Category Archives: Alma Maters

Friday Five: Getaway Edition

Reading: The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King. Here is a screen shot of all the books my queue (my virtual nightstand). But I was craving a mystery, and I’m a sucker for anything with “Paris” in the title.

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Watching: September brings not only a new school year, but a new TV season. Hooray! My favorites start this weekend. Fortunately, I’ve had Ray Donovan, Broadchurch and my old standby, House Hunters International on HGTV to get me through the summer. I am addicted to HHI — so formulaic! Having lived in NYC, LA and Boston — apparently, if the rental prices on the show are accurate, the most expensive cities in the world — I get a kick out of people bemoaning the prices of rentals in, say, Berlin or even Rome.

Cooking:  The children are still eating greens and couscous and chicken and stuff, but between travel schedules and Back-to-School-Nights and work events, I am neither cooking nor eating. All I can muster up is my new favorite breakfast, but at least it makes me feel like I’ve done something healthy for myself: Fage Greek yogurt with flax seeds and a bit of granola mixed in. Berries & peaches.

Listening to: Katy Perry’s “Roar”. Look, the girl can write a hit song. Extra credit for one appropriate for both mother and first-grade daughter to sing at the top of their voices.

Doing: Off to Nantucket. My dear friend Lindsey describes in words more lovely that I ever could what I will be doing this weekend.

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Should I Self-Publish My Book?

If you want to be a capital “W” writer, there still is much to be said for the editing and publicity support of a publishing house — not to mention the prestige. If, however, your book is part of your business platform and you know you can sell copies in the course of your business (speaking engagements, trade shows, on your website); or, your story is simply one you know will find an audience, even if that audience is too “small” for a publishing house (see, e.g.,  Julie Flygare) — or some combination of both — you are a perfect candidate for self-publishing. Of course, there also are the E. L. James’s of the world who find a devoted online readership, which can help propel self-published E-Books up the Amazon and iBooks best-seller lists and as a result attract attention from publishers and agents. If you think that’s you — go for it! Below, my flowchart of some of the basic issues:

Flowchart4

Self-publishing used to be sort of the secret, ugly, bastard step-child (am mixing my metaphors, I know) of the industry. But with the relative ease of self-publishing E-Books, with the success of certain self-published writers, and with digital advances that make self-published print books not only easy to do oneself but much more professional looking, I don’t think they are quite as stigmatized. As an agent, if I believe that a book is terrific but I just don’t think the big publishing houses will bite, I wholeheartedly encourage self-publishing. Likewise, if I try to sell a book and cannot — and particularly if that book has a devoted niche audience, such as Young Adult or Science Fiction (or Romance, though I don’t take on Romance manuscripts) — I will absolutely direct a writer towards self-publishing. Even if the big houses aren’t interested, we have seen that there are still readers out there, finding books through websites and listserves.

But by fervently supporting self-publishing, am I condemning the industry by which I make a living to a slow death? The thinking being: if more people are self-publishing, more people are buying and reading self-published books, thus supporting Amazon, thus further decreasing the traditional publishers’ bottom lines, thus ultimately decreasing author advances. Perhaps just as important, am I supporting a vast morass of unedited, uncurated crap?

The self-published books I have seen have been quite excellent (more on that tomorrow).  I also truly believe in supporting people who want to write — no matter how they get there. Before self-publishing became so much easier, these people were stopped entirely from sharing their stories. If they want to share them through traditional publishers, I can help them and if I am successful, I’ll make some money. But if they don’t want to — or can’t — go the “traditional” route, who am I to keep writers from sharing their books — books which I well know take time and effort and courage to write.

There are agents who troll keep an eye on the self-published best seller lists looking for authors to pick up, repackage and sell to publishing houses. I don’t do that, though I have had authors come to me seeking an agent after they were independently contacted by publishers due to the success of their self-published books. There are also agencies that set up their own sort of in-house E-Book publisher for their clients; in other words, if the agency cannot sell a book, they will help the writer self-publish through the agency’s own E-Book “imprint”, and then the agency will still take their commission. This makes me uneasy because I’m not sure how hard an agent will advocate for traditional publication if the agent knows that he or she can still make money through the agency’s own “imprint”. (I’m not sure agents should be in the business of both agenting and publishing, though maybe this is the lawyer in me being overly wary of crossing ethical, client-focused lines?) And, finally, there are certain publishing houses who have developed hybrid E-Book imprints for certain genres, such as Romance — if a manuscript is not quite good enough for a house to take the financial gamble on a print run, but there are still potential E-Book readers who can be reached through various forms of internet marketing, the publisher will create an E-book version only. I’m not sure how I feel about this either — could the writer make more money simply self-publishing? How much editorial or marketing support will the publisher actually give?

In the end, as Julie Flygare mentioned yesterday, no one who picks up her excellent memoir seems to care whether it is self-published. Is it only us navel-gazing publishing types who care whether Knopf* publishes our books?

*for those who want to be capital “W” writers, Knopf is like the Harvard of the publishing world. Big, historic, bureaucratic, prestigious. [I like to think of Scribner as the Princeton! Smaller, more nimble, friendlier, yet just as prestigious…heh]

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Tuesday Five: Julie Flygare

wide-awake-and-dreaming-cover-final-JPEG1-683x1024Julie Flygare is a writer, runner*, yogini, and lawyer (my kind of girl!). While in law school, she was diagnosed with narcolepsy and cataplexy (lawyers: can you imagine?), and chronicles her diagnoses and the aftermath in her memoir,  Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of NarcolepsyShe quickly found an agent for the book, who sent the manuscript around to all the right editors at all the right imprints. But as many talented writers find, if you’re not a celebrity or Cheryl Strayed, memoir is a particularly competitive and difficult genre in which to publish. Julie, however, knew her story needed to be told, and this book would be her calling card and her entrée into the world of advocacy for her disease. So she self-published, and her experience and motives are the perfect example of why I am actually a big fan of self-publishing (more on that tomorrow). The result? She has ordered numerous reprints of the book and her website has crashed from all the traffic. She is currently a spokesperson for narcolepsy research, and her influence and platform are only growing — with the book (a truly compelling read, by the way) to back it up.

How do you know me?  We went to Boston College Law School together, and had mutual friends who put us in contact directly a few years later when I was going through the book publishing process. You looked over my proposal and my previous agent’s efforts and gave me honest helpful advice for proceeding forward with my book.

Why did you go to law school? I went to law school to study art law. I was an art history major at Brown University and fascinated by intellectual property, international art trade treaties and WW II reparation issues. My father (a lawyer) was influential in this decision as well.

When did you know you wanted to write a memoir? I’ve always loved writing and took a few creative non-fiction writing classes in high school and college. As my experience with narcolepsy evolved, I never thought to write about it. I wanted nothing more than to hide my narcolepsy and erase it from my life.

Graduating from law school, I’d planned to write a different book, based on a law school health law paper I’d written. My law school mentor, Professor Chirba had strongly encouraged me to pursue a career in writing. About a month into learning about the writing and publishing process, I found myself drawn to telling my own story with narcolepsy. Once the idea hit me, there was no turning back. Something clicked, stars aligned – it felt so “right”.

What has been the biggest surprise about self-publishing?  Very few people seem to realize or care that my book is self-published. I was surprised that the current print-on-demand mechanisms make it challenging to mimic the well-planned “book release date”, but once it released, it’s been no stress at all. Of course, it’s harder to get coverage in major magazines and self-published books are ineligible for many book contests – but it’s been so thrilling to get my story out there to the world. Self-publishing was a lot of work, but I am a control freak and so it was nice to maintain control at every step, especially in the book cover process. I am very proud of my final product.

Describe your perfect day.  My perfect day would include giving a presentation at a conference and hosting a book signing afterwards. I get to talk about myself and people clap? It’s still a bit surreal. I love traveling, making people smile and inspiring them to reach for their dreams now – don’t wait!  As a person with narcolepsy, these activities leave me totally exhausted but when I close my eyes to sleep, I know in my heart I’m doing what I love.

*Julie ran the Boston Marathon after her diagnosis. Badass.

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On Writing

One of my dear friends, Lacy Crawford, has a book being published tomorrow: Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy (William Morrow). The story is about a “college whisperer”, Anne, who is hired by elite families to help their children with college essays and the application process. The topic resonates in this age of helicopter parenting, and Lacy is getting a lot of great press. As she should, because she has not only hit upon a goldmine of a plot, but her writing is flawless.

And always has been for the past 20 years. So it irked me a bit, then, when the headline of a Daily Beast piece read, “College Application Guru Turned Author.Turned author? Lacy is a Writer. A WRITER. She has always been an author. She came to Princeton knowing she wanted to major in creative writing; she studied with the best (Toni Morrison, Russell Banks). After college she wrote and wrote: novels that were never published, stories, essays, and continued to study and hone her craft. Her writing is laced with literary references and exquisite prose. And Lacy writes about Anne:

 “…quite simply, she loved words most of all.”

 In a way, this is what I want my blog to be about. Words. My love of them, most of all. And, thus, a consideration of words and writing through my own lens of experience. Whether struggling through the same creative writing classes as Lacy in college (Joyce Carol Oates terrified me and it was clear that I had not the talent for fiction as Lace!), going to journalism school and literally writing for a living, teaching writing both to high school students and as a teaching assistant in law school to 1Ls, to now working as a publishing lawyer and literary agent: I write, and I work to promote writing. Without really meaning to, I’ve ended up  making career choices that have allowed me to examine it from different perspectives – from deadline-driven news articles to legal briefs to book proposals to copyright protection.

So welcome to Literary & Legal. I hope that some aspect of my musings on writing – whether about books or legal topics or the publishing world – will inspire and interest you.

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