By Guest Blogger, Jill Shure
Ben Franklin Award-Winning Novelist, Screenwriter & the Publisher of Syntax Books
So you want to write a novel or start your own publishing company. Both are worthwhile goals. And given the time and dedication, you can do both. But you may need more than a little help from your friends. You may need the help of a dazzling array of professionals.
I know. I’ve done it all. I’ve written movie scripts, treatments, novels, and I even wrote a drink book called NIGHT CAPS, a slim companion book to my novels, NIGHT JAZZ and NIGHT GLITTER. It’s a drink book which has excerpts from my novels along with yummy drink recipes – a marketing idea I created to increase interest in my novels.
And in addition to penning novels, I opened my own publishing company. In the midst of a crazy book market and a deep economic downturn, Syntax Books was born. It’s been a true learning experience and one which requires a constant flow of creative ideas to sell the books and see what waits around the bend in this new age of publishing. It’s an era that will see a dazzling assortment of electronic book readers from all over the globe.
Whether you go it alone and self-publish or you submit your work to a publisher, you will need help. Help from an editor to work with you on your book’s content. A line editor to make sure your grammar, punctuation and spelling are dead on. Also, a wise advisor to guide you through the steps of submitting your book proposal to publishers. Or you will need someone to help you print the best book possible. A publicist should be included in this group, too. Someone who will target the media to make sure your voice is heard above the crowd.
What’s more, you may find that you need more than one book under your belt before you hit your stride as a writer. It may take several books. Your book is going to compete with a mind-boggling number of distractions from the phone, the TV, the internet, interactive games, as well as the local bar around the corner. In this jet propelled world, your product has to stand out. And nothing but a spectacular book will hold a reader’s attention.
By Guest Blogger, Larry Goldbetter, President of the National Writers Union
The National Writers Union is the nation’s only labor union and advocacy organization for freelance writers in all genres, media, and formats. In addition to print media writers, NWU represents electronic writers and editors of blogs, e-newsletters and web sites. NWU is affiliated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the AFL-CIO.
On March 2, the US Supreme Court voted 8-0 to uphold the $18 million settlement stemming from their landmark 2001 decision in New York Times Co. v. Tasini. In that case, brought by a former president of the National Writers Union (NWU) and others, the court ruled that publishers may not reproduce freelance works electronically without the specific permission of the authors. It was a major breakthrough for the NWU.
On February 18, NWU, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) formally filed objections in Federal Court to the Google Book Settlement, asking the judge to reject the biggest theft of copyright in history. We plan on working more closely with both ASJA and SFWA in the future. Our participation in the fight attracted the attention of many writers and is already yielding new opportunities to organize.
We have been contacted by book authors in Canada, who joined us in opposing the Google rip-off and collected the signatures of 500 authors as part of their objection, which was entered in court. They are interested in building NWU in Canada. NWU member and award-winning author Ursula Le Guin organized 370 authors to sign a petition against the settlement, after publicly quitting the Authors Guild and sticking with the union. She has since sent them all a letter asking them to join NWU. Journalists in Ithaca, NY and New York City have also approached us about organizing. We will aggressively follow up on every opportunity.
And we are advancing the fight of 60 freelance writers, editors, graphic artists and translators who built a textbook for the Texas school systems and are owed over $360,000. The publisher, Houghton Miflin Harcourt (HMH), contracted the work out to a “development house” called Inkwell Solutions. Inkwell refused to pay the workers for three months, saying they were waiting for the money from HMH, and then closed their doors after the project was done. NWU and our parent union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), has provided a law firm to handle the case.
In the coming weeks and months we will be reaching out to writers in many ways. On March 27, we will be at the Columbia School of Journalism Job Fair, the largest journalism job fair in the nation. That same weekend we will be at the 10th Annual Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. At both events we hope to sign up new, young writers and journalists. In April, we will participate at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) annual meeting, which draws hundreds of writers to New York City. We have signed on to the Alliance for Labor and Immigrant Rights and will march on May Day in NYC with thousands of others. And we will be in Detroit for the US Social Forum, June 22-26, where we will lead some workshops and reach out to many writers, including international and immigrant writers and writers of color.
The hard times for writers, unions and all working people can be exciting times of opportunity. Our door is always open.
By Guest Blogger, Victoria Moran, International Bestselling Author
Being a writer has never been a slam-dunk. Most have had the proverbial day job, writing early in the morning or late at night, hoping for publication and, once achieved, hoping with even more ardor that the book would hit it big. In the romantic days of Fitzgerald and Ferber, far fewer books were published by far more publishers. When I first heard that Ernest Hemingway had had forty-four rejections on The Old Man and the Sea, it said to me: “Never quit!” Now it says, “Ernest was lucky. These days, there aren’t forty-four major publishers left, or even half that number.”
Still, books are being written and, whether on paper or as e-books, people are still reading. To be a writer of these books, in the nonfiction world at least, is something else. It used to be that we could write about anything. We knew how to do research, find experts and interview them, travel and experience our subject matter firsthand. We still know how. But today’s market expects specialization and professional credentials beyond “writer.” That’s too bad. It means that books are written by (or written under the name of) TV stars, psychologists, physicians, stockbrokers, and the like, instead of by writers, men and women with that journalistic gene, people who love to disseminate information and do so in the most literate and literary fashion possible.
The web is another enemy of superb nonfiction. Information is now accessible immediately and for free. Authors who counted on magazine work for extra income are now writing for the web, usually for no pay. “It’s exposure,” we’re told. Yes, and that and $3.50 will get you a tall cappuccino. The other problem with writing for the Internet is the quick turnaround. I used to be on staff at a weekly magazine and it seemed as if we were turning out stories at lightning speed. Not so. A daily blog or impromptu Facebook post almost always suffers from lack of basic proofreading, much less the tedious and time-consuming rewrite process, complete with edits, copy-edits, and production edits of a traditionally published book.
So, where does that leave you if you’re an aspiring author with a book idea that wakes up with you in the morning and tugs at you throughout the day, saying, “Here’s something for chapter 7”? It means you’re facing tough odds if you want to write professionally, i.e., make a living—or at least some good extra money—from your work. If you don’t care about financial reward, you’re actually in a better position now than ever to share with the world what you’re passionate about. You can put it online from now till kingdom come. You can self-publish either an e-book or a fully bound and beautifully presented hard- or soft-cover book that can be sold on Amazon and elsewhere. If it’s successful, an established publisher may pick it up. (Of course, if it’s successful, you may want to just keep raking in the proceeds, and tell the publishing house that they had their chance five years ago when they rejected your proposal.)
If you want to “be a writer when you grow up,” however, and do this as your job, you’re going to have to be clever, and flexible, and humble, and willing. These days, even bestselling nonfiction authors do something else—or many other things—in addition to writing books. They either had an established profession before they started writing, or they create one or more of these based on the books they’ve written.
In my case, I make money from speaking, teaching (teleclasses, workshops), and magazine and web writing (yes, some of it pays)—and this is after writing ten books, including three bestsellers (I use the standard definition of more than fifty thousand copies sold for that often confusing term). I also work one-on-one, both by phone and in person, as a certified holistic health counselor. This ties into the subject matter of several of my books—Fit from Within, Younger by the Day, The Love-Powered Diet. The books support the coaching, and vice versa. I also do corporate spokesperson jobs, obtained via the “platform” created by both the books and the professional certification.
As books and entertainment merge into a giant industry that is not for the faint of heart, we writers are facing much of what has confronted actors for decades. An old saying goes, “There’s a broken heart for every light on Broadway.” Well, there’s a broken heart for every book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, too. But if you want it enough, you keep at it. And when you do get your words and your message out to the world, it was worth everything it took to get them there.
Victoria Moran, HHC, AADA, is the author of ten books on well-being and practical spirituality. Titles include Creating a Charmed Life (a classic bestseller in twenty-nine languages) and the Oprah-featured Lit from Within and Shelter for the Spirit. She is a holistic health counselor with a private practice in New York City and telephone clients around the world.
By Guest Blogger, Saskia Shakin
Author, More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers
Let me be frank: I have mixed feelings about getting up in public to speak before large groups. This should come as no surprise since the fear of public speaking tops almost everyone’s list—surpassing death itself! As Jerry Seinfeld puts it, “If you were invited to give a eulogy at a funeral, you’d rather be the guy in the casket than the one at the podium!”
But what may come as a surprise is that for almost 30 years I have made a handsome living from coaching others to speak in public—before large groups and small; before juries deliberating complex issues; in Congress; at shareholders meetings; and with clients giving keynote speeches.
My career has surprised me: I never imagined I’d have landed in the Boardrooms of corporate America, nor the courtrooms where major cases were being hashed out, nor in limousines coaching CEO’s en route to a flight, nor in airplanes, posh hotels, and on expense accounts.
The work was demanding and exhilarating. The high fees I’ve commanded, the accolades, the prestige, and the perks made my work fun and gratifying. So why, then, would I rather avoid doing the very thing I coach others in? Because staying behind the scenes was my comfort zone. Stepping out meant stepping up!
For years, I preferred to help others hone their message, find their passion, and convey their joy (or at least, their information). But now, it has all come home to roost, for I am on a different path, having completed a book on the subject called, More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers. It is now my turn to do the lecture circuit, market my book, speak before groups, and sell, sell, sell!
For years, I dreaded the thought. I avoided it and even vowed that I’d never write a book. I kept that pledge for well over 20 years, happy to be running seminars, coaching brilliant clients to open their hearts & minds, proud as a mother hen when her children succeeded, and content to remain behind the scenes.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I never went before an audience. I had my fair share of presentations, keynote speeches of my own, and informal talks. But the thought of appearing before a huge audience, one I did not know, and speaking about my book, made me feel like a used-car salesman in a tacky, plaid suit, hawking his wares.
So, I had to coach myself. And my coaching always starts with awareness—self-awareness (the hardest kind to come by). But there I met resistance. Resistance is the dance partner of awareness. They waltz around, sometimes one leading, sometimes the other. And when resistance had stepped on the toes of awareness once too many times, awareness finally waltzed off alone.
Dancing solo is most liberating. No one else pushing you where you don’t wish to go. No one else’s agenda is besting your own. When my own awareness found its voice, I realized that speaking with others holds no fear for me. One-on-one is my medium.
Total strangers are constantly confiding in me. New acquaintances appear to be old friends. Old friends share deep parts of themselves that they share with very few others.
Small groups hold no fright either. I have been running seminars for almost 30 years. I have been in classrooms with 6 – 200. My seminars get consistently rave reviews and in some firms have had waiting lists of two years. So, you might ask, what’s your problem? Why do you resist larger audiences? After all, you know what it takes to charm, seduce, embrace, inform, and inspire? You’ve seen clients transform from boring to sparkling all the time. You’ve been there, yourself! What’s up?
Here’s the deal (and I think this applies to most people): Speaking to one or to a small group is real. You see them; they see you. You can tell if they’re listening, if they’re alive, awake, with you, against you, daydreaming, etc. You can read their body language. You can meet their eyes. You are real. You’re talking—not performing.
But when the room gets large, when the lights go down, when you are in a spotlight that says “perform,” the real you gets as shy as a nervous kitten. You lose your self-confidence. You imagine all manner of horrors. You are certain they’ll see through you and not be taken in by your façade. And you’d be right!
As long as the real you is hiding behind a façade, you cannot feel at home at the podium.
You must strip: not your clothes, but your mask. You may assume that your mask is protecting you, but in reality, it is obscuring your light. And your light is what must shine for others to be engaged when you speak.
You must reveal yourself, share your private thoughts, expose your vulnerabilities, be honest with yourself and, thus, with your audience.
The greatest awareness I gained about myself is that I am not a performer: I am, though, a very good communicator.
The difference is where I am shining the spotlight of my mind. When it is directed at me, I am ripe for self-consciousness; when it is directed at another, I am open to real communion. I stop asking “how am I doing,” and move to, “Are you with me.” I stop worrying about, “Will they like me,” and start considering, “What can I offer them.”
I now know from testing the waters with individual readers and with small groups, that the book I’ve written is transformational. It is meant to take your fear of public speaking and turn it into your forte. It is aimed at all speakers—in any setting—for whom authenticity and connection are paramount. Readers tell me it has changed forever the way they look at getting up in public. It has changed the way they speak to their spouses … the way they speak to their children. It has, indeed, changed their relationship with themselves.
I could not be more pleased. And I am glad to say that although I may still feel butterflies at the prospect of standing before a large group, I have taught those butterflies to fly in formation. I also figure that if Pavarotti was always nervous before every performance, I can be too.
The difference now is that I do not see it as a performance; I see my role as a sharer. I am in the spotlight to share my passion, my insights, and my pleasure. And when I share, I am engaged in an interchange . . . I am not there all alone.
My listeners are up there with me; they just happen to be a few feet away. And I’ve learned to make friends with the spotlight.
The spotlight is there to illuminate me until my own light can shine on its own.
By Guest Blogger, Jan McInnis
A big reason why I wrote my book is that I wanted to show that ANYONE can add humor to their presentation or written documents. Humor makes you memorable, gives you an instant connection to your audience/readers and keeps them engaged, helps diffuse tense situations, breaks the ice, and even helps sell a product or service (super bowl ads anyone?). So we may know the importance of putting in humor, but how do you do it? Well, since I hate going to a seminar where they’re going to tell you, for example, HOW to make a million dollars, yet they spend all the time telling you WHY you should want to make a million dollars (I already know WHY, thank you very much), then I’ll give you a quick tip for HOW to add a quick punch line.
For me, one of the fastest ways to add quick humor is to ask questions. For example, I’ve written a TON of topical jokes – jokes about news stories – for radio. Every morning for 10 years I punched out 15 jokes a day. It took me 2 hours each morning and I did it by asking questions. Below I’ll dissect a couple of those jokes to illustrate what I’m talking about.
I find the set-up line by looking at news stories – you could do it by just writing out some facts or writing your premise (set-up lines are another blog). . .and then I ask the question.
For example, my joke:
“Beware at your cookouts this summer. Bug zappers kill flies and spread their germs up to 6 feet. In fact you can tell if your grill is too close to the zapper and the hamburgers are getting insect germs . . . if they taste like hot dogs.”
The bug-zappers-spreading-germs part was a true story. I got this punch line by asking what else (allegedly) do we think has bugs in it? Hotdogs! And how would you tell if your food had bugs in it? If it tasted like a hotdog!
Run through the who, what, where, when, why and how questions with your set-ups and you’re sure to find some great lines. And don’t stop with the first answer you get. It may be funny, but dig deeper and think from different angles.
Here’s another example:
“A new experimental drug for lowering blood pressure is close to FDA approval. Scientists say it’ll be almost effective as a good divorce.”
Again, the experimental drug part was true. Then I asked, what else would lower your blood pressure? A martini. . . okay, that might work but not everyone would get it. Sitting on the beach lowers your blood pressure, but it’s not really funny. Look at it from the opposite. . what causes high blood pressure? Stressful things like work, kids, DIVORCE. . bingo!
Keep asking questions and you’ll keep getting funny answers . . .and your readers and audiences will keep listening to you!
Jan McInnis is a comedian, professional speaker, comedy writer, and the author of the book “Finding the Funny FAST”. Her jokes have been featured on The Tonight Show, and on hundreds of radio stations. She has also spoken to thousands of corporations and associations, and she was featured in the Wall Street Journal as one of the most popular convention speakers. She blogs at www.ComedyWritingBlog.com and her website is www.TheWorkLady.com.