that in my final revision readings, I might not have to do major rewriting. But this is a process that has come, as I said, with time and experience. But I think it's something every writer learns.
Once I've finished a piece, I put it away for as long as I can stand to. Months usually. Then I'll take out the manuscript and go through it with a fine-tooth comb, looking for whatever needs fixing. Following that, I prepare a final draft and begin sending the piece off to potential publishers.
In order to short-cut that process, you can use a reader or readers—fresh pairs of eyes, so to speak—to help you along. The main thing you have to be careful about is that you find a person to read your work who will be honest with you. You need to be sure you can trust that person to tell you the truth about what you've written. Having someone tell you something is good when it's not doesn't help. So choose wisely. Oh, and when you've asked someone for an honest opinion, listen to it. Don't argue, don't get defensive, don't let your feelings get in the way. That does no good, either. The best reader I have is my wife. We've always had an understanding that she would be brutally honest about my work. And she always has been. My sons are also good, honest readers. I trust what all of them say.
I don't belong to a writing group. I know many writers who do. Many of my students have formed groups to continue discussing each other's work after they've finished my workshops. And that's great. It's good to talk about writing and how to do it better. My only cautionary note would be that you should be careful not to become dependent on what other people think of your work. In the end, you have to become your own best critic.

It's been pointed out to me that commenting may be confusing for some. It's really easy, though. Just hit "comments" below, which will take you directly to the comment section. You do not need a Google account to comment. If you don't want to sign into a Google account, just hit name/URL. Or, you can even leave an annonymous comment (although it might be hard to find you if you win).

I hope you'll join us on Tuesday, May 6 when Jen Miller, author of "The Jersey Shore" will be joining us - and you will have a chance to win a copy of her book!