Veterans Day is the day Americans officially honor the service of our military veterans. What better way is there to honor them than to preserve the stories of their service? That preservation can take a variety of forms. The Library of Congress Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center is preserving oral history interviews with veterans. (Unfortunately the Library of Congress website is down for maintenance this Veterans Day Weekend. It will be back online on Tuesday, November 13th.) The project website provides specifics on how you can participate and offers guides to the interview process. A quick web search of veterans history” will provide listings for many state and local veterans history projects which support the work being done at the Library of Congress. Books make a great preservation tool.
Patricia Fry, Executive Director of the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network (SPAWN) has a lot of experience in selling books. She has written thirty-five of her own and helped countless other authors sell theirs. In her newly published volume, Talk Up Your Book, Fry advises, “…face-to-face interactions and public appearances are some of the most effective methods for authors to promote their books.” Subtitled How to Sell Your Book Through Public Speaking, Interviews, Signings, Festivals, Conferences, and More, Fry’s book is a nuts and bolts guide for writers who want to do just that
We’re almost a week into National Novel Writing Month. How’s your book coming? Based on the many conversations I have had with ambitious writers who have undertaken the challenge, there are a lot of you out there who have one underway. Good for you! It takes a real commitment to write a novel in 30 days. But with a lot of discipline and even more time banging away at the keyboard you can knock out a draft manuscript this month. I just hope you don’t think you’ll have a book that’s ready to ship off to a literary agent on its way to the best-seller list, or what’s more likely, off to a printer for self-publication.
We’ve been offline for a bit. We really enjoyed attending the Genealogy Event in New York City last weekend, but it put us in town for the arrival of Hurricane Sally. Squarespace, which hosts our website, is in Lower Manhattan. They have backup generators, but they are located in the basement which flooded during the storm. We got a message that everything would be down for a while. Obviously a small inconvenience in light of the magnitude of the damage the East Coast has suffered. We’re glad to be back online. So back to our blog The Genealogy Event was an excellent conference. We met a lot of enthusiastic people who want to create family histories. Today’s post will highlight some of the frequently asked questions from the event.
Nancy and I often present a class titled How to Plan and Organize Your Family History Book at genealogy events around the country. (Well be presenting a new version of the class this Saturday at the Genealogy Event in New York City.) I usually begin by asking the audience, “How many of you have started writing your book?” The majority of the group raises their hands. Then I ask, “How many of you have a plan for your book?” That provokes nervous laughter and far fewer raised hands. That’s a problem! Let’s take a look at some of the decisions that will help you create a family history book you’ll be proud of.
“I just don’t have a lot of family stories,” say far too many genealogists who want to write a family history. I understand. Everyone always wishes they had taken the time to gather family stories when they had a chance. There are plenty of questions you wish you’d asked Grandfather Harry or Great Aunt Sue who was the family busybody and knew everybody’s story. But the opportunity to sit down with them with a notebook and pen or even better a tape recorder has come and gone. But that doesn’t your family history is doomed to be a dutiful recounting of facts recalled from your genealogical research and pages of pedigree charts. You can make your book lively and interesting. All it takes is a little perspective.
You’ve traced your lineage back ten generations. You know who came over on the Mayflower, or crossed the Middle Passage on a slaver, or came steerage to Ellis Island. You have all the details documented to the highest possible level of proof. How do you pass the product of your years of diligent research on to the next generation? Put it in a book!
Don’t you just love it when you get good news? Amazon sent us an email Saturday which opened, “We have good news.” After reading it, I wasn’t convinced. Addressed to “Dear Kindle Customer” the email informed us that as part of the anti-trust settlement between three of the big five publishing houses and the Justice Department last April we would be eligible for a credit for some of our past ebook purchases. You probably got one too. So, should we all say, “Hurray! Justice was done,” and rush to select some new Kindle books to buy with the negligible amount of our credit. Or should we give some serious thought to what it all means?
We spent a great weekend at the Wordstock Literary Festival in Portland, Oregon talking with authors about books. One theme came up in a variety of forms in conversation after conversation: I am finished or nearly finished with a draft of my book and I can’t get good feedback about making the revisions it needs to make it ready for publication. Two people told us they had submitted books to agents only to have them sent back with notes that said, “Needs editing.” A number of authors said they were tired of having family and friends read their manuscript only to have them say, “This is really good!” or “I really like it.” Not helpful! Others belong to writing groups which have rules that all comments on members work be supportive and encouraging, so they can’t get real critiques of what they have written. One gentleman said he had posted his draft on line for people to review. I asked, “So, are you getting good feedback?” The answer was a swift, “No. None!” All of these writers were clearly frustrated. If you’re a writer who wants ideas on how to revise your work you need to understand that most people don’t know how to offer useful suggestions. That doesn’t mean they can’t. It just needs that they need some help from you about how to do it. You need to tell your readers what you want to know. It’s best to give them specific questions you would like answered. Here are a few examples:
We’re getting ready to head for Portland, Oregon for Wordstock literary festival. We’ll be talking with people about writing all weekend. That’s great, but I hope the people we’re talking to are taking advantage of the festival to line up some good reading, because as Stephen King once advised,” If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So here are some suggestions for you as you plan your reading.
Anyone offering making suggestions to authors about how to sell their books includes the advice to exhibit at trade shows and book festivals. That can be a great idea. Or not. Nancy and I have attended two, the Sonoma County Book Festival and the West Hollywood Book Fair, in the past three weeks and we’re gearing up for Wordstock in Portland, Oregon this weekend and the Miami Book Fair International in November. We really enjoy the events and meet a lot of wonderful people, many of whom eventually become Stories To Tell clients. At the same time we have the opportunity to observe a wide variety of authors who are on hand to sell their books. The results appear to be all across the spectrum. Our advice to authors is simple: If you are going to market your book at events, do it right. Here’s how:
We were at the West Hollywood Book Fair over last Sunday. A young sci fi/fantasy writer we had met earlier in the year at the L.A. Times Festival of Books stopped by. He asked, “How do I find a literary agent?” Good question! There’s so much buzz about the best ways to self-publish that authors seeking a traditional publisher often feel left out. So, Franciscus, here are some suggestions.
I struck up an interesting conversation with a woman named Robbie at the Hollywood Book Festival the other day. She writes -and exclusively reads - nonfiction, mostly essays. Like many unpublished authors, she has been writing for a long time, in between the more pressing responsibilities of life. Like many writers, she has procrastinated about getting her work into shape for publishing.
Recently, after all this time, Ronnie actually finished writing her book. In a sprint-toward-the-deadline-like burst of frenzied writing, she completed the book at the end of August. What motivated her to finally get it done? She was submitting the book to the Graywolf Press. Each year they hold a contest for new authors and award their Nonfiction Prize to the winner. Their website promises "A $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf will be awarded to the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre."
Wait! Don't run away just yet; you've already missed the deadline. But Ronnie didn't, and she now has a shot at winning. Good luck to you, Ronnie. We will be waiting for the announcement.
For some people, this type of external motivator is just the thing to make them face that blank page. A contest gets the competitive juices flowing. And if you are really inspired by fear, you can imagine an audience of hypercritical contest judges rejecting your work. That may be just the thing to cause you to choose your words even more carefully.
Naturally, the odds are long. But contest winners do get attention, and the resulting publicity can help an author’s career. Interested? New contests abound online. You’ll find them discussed around the virtual water cooler over at Absolute Write. (If you haven’t come across the site yet, it’s a good resource for writers.) http://absolutewrite.com/forums/
Before you jump in, be sure to check the terms of a writer’s contest. There are some that are scams, meant to profit the organization, not authors, with steep submission fees. Some hapless authors pay these fees agin and again in hopes of being discovered, and that’s not a route I can recommend.
Here is a link to learn more about the Graywolf. Prize. http://www.graywolfpress.org/Company_Info/Submission_Guidelines/Graywolf_Press_Nonfiction_Prize/127/
If you are writing in another genre, type it (example: mystery) and “contest” into your search engine and explore!
Writing a book is hard work, and it is even harder to go back and correct a mistake when you are far into the project. Sometimes an ill-conceived idea at the outset of a book project means that a writer has to completely rework their manuscript. Just in the past few weeks, we have had three clients with problems that were inherent in their book idea. Perhaps you can learn from their mistakes.
Nearly every genealogist talks about collecting her research and writing a family history book – someday. Make this October the month that you actually do it. I know a lot of you are saying, “I’d like to do that, but I’m not finished with my research.” I understand. But you never will be finished. Research is a lifetime pursuit. Family historians should all pin a comment by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman to their wall or better yet use it as a screen saver. Tuchman said, “The most important thing about research is to know when to stop. How does one recognize the moment? …One must stop before one is finished; otherwise, one will never stop and never finish.” So get started with your book! Let’s look at a simple process to plan and organize your family history.