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!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerri and Lisbeth,

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?

Thanks again and I’m excited to dig into it. *SmiLes* Suzanne Franco

7:55 AM CDT  

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