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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Publicists Create A New Reality


Publicists are so used to promoting novels that they haven’t stopped to see the irony in that they often try to tie the book to real-life incidents or news events while they inject a bit of fiction when they seek to promote non-fiction books.

For instance, book publicists love to promote historical fiction because there is a familiar event or common point of reference that forms the basis of the story.  Books that offer an alternative scenario to a public figure’s life do well.  Write a novel showing Lincoln actually was gay or that World War II ended because of a plot to blackmail the emperor of Japan may sound far out but to promote such novels allows for the publicist to first discuss concrete historical facts and figures and then to explore the fantasy side.

But with non-fiction we look to speculate what-if scenarios that border on fiction.  For instance, if one writes a book about former President Clinton maybe the PR pitch alludes to how the author may reveal little or unknown facts and explores a side of the man no one has seen.  All of this is a big tease but it lures people in.  We become insatiably curious.  We now want to know what this author has to say.  There is an element of mystery and suspense at play.  Employing tools of fiction help publicists promote memoirs and other types of “true” books. 

The best book publicist presents questions as if facts.  They imply, give conjecture, allude to…but never make outright claims unless they use qualifying words like, “many,” “might,” and “could have.”

There’s a little bit of truth in fiction and some fiction in truth.  Book publicists have promoted books in such a manner that reflects this.

The book publicist creates new puzzles out of the pieces he or she has to work with.  Often the publicist looks beyond the book’s actual words and visualizes the ideal and asks what if, what could be, what wasn’t?  They create a scenario of truth, using fantasy to shape a new reality, and they rely on perceptions, biases, and frames of reality to instill a new fantasy and project a possible truth. 

Book publicists can be crafty and manipulative of the facts.  That’s fine.  They just need to establish the limits or parameters.  No one wants to be lied to, bullshitted, or falsely led—but we do allow for creative license to be taken.  The act of book publicity can be a form of entertainment in itself.  It’s an industry that gets rewarded often not for the merits of what it promotes but how it packages and presents the message.  Book publicists can dress up anything, but sometimes they are left standing naked. 

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Interview With Mystery Author Bernadette
1.      What type of books do you write? I write a fast-paced historical mystery series, featuring  Benjamin Bradshaw, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington in the early 1900's. While the books are packed with historical detail, I'm careful to include only those details that serve the plot in order to keep the action moving.

2.      What is your latest or upcoming book about? In FATAL INDUCTION, the second in the Professor Bradshaw series, the race to win an electrical competition incites Professor Bradshaw’s obsession for invention, but the search for a child who may have witnessed a murder forces him to transform his contest entry into a trap to catch a killer. The story involves patent medicine and early telephonic technology and is set against the backdrop of President McKinley's assassination.

3.      What inspired you to write it? A SPARK OF DEATH, the first in the series, touches on anarchism and the attempted assassination of President McKinley, so this story needed to be told because of the powerful impact it has on Professor Bradshaw's life. This story's main mystery begins with Bradshaw finding an abandoned wagon in the lane behind his house, and it was inspired by a true incident. Years ago, my elderly neighbor awoke to find an SUV abandoned in her driveway. From all the clothes and possessions inside the SUV, it was obvious someone was living in the vehicle. The owner never returned, and eventually the police hauled the SUV away. I always wondered what happened to the owner . . .

4.      What did you do before you became an author? I've been writing for decades and even though I had jobs that paid the bills (I was a grocery checker for many years!), I considered myself to be a writer. I'm lucky that now I get to write full time. Honestly, I can't support myself with my writing (most writers can't); my husband is supportive in every sense of the word!

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers?  It feels great! And exhausting. There's so much more to being a published author than writing the next book. There's all the promotion and publicity that goes along with trying to spread the word. My advice to struggling writers is to keep at it! I'm proof persistence pays off. Every manuscript you complete, even if it doesn't sell, is adding to your solid foundation of craft and teaching you how to be disciplined. That's vital when you suddenly become faced with deadlines for your manuscripts, blog posts, interviews, etc.

6.      Where do you see book publishing heading? Despite the uncertainties in publishing today, I have high hopes for the future. Why? Because people love good stories and always will. And people are 3-dimensional! By that I mean as convenient as ebooks are (and I love my Nook!), there is something magical about holding a print book, the feel of the paper, the quiet turning of pages, the physical connection of it. Readers will always want the choice of a printed book, at least for their "keepers." Will brick-and-mortar bookstores survive? I believe they can if they embrace the changes and work to find new business models that don't rely upon the sale of hardcover books to keep the doors open.

Bernadette Pajer is the author of the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series. A graduate of the University of Washington, Pajer is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Northwest Science Writers, and the Seattle7Writers.org.  Research is Pajer’s favorite activity, and she happily delves into Seattle's past and the early days of electrical invention as she plots Professor Bradshaw's investigations. Pajer lives in the Seattle area with her husband and son. Visit Bernadette Pajer on the web at:  www.bernadettepajer.com


Interview With Children’s Book Author & Illustrator Roxie Munro

  1. What type of books do you write? I’ve written and illustrated more than 35 children’s picture books: nonfiction, on architecture, nature (ecosystems, dinosaurs, birds); concept books (ABCs, mazes, search-and-find); and paper-engineered lift-the-flap books. Also create interactive book apps (“Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure,” a game, and “Roxie’s Doors,” a direct book-to-app conversion).

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about?Busy Builders,” from Marshall Cavendish/Amazon, comes out in two weeks; it’s about bugs and the structures they create. Just submitted the text and final art for “Slithery Snakes,” to be published spring 2013.

  1. What inspired you to write it? It’s part of a kind of series I’m doing for Marshall Cavendish/Amazon. “Busy Builders” is about insects that are architects - some work together (like weaver and harvester ants, honeybees, hornets, African termites) and some work alone (leaf-cutter bees, orb spiders). My inspiration is curiosity about nature, and the wild forms the insects, and their complex structures, take. Truth is stranger than fiction - there are some weird critters out there!

  1. What did you do before you became an author? I have been a freelance artist all my life…did editorial illustration work in Washington DC, including for the Associated Press, the New Republic, the Washington Post, and did television courtroom art for various television stations (CBS, WDIV, WTOP, others). Have never had a regular “job.” Always self-employed as an artist/writer. In 1981 I moved to New York City when “The New Yorker” magazine started publishing my covers.  Started writing in the mid-80s when I began having children’s books published.

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? It is a wonderful involvement - particularly in the kidlit world. Editors and publishers are great (not as competitive or nasty as adult book publishing - it’s “bunny eat bunny”). Librarians, teachers, and reviewers are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Fellow writers and illustrators are very supportive…it’s really quite a cool profession, and a lot of fun. Advice for beginners who want to publish children’s books: do your homework. Learn the industry. Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). And, above all, work hard, don’t give up, and get edited! Everyone needs an editor.

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? Publishers are in trouble…they must adapt. In a generation or so, only a few homes will have a bookshelf, although some people will collect books, like they do fine art prints, and have a library. Apps and ebooks are the future, like it or not.  Not all children’s books, as wonderful as they may be in print, work as an enhanced ebook or an app. However, for some, like mine, which are already considered interactive books, the new digital media is perfect, and very exciting.

For more information, please consult: www.roxiemunro.com


Interview With Science & Math Writer Ian Stewart
  1. What type of books do you write? Mainly popular science, and mainly about mathematics and its uses. There are two main strands: important new mathematical ideas with major significance for science and for everyday life, and puzzles and other recreational material that make mathematics fun. But I have some sidelines: the Science of Discworld series with Terry Pratchett and Jack Cohen, where Jacks’ and my part is popular science without much mathematics, and science fiction, where Jack and I have published two novels, Wheelers and Heaven.

  1. What is your latest or upcoming book about? The latest book is 17 Equations that Changed the World (retitled In Pursuit of the Unknown in the USA). It devotes one chapter to each of 17 of the really significant equations, and tells the story of who discovered/invented them, what the world as like at the time, how history was changed, and why they are still used behind the scenes in things we do every day---not always for their original purpose.

  1. What inspired you to write it?  My current publisher suggested the topic after talking to a Dutch translator of my books. We realized that although there have been some popular books about equations, there seemed to be a need for something that went into a number of them in enough depth to tell their story properly. And I wanted to show that mathematics is vital to everyday life, even if we seldom notice.

  1. What did you do before you became an author? Same as I do now: I’m a university mathematician. I’ve retired, so no longer teach---in fact I stopped that around 1997 to make room for public engagement with science. But I’m still doing research, as actively as I ever did. I’ve published about 180 papers in 42 years.

  1. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? Looking back I remain amazed at how the writing career has blossomed. It started out as a hobby and a way to make a bit of extra cash---early-career university lecturers weren’t and till aren’t well paid in the UK. I had some serious good fortune, such as writing a regular column for Scientific American, and I acquired an excellent agent at just the right time. After that, the writing became self-propelled. I’m currently working on four new books.

Advice: get lucky! I’m inclined to agree with the golfer who said ‘the more I practice the luckier I get’. If you are the kind of person who can get involved in lots of diverse activities, it’s more likely that one of them will take off. The media are very interconnected, and success in one area tends to attract interest in others. A book that starts to sell well can lead to radio interviews, for example.

Writing is hugely competitive. It doesn’t require a lot of initial investment --- time more than money---and a lot of people can string words together fairly well. There simply isn’t room for every good writer to make a living purely from writing. I never got to that stage, though looking back I could have done it if I’d gone freelance. You simply cannot expect the world to provide you with a living doing exactly what you want to do.(It may happen, even so.) So keep the day job until you get really successful, realize that may never happen, and then... write what appeals to you. I don’t think that trying to follow trends is a good way to go. Unless you are passionate enough to keep writing even if you never earn a penny, you’re in the game for the wrong reasons and that hardly ever succeeds. (It can: I could name a few. But they are very few indeed, and I personally wouldn’t like to be like them, even if I did rake in millions.)

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading? ‘Off madly in all directions’. It’s in constant turmoil right now. eBooks and iPad apps are taking over large chunks of the market, but also creating entirely new markets. It’s far easier than it used to be to self-publish, and the ‘vanity’ description no longer applies. It’s entirely respectable and can be better than letting a conventional publisher get their hands on your stuff. But there’s still a huge place for print books, and I personally still work with publishers. You need to have a good personal relationship with your publisher(s)--- I’m fortunate enough to be in that position.

I think it will all settle down, but not for a while: what’s happening is basically that the Internet has finally hit publishing the way it did with film and music earlier. There are some visible dangers, such as some companies gaining a virtual monopoly on aspects of publishing and bookselling. The role for small companies may actually increase --- more niches to get into --- but everyone is going to have to be quicker on their feet, and the big boys tend to gobble up successful medium-sized operations.

It’s already the case that aside from specialist markets like academic textbooks, there is now much more to being an author than just writing your book. You have to help the publisher promote it, do media interviews, blog, tweet, whatever. Up to a point I find that beneficial --- I understand my own book better after giving 20 interviews in one day, which is not unusual now. It’s not what I expected to be doing when I did my mathematics PhD, but the future seldom works out the way you expect. This one’s more interesting.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer.  You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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