1st review of my book

March 29, 2014 | 16 Comments

Waiting for my book to arrive, I’ve felt strangely adrift. Although its publication date is May 1, books go on sale on or about April 15. Which is about when I’m hoping for advance reviews in the trade press: Booklist, ForeWord, Kirkus, Library Journal, and the biggest dog in this pack: Publishers Weekly.

Advance notices are important because they’re read by major reviewers, editors, and booksellers. Not to mention by Hollywood producers and directors. (Note to Wes Anderson: My wife would love Meryl Streep to play her; Brian Cranston could certainly do justice to me, though, knowing you, you’ll probably hire Bill Murray.)

But my true hope is simply that by getting advance reviews, Barnes & Noble will stock my book in its stores. It is listed on the B&N website. But the physical book world is still old-fashioned, and a web notice doesn’t mean my book will enter a bricks-and-mortar building.

I campaigned for books for 11 years at Indiana University Press and Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, where I ascended to marketing manager and also helped acquire books and reprints, including the classic farm memoir RFD, by Charles Allen Smart, The Sheep Book, by Ron Parker, and All Flesh is Grass, by Gene Logsdon. It still surprises me how few authors (and smaller presses) know how the game is played.

Here are the steps . . .

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The first look at my book’s cover

July 22, 2013 | 23 Comments

My publisher was deadlocked between two covers. I opened the pictured one first and was thrilled by its overall beauty and thoughtful composition. I’d known they were basing the jacket on the picture I took in 2006 of Freckles, with her nursing newborn lambs, standing beside a giant hay bale eaten into a half moon. Color scheme I could only imagine, and font. The big surprise here was the mountain range at the top—wonderful, as it says, “This is a book not just about shepherding but about place.” Yes. The Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio and their human inhabitants are a big part of the story about my and my family’s life there as we operated a sheep farm for a decade. And I thought the full bleed—an image that goes all the way to the edge, no frame—worked well and was enhanced by the artfully used white space. I polled friends and family and former coworkers, and nine out of 12 favored this cover.

The other jacket was an extreme closeup of Freckles’s face, plus the lamb at the right. Very dramatic. But to me, not as complex—and of course complexity can be risky. Those who voted for it liked the “faces” and the “in your face” quality of it, though to me their reasons seemed rather theoretical. And they didn’t know this author’s marketing strategy, which sometimes seems even to me as convoluted as a barrel of fishhooks.

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Learning the blogging genre

July 17, 2013 | 14 Comments

At a writing conference recently, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years, the author of many books. I was surprised at lunch when he began to lecture everyone at our table about the wrongness of the Iraq war. Talk about preaching to the choir—there probably wasn’t one soul at the confab who thought the war had been justified or who wasn’t sickened, at some level, by its tragic waste of blood and treasure.

I realized that my friend’s gauche presumption, inadvertently condescending whatever your view of the war, was inseparable from him as a writer. I saw that he’s an autodidact, which means a self-taught person. Someone who lectures himself about the truth he has come to. Which pretty much defines writers, however many teachers have helped them along the way. They’re seekers. But there’s in this autodidact condition an even darker root, didactic, which describes someone who lectures others.

In other words, I saw my own tendencies writ large. A strategy of much nonfiction writing, it seems to me, involves taking the curse off didacticism by witnessing about what’s true for you in the form of story. What I’ve just tried to do by telling a little story about my friend instead of saying didactically, Don’t lecture others.

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On hating a memoirist

July 28, 2012 | 43 Comments

Another nonfiction issue: judging a book by its author?  I know of nothing more difficult than knowing who you are, and having the courage to share the reasons for the catastrophe of your character with the world.—William Gass As my previous three posts indicate, I admire Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I devoured it as a reader and also loved how I could raid her techniques for my own memoir. So …

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Finding ‘Narrative,’ ver. 1.2

February 22, 2011 | 13 Comments

Blog reading has displaced some of my discretionary reading. It’s probably one reason I don’t follow the news as closely anymore. Writers must read what others in their genre are doing, though I’d been posting for almost two years before I started actually reading blogs. Bloggers often impress me greatly. One writes so elegantly; another seems so delightfully concise; another has such colloquial snap. Like any writing done well, a deft blog post is much harder to do than it …

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Stylist nabs National Book Award

November 27, 2010 | One Comment

I was glad to see a dark-horse novel, Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon, win the National Book Award recently for fiction. I hadn’t heard of the sixty-six-year-old author, and neither had a lot of folks. But I ordered her winning book, set in the 1970s at a horse-racing track in West Virginia, after reading excerpts from some of her other novels on Amazon. Lord of Misrule is about a reckless young woman and two “lonely and childless old men …

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A novel on memory, story & alibi

October 13, 2010 | 4 Comments

A colleague here at Otterbein University, Noam Shpancer, a psychologist, has just hit the big time at age fifty-one with his first novel, The Good Psychologist. Early reviews are positive to raves: Kirkus gave it a starred notice, Alan Cheuse reviewed it on NPR, and the Boston Globe called it “extraordinary” and “a rare gift.” Bought by Henry Holt at an auction conducted by Noam’s agent, the story is about a therapist who’s treating a stripper with stage fright. And it’s about the …

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