Roxanna Elden is one of our favorite authors. We met her in a class at Miami Dade College where we were teaching. From the very first time she raised her hand and opened her mouth, we knew she was something special. One of the consistent things we’ve found in our years of teaching and doing Pitchapaloozas is that teachers make the best public speakers. Anybody who can wrangle a class full of kids and live to tell the tale is prepared for anything. With the publication of her debut novel, Adequate Yearly Progress, we thought we’d check in with Roxana and see what it was like to go from nonfiction to novel, from novice to fighting-sophomore-slump author, from wide-eyed debutante to grizzled veteran.
The Book Doctors: Congratulations on your debut novel. Tell us about Adequate Yearly Progress.
Roxanna Elden: Adequate Yearly Progress is a workplace novel that captures teaching with humor, insight, and heart. It switches perspectives among a diverse group of educators as their professional lives impact their personal lives and vice versa. As an elevator pitch, I often describe it as being, “like the TV show The Office, but set in an urban high school.”
TBD: Your first book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, was non-fiction. Is it different taking your experience as a teacher and writing fiction instead of nonfiction?
RE: I started writing See Me After Class during my sister’s first year as a teacher. The specific goal of that book was to help teachers make it through their first years with a mix of humor, honesty, and practical advice. As an unexpected side effect of trying to spread the word about the book, I ended up in situations I might not otherwise have seen as a classroom teacher: Silicon Valley ed-entrepreneur conferences, television panels, and schools around the country where I got to talk to thousands of fellow educators. During all this, I was still spending most of my time doing daily high school teacher things, like grading essays and watching students play with their phones underneath their desks. It felt like there had to be a way to capture this panoramic view of the education world, with all its colliding ideas and interest groups, and how all of this played out at the school level. A novel told from many different points of view turned out to be my best answer.
TBD: Tell us how you used the Miami Writers Institute to find an agent and start your publishing career.
RE: The idea for my first book hit me in 2005. This also happened to be the first year of the Miami Writers Institute, which brings well-known authors and publishing industry people to Miami. The first class I ever took was The Book Doctors’ course on the process of getting a book published. That class provided a roadmap through the whole process of finding an agent and publisher for the book that became See Me After Class. Over the following years, I went on to write a children’s book and, most recently, a novel. I also continued to take classes at the Miami Writers Institute every year, and found that each year’s class corresponded to specific events in my writing life. Recently, I distilled the notes from the classes and the lessons learned from twelve years as an author into a twelve-day email series. The result is part creative writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir of what it takes to build a writing career.
TBD: What did you learn as a teacher that helped you in your publishing career?
RE: Teaching builds the type of thick skin that helps in the writing world. Agents and editors might not return your emails, but at least they don’t fall asleep on their desks right in front of you. As an English teacher, I also taught a lot of the skills that improve writing at any level. Constantly discussing the qualities of good writing helped in writing the book. And writing the book made me feel like the advice I’d been repeating to students actually worked outside of the classroom.
TBD: Do you approach promoting and marketing fiction differently then nonfiction?
RE: The common wisdom about marketing nonfiction books is that they should have a specific target audience. Literary fiction is expected to have a wider appeal, with authors that seemingly rise from the ether as debut talent. Adequate Yearly Progress, however, always felt like it was somewhere in between. My goal was to write a page-turning story that anyone would enjoy, but it was especially important to me that all the details rang true to teachers. The audience for my first book also included many teachers frustrated by Hollywood versions of the profession, which made it a natural fit to spread the word to teachers first. Their enthusiasm has helped spread the word about the book to a wider audience.
TBD: How did you get such great blurbs?
RE: I was thrilled to have a front cover blurb from Steve Almond for Adequate Yearly Progress, and from Dave Barry for See Me After Class. Additionally, there have been some great recent write-ups for Adequate Yearly Progress, including in The Washington Post and Forbes. The most helpful takeaway from all of these experiences is less of a specific trick and more of a general mindset: most authors are our own publicists most of the time. We might as well take the job seriously. If you were paying a professional publicist upwards of $5K a month to represent you, you’d want them to at least try to approach some of your favorite authors and publications. If you do this yourself over time, you’ll get better at the job. And hopefully, you’ll get a few lucky breaks along the way.
TBD: Tell us about the comedian you’ve been following who interviews behavioral scientists wherever he goes.
RE: About halfway through writing the novel, I stumbled on a podcast called Here We Are, in which stand-up comic Shane Mauss interviews behavioral scientists in each of the cities on his comedy tours. One of my biggest goals while writing AYP was to make sure the characters rang true as people, and the scientists on Here We Are provided a constant stream of insight into why humans do what we do. Many of these insights found their way into the novel. Naturally, I was pretty thrilled to have a chance to do an episode of the Here We Are podcast about Adequate Yearly Progress. This ended up being one of the funniest conversations I’ve ever had about teacher movies. It also reinforced my theory that teachers and stand-up comics have a lot in common.
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers? And teachers for that matter?
RE: As a writer, you try 100 things and only two of them work. It’s tempting to wish you could go back and skip the other 98 attempts. But the truth is, it’s notjust the two things that worked. It’s the fact that you tried 100 things, learning along the way, laying the tracks as you drove the train. That’s probably good advice for teachers, too. Your trial-and-error efforts add up over time.
Roxanna Elden combines eleven years of experience as a public school teacher with a decade of speaking to audiences around the country about education issues. Her first book, See Me After Class, is a staple in school districts and educator training programs, and her work has been featured on NPR as well as in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Education Week, and many other outlets. You can learn more about her work at www.roxannaelden.com.
The Book Doctors first met May Cobb at the 2011 Texas Book Festival in a town that is one of our all-time favorites: Austin. For those of you who haven’t been, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. It’s one of the great book festivals, in one of the great cities in America. May was one of the brave souls who pitched her book to us in front of a packed house at our Pitchapalooza . Think American Idol for books … only kinder and gentler. She dazzled us with her idea for a book about the great jazz musician, Rashaan Roland Kirk. We could tell from the moment she stepped up to the microphone that she had the nerve, skills, talent, and that indefinable je ne sais quoi that makes one think: Yes, this woman knows how to get things done. In fact, we liked her pitch so much that she won! As often happens, this idea was not the one that became her debut book. In fact, as she honed and refined the book she pitched us, she wrote a novel, Big Woods and got it published. One of the things that we love about being book doctors is helping a talented writer become a published author. So now that her debut novel is finally out in the world, we thought we’d pick her brain about writing, rejection, and how she navigated the stormy seas of the publishing world to get successfully published.
The Book Doctors: Congratulations on publishing your first novel. Tell us about Big Woods.
May Cobb: Thank you so much! BIG WOODS is a thriller set against the backdrop of 1980s small-town Texas and delves into the paranoia surrounding satanic cults. It revolves around the disappearance of a young girl, whom everyone presumes is dead except her older sister who begins having dreams about her, insisting she is still alive.
It’s based on a true, eerie story my mom told me while growing up in East Texas, where Big Woods is set. For two years, my mother, a nurse, worked in the psychiatric unit of our small town’s hospital. It was located in the basement and she worked the graveyard shift. One night, a young woman in ripped clothing appeared at the unit and begged to be taken into hiding. She kept saying, over and over again, “You have to hide me. They are going to find me and they are going to kill me.” I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving away the plot, but that story was the genesis for BIG WOODS.
TBD: How was the process of trying to find the right agent for your book, then finding a publisher of your own? Did it help that you found a publisher who does books that match up so well with Big Woods?
MC: Arielle helped me a great deal with my agent search (in addition to everything else!) After approaching a handful of agents who passed — some whom I’d met at conferences, others, referrals — Arielle had me write up a list of thirty agents I’d like to approach. She carefully reviewed this list and dropped a few names and suggested a few others. Next, Arielle helped fine-tune my query letter so that it was in tip-top shape and within 48 hours, I had an offer! Within a week of that initial offer, I had two additional offers and then had a very big decision to make!
My agents, Ellen Levine and Alexa Stark, found a warm and welcoming home for Big Woods. While the novel was out on submission, I was as cool as a cucumber and so much fun to be around! And I was wildly productive writing-wise. I’m kidding, of course, I was a bundle of nerves, developed insomnia, and couldn’t write a lick. But my pot at the end of the rainbow came in the form of getting the “yes” from Midnight Ink. I knew the minute I spoke with Terri Bischoff, my editor, over the phone that Big Woods had found the home it was meant to find.
TBD: What was it like getting published by a wonderful independent publisher, Midnight Ink?
MC: It’s been absolutely incredible, ever since that first phone call with Terri. Terri had fantastic notes for the novel and is so warm and brilliant — just a delight to work with, as is the entire Midnight Ink Team (waving at you Jake and Anna), as well as my publicist Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity. Everyone is so talented and dedicated and collaborative!
TBD: How did you know about getting your Book Launch Party at one of the greatest bookstores in America: Book People in Austin, Texas?
MC: I’ve lived in Austin for the past twenty years and Book People is hands-down one of my favorite places in Austin as well as my favorite bookstore ever. Of course I’ve gone to tons of readings and signings there, and it has been a long-held dream of mine to have a book party there, so I was thrilled when they gave me the green light. And the literary community in Austin on the whole is so wonderfully supportive, I feel damn lucky to be living here.
TBD: Tell us about your relationship with National Novel Writing Month. How do writers benefit from NaNoWriMo?
MC: I shadow NaNoWriMo every November! I wrote a big chunk of Big Woods during a NaNoWriMo and while it sounds daunting to try and complete a novel in one month, I think the time crunch really helps silence the inner critic that is always, always lurking. It does for me anyway.
TBD: How did you go about winning the online Nanowrimo Pitchapalooza?
MC: I was aware of the contest from having the absolute privilege of working with you guys on my nonfiction project and was excited by the challenge of crafting a pitch to enter the contest. But I could not believe that my pitch actually won, and it gave me such a boost during a time I needed it most. Not to mention, your feedback was exquisite!
TBD: What did you get to start writing for the Washington Post?
MC: This literally came out of the blue. One day, while my husband, mother, and I took our young son to a park in Austin, the police were called on us because (gasp!) my son’s hair was a bit messy and his pants were a bit short. He is six and autistic, and the responding officers were so gracious when they arrived and questioned us because they could instantly tell that nothing was amiss, and that our son has special needs. I came home and immediately reached out to the editor of that particular column and she responded that she was very interested, but suggested that I sit with the story for a while. She didn’t want a vent piece and could tell that I was still upset by the incident.
So I did as she suggested and mulled it over for several weeks. Then one evening, the essay came together rather quickly and she accepted it. I did not anticipate the flurry of responses we would receive (both negative and positive) — the piece generated over 2k comments and the Post ran it on their homepage the following Sunday. Ana Navarro of CNN tweeted in solidarity of the essay, which, in turn, made my twitter feed explode, mostly with other parents in our same situation reaching out, which was so gratifying and I’m grateful for Ana for tweeting about it.
TBD: How did you get this great blurb?
“Stephen King’s Stand by Me collides with Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects in this exceptional thriller. Gutsy, gripping―and pitch-perfect in its resurrection of an era long gone.”
―A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
MC: I approached authors whose work I deeply admired and had been inspired by. In the case of A.J. Finn, I reached out to Finn before THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was published. I was aware of it, namely because it had been such a spectacular deal with the film rights selling instantly to Fox, and also, I absolutely loved the premise of a woman who is shut in her apartment but believes she’s witnessed a murder across the street. Also, the title reminded me so much of one of my favorite novels from my graduate studies, Wilkie Collin’s famed, Victorian-era detective novel, THE WOMAN IN WHITE.
While I was waiting to hear if Finn would indeed blurb BIG WOODS, I read (devoured) THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW the day it was published and was completely gobsmacked by it. His prose is just astonishing — just so gorgeous and lyrical — and his gift of suspense and propulsion is unparalleled. And also, there’s this great wit in the novel. It’s one of my top favorite novels of all time. So, while I was reading THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, I was inwardly wincing, thinking, “He’s going to be so bored if he gets around to reading BIG WOODS.” And when I followed up with him and heard back that he was blurbing BIG WOODS (and comparing it to King and Flynn) my head spun! I had to read the email three times before I could believe it and I cried, I was so happy and so moved.
TBD: How did you get to be a finalist in the 2015 Writers League of Texas Manuscript? Did it help your career?
MC: As you guys know, BIG WOODS interrupted a twenty year nonfiction project which I’m currently finishing up. It’s the story of the late, jazz great, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and in 2015, I submitted a portion of the book to the Writers League of Texas Manuscript Contest. I was so thrilled to find it was named a finalist. I do feel it helped me get my query noticed by agents and editors and, also, the Writers League of Texas has just been instrumental all the way around with nurturing my writing path — such a fantastic organization.
And in 2016, BIG WOODS was chosen as the Winner in the same contest and I feel like that was very instrumental in my having the confidence to finish the novel!
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
MC: Surround yourself with people who believe in you and shut out the chorus of voices that tell you writing is an impossible career choice. Also, keep your overhead low and find a good mechanic! And more than anything, realize that you can write in 15-minute bursts of time. Even if it’s a sentence or a single paragraph. It all adds up. Most of BIG WOODS was written in stolen moments — while my husband was bathing our son, while I could’ve checked into Facebook but didn’t — and I was able to hammer out the first draft in a year. And finally, it must be said: if you’re able to, work with the Book Doctors! I would not still be writing today if it weren’t for you guys.
May Cobb grew up in the piney woods of East Texas where her debut thriller, Big Woods, is set. After college, she moved to San Francisco, where she studied Victorian Literature for her Master’s, and then lived in Los Angeles for a few years where she worked for filmmaker/writer Ron Shelton and his wife, the actress Lolita Davidovich. For the past twenty years, she’s been working on a nonfiction book about the late, great, jazz artist, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Austin Monthly, and Edible Austin. Cobb now lives in Austin with her husband and son.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Get publishing tips delivered to your inbox every month.
You wrote your 50,000 words (give or take a few thousand). Now how do you get published?
Get a free 20-minute consultation from the Book Doctors.
To claim your consultation:
- Purchase a copy of the new edition of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.
- Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org and attach a copy of your receipt. Put “NaNoWriMo Nation” in the subject.
The consultations will take place over the telephone or Skype. You can pitch us your book or ask any questions about any subject you wish. It’s also a great gift for a fellow WriMo!
One of the fun things about being a Book Doctor is that we get to travel to cool places and meet cool people. If you haven’t been to San Antonio, do yourself a favor and go. It’s a beautiful city. The San Antonio Book Festival was really a blast: great authors, great craft stuff for Olive, our daughter, and most importantly, lots of readers. While we were there, we met Lance Rubin at the party they have for authors. He explained what his first book is about, and it’s great. We decided to pick his brain about writing, publishing, and how he got his first book deal. To read on the Huffington Post, click here.
The Book Doctors: How did you get started as a writer?
Lance Rubin: Since I was eight years old, I always thought I was going to be a professional actor. So the writing I did through most of my life was often in service of that. When I was younger, I wrote skits and short films with friends that we would perform. In college, I wrote and performed a one-man show. After college, I co-wrote and performed a sketch comedy show called The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Then, several years ago, I was finding my acting career frustrating and unfulfilling right around the same time I read The Hunger Games. I really loved it, and I thought, “Maybe I’ll try to write a YA novel.” It wasn’t a fully rational decision, but I started writing, and I was having such a good time–feeling empowered and creatively fulfilled in new, exciting ways–that I kept at it. Even though I hadn’t written long-form fiction before, I think all the various writing I’d been doing my whole life completely informed this book.
TBD: What are some of your favorite books and why?
LR: Some favorites include:
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Such brilliant storytelling: magical situations always grounded in humanity; a complex story that weaves and intertwines through seven books; humor that comes from a place of love; and fully fleshed-out characters who truly care about each other. I could go on and on. Anyone who’s been resisting reading these is a fool.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Not only does Chabon spin the most delightful, acrobatic sentences, but he tells a completely engaging story of friendship, love, comic books, WWII, and superheroes.
The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire by Deepak Chopra. This nonfiction is all about the power of coincidences and synchronicity. I try to read it every couple years because it makes life more fun; you start to find coincidences everywhere, like a code from the universe you have to solve.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. When I first read it as a kid, it made me aware of the way books can subvert narrative expectations and make you laugh out loud.
TBD: How did being a professional actor help and/or hinder you as a writer?
LR: As an actor, I was always trying to get inside the head of a character, figure out how that character thinks and responds to the world. When I started writing this book, with its first-person narrator, I realized there was a surprising amount of overlap, as I was essentially doing the same thing: figuring out how the main character (and all of the other characters, too) thinks and responds to the world. And it was even better because now I got to actually come up with what the characters say! That said, since I come from the world of acting and comedy, I’m often so focused on dialogue that the descriptive parts of my writing are severely lacking. But hey, that’s what rewriting is for!
TBD: The idea for your new book, Denton Little’s Deathdate, is so cool. How did you come up with it?
LR: I think about time a lot. I’m always taking inventory of my life in terms of dates. I’ll think things like, “What was going on in my life a year ago today? Two years ago today? Three?” And so on. And I’m usually able to remember. So one day I thought, “What if I could take inventory of my life in terms of a future date? Specifically, themost important date, the day I’m going to die?” I wondered how this would change the way I lived. Or if maybe it wouldn’t change a thing. And then I thought, “What ifeveryone knew the day they were going to die?” So then there was the idea: in a world where everyone knows their deathdate, the protagonist is going to die tomorrow. That was pretty much all I had for a few years. The rest came later.
TBD: How did you go about getting a book deal?
LR: I just Googled “book deal,” clicked on the first link that appeared, and signed up! Isn’t that how it works for everybody?
Apologies for that dumb joke. I did have a relatively charmed journey to a book deal, as my best friend since I was three, Zack Wagman, has worked in publishing for over a decade and is a brilliant editor, currently at Ecco. He was one of a handful of close people in my life who read the first draft of my book and gave feedback, and then was one of a duo of close people in my life (along with my wife, Katie Schorr) who gave feedback on the three or four subsequent drafts over the next year. Finally, once I had a draft that was in solid shape, Zack connected me to agent Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media, who responded to the book and signed me. (I know getting an agent is not supposed to be such a smooth process, so I understand if writers out there want to spit in my proverbial soup. I’ve faced a ton of rejection in my life, too, if that makes you feel better. See: abandoned acting career.) Mollie is terrific, and she guided me through one last big rewrite before submitting to various publishing houses. In November 2013, Denton was sold to Knopf Books for Young Readers.
TBD: What was it like working with your editor?
LR: Super. I feel so fortunate that I ended up working with Nancy Siscoe. She’s smart and kind and funny, and she loves all the same things about my book that I do. By the time she got my first book, it had already been rewritten a lot, so her changes were minor but really insightful as to things that would make the story clearer and more satisfying. My second book, which comes out in April 2016, was pretty much a mess when she got it. So I was truly relieved when I received her pages and pages of single-spaced notes and they all resonated with me. It was like, “Oh man, she has great ideas about how to make this less of a mess. Thank god.”
TBD: We’re intrigued by the musical you’re writing. What exactly is Annie Golden: Bounty Hunter, Yo!?
LR: Hey, thanks for asking! It’s a musical I co-wrote with Joe Iconis and Jason “SweetTooth” Williams about a veteran musical theater actress named Annie Golden (to be played by veteran musical theater actress Annie Golden, known to many as Norma on Orange is the New Black) who gets pulled into the world of bounty hunting and starts kicking ass in ways she never imagined she could. It’s a comedy highly inspired by exploitation movies of the 1970s and ’80s–both story-wise and musically–but it’s also about breaking out of the boxes society puts people into. It’s been an exciting project to work on. We’re hoping it will have its first production in the not-so-distant future.
TBD: Did you outline your book before you started writing? What kind of a routine do you have as a writer?
LR: Thus far in the two books I’ve written, I haven’t outlined before starting my first drafts. I generally have some broad ideas about where the story might go and a page or two of notes on characters and potential plot points, but then I just start writing and discover as I go. In the case of my second book, I got about 15,000 words in, realized I hated where the story was going, scrapped it, and started again. Outlining might have helped me avoid that, but it’s still the way I prefer to work.
As far as writing routine, I have several coffee shops and libraries that I bounce between. Last year, I worked almost exclusively at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn. Then it closed out of nowhere in December, which was quietly devastating. I now keep a rotation of several spots because I’m not gonna get hurt like that again.
When I’m working on a first draft, I’m always aiming for word count, which was something I took from Stephen King’s On Writing. With my first book, I tried to get 1,000 words a day. With my second, I aimed for 2,000 (and often only got to around 1,700).
I work way better in the morning, so it’s often an 8:30 am – 3 pm workday, give or take an hour (and sometimes I’m needed on Dad duty for my 1-year-old son, so that timing’s always subject to change).
I usually listen to music while I write, and the headphones going in is my indicator to myself: “Okay, stop dicking around on the internet. Time to work.”
TBD: I noticed your book has been translated into several languages. It was really fun for me when I saw my book in Russian and its different covers. What was it like seeing the book you wrote in a language you can’t read?
LR: That’s absolutely been one of the most surreal parts of the experience. Each cover has had its own wonderfully distinct take on the story, which has been so cool, but it’s the different-language part that is truly hard to wrap my head around. I heard an audiobook sample of the German edition last week, and I think my brain exploded. This story I plunked out on my laptop in random coffee shops has ended up in a recording booth in Germany, being read aloud by some talented German actor. That’s nuts.
TBD: We admire the fact that you publicly admit to loving the New York Knicks. How are you holding up during this very difficult time?
LR: Oh man, it’s been so rough. I mean, maybe there’s some historical joy in knowing I just lived through the Worst Knicks Season of All Time. No, there really isn’t. What a joke of a season. I miss Jeremy Lin.
TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?
LR: Ha, I love the disclaimer at the beginning of that question. Here’s my two cents: whether you’re published or not, you need to start operating as if you’re a published writer. Make writing a part of your daily routine, as if it’s your job. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike; just sit down and do the work every day. If you don’t take yourself seriously in this way, then the universe won’t be able to, either.
Lance Rubin is a New Jersey native who has worked as an actor and written sketch comedy, including successful runs of The Lance and Ray Show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. He’s also co-writing a new musical called Annie Golden: Bounty Hunter, Yo! and loves Pixar, the Knicks, and Back to the Future. Lance lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. His debut novel, Denton Little’s Deathdate, is out now from Knopf Books for Young Readers, to be followed by a second Denton book in 2016. Learn more at lancerubin.com and follow him on Twitter @lancerubinparty.
A while ago, we interviewed one of our favorite writers, Caroline Leavitt, The New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and nine other books. Not only is she an amazing novelist, she’s also a brilliant teacher. After reading an interview we did with Caroline, Katharine Herndon, a member of James River Writers, asked a very simple question: She wanted to know what Caroline meant by “mapping a story by moral wants and needs.” We asked Caroline and her response was nothing short of game-changing in terms of storytelling. It made us think about constructing a plot in a whole new way. Here is what she said:
I always feel that you want to figure out: What is the specific long-standing thing your protagonist has gotten wrong about herself or himself and the world that the plot will force him or her to overcome in order to have a shot at what she or he wants? For example, take Kramer vs. Kramer. Kramer’s wrong about (and he doesn’t even know it yet) that the purpose of his life is to have a high-powered job in NYC, work 16 hours a day, neglect his wife and little boy. He thinks he’s doing the right thing because he’s providing for them, and he equates that with love. His boy doesn’t know him and his wife leaves him–with the kid. So the plot forces him to be the one thing he is not–a father. And through that experience, he comes to realize that what he wanted–to be the CEO–is not what he NEEDS. What he NEEDS is to be a loving father, which allows him to be a loving friend, and then possibly, in the future, a loving partner to someone.
I call this the Rolling Stone method of plotting. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try–sometimes–you can be lucky enough to get what you need, which is usually the opposite of what you want.
-So I start out asking, what is it the character wants and why?
-What’s at stake if he (or she) doesn’t get it?
-What is the character wrong about that he doesn’t even realize yet but is holding him back?
-What is the character ghost–the thing from his (or her) past that haunts him and keeps him from moving on that he must heal?
-What is the inciting action–this is something that pushes the protagonist into an inner and outer struggle with his misbelief. (Like Kramer who has to work less–the thing he believes he has to do more of!)
All the protagonist’s plans fail and fail until what I call the Big Doom moment, when he realizes all is lost. The girl or guy will never be won. The job is finished. The funds are gone. And then, in that moment, the character has a self-revelation. He realizes the misconception he had. For Kramer, it was when his wife comes back and wants the child –the one thing he thought he wanted at the beginning of the novel. Only now he loves his child, adores being a father, and he needs to keep him and fight for him. The protagonist fights for this new idea.
The last part is the New Equilibrium, where we get to see the character acting differently now that this misconception has been cleared up. Kramer is a dad with a ho-hum job, but he doesn’t care about the job or prestige anymore. He cares about being a father.
If you give your character lots of moral choices until he becomes who he should become, you get a deeper novel. A moral choice, by the way, is being stuck between two terrible choices, like, I can rob the store to get the medicine my dying wife needs and go to jail, or I can be a good citizen, and stay out of jail so at least I can be with my wife when she dies. Both are terrible! But humans show us their best selves when they are at their worst.
Writers: Please take this most excellent advice and run with it!
Consider 25 Sophie’s Choices.
Consider 25 juicy, delicious pitches.
Consider that you only get to choose one.
We did. And after much consideration, we have chosen a winner. It was not an easy choice! There were just so many great pitches. But we kept coming back to one. And that one, as you may have guessed, is Sparrow Migrations by Cari Noga. Cari’s storytelling ability , strong voice, and her idea to revolve her book around an event that captured America, won us over. We really wanna read this book. Congratulations Cari!
As for the fan favorite, the fans have spoken and the winner is…drum roll… Out of the Woods by father-son team, David and Ben Ash. Congratulations guys!
Thank you all so much for participating in what, for us, has been a fabulously fun Pitchapalooza. We hope EVERYONE gets happily published!
“Writers now have breathtaking new ways of connecting with and getting their work directly into the hands of readers. And they no longer have to rely on a small group of publishing experts in order to get published. Because there is no barrier to to publishing”, write publishing experts and Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry in their comprehensive and idea packed book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully. The authors set out a blueprint for creating an idea, developing a book on the topic, getting that book published, and delivering it to readers worldwide.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry understand the challenges of writing a book and in getting the final manuscript published and marketed well. The authors point to the importance of passion as one of the most critical elements necessary for publishing success. Without the passion for the book’s idea, a would be author might not have the drive needed to carry the book through to completion and for the marketing effort. Along with the important aspect of being passionate about the book’s subject matter, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry share their four principles of successful publishing:
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (both in photo left) recognize the dramatic and systemic changes that have altered the publishing landscape. As a result, their advice doesn’t cover just traditional book publishing. The authors also share techniques for self publishing a book, and for utilizing the alternate book formats including ebooks, audio books, and even for publishing online. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry offer step by step advice for every facet of the book publishing process, and also include the crucial but often overlooked areas of copyright, contacts, payment, and legal protection. Along with the valuable tips on taking care of business, the book also contains the always vital area of book marketing. While a book may be great, and convey the passion and knowledge of the author, without a marketing plan even the best book will fail to find an audience. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry provide marketing concepts that include both conventional and unconventional channels to promote and sell more copies of the finished product.
For me, the power of the book is how Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry remove the mystery from book publishing, and present a complete handbook for achieving success as an author, from start to finish. The authors leave no stone unturned, and make it clear to the would be author that writing a bestselling book is possible, but requires much work on the part of the writer. Because of the effort involved in writing, contracting, and marketing a book, the authors emphasize that the author must be passionate about the subject or plot of the book. Anything less, and the book is likely to not do as well in any facet of the process.
Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry present two very important and useful sections on the business of book publishing and on marketing the book through traditional and guerrilla methods. These two critical topics are not always included in books on publishing, making this book even more essential for the serious author. An added bonus feature provided by the authors are the many author resources in the appendix. Overall, the book is a treasure trove of information that will benefit any aspiring or experienced author.
I highly recommend the essential and very practical book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, to anyone seeking a one stop advice book for becoming a successful author. The wealth of information contained in this wonderful book makes it a must for any novice or long time author.
Read the valuable and information filled book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It . . . Successfully by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, and discover the insider secrets to becoming the successful published author of your dreams. From idea to sale, this is the book to unleash the bestselling author within you.
Get a free consultation with the Book Doctors, authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Whether it’s figuring out a great title, how to pitch your book, get an agent, market and promote, or self-publish, we can help you get successfully published. Just send proof of purchase of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Offer good til midnight Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010.
David Henry Sterry & Arielle Eckstut, aka The Book Doctors are the authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published. Between them they have published 20 books, been a literary agent for 18 years, been on NPR countless times, contributed chronically to the Huffington Post, and appeared on the cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
To purchase book: http://thebookdoctors.com/buy-the-book
Pitchapalooza Barnes & Noble Big Apple: The Goddess Next Door, Two Female Presidents, & a 1/2 Swedish 1/2 African Gigolo (With Pitching Tips)
10 years ago, before 9/11, the Kindle, Facebook and Twitter, Arielle, my ex-agent and current wife, and I both had books coming out. One about my childhood hero, Leroy “Satchel” Paige. The other was about her childhood hero, Jane Austen. Our publishers, Random House and Simon & Schuster, seemed disturbingly uninterested in helping us sell our books. So we called up our local bookstores and proposed doing events. They said if we could bring Leroy Satchel Page or Jane Austen down to the bookstore, they’d love to do an event with us, otherwise they were completely uninterested in us or our books.
Then one night we were at a party in San Francisco, and word got out that there was a literary agent in the house. Like moths to the flame writers flew furiously, pitching their books to Arielle. This was the lightbulb moment. Why not create an event that would explain how to take something you’re passion about, develop a book out of it, get it published and deliver it into the hands, heads and hearts of readers all over the world? Thus was born the Putting Your Passion Into Print event. I personally set up a 20 city West Coast tour. We were flabbergasted by how many Citizen Authors flooded out of the woodwork. Grannies, Goths, surfer dudes, soccer moms, PhD.s and homeless ex-vets. They all had two things in common: 1) They wanted to getsuccessfully published. 2) The wanted to pitch their books to an industry professional who could help them makes their dreams come true.
Thus was born Pitchapalooza—an American Idol for books where writers would get one minute to pitch their books to a panel of book professionals. The panel then critiques their idea while an audience of aspiring writers and those who love them soak the whole thing in. The panel evaluates everything from character to plot, presentation to marketing, title to comp books, befriending booksellers to finding an agent.
Pitchapaloozas prove Einstein’s theory of relativity over and over. Sometimes a minute goes by in a second. Sometimes it takes six months. But wherever we went, there were so many great stories out there, so many passionate writers who just don’t know how to navigate the stormy waters of the publishing ocean. And we’re proud to report that many Pitchapalooza participants have gone from being talented amateurs to professional authors with published books.
Which brings us to Thursday night, November 11, at the Barnes & Noble on E. 86nd St., in the throbbing center of the publishing mecca, NY, NY. It was the launch for The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published and our biggest Pitchapalooza yet. We had Larry Kirshbaum, a 40 year veteran of the publishing business, former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, now the head of his own literary agency, LJK Literary Management. And Bob Miller, newly minted Group Publisher of Workman Publishing. Since our book is published by Workman, it was a make or break time. We knew that if we put on a great event, it would go a long way to generating enthusiasm from the top down. And if it sucked, and nobody showed up, it could sink our book, which is just a brand new baby. We sent out hundreds and hundreds of e-mails to writing groups, publishing people, friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. We invited all of our Facebook “friends” and Twitter tweeters. Luckily, we are blessed with a rarity in the book business: a publisher who actually supports their books. They hooked us up with Gotham Writer’s Workshop, who sent out an e-mail promoting our event to 70,000 writers. And Workman and Barnes & Noble took an ad out in the Village Voice.
So as we showered, shaved, and dressed in our Sunday best, we were tingling with excitement and sick with nerves. Imagine our surprise and delight when we showed up at 6:15, and there was already a gaggle of nervous writers with dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes, waiting to pitch. By 7:00 Citizen Authors of all hue, with hair blond, green and even blue, packed the room, 130 strong, Standing Room Only. As we took our places at the podium with the other judges, you could smell the fear. It was a stifling hothouse of wide-eyed hungry hope and raw vulnerable terror, electricity crackling and buzzing through the room. It was one of the most charged atmospheres I’ve ever been in, and I worked at Chippendale’s Strip Club in the mid-80s, when it was the hottest show in New York City.
And then it began. An old white guy pitched a book about black wisdom. A lawyer lady pitched a thriller involving a lawyer lady. A life coach who called herself The Goddess Next Door pitched a book for women Entrepreuners. An Italian immigrant septuagenarian pitched a book about how he learned English when he came to America as a youth, the first words he learned were: zank you, asshole and son of a bitch. A Norwegian oncologist pitched a book about how fragile life is. Two different people pitched novels about the first female president. A Puerto Rican man pitched a thriller with a mambo beat. A half Swedish half African immigrant pitched a memoir about being homeless and ending up in the sex business: “Coming to America meets American Gigolo.” A tall stately young woman pitched a book about helping women get athletic scholarships to college. A woman who spent time in jail pitched a prison memoir. A security guard pitched a memoir about becoming his own lawyer and winning a lawsuit against NYU. A woman driven by the desire to help sick children pitched a kid’s book about Pointy the umbrella. A man in a hat pitched a book of poetry about how awesome women are. But the winner, Verne Hoyt, gave a pitch which sent shivers through the judges and the crowd. It was a stunning story, simply and exquisitely told.
The event was America at its best. A simmering melting pot of grit, humor, pathos, wild imagination, mad passion, and stories about triumphing in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sadly, only 23 people got to pitch, so over 100 writers were victims of pitchus interruptus. So the second the event was over, they rushed the stage, clamoring to be heard, ravenous to tell their stories. It was the closest we’ll ever get to being a Beatle: getting swallowed up by a crowd obsessed with grabbing a piece of us. It was terrifying, overwhelming and incredibly cool all the same time.
I honestly believe there were a dozen pitches which, if properly executed, would make powerful, important, and deeply entertaining books. A number of writers were approached by agents and publishers who were in the audience. And it was a true education to see what ignited the crowd and what made it glaze over. For us, it could not have gone better. The head of Barnes & Noble events was there, and he was incredibly gracious. He told us he thought this was a reality show waiting to happen. Which is just what we’ve been saying for years.
Every once in a while you get a vision, an inspiration, an idea that seems so powerful and valuable and right that it won’t leave you alone. Inevitably everyone tells you why it won’t work. But sometimes, the vision is so powerful that you push on through, determined to prove the playa haters wrong. You work, you buff, polished, and refine. Then somehow, suddenly, it all comes together, and your vision becomes a beautiful reality. Exactly like you saw it in your head. Wouldn’t it be great if life was always like that?
6 tips from the Book Doctors on how to perfect your pitch:
1) A pitch is like a poem. Every word counts.
2) It’s always better to present specific images than make general, generic statements.
3) Don’t tell us it’s funny, make us laugh. Don’t tell us it’s scary, scare us. Don’t tell us it’s lyrical, wow us with your poetry. It’s like those people who wear T-shirts that say SEXY. Please, let us be the judge of that.
4) Don’t oversell. Claiming to have written the next Eat Pray Love or Harry Potter only makes a writer look like a deluded amateur.
5) Never say that your book is like no book ever written. That book will never be published. Publishers want books that are familiar but unique.
6) Develop an elevator pitch . An elevator pitch is a Hollywoodese short hand way of describing your book, where X meets Y. For example, Jaws in Outer Space=Alien. Ann Rice meets Gossip Girl=The Twilight Series. The elevator pitch for our book is the What To Expect When Your Expecting of publishing. Yes, we borrow from a title in an entirely different section of the bookstore, but you know exactly what you’re going to get from this elevator pitch.