World Book Day, April 23rd

Reading is one of the most important life skills that one will ever learn. Reading creates all sorts of positive changes- from reducing stress, to creating a better sense of self and independence, to empowering our brains to keep growing. We should be encouraging those around us to read each and every day (especially our children), even if it’s just for five minutes, but there is no better day to preach the wonders of reading than this Sunday, April 23rd because it is World Book Day!

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As a literary agent, it’s no surprise that this day means a whole lot to me. But, this day goes way beyond my career, it strikes a very personal cord with me. My friends at Amazon are encouraging people to share why they read so well, here it is.

There are so many different reasons why I read, but I think what really hits it home for me is that reading is the easiest and least expensive vacation you will ever get. I don’t think I have ever come out of a reading session more stressed or frustrated than when I started. In fact, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t noticeably more relaxed after reading just a few chapters of whatever book has my attention at the moment. A book is the one tool that is available to us on a daily basis that allows us to transport ourselves somewhere else. While reading we can visit any place in the world, be whoever we want to be, and experience new adventures. I don’t know of a better “break” from the chaos and natural stresses of our every day lives than that. Reading allows us to totally disconnect and recharge. Reading creates a safe environment where we can just be with ourselves (and the characters of course), which is becoming harder and harder to find in a social media driven world. Reading is the best therapy we can give ourselves.

Why do you read? #LovetoRead

Write on.

Educational Waves in Writing

Writing is one of the oldest forms of expression. It allows us to communicate with people who might be hundreds of miles away or even a complete stranger. But, over the past ten to fifteen years writing has dramatically evolved.  Simply put, the act of writing in everyday life has drastically increased. Before the explosion of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging the available writing venues were very limited. If you didn’t need to write for your job, you might write an opinion piece or letter to your local newspaper or a birthday card to a friend or loved one. You might even write in your own journal or diary, but that was likely only seen by your own eyes.

With the onset of social media, people started making daily posting about what they were feeling and thinking about at that moment, what they were doing that weekend, what vacation they were going on next, or how they felt about current events and local happenings. Twitter thrives off thousands of people writing thousands of words each day. The accessibility of blogging websites enables anyone to write about whatever they want whenever they want to. Social media gives us an instant audience that we never before had. At the end of day, if you are actively using any form of social media, a large portion of your  free time is taken up by writing. Whether you are writing heart felt realizations or complaining that your coffee is too cold, you are writing and communicating in a way that our ancestors never have.

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With the increase of the importance of writing in our daily lives, I have been interested in seeing how the education of writing will change. I recently came across an article in the Columbia Spectator about Barnard’s new first year writing program.  Changing a first year college course syllabi is a difficult thing to do because it has been so ingrained in the fabric of the school’s educational experience for years. You don’t want your students to miss out on essential lessons they will need to have a successful schooling experience, but each year the students are different, their experiences are different, and the world they are coming from is different than the last. As students adapt to the world in which they live, therefore our educational system must adapt as well. The course change made at Barnard is a big step, but a necessary one. Many people can’t go a few hours without at least writing a few sentences and Barnard is recognizing a need for a change in writing education in order to prepare their students for success out in the real world.

The first-year writing program will focus more on writing technique than the previous program. There will be fewer books and more of a focus on writing instruction. It always somewhat baffled me that in a first-year English course, there wasn’t much writing at all. You maybe had two to three essays throughout the semester with no real discussion revolving around the assignments. The professor would put a few marks on the paper and you would move on. Most of the time was spent reading and discussing what we had read. Why do we neglect such a large part of our everyday lives? Writing is hard to avoid, so why do we avoid it in the classroom? Is it our pure ignorance to the changing times or are we purposely trying to set our youth up to fail? A large part of an education is learning how to be a functioning part of society and having the appropriate skills to get us from one life stage to the next. Writing is one of those skill sets we all need to succeed in today’s world. If we aren’t learning how to write in the classroom, where do we turn to next? Kim Kardashian’s next tweet? I certainly hope not.

I am very happy to see advancement in the Academic world in response to what is happening in the real world.One cannot succeed without fully accepting the other. We can talk all day on this blog about how to write, when to write, and why we should write. But, if we aren’t practicing those skills in our day to day life then when we will ever truly succeed?

Write on.

The Publishing Battle

What do to with your work once it’s finished is sometimes one of the hardest decisions for an author. You have worked so many unpaid manhours on your latest piece and you want to make sure you showcase it in the best way possible- in both monetary and artistic ways. Now more than ever with the rise of self-publishing, authors are often questioning if traditional publishing is worth it. As a literary agent, I see many authors faced with this choice, many feel lost and somewhat skeptical.

I am very pro-indie. I understand the numerous benefits self-publishing has to offer. The freedom, the creative control, the deadline free atmosphere, monetary control, and most importantly the feeling of self accomplishment. Your book reached the Top 100 on Amazon because of you. With that said, I am also a huge fan of traditional publishing. A publisher can offer you things that are very hard to get on your own, or at least are very expensive and time consuming to get on your own. They are equipped with trained editorial staffs, the best marketing and publicity connections, wide distribution channels, and fabulous designers. They take the bulk of the work out of your hands so you can focus on well, writing.

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All these feelings and opinions of self-publishing versus traditional publishing were perfectly summed up for me in a recent interview with author Kiera Cass by Preen. Before hitting her stardom, she ventured into the self-publishing world so she has a great understand of both sides from an authors perspective. Here are a few things she pointed out about her experiences:

  1. The stigma of self-publishing has gone away.

At the beginning, admitting you were a self-published author always came accompanied with eye rolls and huffs. No one took self-publishing seriously. It was assumed that if you were a self-published author that it meant that you couldn’t get a literary agent or traditional publisher to give you a chance. Sometimes that is certainly true, but now more and more authors are choosing to self-publish. It has become a proven science that if done correctly, can actually work. We have seen many authors become household names with self-publishing which is totally changing the game.

2. Editing is one of the hardest parts of self-publishing. 

Just because you are a writer, doesn’t mean you are a good editor. Sometimes when we review our own work especially, we are blind to our mistakes and areas of improvement. That’s why having an editor is super important and something I really can’t stress enough. Editing can make or break your success. Hiring a good editor can be very costly when you self-publish, making it a key selling point to seeking a traditional publisher.

3. Self-publishing is all about control.

It’s no secret that most authors are drawn to self-publishing because the amount of creative control it gives them over their work. Every decision is completely and utterly all theirs. The absence of deadlines also relieves stress. You can work at your own pace and if you don’t finish something on time, no problem- just simply push back your publication date. The control also allows you to publish books quicker instead of waiting for when your publisher has room in their catalog for you. You can publish a book every month making yourself a lot of product with more chance for revenue.

4. Traditional publishing allows you to polish your work.

Traditional publishing enables the author to focus on what they do best- writing. Your editor will work with you create the most polished version of your book possible. You have worked so hard on it, why not make it the best it could possibly be? Not only will the inside of the book be sculpted but the outside will match the amazingness on the inside. Your book cover is what attracts readers, especially for a new author. A good graphic designer and marketer are key components of a book’s success, which can be very hard to come by on your own. Publishers have everything you need, all built into one place.

5. Self-publishing builds a fan base.

Many self-published authors will notice that they can garner a fan base for themselves just by running a few quick promotions, contests, or giveaways. These type of marketing strategies basically sell themselves and encourage people to talk about you and your book(s). Once people are talking, you can just ride that wave. If you then decide to seek a traditional publisher, it’s enticing for them to see that you already have fans and somewhat of a built in audience who have been cheering you on since day one. That helps justify their investment into you as one of their authors.

6. Self-published authors are writers.

More and more awesome books are coming out of the self-publishing world. Readers are stopping to give these books a chance and discovering that many of them are actually really good. Most importantly, publishers are realizing the same things too and starting to pick up these authors. It’s hard work to be a successful self-published author and there’s no negative stigma about it.

Write on.

The Value of a Memory

We talk often about why we write, how/when we write, and how to write. But what about the value of the act of writing? Why do something if we don’t understand it’s importance and benefits? An article in The Courier-Journal captured exactly why writing is extremely important and moreover, how it benefits the writer themselves.

Angela Burton teaches ‘Oh, I Remember’ writing workshops in retirement homes in the Louisville area and the classes are quickly spreading. This is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time and it really made me think about why we should all be writing. Seniors in the retirement home meet weekly, bringing along their weekly writing assignments. They use the class time to read their writing to each other. Most of the stories are about their childhood, people who have long passed on, places they have visited, losses they have endured, and historical events they have witnessed.

Many of these seniors feel isolated, alone, and segregated from the life they used to have. Most of them feel like they no longer have a purpose and that their life is already over, even though they are very much still alive. The act of writing and sharing lets them relive their happiest moments, process the loss they still feel, and learn new facts about their friends. At the end of the day, writing is therapeutic, relaxing, and rewarding. These seniors feel like they are leaving something behind, that otherwise would be lost. They feel as if they still have something to contribute to society.

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For me, that perfectly captures the spirit of writing. Writing is meant for communication, for preservation, for learning. We write to share our stories, whether they are figments of our imagination or real life events. We write as therapy to make ourselves feel better, whether it is an e-mail that never gets sent, a poem about a life event, or a novel length memoir. Writing is an accomplishment, something to be proud of. Our sense of purpose is never clearer then after a heartfelt and honest writing session.

The effects these writing classes are having on these senior citizens emphasizes why we all need to be writing. The next time you pick up a pad of paper and pen or sit down at your computer, just stop to think for a few seconds. Think about why you are doing this and how it makes you feel. Take that knowledge and treasure it for your entire life. Never let it go and never stop writing. Write on.

Fifty Shades of Success

There was recently an article in THE GUARDIAN by Hannah Ellis-Petersen about the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY phenomenon, due to the most recent release of GREY. If you aren’t a fan, you are probably beyond fed up with all the hype. When are we going to stop talking about it? Why do we care so much?

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Hannah’s article perfectly captures why we should never stop talking about FIFTY SHADES- it has completely transformed the erotica genre, let alone the publishing landscape itself. Despite if you read the book or not, nor if you find the genre enticing or sickening, there is so much we can learn from this single book.

As we all know, the book was self-published fan fiction before being “discovered.” The author was unknown and the genre was taboo. Critics are harsh on E.L. James, many label her writing as “boring and clunky.” Some aren’t afraid to say that it is the most poorly written book to ever be published. Putting all the book’s challenges and criticisms aside, somehow it still managed to do the impossible- becoming one of the most read and talked about books of the past few years.

It is now very clear what made this book so successful- the readers. It proved that all readers are really looking for is a good story and they don’t care how they get it. Historically, as Hannah points out, the publishing industry’s opinion used to be the only thing that mattered. If they didn’t like your writing then you were out of luck, it wasn’t getting published. Their opinion was mostly based on the literary style and quality of writing. We are now seeing that readers have a completely different opinion how what makes good writing and that opinion is really starting to matter.

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Not only did FIFTY SHADES start to force writers/authors to think more about their audience rather than their editors or agents, it also catapulted digital publishing. It showed that digital publishing is actually a fantastic way to publish quickly, build a platform, and reach the masses. The print publisher followed the trends of digital publishing when releasing the print books, releasing each book really close to each other. “Thick and fast” worked in the digital world, why wouldn’t it work in the print realm as well?  FIFTY SHADES shattered traditional print habits and never looked back.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY also completely legitimatized the erotica genre, pushing it from the back of the book shelf into the spotlight. It took what many readers want (a deep love story) and cast it in light of a completely different world (BDSM). It was new, intriguing, and risky. It was wanted, or perhaps it was needed. Reading should be enjoyable and no one can be the judge of that better than the readers themselves.

That is why we shouldn’t stop talking about or learning from books that overcome the impossible, whether we want to rip the pages to shreds or keep reading. Write On.

Women Aren’t Winning, Yet

It’s no secret that women are often paid less and given less promotions in the workplace. We also see these inequalities spill over into other parts of our lives as well, often popping up in places we least expect it or haven’t previously noticed before. Nicola Griffith, a talented novelist, recently posted on her blog about how these inequalities are also present in the literary circle. She talks about her findings after analyzing data from the last 15 years on literary awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, Man Book Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Hugo Award, and the Newbery Medal in her post entitled “Books About Women Don’t Win Big Awards: Some Data.”

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What I found particularly interesting is that this study is not just about women authors, but it is also considers books about women. Here are a few of the concerning numbers revealed in her study:

-For the Pulitzer Prize “women wrote [0] out of 15- prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a women or girl.”

-For the Newbery Medal “women wrote wholly from girls’ perspective 5 times – and men wrote so 3 times.” Bringing to light the fact that even “girls” tend to outshine “women” as a prestigious literary subject.

Nicola goes on to make a very astute conclusion, “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, when it comes to literary prizes, the more prestigious, influential and financially remunerative the award, the less likely the winner is to write about grown women. Either this means that woman writes are self-censoring, or those who judge literary worthiness find woman frightening, distasteful, or boring.”

To me, it’s unfortunate and difficult to understand why in 2015 women (both as authors and as subjects) are not winning major literary awards. I took a look at the most prestigious award in the audiobook industry, Audiobook of the Year, given by the Audio Publishing Association over the past 10 years. First I looked for women used as content, only one winner in the past 10 years was a book written by and about a woman- Bossypants by Tina Fey in 2012. I then looked for women as narrators and again, only one in the past 10 years was a female narrator- Tina Fey in 2012.

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Clearly there is a pattern here and I think it’s important that we are aware of it. Maybe there’s a reason, maybe it’s some strange coincidence, but it’s something that we can’t ignore and needs to be talked about. We need to continue to do the one thing we can do- continue to write and to continue to write about women. Write on.

Books, Books, Books!

The publishing industry is constantly changing and evolving, with that said many things aren’t changing despite what we may be led to believe. A few days ago I came across an article on NPR’s website entitled, “Technology Of Books Has Changed, But Bookstores Are Hanging In There.” Personally, I could get lost in a bookstore for hours. Even if I don’t make a purchase, I find the whole environment and experience mesmerizing and comforting. To be able to hold a tangible item in your hands and flip through it, absorbing a vast amount of knowledge with each page is an experience you can’t find anywhere else. The concept of holding a piece of someone’s life work in your hands with the ability to carry it with you wherever you go is inspiring. Books are safe; they provide constancy in our crazy, chaotic world. They let us escape into our imagination, unplugged, whenever we need it the most. We can rely on them to always be there- no charger, no cable cord, no outlet needed.

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It makes my heart smile to realize I am not the only one who feels this way. Many people in the NPR article talked to the significance of a print book and why the print industry is most certainly not “dead.” Technology always gets all the buzz because it’s new. Our society is driven to always want the best of the best, to have the newest cell phone, car, tablet, or computer. Whatever it is, once a newer version comes out, we all forget about the old. We forget why the ‘device’ was so great in the first place and that its relevancy is still as it always has been. Print books are very similar to products such as the ipod (why do I need one of these anymore when I can get all the music I want right from my cell phone?) and the older generation ipads (why wouldn’t I just buy the smaller, slimmer version with better display and faster processing?). The invention of reading tablets enabled us to carry as many books as we wanted around with us all day on one small device and even pay less for them. Tablets take up less room, are often lighter, and make us look “hip,” why wouldn’t we give in?

As mentioned in the article, there are many studies that suggest we absorb less material digitally. Some agree, some disagree, and some are mislead/brainwashed. I happen to be someone who wholeheartedly agrees with this. When I am reading something on any type of digital computer screen I feel so removed from it. I find I have a harder time connecting to it. It doesn’t feel real to me, it’s just a bunch of words thrown together to make a sentence. Its tangible quality leaves me wanting more, I feel empty. Whenever I am sent a manuscript or draft that I really need to read, I print it out and the whole experience instantly changes. I can put myself directly into its literary world, free of any digital influences or distractions that always find a way to pop up. I can hold each page as I read it, make marks and comments where I need to, and hold the lump sum of all the project’s pages in my two hands and feel accomplished. I feel like I actually did something with my time and all my work didn’t just sink into digital oblivion.

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This is why I  believe the print book will never die. The digital age always has us feeling like we should be doing five different things at once or getting our work done faster. We are scared to immerse ourselves fully into one thing anymore. Publishers are well aware of the print book’s staying power. They are dedicating more and more time to making cover art, cover material, and paper quality decisions. The art of reading a print book is one of the few things that has transcended throughout all of history. It’s a commonality that threads each time period and person together. We can’t let it die, we won’t let it die- making it impossible to kill. Write on.