Welcome To The Writer’s Journey: Mary Mackey On Writing Advice and the Writer’s Life

Amazon River, Welcome to the Writer's Journey Welcome to my blog The Writer’s Journey and my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series.

Read the December 2014  People Who Make Books Happen interview: Editor and poet Jane Omerod on Great Weather for MEDIA, a cutting-edge, independent press that does more for its authors ( including arranging nation-wide reading tours).

 Previously posted interviews in the People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series :

Daniel Lawless, Poet and Editor of Plume Magazine, Talks About How To Edit a Poetry Anthology

How to Write A Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Will Sell Your Book: Interview with super-agent Michael Larsen  

Bestselling Author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection: Interview with Novelist Ellen Sussman  Who Tells Us How She Survived Rejection to Become a Bestselling Author

Designing Websites For Writers Part One: Interview with Professional Website Designer Linda Lee 

Designing Websites For Writers Part Two, Checklists: Interview with Professional Website Designer Linda Lee

How to Get An Agent And Other Tips for Writers: Interview with Celebrity Literary Agent Andy Ross.  

How To Design a Book Cover that Sells Books: Interview with  Genius Book Cover Designer Claudia Carlson

Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive: Interview with Amy Thomas owner of Pegasus Bookstores

Three Great Reasons To Still Print on Paper: Interview with poet and Catamaran poetry editor Zack Rogow

HOW TO FIND POSTS: This blog is indexed to take you straight to the things you want to read. To find a complete list of the  interviews in my People Who Make Books Happen series without scrolling through all my posts, you can go to the right hand side of any page on my website where you will find a menu labeled TOPICS.  Click on PEOPLE WHO MAKE BOOKS HAPPEN INTERVIEW SERIES to see a complete list of interviews  in The People Who Make Books Happen series. In a similar fashion, you can click on BRAZIL to see all posts I have written about Brazil, on WRITING ADVICE to see all posts that offer writing advice about things like overcoming writer’s block and digital publishing, and so forth.  Presently the TOPICS Menu offers you direct access to my  posts on the following topics: BRAZIL, DIGITAL PUBLISHING, GODDESSES, PEOPLE WHO MAKE BOOKS HAPPEN INTERVIEW SERIES, THE ENVIRONMENT,  WRITING ADVICE, COMEDY, NEWS, NOVELS, PERSONAL STORIES, POETRY, VIDEOS OF MARY MACKEY and READINGS.

 You’re warmly invited to in the conversation by posting questions or comments. I love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Great Weather for MEDIA Press Does More For Authors

 An Interview With Great Weather for MEDIA Editor Jane Ormerod

Jane Ormerod at Inspired Word by jay Franco(1)Jane Ormerod is a founding editor at great weather for MEDIA, an independent press focusing on edgy and experimental poetry and prose. She is the author of Welcome to the Museum of Cattle (Three Rooms Press, 2012), Recreational Vehicles on Fire (Three Rooms Press, 2009), the chapbook 11 Films (Modern Metrics/EXOT Books, 2008), and the spoken word CD Nashville Invades Manhattan.

Jane’s work also appears in numerous US and international anthologies and journals including Have a Nice NYC (Three Rooms Press, 2012), Maintenant, AND / OR, Marsh Hawk Press Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ambush Review, and Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts. Born on the south coast of England, Jane now lives in New York City and performs extensively across the United States and beyond.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Jane. Great Weather for MEDIA does more for its authors than any independent press I’ve encountered—including maintaining an online blog, running a reading series, publishing collections of poetry, putting out a print-on-paper anthology each year, and arranging a nation-wide reading tour for the writers included the yearly anthologies. Please give us some background. Why did you decide to found Great Weather for MEDIA? When and where was the press founded? Was this a collective effort, or was one person the driving force?

Jane: Great weather for MEDIA was formed in January 2012, so we’re approaching our third birthday! Thomas Fucaloro, Brant Lyon, and myself were editors at another small press and wanted to start something on a larger scale that involved prose as well as poetry, arranging more mixed-media events, and also to include international submissions for our anthologies. Shortly after, George Wallace joined the editorial team. We also have the very hardworking Peter Darrell behind the scenes in charge of non-editorial work.

Mary: Tell us about those early days. What difficulties did you encounter?

Jane: Well, the huge shock was Brant passing away in May 2012. That was a deeply distressing time. Brant read the majority of submissions for our first anthology, It’s Animal but Merciful, and the book is dedicated to him. (The title is taken from one of his poems too.) After we chose the cover photograph, we realized it showed graffiti outside one of his favorite restaurants.

It's Animal But Merciful, great weather for MEDIA press

Mary: How have things changed since then?

Jane: Russ Green and David Lawton joined the team so we now have five poetry editors. After the first year, we decided on a guest prose editor for each anthology—this year it’s Chavisa Woods. Also we have started publishing single poet collections. 2014 heralded the arrival of Puma Perl’s Retrograde and Aimee Herman’s meant to wake up feeling. What else? Well, great weather for MEDIA continues to arrange events everywhere. We are based in New York City but we organize shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, to name just a few. In October this year we hosted a musical evening with the legendary jazz poet and activist John Sinclair. Book fairs too—find us at the Brooklyn Book Festival, NYC’s Rainbow Book Fair, and PHILALALIA in Philadelphia.

Mary: You open submissions once a year for your anthologies. How many submissions do you receive? Who submits work to you? Where do these writers come from?

Jane: In our first year great weather received about 500 submissions and they have ridden rapidly ever since. Our submission period runs October 15 to January 15 every year. 2014-15 is the first time we’ve used Submittable which is proving to be very efficient for editors and writers. We get submissions from unpublished writers and those whose bios contain every big name journal over a fifty-year career. All submissions are treated the same. During the past three years, we’ve published writers from Botswana, the Philippines, Barbados, Canada, and several European countries. Discovering new voices is a real thrill. Click here if you’d like to submit something to us.

Mary: Your motto is “out of the mainstream and away from the tributaries.” You’ve said that you focus on “the unpredictable, the fearless, the bright, the dark, and the innovative.”  How does this influence your choices? In other words, what are you looking for?  

Jane: Like most editors, we love receiving work that surprises us whether it’s language, narrative, subject, or imagery. We love the experimental and ambitious. Obviously some work is immediate, other pieces are more subtle. All the great weather editors are writers themselves and we differ in styles and in our personal author and poet favorites. Sometimes it is easier to say what we don’t like. In general we avoid haikus, archaic “poetic” language, limericks… It really is best for writers to check out what we do before submitting. We don’t publish themed collections—we love a mix. We understand the odd typo but please review your work well before sending. And remember, a thirty page epic poem is unlikely to be accepted for an anthology!

Mary: Why did you decide to publish the anthologies as print-on-paper instead of in digital form?

Jane: Our anthologies are a generously-sized 9.25 x 7.5. This provides plenty of room for visually experimental work and plenty of beautiful white space to show off more traditional formats. We really do pay a lot of attention to design and graphics. Each anthology has over sixty contributors, plus an interview – too much for an online anthology. Paper allows the reader to dip in and out and to appreciate the anthology as a single and intriguing identity.

Mary: Tell us about your latest anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.

I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand, Great Weather for MEDIA press

Jane: I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand is a dynamic collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction by established and emerging writers from all across the United States, Denmark, Sweden, England, and France—all taken from open submission. We are very proud to include an interview between David Lawton and John Sinclair, plus an unpublished poem of John’s. Although our anthologies are never themed, the feel of this book is a strange mix of tenderness, fear, and worlds beyond our own.

Mary: What’s the significance of the title?

Jane: We love using unusual title for our collections. It’s Animal but Merciful was followed by The Understanding between Foxes and Light. I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand is the title of an artwork/poem by one of our contributors, Janne Karlsson from Sweden. The cover is an adapted close-up of his work inside the book.

Mary: What has inspired you to arrange a nation-wide reading tour for all the authors who appear in your anthologies? It must take a huge amount of work to set up these readings.

Jane: Ha! Yes, it is a lot of work coordinating a tour, getting the dates to fit together and the cities in a logical order e.g. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. To be clear, we book events in the areas where we have several contributors so not everyone in the book can get to participate in the reading. And of course writers often have friends or family in certain cities and ask if they can perform there. It’s terrific hearing and meeting poets after looking at their words so long on the page. Great weather for MEDIA is really about building community. Introducing writers from the same city who were unaware of each other’s work. Some of contributors run their own reading series and so discover new writers to feature.

Mary: Every Sunday (4-6 ) you host a reading at the Parkside Lounge in New York City. Who curates these reading? How do you select your featured readers?

Jane: Thomas Fucaloro, David Lawton, George Wallace, and Russ Green curate and host the reading series. With a different host each week, we get a wonderful mix of local and visiting poets. Sometimes we give a poet their first ever feature, other times we have established writers and performers such as Ellen Bass, Luis Bernard, and Jesús Papoleto Meléndez. Recently we’ve showcased Rich Ferguson (Los Angeles), Joan Gelfand (San Francisco), Christine Tierney (Boston), and Todd Anderson, Jeanann Verlee, and Corinna Bain from NYC. With two features each week, it’s nice to mix things up and find performers to contrast or complement one other.

Mary: As I recall, there’s always an open mic at the Parkside. What surprises has it offered?

Jane: We have surprises every week! That’s the joy of open mics, you never know who is coming through the door. One of regulars travels up by bus from Philadelphia—that’s a real thumbs up to what we are doing. Poets who have never read on stage before and come out with something beautiful. Slam artists mixing with storytellers. We’ve had cats and dogs make an appearance. And of course the odd drunk or crazy just to keep it real. Any style of poetry is welcome on the open mic and we’re a friendly bunch.

Mary: Recently you’ve begun to publish collections of work by individual writers? Who have you published so far? What plans do you have for future publications?

Jane: 2014 marked the publication of Retrograde by Puma Perl and meant to wake up feeling by Aimee Herman. All of us are incredibly proud of these books. Corrina Bain’s collection is due spring 2015, and stay tuned to what else is coming up next year.

Mary: Before you go, please tell us about your own poetry. How did you become a poet? What are you trying to do in your poems?

Jane: I began as a painter. I went to art school in London, left, and had a studio. My work increasingly contained words and phrases so it was a natural progression to switch from canvas to paper. It’s a long story but the final jump came a result of a bet. I could never paint as well as I wanted to in order to express my ideas. Poetry is equally as frustrating – as it should be – but I feel my visual eye is a better fit to words, and the shape and sound of words, than pigment. Live performance is a vital aspect too.

Mary: Please leave us with one of your poems.

Jane:  Here is “Witness for the Prosecution”:

JANE ORMEROD

                                                                                                             Witness for the Prosecution

I see power leaning. An international success. Sunshine appreciating the mouth. The mouth touching the after-hours. The blabber. This room wretched.

Excellent deprive excellent reprieve excellent deprive.

No, no. Vole. I see power broken into able recommendation. I see motor servicing, out-of-action toys, tantrums and tambourines, electric drifts, a birthday spent window shopping, a daring and extravagant hat, ha ha ha ribbon frippery. An egg beating. Play canasta, munch a sandwich. Lonely, alive, bad it looked. It, it. Deceiving to believe it was Moriarty. Handsome Moriarty. Walking a dog named fortitude. “Before” is precise. Rubble is tiring. I know, or want to know, too much protection. Fortitude is not lost or misplaced. Fortitude is here among us, among us all, is a toe stub against what we thought was a shaft of sun and instead was a cylinder containing pots of simple apple jelly.

Is getting better. Is getting better. Is a field. Is buying marmalade on installment. Finding a legal document in a jack-in-a-box. The room is brave. Cocoa is brandy. Body temperature is instantaneous. The room is surprised. Is much better. It has appearance. Has clasp. O is O. There is no wiggle. The O is a jacket. Is withdrawn. Is patterned. Is absent-minded and stopped often by the military and those thrusting lucky heather. The other is arranged, is near. This candor, this leap?

This leap is finished. The voices are oak. Able to comment on rubble now. Able to speak what is worth. The lack of only a name to withstand. Blue skies are facts of words only. Boat is open-sided. Boat is slut. Blues skies a fact of warning only. The last is life inside a pill. Trains commence. I am good for another. The letter is guilt. Is cash. Is hearing. Is hearing the now and again back to back rather than to and fro.

You are warmly invited to join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen, ask Jane Ormerod questions, or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, Best-selling author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection, and more. People Who Make Books Happen is where the experts hang out.

Mutiny Radio and Beatnick Ghosts

Turn your radios on this Friday and Mutiny with Pirate Cat! Mary Mackey and 7 other Sparring With Beatnick Ghosts poets will be reading on Diamond Dave’s show on  mutiny radioPirate Cat Mutiny Radio at 3:00 pm on December Friday 12th. You can catch it live or later at mutinyradio.org. Remember “Mutiny Radio is Pirate Cat Radio’s nonstop punk rock radio station!

Poet Daniel Lawless On How To Edit An Anthology of Poetry

Daniel Lawless, Poet and Editor of Plume Magazine, Talks About Editing The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013

Danny Lawless Plume MagazineMary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Danny. In just a few years, Plume has become one of the most respected and influential on-line poetry journals. You recently edited The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013, a beautifully conceived and executed treasure-trove of poems by 130 poets including Diane Wakoski, Sharon Olds, Alan Shapiro, Lyn Lifshin, Norman Dubie, Billy Collins, Andrei Codrescu, and Gaius Valerius Catullus. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that three of my poems also appear in this anthology, which is a real honor. I’ve never been in an anthology with Catullus before.

I’d like to talk to you about how you go about editing an anthology and what criteria you use for selecting the poems. Could you please start by telling us how The Plume Anthology 2013 differs from the other poetry anthologies we see coming out almost weekly?

Danny:  Assuming the quality of the poems to be roughly equivalent, it really only differs in one substantial way. Unlike many anthologies, The Plume Anthology 2013 is un-themed.  This probably is both good and bad. Good, in that the quality of work is the sole criterion for inclusion, opening the doors for eclecticism that much wider. Bad, for approximately the same reason: a theme can be a useful guide, a kind of  governor, or a funnel,  making the editing process that much more streamlined — and perhaps for a certain reader, richer.   

Mary:  Did you ask for submissions or was this anthology by invitation only?

Danny: With the first anthology (The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2012), submissions were culled from the previous months’ work. We had so little time – or experience, or the slightest notion that this first Plume would actually work, so by necessity we published essentially what we already had run online, with, oh, perhaps 15% new work. There was a fine Featured Selection with Dutch poet M. Vasalis, translated byDavid Young and Fred Lessing, and a splendid and gracious forward from Ron Slate. I was surprised anyone bought it – but they did.

Mary: I’m not surprised. Plume 2012 was an amazing anthology filled with great poetry. How did you go about choosing the poets for the 2013 Plume?

Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013Danny: For the 2013 and the upcoming 2014 anthologies, I chose poets whose work I like a lot and asked them to submit a small batch of work, from which I would select two poems – one for online, one for the print anthology. This comprised most of the current anthology and will be the case in the 2014 anthology.  The remainder of the poems came from and will come from unsolicited submissions via the Submishmash system.

Mary: What criteria did you use to select the poems?

 Danny: I was afraid you would ask this, Mary. Plume is pretty much a one-man show. Our “staff” as noted on the site is largely uninvolved in the editing process — albeit indispensable in interviews, layout, distribution, PR, and such.  Which is to say that I alone select the poems both for the web and print venues. Plume grew out of my own reading over – god, forty-five years. My tastes have gradually revealed themselves, I suppose, and they alone are the criteria for selecting poems to appear in Plume

I fell hard for the Surrealists in my teens, and I have remained something of a Francophile ever since. The magazine reflects that enamorment, I’m sure.  I read a lot of work in translation in those days: Bly, Michael Benedikt, Richard Howard, Marilyn Hacker. And the poetry in translation had a certain “flat” quality I assumed was reflective of the actual work, which I was and remain drawn to, and which I discovered, when I learned to read French, was not at all the case: I was vastly disappointed in the originals!

Soon enough though, I started reading Barthes and Derrida and Foucault and the sublime and hilarious Cioran – my favorite writer, to this day.  Later came the South Americans – Parra was a revelation — and finally the British (Larkin!) and Americans, via the Beats at first.  So, you see, a circuitous route – a reading by feel, intuition, allusion.

Dennis Nukse and I have talked a little about this – the paths we took in our reading are similar, and I think a number of people in the vicinity of our ages (he’s younger than I,  no doubt)  followed approximately the same route, somehow.  Not the way an MFA candidate would have approached reading (I don’t have an MFA), I don’t think–not the way it’s done today, anyway.  

So Plume is a way of relocating or maintaining that path, while opening up new branches of it. The Prévert line as a motto which appears on the Plume Magazine website–“for those who loved it, the garden remains open” –is a direct allusion to that.  And so is the logo – the skeletal bird and the new feather. 

Mary: You’ve even left the Prévert quote in French on the Plume website: “ Le jardin reste ouvert à ceux qui l’ont aimé .”

Danny:  Yes, but to answer your question about the criteria for selection more directly: Our mission statement says something about this: “the fineness of language, the huge absences to which it points and partakes of, and the urgency and permanence of its state of departure – the coattails forever—just now – disappearing around the corner.” Not sure if that makes sense, but I know it when I see it, as they say. The image counts for a great deal with me, the sense of the uncanny, the just-so word choice; less so the narrative. (Although as soon as I say this, I think of ten narrative poems I adore.)  

Mary: What qualities in a poem immediately attract you? What qualities immediately put you off?

Danny: As I said, I am drawn to the arresting image first – thanks to the Surrealists, surely. I am impatient with poems that dawdle: the poet willing to spend ten even twenty lines to get to that image, that lineTweet to that he or she hopes, I think, will be worth the candle. That “flatness,” too, is a quality I still find attractive: the mater-of-factness of a Ponge or Michaux, even Russell Edson — appeals. But also the leaps—to use a Bly-ian term – of a Follain. If I can find that in a modern poem, I am very happy.

 How can one say it? Overly, or self-consciously “poetic” language is off-putting. Definitely, I could bear not reading another poem about childhood violence or politics. Not much interested in gardening or the names of flora or fauna or poems-about-poems. And there is something to be said for the short poem – Simic is a master, for example. I love the aphorists: Cioran, as noted, but also James Richardson of late. I am drawn to the eastern Europeans these days, too. And the work of East Asians poets — astounding. Plume has run translations in every issue since its inception, often more than one, and I feel sure this will continue.

Mary:  Is editing an anthology of poetry different from editing a poetry magazine?

Danny: No, not really.  The process of selection is the same: my tastes. True, editing an issue is a more intimate experience: one of the blurbs for the 2013 anthology remarked on the surprising “neighborhoods” of poems in the online venue.  I loved that – analogous to the image, the “rubbing up against” each other of words that make a remarkable image in a poem, writ large in an issue of twelve poems, where the poems themselves rub against one another, chafe, spark…each informing the others, expanding their meanings and contexts, deepening the reading experience: getting to know one another, as neighbors might.

The online issues represent, I hope, a clearly curatorial intent – to use the current buzzword. In the anthology, one is dealing with so many poems, that intimacy can be lost in, or mitigated by, the relative distance of one poem from its natural companions: the difference between seeing a show in some dive or boîte and in an arena, perhaps. The scale of the anthology seems to work against this. Even though  the order of poems in both the online issues and the anthology is alphabetical, the twelve poems in the issues still can seem of a piece, I think – not quite so in the 70+ poems in the anthologies.

Mary: Many anthologies are collections of a particular school of poetry—Language Poetry, for example. Why did you decide to include such a wide range of poetic forms?  How did you make sure this happened?

Mary: Here, I’ll quote another blurb, forgive me, from Jeff Skinner: “…Plume establishes its place on the literary scene somewhere above fashion, apart from all questions of Hipster vs. . . . Whatever.” If I could have chosen any description of what I was after, this is it. I wanted Plume to be outside the “aesthetic axe-grinding” as someone else notes, removed from the narrow confines of that little street, and allow the poetry to speak for itself.  The best poetry rarely represents an idea, a stance, a school, and god forbid wants to teach its readers.  

So the poems in the issues of the magazine and the poems in the anthology are those I like: quite simple. I made sure it happened by both carefully scouring the unsolicited submissions and asking for work from a wide range of poets whose poems I have admired, and since my own my tastes are eclectic, this has resulted in what you see in Plume.  Not to forget: as these tastes evolve, that, too, will be reflected in the journal. 

For instance, African-American poetry has been under-represented in Plume, I know, and I am making a conscious effort to address that, reaching out to various poets and organizations, with some success.  Martha Collins has a thousand and one contacts with African-American poets, which has been a help, too.  The work has been an eye-opener – long overdue. You’ll see more from poets of color in future issues, I’m certain.  Fortunately, I don’t need to make money from Plume – not that I ever expected to, and this allows me the great freedom of publishing only those poems I love. Had I to consider selling the thing, I’m sure it would be very different, and that I wouldn’t like it all.

Mary: Why did you decide to arrange the poems alphabetically by the authors’ last names?

Danny: Good question. I’m not sure how or why this happened.  The easy answer is that, with their work presented alphabetically by last name, poets won’t feel part of some established hierarchy, however unintended that might be. And I think they would feel that: — we poets are generally a sensitive lot, aren’t we? Also, there’s the ease of locating a particular poet – the finger slides to him or her almost without thought. 

But I am wondering, now, if that is sufficient reason to forgo the pleasures of creating those “neighborhoods” alluded to above – sacrificing the way poems “call to one another” as Vila-Matas observes.  Perhaps the next anthology will be more like the online issues, but a kind of city, the breadth of which the reader might stroll as she will, one day here and the next there, never quite sure when she has crossed some invisible boundary or other but discovering for herself – and identifying for herself – just where she is.

Mary:  I love that image of strolling through a City of Poetry. Could you tell us what in general are the best and worst things about being an editor of an anthology?

Danny: Like many things, the best is beheld in the rear-view.  It’s a joy, believe me –oh,  you know this, Mary–to hold in one’s hands the completed project, the physical object that had for so long remained merely a possibility, a notion, a progression of tasks. I like very much the correspondence with poets, too. I think I have become friends, if I can use that term for people I have never met except on the page or the screen, with some – people of like mind, which I don’t often get to do in life lived in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

I have had very, very few unpleasant experiences with contributors: in fact, none come to mind. Universally a kind and generous bunch, especially given the smallness of Plume, its newness, its many much more established and worthy relatives. Honestly, I am not sure at all why these poets do send their work to us. Better not to inquire, though: as Simic writes somewhere: “don’t wake the damn cards.”

The worst is everything else.  Printing, PR, contacts, agents, permission letters, all a pain in the ass. Again, I’m thankful for the Plume “staff.”

Mary: Are there any tips you can give someone who is planning to edit an anthology?

Danny: Don’t do it! No, do it, but only because you want to, or must. Or because Catullus has a hold on you.

Daniel Lawless founded and edits the online monthly Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and the annual print Plume Anthology of Poetry. His recent poems appear in Cortland Review, Meadow, The Louisville Review, Pif, Adirondack Review, and elsewhere.

Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Daniel Lawless questions or leave a comment. This is where the experts hang out.

 

Mary Mackey Reads Her Poetry at Cal State Sacramento

CSUS Library GalleryWednesday, November 12, 2014, Sacramento, CA: Mary reads poems from Travelers With No Ticket Home with poet Dennis Schmitz. TIME: 3:00 pm. PLACE: Library Gallery, California State University Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA. Free and open to the public.

Mary Mackey, Pandemonium at Spice Monkey

CoPandemoniumme to the Spice Monkey Restaurant in Oakland this Wednesday, Nov. 5th and hear Mary Mackey read her poems about the jungles of the Amazon from Travelers With No Ticket Home in the Pandemonium Press Reading Series “Out of Paradise Into Wilderness.”  Mary will be reading with poets Kirk Lumpkin, Maw Shein Win, and Sarah Fran Wisby. There will also be a musical performance by guitarist Hao C. Tran. Hosted by Leila Rae, publisher/editor Pandemonium Press. TIME:  6:45  pm to 9:00 pm. PLACE: The Loft at the Spice Monkey Restaurant and Bar, 1628 Webster Street, Oakland (at 17th St, 2 1/2 blocks from the 19th Street BART).  This event is free and open to the public. Sign up for the open mic at pandemoniumpress@gmail.com and stay late for food and drink at the Spice Monkey after the reading.

Release Party for Great Weather For Media Anthology

Art House Gallery and Cultural CenterThis Sunday (Nov 2) Mary Mackey reads her poetry at the Art House in Berkeley with Great Weather For MEDIA editor Jane Ormerod (NY/London) and poets Daniel Yaryan (Santa Cruz), Lauren Marie Cappello (Upper Lake, CA), Kit Kennedy (SF), Clive Matson (Oakland), and  Julia Vinograd (Berkeley) to celebrate the release of the new Great Weather For MEDIA  Anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.   TIME: 5:00 pm. PLACE:  The Art House Gallery & Cultural Center, 2905 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705. There will be a brief open mic.

 

 PERFORMER BIOS

Jane Ormerod  is the author of  Welcome to the Museum of Cattle (Three Rooms Press, 2012),  Recreational Vehicles on Fire (Three Rooms Press, 2009), the chapbook  11 Films (Modern Metrics/EXOT Books, 2008), and the spoken word CD  Nashville Invades Manhattan. Born on the south coast of England, Jane now lives in New York City and performs extensively across the United States and Europe. She is a founding editor of great weather for MEDIA.

Daniel Yaryan is a devout disciple of the “Beat Friar” Brother Antoninus (William Everson) and producer of the popular poetry series Sparring With Beatnik Ghosts.

Lauren Marie Cappello has traded in the glitter of New Orleans for homesteading in Northern California. Her work has appeared in E·ratio 15 &16, gape-seed (Uphook Press),  It’s Animal but Merciful (great weather for MEDIA), among others.

Kit Kennedy is the author of While Eating Oysters (CLWN WR BKS, 2013) and co-author with Susan Gangel of Inconvenience (Littoral Press, 2010) and Constellations (Co-Lab Press, 2011).  Her work has appeared in the great weather for MEDIA anthology It’s Animal but Merciful, and in journals including Otoliths, and The Pedestal Magazine.  She lives in San Francisco. 

Clive Matson (MFA Columbia University) was drafted as Chalcedony’s (kal-SAID-’n-ease) astonished scribe in 2004, and he’s been performing her songs ever since. His early teachers were Beats in New York City, and, amazingly, his seventh book was placed in John Wieners’ coffin. He became immersed in the stream of passionate intensity that runs through us all and has finally stopped trying to go anywhere else. He writes from the itch in his body, to the delight of his students, and that’s old hat, according to Let the Crazy Child Write! (1998), the text he uses to make his living, teaching creative writing. He enjoys playing basketball, table tennis, and collecting minerals in the field.

Julia Vinograd is a Berkeley street poet. She has published fifty-eight books of poetry and won the American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation for her collection The Book of Jerusalem. She received a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. A Pushcart Prize winner, she was one of four editors of the anthology New American Underground Poetry Vol. 1: The Babarians of San Francisco – Poets from Hell (Trafford Publishing, 2006).

Mary Mackey’s published works include six collections of poetry, including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence (Marsh Hawk Press 2011). She is also the author of thirteen novels including the poetic novel Immersion (Shameless Hussey Press, 1972) , the first novel published by a Second Wave feminist press. Mary’s works have been translated into twelve foreign languages. Website www.marymackey.com

 

How To Write a Non-Fiction Book Proposal

photo_michael_larsenInterview with Agent Michael Larsen: How to Write A  Non-Fiction Book Proposal That Will Sell Your Book

Michael Larsen co-founded Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco in 1972 with his partner Elizabeth Pomada. Members of AAR (the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc.), Michael  and Elizabeth have sold hundreds of books to more than 100 publishers and imprints.

Mary: Welcome to my People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series, Michael. Could you please start by telling us why a writer needs a proposal to sell a nonfiction book?

Michael: A proposal is a business plan that has to convince publishers to invest in a book.

Mary: Why not just send an agent or publisher a brief cover letter and the completed manuscript?

Michael: A cover letter won’t provide all of the information publishers need, and unless it’s a memoir, they don’t need or want to see a whole manuscript. They just want to see enough to feel excited about the writer’s ability to turn in a salable manuscript and promote the book.

Mary: Do you need to write a proposal to self-publish a nonfiction book? What would be the point of doing that?

Michael: Writers are free to write and publish their books any way they want. They don’t have to write a proposal if they are going to self-publish. But doing a proposal enables writers to test their commitment to writing and promoting the book. It also helps them align their literary and publishing goals: what they want to write and how successful they want their book to be. Getting feedback from knowledgeable readers will help them make sure they’re on the right track. If writers want to write a memoir for their families, they don’t need a proposal. If they have ambitious goals, a proposal is proof of concept and a commitment test.

Mary: As an agent, are you willing to consider nonfiction book ideas that come to you without a proposal?

Michael: The only time to approach agents or editors is when a writer has something ready to sell. Once a proposal for a promotion-driven book is ready, I ask for just the author’s platform–the writer’s continuing visibility online and off, on the subject with potential buyers- and a promotion plan. They will tell me whether I can excite a New York house about a book. For a prose-driven book, it’s all about the read, how well writers can tell a story. But platform and promotion will still be important to big publishers

Mary: Again, in your role as an agent, how do you use a proposal when you are selling a nonfiction book to publishers?

Michael: After we find out if editors are interested, I do a multiple submission to the best editors at the best houses for the book and the author.

Mary: How long should a nonfiction book proposal be?

Michael: Proposals usually range from 35 to 50 pages.

Mary: What are the major parts of a nonfiction book proposal?  For example, should it have a title page?

Michael: A proposal begins with a title page followed by a table of contents page listing the parts of the proposal and the pages on which they begin. The three parts of a proposal are the Overview, The Outline, and the Sample Chapter. Narrative, prose-driven books will need two or more chapters.

Mary: Let’s take those parts of a nonfiction book proposal one by one. First, what’s the aim of the Overview?

Mary: The goals of the Overview are to prove you have a salable idea and the ability to write and promote it. I list the parts of the Overview in a particular order, but they are building blocks that writers can arrange in whatever order that will help them sell their book most effectively.

Mary: Could you give us a list of the essential things that should be in the Overview and tell us what order they should be  in?

Michael: Here’s my list of essentials:

•    The opening hook–ideally a paragraph that will most excite editors about the subject: a fact, anecdote, opening paragraph, or a recommendation by someone who will impress editors.

•    The book hook:  
    * The title and selling handle, up to fifteen words of selling copy about the book.
    (Optional) If credentials will significantly help sell the book, before the title, add an introductory phrase describing them. For example: “Based on an article in x / y years of research / y years as a z, [title of book]…”
    * The book(s) or author(s) the writer is using as a model for the book
    * The estimated (or actual) length of the manuscript and when the writer will deliver it
    * The book’s benefits (optional)
    * Special features: e.g. illustrations, design elements, back matter (optional)
    * Information about a self-published edition (optional)

•    Markets: List the kinds of readers and retailers, organizations, or institutions that will be interested in the book. Include the size of each group and other information to show the writers knows the audience and how to write the book for those readers. Other possible markets: schools, businesses, and subsidiary-rights markets such as film and foreign rights.

•    Platform: A list in descending order of importance of whatever will impress editors about the writer’s visibility to potential readers. Online, this may include numbers for subscribers to a blog, website visitors, your contacts on social networks, and online articles you’ve published.
    Offline, your platform may include the number of articles you’ve had published in print media, as well as the number of talks you give each year, the number of people you give them to, where you give them, and your media exposure. For promotion-driven books, a platform is essential for big and midsize houses.

•    Bio: Up to a page about yourself with information that isn’t in your platform, starting with the most impressive, relevant information. To increase the impact of your proposal, include a link to a video version, up to two minutes long, of you giving the strongest information from the proposal with as much passion as you can.  

•    Promotion: A plan that begins: “To promote the book, the author will:…” followed by a bulleted list in descending order of impressiveness of what you will do to promote your book, online and off, during its launch window and after. Start each part of the list with a verb and use impressive numbers, if possible. Publishers won’t expect big plans from novelists and memoirists, and the smaller the house you’ll be happy with, the less important your plan and platform are.

Mary: You’ve noted that including information about the book’s benefits, special features such as design elements and back matter, and information about a self-published edition are “optional.” Are there times when you should not include these three things?

Michael: Writers should include anything that will help sell the book. Nonfiction encompasses a wide range of books, so the information you provide has to make sense for the kind of book you’re writing. Memoirs don’t usually have back matter. Cite successful books you love as models for your book.

Mary: I’ve heard many publishers say than any manuscript that comes to them with an already-designed cover is the mark of an amateur.  

Michael: Not if it’s a cover worthy of a New York house. Most published books don’t have the best covers because publishers don’t have the resources to create the best possible cover for every book. A professionally done cover design can be the first page of the proposal. It will help sell a book, and even if it’s not used, it will give the publisher something to improve on. Writers will need a cover designer and feedback from knowledgeable people such as booksellers to make sure a design is worth submitting. Every word in a proposal is either helping or hurting the chances of  selling it. This is also true for a cover design.

Mary: Are you required to reveal that the book has already been self-published if you are looking for a commercial publisher?

Michael: Writers should tell publishers if their book has been published, include quotes from reviews and sales information, if they will help sell the book. If the book is good enough to sell, send it along with just the first part of the proposal.

If the book won’t impress editors or you want to change it significantly, just send the proposal and mention the self-published edition.

Mary: Should you say “this will make a great movie” if you don’t have a movie deal in the works, or does that sound like wishful thinking combined with unrealistic bragging?

Michael: The latter.

Mary: Is it true that publishers these days will not even look at work by writers who don’t have a substantial online and offline platform?  

Michael: A promotion plan shows how authors will use their platform to help sell books. Big houses want authors who can do as much as possible to promote their book; it’s not as important for small and some midsized houses. Publishers won’t expect authors of memoirs to have big platform; the success of a how-to book depends on the author’s continuing visibility, online and off.

Mary: Is there any magic number of people you need to be in contact with to make the grade?

Michael: No, but the more the better. Books are ready for the world before the world is ready for them. The challenge is to maximize the value of your book before you sell or publish it by building your platform and communities of people to help you, and test-market your book in as many ways as you can.

Mary:  You suggest a video version of your query letter. How important is this and why does it appear in the Bio section of the Overview?

Michael: It’s not essential but it can make the difference. Publishers want to know how well writers come across in the media, and how effectively they can speak about their book. If a proposal is salable, a link to an effective one-to-two minute video of an author describing his/her passion for the book gives editors another reason to say’ yes.’ The proposal should also include links to videos of the author speaking or doing interviews, if they’re available. Video is huge and using it is essential if you want to be a successful writer.

Mary: Won’t making a video cost a lot of money?

Michael: Publishers won’t expect a professional video. A phone, camera, or tablet is fine, but, like the proposal, the writing and the execution of the video must have the impact writers want for them. Writers should get feedback on the text and the presentation of it to make sure the video is worth including.

Mary: Are there things you might put in the Overview section of your proposal that are not essential—that is to say optional—but well worth considering?

Michael: If writers can get a foreword and cover quotes from people whose names and/or positions will help sell the book in fifty states two years from now, they should name them.

If writers want to write follow-up books that will help sell the book they’re proposing, they should mention up to three books in descending order of their commercial appeal. If they find an idea for a series of books that will sell each other and that they will enjoy writing and promoting, they can create a career out of it.

Mary: In describing competitive books, you advise writers to use “phrases starting with a verb.” Could you please give us an example?

Michael: In balancing a competitive book’s strengths and weaknesses, you could write: “Covers x, y, and z; fails to include a, b, c.”

Mary: You’ve noted that the Mission Statement is optional. If you use a Mission Statement, should it go in the Overview?

Michael: A mission statement should be the last part of the Overview.

Mary: Do you send a cover letter as well as a proposal or is the proposal the cover letter?

Michael: First you research agents’ or publishers’ websites to find out how to contact them. Then you send them what they request. A query letter is often the first step. If agents or publishers want to see the proposal, send it along with the query letter, changed to mention that you’re sending the proposal.

Mary: Now that you’ve given us a thorough explanation of the Overview, let’s move on to the second section of a non-fiction book proposal: the Outline. Could you please describe the Outline to us and tell us what should be in it?

Michael: The outline has to prove that the author has a book’s worth of information and knows the most effective way to present it. The first page of the A page called “Table of Contents” listing the chapters and the back matter. Then one to three present-tense paragraphs about every chapter, using outline verbs like describe, explain, and discuss. For an informational book, you can use a bulleted, self-explanatory list of the information in the chapter.

Mary: Finally, we come to the last section: the Sample Chapter. How long should it be and what should it aim to do?

Michael: Editors vary but at big houses, they usually want to see about ten percent of the text. For example, a representative chapter of a how-to book—twenty to twenty-five pages–is enough.

Mary: Should you always use the first chapter as your Sample Chapter or can you include a chapter from some other part of your book? Does the Sample Chapter need to be the actual chapter as it will appear in the book, or can you shorten it, edit it, or make it more able to stand-alone?

Michael: The first chapter of a promotion-driven book should be the most exciting chapter in the book. It should be a brochure for the book, the book in a chapter, so that if all readers finish is that chapter (which happens often), they will have the essence of the book. If the first chapter excites them enough, they’ll want to keep reading.

The Overview for a how-to book will explain what the book is, so editors don’t have to read it again as a sample chapter. That’s why writers should use the strongest, representative how-to chapter they can for a sample chapter, with the illustrations for it, if the book will have them.

Prose-driven books like memoirs should read like novels. How compelling the first chapter, even the first page, is determines whether readers go on to the next chapter. Editors often want to see the first three chapters. My partner Elizabeth asks for the best three chapters. Writers should follow the guidelines on agents’ and publishers’ websites.

Every word is an audition for the next word. So writers have to:

•    Read as many competing books as possible so they’ll have at least one book and author to cite as a model for their book and their career
•    Write as many drafts as it takes to make every word count
•    Get feedback from as many knowledgeable readers as they can
That is the holy trinity of salable prose.

Now is the one of best times ever to be a writer. There are more subjects to write about, more ways to promote and profit from books, and three billion readers on the Web alone which is the next frontier for writers. English is the international language of culture and commerce, so there’s a world of readers out there who want to be enlightened and entertained.

Onward and upward!

Michael Larsen loves helping writers, and is always eager to find nonfiction writers with ideas, writing ability, a platform, and a promotion plan for books with social, esthetic, or practical value. He also has a consulting service for nonfiction writers. Besides being the co-founder of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, he is the author of How to Write a Book Proposal and How to Get a Literary Agent, and co-author of Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work. He has also created a downloadable proposal template, which is available at www.thebookdesigner.com. He is co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference.

Dear Readers: You are warmly invited to join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen, ask Michael Larsen questions, or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, Best-selling author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection, and more. This is where the experts hang out.

And remember to come back next month to read the another great interview in the People Who Make Books Happen  series.

 

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