Tag Archives: books

What I’m Doing this Summer (or: How Not to Pitch an Agent)

angel/cherub statue reading a book on the grass - https://pixabay.com/en/the-statue-of-angel-art-boy-1398281/

Image by Diego Torres via Pixabay

Wondering what I’m doing this summer? Here’s the story behind one project.

It all started in April, when I took a crash course in pitching an agent. I had registered for Books Alive! 2016, presented by the Washington Independent Review of Books. It’s a local conference with workshops, speakers, a book fair, and book signings.  It also features the coveted Agent Speed Pitches.

I figured I would brush off a journalism fellowship proposal, make it into a book proposal, and convince an agent to love it in five minutes or less. Soon, I’d be on my way to a book deal.

It turns out I went about it all wrong.

It’s not hard to do what I did. To practice how not to pitch an agent, follow the simple steps below.

How Not to Pitch an Agent for Your Nonfiction Book

    1. With about six days to go before your nonfiction book proposal must be ready, discover that six days is a preposterously inadequate amount of time to write a book proposal.*
    2. Write a good query letter instead. While working, sing a little song about how the kindly agent will adore your query, swoop in, and help you write that pesky proposal.
    3. Do not use a single sentence from your query letter. Instead, turn what was once a book proposal and then became a query letter into a three-minute pitch.
    4. Practice the pitch on nonfiction writers, novelists, and your cat. At least one out of three will give constructive feedback. Treat the other two to a rendition of that song about your guardian agent.
    5. At 6:45 am on the day of the pitch sessions, as the Uber waits downstairs, decide to print your query letter after all. Clutch the letter close throughout the morning.
    6. Use the pitch on agents — the ones assigned to you for speed-pitch sessions as well as the one who magically asks you about your book while you sit around the lunch table. That last one will listen intently until you must both stop for the keynote by Bob Woodward.
    7. Note the questions the agents ask and suggestions they make about structure. Note also how said questions and suggestions are not at all consistent.
    8. Note also how, though the agents are all wonderful people, not one extended a cloud-soft wing to envelope you.
    9. Rejoice that several agents asked to see either a sample chapter or full book proposal.
    10. Realize this is better than a guardian agent. Also understand that you must produce a book proposal.
    11. Attempt to write a book proposal. Take more than six days to do it.
    12. Start now.

So there you have it. The Book Proposal (incorrect capitalization for Emphasis) is one of my projects. I look forward to posting updates.

______

*Why inadequate? Thanks to author friends Michael Chorost and Fran Hawthorne (plus online searching), I learned that a nonfiction book proposal comprises some 50 to 60 pages of details. It covers the content, author, and market. Sample chapters also go in there. As you can imagine, a normal human can’t do this overnight. If you’re interested in more information, here’s a great guide from Zimmerman Literary.

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What I’m Consuming: The Liar’s Wife by Mary Gordon

In the first of what I hope to make a series of posts, I’d like to talk about The Liar’s Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon (Pantheon Books, 2014).

I’m calling the series “What I’m Consuming.” I’m going to write about things I’ve watched, read, or heard (and maybe even eaten) that I liked and would recommend.

What it is and why it’s here

The Liar’s Wife is a collection of an odd genre. I’ve never seen more than one of these long stories/short novels together before. The quartet comes to 288 pages in all, and comes together well. Three of the protagonists are women — two very young and the third just past retirement age. Only one of the main characters is male — an elderly man looking back on his teenaged years.

Two of the novellas plop real historical figures Simone Weil and Thomas Mann into plausible but completely fictional settings.  Gordon then imagines a central character to put in his or her path and a series of events steeped in the figure’s heyday.

I’m writing about this here — with a heading that pledges I would recommend it — because of the characters, especially the female protagonists Jocelyn, Genevieve, and Theresa. Here are brilliant women, one of them fortunate in life (financially, family-wise, professionally) on top of that. The other two are survivors of World War II Europe and an affair with a pretentious professor, respectively. These women bask in and benefit from their enviable luck and talents, but also question their worth. It takes a great writer to create a woman who has a comfortable retirement, a loving husband, and thriving children, but wonders if she might be better off roaming the country in a Frito Lay truck and singing in dives — and Gordon makes the reader wonder, too.

How I came upon it

I read this book because Gordon’s daughter was a childhood friend. No joke! I didn’t realize at the time that Anna’s mother was a famous writer. But by this past fall, I knew it well enough to hightail it to Politics and Prose to see the mom from the stone house on North Oakwood Street.

Gordon is a fantastic reader. She read from the title work, performing the parts of the Irish truth twister, his Southern-born companion, and the Italian pizzeria owner as easily as the protagonist with a familiar northeastern American voice. I dug into the book a few months later, during what I’ll call a “working staycation” between semesters.

The upshot

I could have binge-watched yet more Scandal over those cold, laid-back weeks, but the characters and stories in The Liar’s Wife kept pulling me back to the printed page. They kept me reading and made me think.

 

Until next time, happy consuming!

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Books on slowing down, from unlikely sources

woman sitting in front of moon

Is she checking her watch?? Photo by geralt on Pixabay

When I learned that Jeff Bridges released a book on Zen and mindfulness last year, I didn’t exactly fall off my meditation pillow (as the NY Times review explained, the book was what you’d expect). The actor who played the unemployed, roach-smoking Dude in the ’90s cult hit The Big Lebowski makes the perfect guru for the chill life.

But high-octane achievers like Russell Simmons and Arianna Huffington? Their books made me stand up and take notice.

I know–I’m confused about why they came out with these books, too. Let’s poke at this.

Continue reading

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Beach reading for the sustainable food set

My latest piece on Grist.org went up today! For this one, I collaborated with Grist food editor Twilight Greenaway. I’m a big fan of her reporting work and editing style, so this was a great honor. Check out “Can’t-miss summer reading for sustainable food fans.”

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‘How to Tutor Your Own Child’ published this week

Rube_Tutor Own Child compMy friend Marina just published her first book, How to Tutor Your Own Child: Boost Grades and Inspire a Lifelong Love of Learning, on August 2.   I had the honor of following Marina’s progress through the writing, editing, and publication process. I may have even suggested a subtitle or two. I look forward to seeing the culmination of that journey at the book launch later today.

Congratulations, Marina! This one-time unschooler fully endorses this publication. And my future kids say “thanks.”

Announcement:

Do you interact with a school-age student–or know anyone who does?  If so, read on:

I’m pleased to announce the publication of How to Tutor Your Own Child: Boost Grades and Inspire a Lifelong Love of Learning, which was released on August 2, 2011.  The book is available in print and digital form from Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. Continue reading

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Goat cheese and greens

Spoon Bread and Strawberry Wine*. From Okra to Greens**. Many great pieces of theatre or poetry start with two random foods. My latest recipe for MyJewishLearning.com tries a little of that melding. The dish combines pungent, earthy goat cheese with spicy greens. And though it’s dinner, not literature, it does come with a couple of stories. Read all about it.

*A 1994 book of “recipes and reminiscences” by Norma Jean Darden and Carole Darden, which I saw off Broadway as a young’un.

**  A work of drama/poetry by Ntozake Shange that is lesser known than For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, but worth checking out.

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Grist publishes best food books of 2010

To usher in 2010, Grist has published a look at the best food books of this closing year. Or at least what people were reading this year. This list brings together my two great loves: literature and food.

The recommendations come from the greatest sustainable food minds of our time–including my pal and one-time article source Daniel Bowman Simon (of The People’s Garden in NYC).

What are you reading about food?

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