The world of publishing has quietly been undergoing a revolution for some time now. Three forces have converged to level the playing field for authors, enlarge the selection of books for readers, and make the whole game more interesting all around.
As has been pointed out in song some time ago, “The times, they are a-changing.” Before the feminist movement, it was automatic for someone to write “he” when referring to a person of non-specific gender. That person might as easily be a woman (or girl), but as long as it wasn’t a definite reference to a female, “he” was the way to go.
I was talking to a fellow writer recently. We were debating the merits of a novel he proposed to write—a prequel to one he’d already written. He thought to base the female protagonist on one or the other, or a combination of both, of two women he had known well in the past. He knew their backstories well and had the idea to fictionalize their (similar) stories.
Time was when companies that helped authors publish their own books were known as “vanity presses” or “vanity publishers,” and when having a book published by one of these companies didn’t count as “real” publishing. Vanity presses were almost entirely the bastion of inferior authors, who couldn’t get a “real” (that is, legitimate, mainstream, conventional) publisher to accept their books and who, desperate to see their beloved books in print, were willing to <gasp> PAY—usually exorbitant rates—to get their books published.
One of the cardinal rules pounded into writers, especially new writers, is “Write about what you know.”
I call bullshit on that.
On the heels of my interview with Troy Fohrman two weeks ago, I had the novel idea to interview myself this week! Here it goes.
Q: You write these blogposts every week and have had a number of books published by Roundtable, but who are you?
A: I’m a multi-published full-time freelance writer/editor, with over 100 published books to my credit.
Q: Roundtable doesn’t have anywhere near that many of your books. You have other publishers, then?
A: Quite a few. My very first book, a children’s activities book written for parents, was published by one of the New York biggies, Berkley. I’ve also been published by “boutique” publishers such as AcuteByDesign and Crimson Cloak, by midsize publishers such as Citadel (now an imprint of Kensington, but they were a standalone when they published some five or six of my books), by a number of other small and midsize publishing houses, and by several companies that have since gone out of business.
Q: How did you find Roundtable?
A: Troy Fohrman, the founder and original publisher of Roundtable, had written a screenplay he wanted novelized, and he chose me to do the work of transforming the script into a book, which Roundtable then published. Troy subsequently accepted other books of mine for publication through the traditional submissions process, while he was still head of the company.
Q: You said you’re a full-time writer/editor. Do you literally do nothing but write books all day every day?
A: Good grief, no! That’s no way to earn a living unless you’re Rowling or King or Steele. I write and edit for clients, who pay me for what I do for them. What do I do for them? On the writing end of things, I write business materials—ads, sales letters, almost anything except grant proposals. And I ghostwrite books for others (which are not included in my tally of over 100 books published). On the editing side, it’s mostly books but also magazines, websites, business materials—you name it. The work is highly varied—as is my income—and it keeps me on my toes. I’m currently juggling three book-length editing projects and expecting a ghostwriting project (book) in-house in about a month. I also have two ongoing clients who frequently send me smaller assignments, whom I expect more work from shortly. And I never know who’s going to contact me out of left field from my ads on CraigsList or my listing on ThumbTack, or by recommendation from past clients.
Q: If you could trade lives with anyone in the world, whose life would you rather live?
A: I love my life! There is no one in the world I’d want to trade lives with!
Q: Have you been a writer and editor all your life?
A: Yes and no. I’ve been writing ever since I learned to spell C-A-T, but I made only sporadic, infrequent sales of articles in my early twenties, when I did sales work and office work to keep afloat financially. By my thirties I was co-publishing an all-advertising-format newspaper, an adventure I kinda lucked into. That lasted 11 years. During two of those 11 years I also was the theatre editor of a bi-weekly entertainment-oriented paper. By then I was selling articles and stories regularly, too. In 1980 I was tapped to edit a magazine, which led to my editing several magazines for a different publisher. It wasn’t until 1993 that my first book was accepted. People who know me call me the “battery bunny,” because, like the Energizer mascot, I just keep going and going.
Q: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
A: Make that “which are your three favorites?” and I’ll answer. I can’t single out just one. One is HEARTFELT, THE SPECIAL REINDEER, a Christmas-themed picturebook for little kids, which was published by AcuteByDesign, a company unfortunately in limbo as I write this, due to ill health on the part of the publisher. The other two are both published by Roundtable. One is a cookbook, STEALTH LEFTOVERS. It’s filled with recipes for delicious dishes made from leftover meats—everything from chicken to pork to beef to ham to lamb to hamburgers to hot dogs. The other is LIFE BEHIND THE OFFICE, which is humorous nonfiction. (Buy a copy. You’ll like it.)
Q: Did you conduct this self-interview by talking to yourself in a mirror?
A: I have no trouble talking to myself without visual aids. I do it all the time!
In junior high school, I was one of Miss Kellogg’s “Library Helpers,” and it was definitely work that I loved. We Library Helpers checked books in and out, shelved books, and occasionally worked with the card catalog. (Are you old enough to remember card catalogs?) We also did such tasks as putting protective library covers on books. I loved being in the library, whether it was the school library or the public library, and whether I was there working or borrowing books (or, in the case of the public library, borrowing records).
This blogpost results from two different occurrences converging at the same time in my life: (1) I read the Acknowledgments page at the front of a book I was just starting to read, and (2) I thought of an old friend of my daughter’s who once gifted her with a cat who turned out to be the best cat who ever owned me.
Anyhow, reading that acknowledgments page made me think about people I should acknowledge—not in my books but in real life. And that somehow led me to thinking about Kadeem, who gifted my daughter with this wonderful cat, who became mine when my daughter left home.
Now, you may be wondering where I’m headed with this. Well, this week I’m preaching acknowledgments instead of taking off on the glories of reading or writing. But acknowledgments are often rendered in writing, in the form of thank-you notes.
To whom do YOU owe a thank-you? You may never get to make those thanks public, as in the acknowledgments page of a book, but make sure you convey the message anyhow. It might be by phone for something less substantial, such as if your host(ess) cooked you a scrumptious dinner (or hosted you at a restaurant for which s/he paid). But for anything more major, writing is the better way to go.
Some people balk at sending thank-you notes because they don’t know what to say. “I’m not a writer like you!” is a phrase I’ve heard, and not just once. But it’s really not that difficult. (I even wrote a book for kids about writing and crafting thank-you notes. But it’s not just kids who need to write thank-yous. Adults need to write them too.)
Start off with a pleasantry, like “How are you?” or “I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful season,”—or both. Then say, “Thank you for ___” and specify what you’re acknowledging, whether it’s a gift, a kindness done for you, or something else. Now specify at least ONE thing you like or particularly appreciated about the gift, the kindness, or whatever. Then try to think of ONE more thing to say, such as “I hope this finds you and the family well,” or “I’m looking forward to seeing you again,” or “Here’s to a wonderful summer.” Then repeat your thanks, in words such as, “I just wanted to thank you for the great gift/for the thoughtful gesture/for _____.” End with a close such as “Take care,” or “Love,” or “Sincerely,” or “Always your friend,” or “Appreciatively,” and sign your name.
There! That wasn’t so painful, was it?
If you still can’t bring yourself to write a letter (and these days, emailed thank-you notes are acceptable to most folks), at least call—although some people get tongue-tied and do better in writing, where they can use the delete key if they don’t like the way the thanks came out the first time. But whether you call, write, or (in extreme cases) send a balloon-o-gram or something else spectacular, be sure to acknowledge the gift or kindness.
The world needs more thanks.
I enjoy “talking shop,” and I like helping others, so it figures that when a writer, or a friend of a writer, asks me to help that writer with some aspect of his or her career, I’m delighted to oblige. I’ve met a few good friends that way. (Hi, Tricia. Hi, Shirl.) And Tuesday I think I made a new friend. (Hi, Steve, if you’re reading this.)
Steve and I have a lot in common. So do Steve and my S.O., though they haven’t met each other yet. They will Sunday, when I’ve invited Steve and his S.O. to come to dinner here with my S.O. and me.
The conversation Tuesday involved my giving Steve helpful hints and tips about writing and getting published. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the convo, but if I’ve made a new friend (as well as a new client), that’s great.
And he’s a new client for Roundtable, too. They’re going to be publishing his first book.
But the convo extended beyond merely helpful hints and tips. We talked about what he and my S.O. have in common. We talked about his S.O. We talked about his next book. We talked about my church. We connected.
It started with my trying to be helpful. It ended with my making a new friend. What goes around comes around. You try to help a fellow writer and wind up making a new friend.
Isn’t the world grand?
The internet is a wonderful thing—and so is the publishing industry. In my many, many years as a writer and editor, I’ve made the acquaintance of a great number of wonderful people. But that includes many I have yet to meet in person…or, as we write on the internet, “f2f.”
I just lost one such friend this week. Cancer claimed her. I am very sad. I loved her for the wonderful, dear friend she was. And yet I never met her face to face.
Penny Adams was first an editor, later a publisher. I met her while I was “wearing my writer’s hat” (as opposed to, for example, Deb, and Lori, each of whom I met when I was working in an editorial capacity). Of these latter two, I have met only Lori face to face, and only because she took a trip to South Florida and scheduled a visit with me as part of her itinerary.
Deb and I go back pre-internet. We started writing snailmail letters back and forth, at first about the manuscripts she was submitting to the magazines I was then editing, but later the letters got more and more chatty and personal. When we both finally had email, we switched from postal letters to electronic ones, and we have long since been writing to each other every day.
Lori and I exchange plural emails daily—one long one in each direction every morning and then brief catch-ups later.
Penny—the one who just died—and I exchanged daily emails as well, one every morning until Tuesday of last week, when she became too ill with the cancer and could no longer answer me. I kept on sending her my morning missives, however, till Monday morning, when I was informed that she had passed on to the next world Sunday night. It was less than a week since she had been informed that her illness was widespread stage 4 cancer.
She was a dear friend—a daily emails and occasional phone calls, sometimes-on-Facebook friend. I am missing her terribly already.
And I never did meet her face to face. There’s the internet—and the publishing industry—for you. Rest in peace, Penny. May your soul—and your cancer-racked body—be finally at peace.