On Writing and Publishing

Want to write a book and don’t know where to begin? Here you will find help from our editor and much-published author John Coyne. Plus information about getting your work into print.

1
The Pleasure Of Small Presses
2
Horror golf!
3
What to Send to An Agent
4
Print On Demand (POD)
5
Living Off Advances
6
A Peace Corps Book Is A Journey
7
What I Say To RPCV Writers About Getting Published
8
Good Books Written by Good PCVs
9
May Your Daughter Marry A Copy Editor
10
A Thousand Words To Create One Sentence
11
When Writing Meant Typing
12
Writing for the iPhone and iPod
13
Peace Corps POD Books

The Pleasure Of Small Presses

Sometimes (many times) it pays to be published by a small press. Take Lauri Anderson (Nigeria 1965-67) His novel, Hunting Hemingway’s Trout was first published by the well known New York publisher,  Athenaeum. But since that edition came and went, he has been published by the small Minnesota press, North Star. They are a legitimate small press who do not give advances but do pay royalties. They also keep all of his books in print and have gone back to print with his most popular books.  Several of his books are used in literature classes at various universities and two, those set in Misery Bay, were woven into a film that was shown on prime-time TV in Finland.  Many of his characters are Finnish because Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is full of Finns and the town where he grew up in northern Maine also had a lot of Finns,  including his father.  As Laurie writes, “My writing career has been disappointing monetarily but gratifying in that . . .

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Horror golf!

While it is true that most golfers have, from time to time, “a horrible round of golf,” what is not clear is how a “horror writer” ends up writing golf novels! In the 1970s and ’80s I wrote a series of horror novels (The Piercing, Hobgoblin, The Shroud, The Legacy) and others, several of which made best seller lists across the country. While golf courses were never a scene for my horror novels, golf really wasn’t that far from my mind. In fact, during those years one side of my brain was writing magazine articles about golf and editing golf instructional books (Better Golf, New Golf for Women, and Playing with the Pros). Also during those years I kept nurturing the idea of writing a golf novel. Golf has been a passion of mine since I was 10 years old and first began to caddie at Midlothian Country Club in . . .

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What to Send to An Agent

The magazine Poets & Writers has been running a series (up to #9 now) of interviews with literary agents. You can read all the interviews at PW.org/magazine. In the most recent issue, the editor, Jofie Ferrari-Adler, asks three agents about what they read from writers: the outline? the synopses? the pages of the book? All of them agreed that they never read synopses. Jim Rutman, an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic:  “It’s hard to write a synopsis well. And when we’re talking about literary fiction, it will probably not make or break an agent’s interest going into page one.” Peter Steinberg who has his own agency (with clients like Alicia Erian, Keith Donohue, and John Matteson): “I think it’s important to stress the synopsis and the cover letter and all of those things are not really important. It’s the work, the work, the work. You have to focus on the . . .

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Print On Demand (POD)

You have been reading all of the accounts of publishing on the web, POD publications, and the great success of  Still Alive, the novel about a Harvard professor with Alzheimer’s disease that no commercial publisher wanted to buy. The author went ahead and published it POD, that is self-publishing via a Web-based company (iUniverse) for $450, and after the novel received a few good reviews, Simon & Schuster bought the novel and now it is on The New York Times Bestsellers List. It could happen to you! My guess is that someday all books will be published POD. It will save a lot of trees, and with the world moving away from print, and depending on handheld electronic devices we carry in our pocket, soon books–as we know them!–will be a thing of the past. Books are being “published” at a rapid rate on line. Since its beginnings in 2002, Lulu.com, for example, has digitally published more than 820,000 titles. They . . .

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Living Off Advances

“Why is it,” Michael Meyer (China 1995-97) asks, “that writers who can’t recall their Social Security numbers can recite a rival’s advance to the penny?” Meyer answers that question (and a lot more!) in an entertaining and informative essay on the back page of the Book Section of the April 12, 2009, issue of The New York Times. In his piece, Meyer goes into “blockbuster advances” that came about in the early 1970s. He tells how Viking sold the paperback rights to The Day of the Jackal to Bantam for 36 times the $10,000 hardcover advance it had paid the author. If you are interested in what your next advance might be, take a look at Micheal’s piece in the Times.

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A Peace Corps Book Is A Journey

A friend who is a successful writer/editor/creative writing professor has been reading my blogs sent me these wise words about what would-be Peace Corps writers should do and think about while writing their novels. Peace Corps writers should take writing courses from reputable instructors to learn the basics and to have the opportunity to workshop their writing among peers. They should also read lots of good How-To books on the craft. There are a gazillion of them out there. They should avoid at all costs: exclamation points, stereotyping, clichés, and all other proofs of lazy writing. They should plan on revising each chapter or piece at least ten times. Quality writing is all about revision. They should NOT confuse explicit, titillating, borderline-pornographic sex scenes with “intimacy” with the reader.  A writer of worthwhile prose must work harder and dig deeper to achieve emotional intimacy with his/her reader. I would add that a good . . .

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What I Say To RPCV Writers About Getting Published

Agents Yes, it is difficult to find an agent. But you can start here and have a list of names, addresses, and what these agents want to see. http://www.1000literaryagents.com. Remember, if an agent says he or she only publishes YA novels then don’t send them your Peace Corps story, unless, of course, it is written for Young Adults. Agents are in the business (and it is very much a business) of making money so if they think your book will sell, they will represent you. If they think your book is wonderful but won’t sell to a publisher, they won’t represent you. Very few agents are in the business of literature. They leave that work to the academics. Editors & Publishers You have heard, I’m sure, how Catch 22 went to more than 50 publishing houses before it was published back in 1960. That novel is still selling! There are . . .

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Good Books Written by Good PCVs

If the Peace Corps did anything, it turned us into readers and we are better for it. But being a reader doesn’t make us writers. That’s the rub. Having a great (or not so great) Peace Corps experience doesn’t make us writers either, though it might help when it comes to telling stories late at night in some bar. Being an English major doesn’t make one a writer, and it can even hurt a PCV writer, having read (and then trying to write like) one of those great writers from lit classes. Then there is the problem of too many books being published. In 2008, there were 45,000 novels published, up 17% from 2007. Altogether, there were 311,000 new titles and editions published in 2007. Add that number to all those POD books (print-on-demand) books that anyone can get published for a few hundred dollars and who has dreams of being an . . .

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May Your Daughter Marry A Copy Editor

The curse in publishing is: “May your daughter marry a copy editor.” Copy editors are the last in line, certainly the least paid, (and with the smallest office) but perhaps the most important person for a writer who needs ‘fresh eyes’ on his or her prose to pick up the mistakes everyone else has missed. For example, her eyes were hazel on page 56 and then written as green on 213. That sort of editing. Copy editors are like blood hounds; they focus in on the kill, or in this case, the change in eye color. The world at large lumps all editors as one, but editors break down into several categories. Someone asked what an Acquisition Editor does. Well, they buy books to publish! They are the key people for a writer. They might also ‘edit’ if they are not too busy going to lunch with literary agents. They are . . .

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A Thousand Words To Create One Sentence

They tell a story of when the novelist Thomas Wolfe  lived in New York on First Avenue. Late one night the writer Nancy Hale, who lived on East 49th Street near Third Avenue, heard a kind of chant, which grew louder. She got up and looked out of the window at two or three in the morning and there was the great figure of Thomas Wolfe, advancing in his long countryman’s stride, with his swaying black raincoat, and what he was chanting was, “I wrote ten thousand words today – I wrote ten thousand words today.” Well, wait until his editor Maxwell Perkins got hold of it! Maxwell Perkins would arrive at Wolfe’s Village apartment, where Wolfe wrote standing up, using the top of the refrigerator as his desk, and Perkins would take boxes of handwritten prose away, saying, “you’re done now.” Perkins would then shape the material in a novel, much . . .

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When Writing Meant Typing

I loved my Lettera. My Olivetti Lettera 32. My slim, blue 13-pound typewriter. It told the world I was a writer, even when I wasn’t. It meant adventure. Romance. It meant I was heroic and daring. (Even if I wasn’t.) But most of all, it meant I was a writer. My Olivetti Lettera 32 was the touchstone of my ambition: to be a writer. Though, in truth, at first all I wrote home were letters. In the fall of 1962, I slipped a thin blue air letter under the platen, spun the knob, and typed: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dear Mom & Dad. A letter home from Africa. For the next twenty years, my Olivetti helped me write more than just letters home. Letters from Nairobi, Kenya; Tel Aviv, Israel; Mahon, Menorca; Galway, Ireland; Beijing, China. I began to bang out — in its tiny pica type — articles, poetry, essays, travel . . .

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Writing for the iPhone and iPod

You might have read last week how Amazon.com just released a program for reading electronic books on Apple’s iPhone. Amazon now can sell their digital books to devices beyond its Kindle e-book reader. The Amazon executive puts it this way: “There are times when you’re going to be in a place where you happen to have your iPhone but not your Kindle. If I get stuck in line at the grocery store,” Ian Freed said, “I can pick up where I was reading with my iPhone.” This amazing program keeps track of where you were reading in the book, whether it was a Kindle or an iPhone. Amazon’s software can be downloaded (free) for iPhone and also iPod Touch users to read books purchased on the Web or through their dedicated Kindle device. What does that mean to the writer? Do any of us care whether our books are read . . .

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Peace Corps POD Books

There is an interesting front-page story in the New York Times today, Wednesday, January 28, 2009, about the growth of self-published books. The growth in self-published (or POD books, i.e., print-on-demand books) comes at a time, the article says, when “traditional publishers look to prune their booklists and rely increasingly on blockbuster best sellers.” A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts reports that while more people are reading literary fiction, fewer of them are reading books. According to Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.” The article has a few great success stories. Lisa Genova wrote a novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. It was turned down by 100 literary agents. She paid $450 to iUniverse to publish the book and sold copies to independent bookstores. . . .

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