Welcome to the blog of the Consulting Editors Alliance. This is our forum for sharing views on the wonderful, bizarre, enormously frustrating and satisfying (depends on the day) world of book publishing and our roles in it as freelance editors, writing collaborators, and ghostwriters. Please join the conversation!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Affordable Market Research for Authors Via Google

I was blown away by this story. Timothy Ferriss was writing a self-help career book and wondered which of several titles would appeal to the greatest number of readers. Most authors (and publishers) make such decisions by gut instinct or, perhaps, by soliciting opinions from a few friends. Ferriss decided instead to take a leaf from "real" businesses and actually conduct market research.

He created Google Adwords campaigns for several possible titles, including "Broadband and White Sand," "Millionaire Chameleon," and "The 4-Hour Workweek." By running each of these campaigns on Google for a week and seeing which title attracted the most click-throughs, he determined that "The 4-Hour Workweek" was a potential winner. He published the book with that title, and it went on to be a major bestseller.

Cost of this research program? $200.

In book publishing, we tend to assume that success is a matter either of luck or of sheer ineffable instinct, which you either have or you don't. Stories like this suggest to me that we could probably achieve success a lot more often if we used our ingenuity to find ways of pre-testing our ideas.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Writing as Gardening

I recently heard a great interview with Barbara Kingsolver in which she compared the difference between writing fiction and writing nonfiction to the difference between gardening in the desert and gardening where it's lush.

When you garden in the desert, you point to a spot on the ground, bring in soil, fertilizer, and seeds, and you water, water, water. Basically, you supply everything yourself, creating something from nothing. Like you do when you write fiction.

When you garden where it's lush, you point to a spot on the ground and then get rid of everything you don't want or need -- vines, leaves, and weeds, weeds, weeds. Then you plant your garden and continue to do battle with those pesky weed intruders, which are always competing to share space and nutrients with your flowers and vegetables. This is like writing nonfiction -- I'll narrow it to narrative nonfiction, though it could apply to all nonfiction if we used different vocabulary -- when you look at everything that happened in the universe of the story you want to tell, and then you get rid of each thing that doesn't support that story. You eliminate things that weaken or don't serve your narrative arc, your character development, and your theme. Even if something's interesting and it really did happen (honest it did), if it doesn't support or add to your story, you pull it out. Because ultimately it's a weed, even if it's a really nice one.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Indie Publishing Success Story

I tell this story often but new information has come in for CHEAP CABERNET so for those who have heard it, put your ear plugs in. One of my clients worked with me on a memoir for ages and then got a great agent. The agent attempted to sell the book, shopping it for a year. No luck.

The client decided to take matters into her own hands and published the book herself. One month later three conventional publishers cherry picked the book from the net, bid on it. Hyperion published it.

I learned today that it has been picked as one of the top 15 Books For a Better Life award sponsored by the National MS Society.

You can't keep a good book down. I truly believe cream will always rise to the top and that is why book publishing will go on and on no matter how many generations of doomsday cynics think it is doomed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Paris Review Interviews

Dwight Garner in the Saturday 10/23/10 New York Times wrote about the latest issue of the Paris Review. It has a new editor, and he was assessing the latest issue. But the important information he provided is that its famous interview series--all the interviews with writers published since the magazine's founding in 1953--are now available (free) on the magazine's website. And as he says, they "long ago set the standard, for better and occasionally worse, for what well-brewed conversation should sound like on the page." He continues: "They're so tangled, funny, and unexpectedly revealing that they could be mounted on Broadway ..." The authors range from E.M. Forster, Dorothy Parker, and Ernest Hemingway to Mary Karr and Ian McEwan. As he says, the Paris Review's website "feels, for now, like the best party in town." One example: About the notion of a writer explaining how he writes, Philip Larkin said, "It's like going around explaining how you sleep with your wife." But as Garner comments, "Then again, Larkin never married."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Self-Publishing Pops Up in Soho

As a sign of the increasing interest in self-publishing, The New York Times reported yesterday on a pop up store in Soho offering self-publishing services to the public until the end of the month. The San Francisco-based company, called Blurb, is expecting an increase in interest around the holidays, because, as Eileen Gittens, chief executive of Blurb, was quoted as saying, "There's something about giving the gift of a book. It's difficult to gift a link." And who could argue with that sentiment?

For anyone interested in self-publishing, the staff will be offering workshops and advice in this temporary facility at Broome and Mercer. Go before this resource disappears.

Confessions of a Recovering Book Hoarder

In the "Paperback Row" section of last Sunday's Times Book Review I saw a small squib for a book called The Man Who Loved Books too Much. It described the work (which I haven't read) as "a series of fascinating vignettes about how the love of books can turn to madness, sometimes eccentric, sometimes sociopathic." I'll admit that description sent a tiny frisson down my spine. While some might accuse me of being a bit eccentric from time to time, I don't think I'm actually sociopathic. But I do know how loving books can verge on hoarding behavior. I still have all my college English course texts, many of them in those Holt, Rinehart and Winston paperback editions--green for English novels, brown for American. I also have all my lit crit texts, except for those my sister "borrowed" years ago that are now in her bookcases. As I scan the shelves I see rows and rows of titles I remember loving even if I can't remember exactly what was in them. I have done two or three purges over the years as things in my small apartment reached critical mass, but it's never been easy. I have no problem parting with clothes I know I'll never wear again, but parting with books I'll never reread (even ones I never read in the first place) is different. They don't go out of style (although some might argue with that as well), and they'll always fit me, no matter how much weight I gain or lose.

When I go to someone's house for the first time, I almost always catch myself scanning their shelves. Seeing what's in someone's library can be very revealing. And if they don't have any books--well that's a whole other story, as they say. But all of that may be changing at this very moment with the growing popularity of the e-reader. I've always bought books rather than borrowing them. I've always wanted to own the object. So I can understand the reluctance of people who say they don't have, or want to have, an e-reader because they want to hold the book, feel it's weight, turn the pages, etc. Had you asked me, I'd probably have said the same thing--until I got my Kindle. Now I look upon it not only as a source of instant gratification (I can acquire almost any book any time anywhere in about 30 seconds) but also as a savior from my book hoarding behavior. Now, when I finish a book I can archive it in what I've come to call Kindle heaven and get it back at any time, but I don't have to find a place for it on a shelf or add it to a stack on the floor. I can indulge my love of books to my heart's content without fear of becoming a candidate for the A&E series Hoarder. It's different. I will no longer be able to reconnect with a book I read twenty years ago by seeing the jacket spine from across the room. But I still have plenty of those (some would say more than enough), and I'm learning to just "get over it."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New York Emanations, Literary and Otherwise

If you love New York, books, or both, please check out this cool feature from the New York Times Book Review--an interactive map of literary history in our city.

It has just one E.B. White reference--Stuart Little sailing his toy boat in Central Park--but the spirit of the whole thing reminds me of this favorite passage from White's classic essay Here Is New York:
I am sitting at the moment in a stifling hotel room in 90-degree heat, halfway down an air shaft, in midtown. No air moves in or out of the room, yet I am curiously affected by emanations from the immediate surroundings. I am twenty-two blocks from where Rudolph Valentino lay in state, eight blocks from where Nathan Hale was executed, five blocks from the publisher's office where Ernest Hemingway hit Max Eastman on the nose, four miles from where Walt Whitman sat sweating out editorials for the Brooklyn Eagle, thirty-four blocks from the street Willa Cather lived in when she came to New York to write books about Nebraska . . .
And White continues like this for another third of a page, adding parenthetically "(I could continue this list indefinitely)."

Sigh. Isn't New York wonderful? And isn't it wonderful being in the book business?

Friday, October 22, 2010

GalleyCat Shouts Out to CEA

Recently GalleyCat referred to the panel CEA presented at this year's SPBE -- How A Professional Editor Can Be Your Best Friend.

Worried that the editorial services offered in the packages of on line publishers would obviate the need for professional, designated editors, I submitted an anonymous query to one of those firms including an editorial dilemma. No matter how I phrased the question concerning the developmental editing I required, the answer kept coming back that the publisher could not supply me with the service I required.

Thankfully they know their limitations.

If we welcome Indie Publishing then authors need to act as quality control. If too much junk is thrown out there just because it is easy to do so, what will happen to the joy of reading?

Congratulations to our colleague Karl Weber for his contribution to the best selling WAITING FOR SUPERMAN.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing for Love or for Money?

I was recently emailing with a prospective client, and after I had told him about my editing process and what my terms are, he said, before I give the go-ahead, I'd like you to tell me frankly whether I'm going to make any money on this book. Well, I said, first of all, you should know that very few of all the published authors actually make much money on their books. So why does any one keep writing? Probably somewhere in his mind is the fantasy that his next novel will catapult him to stardom, as did The DaVinci Code with previously little-known Dan Brown. But I have a strong feeling that any real writer is writing because of love of the craft--because inside him there's a story he has to tell, an idea he has to develop, a period of history he has to research and write about, etc. So all of you writers out there: think about why you're writing. Is it for love or is it for money?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who Do You Write For?

It's a good question, and Michael Cunningham had a terrific piece in the NY Times recently addressing it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When Less Is More

I think this announcement from Amazon makes a ton of sense:

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

Readers have long complained about books that are little more than articles padded to book length. The problem hasn't normally been long-winded authors or greedy publishers, but rather the realities of book marketing: It's hard to sell short books in a bookstore. Retailer margins on a book priced at, say, $4.99 are very small; and even finding a skinny 90-page book that is placed spine-out on a shelf amidst the usual 300-page tomes is very difficult!

The e-book format eliminates these problems. On Kindle, a 25,000-word book looks the same as a 100,000-word book. And clicking on an Amazon website to spend a few bucks for a pithy, insightful book I can read in a single sitting will feel exactly the same as buying a big $30.00 book I will have to invest several nights in.

This is exactly the sort of innovative publishing that digital technology makes possible. I'm happy to see Amazon leading the way once again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

We Got a Right To Brag

Just got the news that Waiting for "Superman," the book I edited as a companion to the current movie of the same name (directed by Davis Guggenheim of Inconvenient Truth fame), will be number one on the New York Times bestseller list (Advice, How-To, and Miscellaneous category) on October 24. (Yes, people in the publishing industry get advance copies of the bestseller lists.)

If you've seen the movie, have followed the controversy surrounding its take on education reform, or are simply interested in this important topic, you might like to read the "Story Behind the Book" page I just posted on my personal website. I even answer the burning question I've gotten from a lot of my editor friends: What the heck are those unnecessary quotation marks doing in the book title?