Category Archives: Nonfiction

An Interview with Book Maven Maris Kreizman

Posted by October 27th, 2015

Maris KreizmanIt’s so exciting to have Maris Kreizman visit the blog this morning! Maris is the author of the new book SLAUGHTERHOUSE 90210, a visual mashup of great literature and pop culture. Those of you who came to our “Uncoventional Paths to Publishing” panel at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference 2015 will recognize Maris from our lineup of speakers: She’s a maven of books, publishing trends, and an incredibly active member of writing and reading communities online and off.

Lucy Silag: You began your career as an editor. What was your favorite part of working in publishing?

Maris Kreizman: I loved being an editor because it allowed me to guide a book in every stage of the process from its earliest drafts to its final incarnation. I loved being able to connect with writers and to be the biggest advocate for my authors, both in-house and otherwise.

LS: Now you are the publishing-outreach lead at Kickstarter. Tell us more about how you help writers in this role.

MK: There are so many different ways for writers to use Kickstarter. Writers are using Kickstarter to plan literary events and book tours, and funding book and magazine-related works from apps to zines. And I’m helping writers and publishers to set up great Kickstarter projects to help them make the most of the platform.

LS: Congratulations on the release of your book SLAUGHTERHOUSE 90210! Tell us about the genesis of this book.

Slaughterhouse 90210 coverMK: Thank you! I was bored at work, which is how many genesis stories about creative projects start, I think. It was 2009. My friend told me that I should start a Tumblr where I could post quotes from literature–I had a stockpile. And I thought, a blog featuring book quotes on their own sounds boring! But I was scrolling through my dashboard and saw a photo of Joan from Mad Men and thought, “Hmm, adding a photo from a TV show to the top of that quote would be way more interesting, and would make the post more about how the image and the text intersect and speak to each other.”

 

LS: Of all the social media platforms, why was Tumblr the right fit for SLAUGHTERHOUSE 90210?

MK: Tumblr is so easy to use! And more importantly, Tumblr is all about community. There’s a very strong group of people who love books on Tumblr, and I was able to find them and interact with them. The fact that Tumblr allows users to follow the blogs they love and also to reblog and add comments was integral to the success of Slaughterhouse 90210. I knew it was catching on when I saw that Tumblr users were having their own conversations about it. Continue reading

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Andrew Unger: Q&A with BookCourt’s Events Manager

Posted by October 26th, 2015

Andrew UngerToday we welcome Andrew Unger to the Book Country blog. Andrew is the Events Manager at BookCourt, the celebrated Brooklyn bookstore famous for its well-stocked events program featuring New York’s most distinguished authors as well as brand new talent. Andrew will be on the “Building a Writing Community Online + Off” panel co-hosted by Book Country on Wednesday night, October 28th, 2015, at 7pm at BookCourt.

Lucy Silag: Tell us about BookCourt and how it fits into the Brooklyn community of writers.

Andrew Unger: “BookCourt is a monument, a university, and a party in slow motion. It doesn’t have to take over the world because it is the world.” — Jonathan Lethem

It’s no surprise that Jonathan Lethem said it best. The store was opened by Henry Zook and Mary Gannett in 1981. It was one room, a former barber shop, with a modest selection of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s titles. They bought the building in 1983. In 1996 Albert, who owned the flower shop next door, wanted to move to Florida and so sold his building to Mary and Henry in 1996. In 2008, they removed the greenhouse behind the old flower shop and added what is perhaps the store’s most defining characteristic, a giant, book-lined reading space. Hoisted above the ceiling, at the apse of the room, is a beautiful skylight. Today the store boasts one of the largest inventories in Brooklyn.

With the addition of the “Greenhouse,” the events series at BookCourt hit a high gear. In the seven years since it was built, the store has grown to accommodate the flush of writers and the wave of gentrification overtaking the neighborhood. In a given week, BookCourt might host ten different authors, four writing workshops, a book club, and a number or stock signings. It is a haven for readers, it’s an intellectual playground to a whole generation of neighborhood children, and it’s a university to writers from across the city.

BookCourt interior

Interior at BookCourt, courtesy of Google Maps.

LS: Why should writers hang out at Bookcourt?

AU: BookCourt is like a living, breathing MFA program. We’ve hosted Junot Diaz, Richard Ford, Don DeLillo, David Sedaris, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and I could keep going. It’s such a stupidly impressive list of authors. Those events give you goosebumps. Junot Diaz talked for over an hour about his process, his growth as a writer and listened and responded to almost every single attendee, a room of over 300 people. This is an amazing opportunity. But this isn’t entirely the reason writers congregate at BookCourt. Continue reading

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BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert: Inspiration + Galley Giveaway

Posted by September 16th, 2015

Elizabeth Gilbert, the hugely popular author of the mega-bestseller Eat Pray Love and other literary fiction and memoir titles, is back this fall with an incredible new book about creativity. The new book is called BIG MAGIC: Creative Living Beyond Fear and we could *not* be more excited for it to go on sale next Tuesday, September 22.

BIG MAGIC cover

To celebrate BIG MAGIC, Book Country is giving away five galleys of the book. You can enter the galley giveaway here.

All summer, Elizabeth Gilbert has been stoking the conversation about creativity on her Facebook page with beautiful inspirational quotes (our favorites are below) and on her awesome podcast, Magic Lessons, which features writers like Ann Patchett, Rob Bell, Cheryl Strayed, and others offering advice for how to keep that creative fire burning. You’ll be itching to get back to your WIP after just one episode.

Click through each of these images to share them on your own Facebook wall.

5.18-Motivation-Monday Continue reading

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Meet Putnam Editor Kerri Kolen

Posted by September 2nd, 2015

Kerri Kolen on Penguin.comSay hello to this morning’s blog guest Kerri Kolen, Executive Editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Putnam), the Penguin Publishing Group imprint that holds the record for more New York Times hardcover bestsellers in the last two decades than any other imprint. Kerri’s going to be one of the fabulously knowledgeable panelists on the Book Country panel at the upcoming Slice Literary Writers’ Conference talking about “Unconventional Paths to Publishing.” Below she shares insights on what sets apart the books she acquires for Putnam, and what she’s excited about publishing this fall.

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LS: You are in charge of the nonfiction program at Putnam, where you edit books on a huge variety of subjects (including lots of books by famous people!). For the non-famous writers of nonfiction among us, can you tell us what qualities will set a manuscript apart for you?

KK: From Word One, the voice will set a manuscript apart. And then pretty soon thereafter, I will be able to tell if the writing is singular or not, as well. Those two qualities are so incredibly important for obvious reasons, but also because those are the qualities that are very difficult, if not impossible, to teach a writer or tease out in an edit. After that, depending on the type of book, I will always look to the narrative itself. What is the story? Is it new? Is it something that readers will feel compelled to tell all of their friends about? And of course, a platform is always very helpful. You don’t have to be famous to build a nice platform–whether it be on social media, with a blog or website, with a brand, with a voice to a larger community in some way or another. And then attached to that: how engaged is the audience? I’d take a smaller but highly engaged audience over a tremendous number of less engaged readers every time. The platform is not essential (and we would look to help the author with building a platform in the months between acquisition and on-sale) but it certainly helps me value the project.  Continue reading

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What Is a Developmental Edit?

Posted by August 24th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-508609021Our guest blogger this morning is editor Christina Henry de Tessan of Girl Friday Productions, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s San Francisco Writers Conference. She’s here today to break down the nuances of the term “developmental edit,” something you’ve likely heard as you make your way from being a writer to being an author.

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Editing can serve as something of a catchall term that can refer to anything from tinkering with semicolons to removing entire characters or plot threads. This nebulousness can make it confusing to know what you’re even asking for when you’re in search of editorial help. In an effort to make the entire undertaking less opaque—and hopefully less daunting—here are some insights into that crucial first stage in the editorial process: the developmental edit.

Fiction

Character: For fiction, character is paramount. Your characters can be lovable, flawed, complicated, even loathsome, but no matter what, you’ve got to make us care about them. Do we see their vulnerable underbellies and darkest thoughts? Or are you keeping your characters at arm’s length? Does your main character have enough nuance to keep us interested, or is he/she falling flat or being a bit too predictable in places? Does your protagonist evolve over the course of the story? Do the characters feel real? Do we feel invested in their trajectories? Developmental editors are here to make sure your readers are compelled to hang out with your characters until the very last page.

Plot, pacing, and structure: Does the story feel rushed? Are you doling out information in a way that leaves us wanting to turn the page? Or does it drag right at the moment when we want resolution? Is there enough tension? Is the lush setting or history of the time period eclipsing the main plot? Are there awkward information dumps that could be woven in more naturally? Are there any holes? Are you making any problematic leaps in logic? This can seem obvious, but if you’ve worked on numerous drafts of a book, old material may no longer make sense with more recently added material.

Style: Although a developmental edit doesn’t usually focus extensively on the line (sentence structure, repetition of words or phrases, and so on), a dev editor will point out stylistic issues. One that comes up a lot is the classic “Show, Don’t Tell” edict. Writers will often do a fabulous job of showing and then undermine their own great storytelling by telling just to make sure they got their point across. So if young Rose blushes and averts her gaze when the boy she has a crush on approaches her, you don’t need to then tell us explicitly that she felt nervous. The dev editor is there to tell you that your scene can stand on its own two feet—and if it needs extra support, your editor will suggest fixes. Your dev editor will also look at voice and tone—is your dialogue sounding genuine or stilted? Do all the characters sound the same? Does their word choice accurately reflect who they are?

Memoir

With memoir, a developmental edit can be particularly helpful, as it is sometimes difficult for writers to transform their life story into a cohesive narrative comprised of discrete scenes. How do you choose what to tell and what not to? How do you integrate crucial background information in a way that feels seamless? Perhaps most importantly, how do you nail the voice from the very first page so that the reader is drawn into your story?

Nonfiction

Nonfiction is a bit of a different beast. If you’ve written a book on finance, character development is not your primary concern, and ensuring that the plot thickens at just the right moment isn’t relevant. But a developmental editor can work other kinds of magic with nonfiction. Below are some of the most frequent issues that come up with nonfiction.

Audience: It’s imperative that you know who you’re writing for. But this can be surprisingly tricky when you’re an expert on the subject—after all, when you think about financial planning all day long, it can be hard to see what a novice might not know. A good dev editor can hone your language to make it appropriate for your target audience, using the right level of vocabulary and making the right assumptions about your readers’ background knowledge. Have you assumed a level of understanding of reverse mortgages that will leave your readers flummoxed? Your editor will be the one to point that out.

Organization: When you’re a subject-matter expert, it can be hard to see your material from an outside perspective. You’re so deeply immersed in it that it can be difficult to present your argument in a logical fashion. Who is picking up your book, and what do they hope to get out of it? Have you organized your material in such a way that each section builds on the last? Does it give enough foundational information at the outset? Or have you bogged it down with too much background before getting to your message? A developmental editor will point out the holes and ensure that there is continuity so that your readers never once furrow their eyebrows in confusion.

A good developmental editor is like some hybrid of a detective and a psychologist, sniffing out problems and proposing solutions so that you can polish and hone before putting your beloved manuscript in front of a wider audience. In short, we hope you’ll think of us as your secret weapon.

Christina Henry de TessanAbout Christina Henry de Tessan

Christina Henry de Tessan is the vice president of editorial at Girl Friday Productions, a full-service editorial firm headquartered in Seattle. Formerly of Chronicle Books and Seal Press, she’s also the author of several travel books, including Forever Paris and Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad.

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Ask a Literary Agent: Amy Cloughley Answers Your Questions

Posted by July 13th, 2015

Amy CloughleyPlease welcome literary agent Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron & Associates to the blog today! Amy’s in the market to acquire the following types of books: Historical; Literary; Mainstream; Mystery and Suspense (all types but NO paranormal); Thriller (legal, grounded, psychological); Women’s Fiction; Adult Nonfiction (pop culture and humor, sports, narrative, memoir–travel). Like Book Country, Amy will be at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference at the end of this week. If you’ll also be at #PNWA15, you’ll be able to find Amy at the Agent Forum on Friday, July 17, at 10:00am, and at Power Pitch Sessions A, D, & E on Friday and Saturday.

When do you need an agent?  How do you know when you are ready as a writer to take this step? – Claire Count

There are a variety of great options for publishing your work, but if your goal is to be traditionally published, your odds of success increase quite a bit if you work with a qualified agent. Although many small/mid-sized publishers will consider unagented work, most of the larger houses will not, and the publishers who do often give priority to agented submissions.

You will know you are ready to take this step when your manuscript (or book proposal for nonfiction) is your best, most polished work. Although an agent will often provide some feedback to clients, an agent is typically looking to take on projects/clients who are as close to ready for the marketplace as possible. So be sure to do your research and due diligence. What is the typical word count for your genre? Is your POV clear and consistent? Are your main characters fully developed? Is your pacing appropriate for your genre? Did you have quality beta readers provide feedback? Did you identify a few current comparable titles to include in your query? There are numerous websites such as WritersDigest or here at BookCountry, as well as countless books and classes, that cover how to prepare your manuscript for publication. Applying this information will help your manuscript get an agent’s attention. Continue reading

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Q&A with Stephanie Chandler, Founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association

Posted by April 15th, 2015

Q&A with Stephanie Chandler, Founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors AssociationStephanie Chandler is the founder and CEO of the Nonfiction Authors Association, a marketing community for writers. The 5th Annual Nonfiction Writers Conference begins May 6th, and the keynote speaker will be Julia Cameron, author of THE ARTIST’S WAY. Participants can attend live sessions by telephone or Skype. Stephanie shares why she started the Nonfiction Authors Association and her experience being a self-published author.

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Lucy Silag: First off, what is the Nonfiction Authors Association and why did you start it?

Stephanie Chandler: The Nonfiction Authors Association is a marketing community for trail-blazing writers! I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I quit my corporate job in 2003, I opened a 2,800 square-foot bookstore in Sacramento and planned to write novels in the back office. (When you’ve wanted to write your whole life, you naturally assume that a novel is the way to go.) But it turned out I didn’t have a knack for fiction, so I wrote my first nonfiction book (a business start-up guide) and was astonished by how much I loved writing nonfiction.

I began attending writers’ conferences and eventually started speaking at them as my author career took off. I noticed that nonfiction authors were largely neglected at these events. We didn’t quite fit in with the fiction writers and had different needs and approaches. So I launched the Nonfiction Writers Conference in 2010—an event conducted entirely online. I had no idea if it would catch on, but it did. Each year our attendees kept asking how they could keep the momentum going, so I finally answered them by launching the Nonfiction Authors Association in 2012. We needed our own community and now we have one with over 8,500 members and growing every day. Continue reading

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The Art of Letting Go: Nick Bantock and Creativity

Posted by April 3rd, 2014

The Trickster's Hat.jogToday our blog guest is Nick Bantock, the author of the new Perigee book THE TRICKSTER’S HAT: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity. A wonderful visual artist, Nick’s work breaks through genre conventions to create something truly different in the world of publishing–the most famous example of how he’s done this is with Griffin and Sabine, an epistolary novel fashioned from letters and postcards drawn and painted by Nick. His books feel like the perfect way to pull yourself out of the “same-old” in your routine, and discover something new about yourself as a writer.

LS: Describe for us what our community can get from your book. How does it help jump-start writing creativity?

NB: Sooner or later, as writers or artists we hit a rut. Our work becomes predictable, and we get bored with it. If we don’t find a way to change direction we hit the dreaded BLOCK. THE TRICKSTER’S HAT is made up of 49 exercises designed to help the reader slip-slide into a plethora of new universes. Some of the exercises use words, some images. Interestingly in my workshops I’ve found that it is often the collage that frees the writers and the writing that helps the artists. Continue reading

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The Truth About Connecting Online: Tips for Book Country Writers from Amy Webb

Posted by March 25th, 2014

DATA A Love Story coverThe awful truth about connecting with strangers online is that it’s hard. Plume Books author Amy Webb wrote a hilariously honest book about just what a huge task it was to try to find a husband online: The memoir is called DATA: A Love Story, and it combines two things Book Country is highly engaged in: understanding what drives people to connect online, and of course, great writing!

Brandi and I both loved the book and wanted to hear more from Amy, who’s not just a top-notch nonfiction writer but also a brilliant digital media strategist (and a now-happily married wife and mom).

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Lucy Silag: Did you start writing DATA: A Love Story by drafting, or did you come up with a nonfiction book proposal? How did you organize yourself in terms of writing chapters, meeting publisher deadlines, and revising?

Amy Webb: I was very fortunate to have worked with Sam Freedman when I was a student in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Sam teaches a class that he hand-picks. It involves an audition, an interview and a lot of writing — that’s before the semester begins. The purpose of the class is to work on longform narrative nonfiction, and part of that process involves learning how to write a compelling book proposal. So in terms of my process, I followed what I learned in his class. I started out as a journalist, and while reporting and writing is something that I still enjoy doing, developing a book wasn’t necessarily in my 2012 client calendar. I had to essentially treat the book as a project and schedule out the time for it.

I’ve always worked from extremely detailed outlines. I started with a map of the basic elements of the book, then filled that in and had a final outline that was more than 200 pages long. I’ve found that for me, if I do the right kind of thinking in advance, putting together the story in writing is a lot easier. I kept an elaborate spreadsheet in Google docs, and I shared my work schedule with my editor, the marketing team at Penguin and my husband. So once I knew what my deadline was, I plugged the work into the spreadsheet. I wanted my editor to read and comment on the detailed outline before I sat down to write the book — it would be better to make any structural changes earlier in the process, rather than after handing in a finished 400-page draft. Many of the revisions therefore happened during the detailed outline.

I’m not one of those people who can sit down and wait for the words to come. I’m also not satisfied with getting one great page done a day. I work best with deadlines and structure, even if both are totally self-imposed.

LS: In your memoir you were candid about taboos like cigarette smoking, which a lot of readers might not relate to.  Were you ever tempted to avoid details that might turn people off? Continue reading

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From Email to a Published Memoir: The Story of Graduates in Wonderland

Posted by March 20th, 2014

Graduates in Wonderland

Photo Credit: Ian Cook

It’s not unheard of for writers to turn their personal journals into a memoir — but what about emails? Two friends vowed to write honest accounts of their lives once a week as a way to keep in touch after graduation. Over the next few years, Jess and Rachel exchanged detailed emails about their trials and tribulations — jobs, men, the whole gamut of life in your twenties — while moving from country to country. Now their joint account will be published in May by Gotham as GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND

We asked Jess and Rachel to share their unique publication story — of how a casual email chain between friends turned into an inspiring memoir about being twenty and finding your way in the world. 

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Rachel: Do you remember the night of our graduation from Brown?

Jess: Uh, yes. Obviously. I wasn’t that drunk and we’ve only just turned 29.

Rachel: Okay, prove it. What do you remember about the pact we made that night?

Jess: We were sitting on the back steps of the house we lived in with our friends in Providence on Governor St. I think it was raining and it was really late – everyone else had already gone to bed or they were still out. And you and I were sitting outside under the awning and discussing how since we’d been through the past four years together, we felt so close to each other and to our other college friends. But we also knew how easy it is to let friendships fade away after graduation, no matter how close people are.

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