If You Wrote It, You Gotta Own It – and So Does Your Publisher

December 12, 2014

I’ve been watching the train wreck that is Lena Dunham and the spanking she’s getting over her book…specifically the issue about sexually abusing her sister. Sexual abuse is abhorrent. Period. So the fact that she writes about it so openly and shamelessly, she had to be prepared for the backlash of disgust.

But no. Instead, she goes on the offensive by having a public hissy fit and insulting those who find her brand of honesty on equal footing with the muck at the bottom of a cesspool. Come on, what did she expect? That people would embrace her sexual abuse of an innocent child by calling her brave and innovative, or whatever goosh that seeps out of the minds of idiots? I remain humbled by the virility of her and her editor’s insanity.

And yes, what on earth was her editor at Random House thinking? At the very least, I would have urged/stood on a desk and screamed that Lena approach this subject with sensitivity and purpose. Analyze the reasons behind revealing this sickening bit of bovine tripe (yes, Pricey, tell us how you really feel), and discuss why it’s so important to once-again humiliate your sister. Is it for redemption? Clarification? An apology? What? The reasons must be just. Anything less, and it’s nothing more than salacious bovine tripe…which is pathetic on any literary level.

Look, we all know that controversial subjects make great news and sell lots of books.

jan-storyI look no further than our own bestselling book, Jan’s Story, by CBS journalist Barry Petersen. Barry’s book contains a very controversial topic, and we discussed it at great length during the editing phase. In fact, I had a really hard time with it and had to be talked down off the ledge a few times by the hubs, who is calm and resourceful to a fault. I came to honor the fact that this particular topic really needed discussing because Alzheimer’s is such a cruel disease and destroys everyone who comes near it. And yes, predictably, we caught some heat for it. But we expected it, and turned the controversy around into fruitful, honest discussion. Those who chose to denigrate were free to do so, but we met the discussion head on, and I remain extremely proud of that.

Fact are that you can’t write about controversial topics and not expect to take heat. First and foremost, you must be prepared how to respond to negative comments in order to turn them into pluses. You DO NOT go on the offensive and commence to insulting your readership. You’ll find yourself crucified. And this is where a publisher needs to employ real-live grown up editors who understand how to head this off at the pass by ensuring you, the author, don’t accidentally make an ass of yourself à la Lena.

Understand that not everyone sees you the way you see you, and that you may come off as a clodpated nerfherder. You and your publisher’s first order of business is to Protect, Justify, and Defend…not Abuse, Spit, and Accuse the reader. Own it, baby. Avoid the Lena.

 


JAN’S STORY and YOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU? On Sale!

November 10, 2014

Get ’em while they’re hot, kiddies. Amazon has two of our wonderful titles on special:

girlbeatyou-smYOU LET SOME GIRL BEAT YOU? by Ann Meyers Drysdale – $2.99 WoOt!!

I adore Annie’s story because she never let public opinion sway her passion for sports. Whenever I’m feeling down on myself, I pick up my tattered copy and draw strength. Looking for a great pick-me-up written by one of the loveliest people evah? Click on the da link. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

 

jan-storyJAN’S STORY by Barry Petersen – $3.99 WoOt!

Early Onset Alzheimer’s steals the mind and leaves the body intact. CBS journalist Barry Petersen wrote an eloquent story about the love of his life, Jan, and her slow downward spiral – leaving him behind. The problem with Early Onset is that the people left behind are still young. Vital. Barry broaches a controversial topic that, frankly, needs discussing. It’s the reality of needing to be loved, to feel someone’s arms around you while you’re held hostage to one of the cruelest diseases. Barry opens this tough debate with honesty and clarity that sometimes the idea of “family” takes on a less traditional role. Can’t recommend this book enough.


The Collision of the Unholy Cinquinities and “Holy Crap!”

May 14, 2014

holy crapitude

I appreciate a good story that says, “Holy crap, Pricey, wanna hear what happened to me?” But the operative is “holy crap.” It’s like when jan-storyBarry Petersen’s wife, Jan, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s while he was still CBS’ Asian correspondent. How do you care for the love of your life and still maintain your career? JAN’S STORY oozes “holy crap!”-itude…by opening a vital discussion about the unique problems of Early Onset Alzheimer’s – which include love, working, saying goodbye, all while trying to maintain a job. There’s nothing else like it on the marketplace and there’s a huge readership, so it’s easy to see why it’s a bestseller.

And I reject many, many other Alzheimer stories because they lack those qualities.

Now, I realize “holy crap!” stories are subjective, and what I perceive to be a “holy crap!”-tastic story and the author’s perception of “holy crap!”-tastic could be as far apart as my bank account and retirement. Since we pour time and gobs of money into each title, I have to depend on the marketplace. What’s already out there? Is what you’re saying unique? Will they buy it?

Using that as a litmus, I’ve been going through my latest round of query letters, and nearly all of them lack that “holy crap!” element that will merit the marketplace’s attention in numbers large enough to blip the reader radar.

I know – I can hear you screaming from here: “What the hell, Pricey, what makes a memoir “holy crap!”-worthy?? It’s all so subjective.” Well, here’s my take on it: We all experience life in a myriad of ways. Some get debilitating diseases or have the motherlode of Bandini drop in their laps. The thing with memoirs is that Life happens to us, not through us…and it’s how we choose to deal with that crap that makes a story.

Or not…

Ye Olde Cancer/Addiction/Death/Divorce/Life Change

These are the members of the Unholy Cinquinity tribe – so named because there are 5 instead of 3 – get it (oh the cleverness abounds)? These are the hot buttons that usually melt my brain before I finish reading a query letter. Why? Because they’ve been Written. To. Death. Unless you have a huge platform or have an incredibly unique message, these books are next to impossible to market.

But don’t despair…be aware.

FSO - lo RESFor example, when Amy Biancolli’s lovely agent sent me her proposal over Christmas vacation – I wanted to reject it outright because it’s about losing her husband. In my mind’s eye Joan Didion already sailed that ship with THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. But her agent prodded me, so I huffed and puffed and committed to read the first chapter. Well, a few hours later I finished the entire manuscript because I couldn’t put it down. Not only is Amy’s writing some of the best I’ve ever read, but her story is unique when compared to all the other books of the same genre.

Of course, it details losing her husband, but it’s also about putting the pieces back and FIGURING SHIT OUT. It’s irreverent, poignant, honest – and carries the universal theme that we all have shit that needs figuring out, and we don’t always have to do it with dark-cloaked-respectful-whispers-knit-eyebrows seriousness. Sometimes gallows humor is the closest thing to sanity, yanno? I see Amy’s book as an inspiration for anyone wallowing in their own shit.

That is a “Holy crap!” story I know I can sell.

Conversely, I’ve rejected two other “death” books in the past two weeks that were, indeed, sad, but basically rode on Joan Didion’s coattails. Heartbreaking, yes, but there was no hook.

  • “My husband died.”
  • “I have/had cancer.”
  • “I suffered from addiction.”
  • “My husband left me after 30 years of marriage.”

I feel horrible for all of these stories, but what makes it marketable? These same experiences have happened to many others, so I always have to ask mysel, “Who cares?” Sure, it’s cutthroat and heartless (I have no soul, remember?), but so is publishing. If you don’t have your Big Girl/Boy panties on and objectively pre-screen yourself, then you’re going to suffer a lot of rejection. Which sucks.

I see many stories that are more like therapy sessions than marketable books. They’re too personal, so I sometimes feel like a Peeping Tonya. Many times, the stories are a rehash of books that are already crowding store shelves, so the “holy crap!” elements already exist…in someone else’s book.

If you write in one of the Unholy Cinquinites, you have to be able to defend your story’s viability:

  • What specific elements make my book unique?
  • Why would readers read and recommend my book?
  • Who is my direct competition – how does my book compare and contrast?
  • What specific kinds of people will read my book (intended readership)? –  I get a lot of, “This is a book that will appeal to everyone,” which makes me reach for the bottle. I can’t market to “everyone,” but I can market to cancer groups, bereavement groups, addiction groups, etc…so if you have a platform within those kinds of groups, it makes it easier to get bookstores interested in writing a big fat purchase order.

Writers of the Unholy Cinquinities who have a grip on these questions are in a better position to understand the “holy crap!”-ness of their stories and highlight those elements in their query letters so a heartless, soulless editor won’t reach for the bottle before hitting the Reject button.

Like I said, Don’t despair…be aware. Now go out and embrace your “holy crap!”-ness.

 


Godspeed, Jan Petersen

May 14, 2013

jansstory4-23-10

We were saddened to hear about the passing of Jan Petersen. She was the heart and soul to Barry Petersen, author of JAN’S STORY. I remember editing this powerful book with Barry. It was grueling, and I constantly felt as though I was ripping a fresh scab off of Barry’s heart with ever editing go-around. But the result is an extremely intimate look at Early Onset Alzheimer’s, and how this cruel disease is unlike any other because it leaves the body, but takes the mind. As Barry says, suddenly the idea of “forever” has an expiration date.

 


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