More Colleges and Universities Select Barnes & Noble to Run Their Campus Bookstores

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Barnes & Noble College issued a press release this morning after having come to terms with 5 new U.S. colleges and universities to run their brick & mortar and virtual bookstores. That brings the total to 34 schools serving approximately 200,000 students.

Thinking back to the end of summer between age 18 and 21, I can remember how it felt arriving on Amherst College campus to register and pick up syllabi for the classes I’d chosen. I’d head over to the basement of Hastings where books would be stacked in piles organized ahead of time for us. Laden down with my burden of pounds of volumes, I’d cross back through the town commons to campus and my dorm room to unburden myself.

To this day I honestly don’t know how I got all that reading done, but I do remember being diligent about it, reading as many as 500 pages in different books every day. Wish someone had taught me excellent study habits! it took me years to come up with an efficient strategy.

What does B&N College mean for self-published authors? It means bookstores are still available. It means students are reading in print.

    Click Here to Read the Release on Yahoo! Finance

Turning “Fact” into “Faction” – on writing a memoir

Business man walking on a high tightrope Memoir writing is increasingly popular as a storytelling genre, but there are pitfalls even to what you might think is the easiest thing to write — adventures based on the story of your life. Someone once said it’s the closest thing to writing poetry a prose writer can do. Whether that’s true or not, what is true is that writing a good memoir is like walking a tightrope — the details of the narrative have to be compelling, but the details in the end aren’t what makes the memoir work, it’s the universality of what you’re saying that is important.

Susan Faludi’s recent book In the Darkroom is a good case in point. Faludi is arguably one of the most important feminist writers of the last 30 years. In the summer of 2004 she received an email from her 76-year-old father, a man she had barely spoken to in nearly 25 years. When her mother divorced her father Faludi was 16, and her father responded to the news with what Faludi describes as “a season of escalating violence.” His unexpected 2004 email said, “I have decided that I have had enough of impersonating a macho aggressive man . . .” and announced he had recently had sex reassignment surgery and was now Stefánie Faludi.

Would you want to read more? I think the odds are strong the answer is yes. The fact that this really happened makes it compelling, but the fact that it is also in part an exploration of gender roles and expectations, and the way Faludi writes her memoir defies obvious conclusions and explanations, also makes it universal.

Whether you have Macmillan publish your memoir or you do it yourself, publishing a memoir about outrageous events (which is why we read them) and turning them into edge-of-the-seat adventures can be seriously problematic if you can’t validate what you are saying actually happened. These things will return boomerang-like if not handled professionally. That’s why it’s always useful to hire a company like Lincoln Square and it’s editors and copyeditors who are trained to spot the unintended sinkholes in the road before you actually reach them. (We can’t do anything about fabrication however. We accept what you say is true and may be able to point out where things may start setting off some bells.)

Fictionalizing nonfiction is like walking a tightrope — deliberate deception clearly crosses a line that, for instance, Lorrenzo Carcaterra’s bestselling book Sleepers frankly hugged. He at least warns you that while the book is true, names and details have been changed to “protect” characters in the story. In other words, while it’s true it’s also not exactly true either. It’s up to the reader to figure out exactly how far Carcaterra went in stretching the truth in the drama.  (E.L. Doctorow once famously said that all novelists are professional liars, but because they are forced to admit they are lying, they end up telling the truth.)

Another well known deception that clearly crossed the line was James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, his 2003 memoir of being a 23-year-old alcoholic drug abuser in a Twelve Steps-oriented rehab center. Margaret B. Jones’ (aka Margaret Seltzer) Love and Consequences,  was a “memoir” of her life as a white foster child raised by a black single mom in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles. Once the book was out and gaining some attention her older sister “outed” her by saying it was all made up.

We live in a “gotcha” culture, and the more a book becomes successful (which is surely one of the reasons we publish in the first place), the more scrutiny the book and its author get. The real shame of it is that the writers mentioned above (and others who fell victim to the same problem) are usually pretty talented.

Sarah McGrath, the editor at Riverhead who worked with Ms. Seltzer for three years on the book, told the New York Times she was “stunned” to discover that the author had lied.  “There’s a huge personal betrayal here as well as a professional one,” she said. Meanwhile, Cyndi Hoffman, 47, the older sister who “outed” Margaret, commented about the publisher: “I would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”

But as Geoffrey Kloske, then publisher of Riverhead Books said, “The fact is that the author went to extraordinary lengths: she provided people who acted as her foster siblings. There was a professor who vouched for her work, and a writer who had written about her that seemed to corroborate her story.” He might have added that she also signed a contract with a warranties clause agreeing to tell the truth.

The whole point being, whether you are published through a mainstream company, or create your own company to publish your book, you should go to great lengths to make sure your dramatic story is verifiably true.

Mimi Read, the freelance reporter who wrote the profile of Ms. Seltzer that brought down her house of cards summed it up: “The way I look at it is that it’s just like when you get in a car and drive to the store — you assume that the other drivers on the road aren’t psychopaths on a suicide mission. . . .  She seemed to be who she said she was. Nothing in her home or conversation or happenstance led me to believe otherwise.”

We are all prone to exaggeration. But beware telling people that instead of walking past the gorilla cage in the zoo, it became a life and death struggle with that gorilla as you tried to rescue a hapless child from its grasp. Almost certainly, the more successful your book, the more likely it is that someone somewhere will check out the truth of what you say and call you on it if you’ve gone too far.

 

Top 10 Writing Tips for Lawyers (as well as everyone else).

writing-in-the-dark-1497115-1599x1200Many writers confuse putting words down on the page, which is really a form of coal mining, with editing and shaping those words, which is really where writing gets done. Writing is about thinking, and the question that should always be uppermost in your mind when you write (indeed, it’s a great idea to have it on your computer monitor or in a note on the wall that you see every time you look up from the screen) is: What am I trying to say?

Simple right? But don’t confuse simple with easy.

As you contemplate writing THAT BOOK, you know, the one you’ve threatened to sit down and write for years now but somehow haven’t yet started, here are 10 tips to make getting into the water a lot easier. That’s what Lincoln Square Books does best: we help you get out of your own way, so you can finish what you’ve always wanted to start.

  1. Legal writing asks of the author that they are familiar with the “language” of the law. Words have very specific meanings that don’t always apply in the “civilian” world most of us occupy. (“Alien” is a good example.) So while it feels like you spend your time writing “jargonese,” the strength of practicing legal writing is that it forces you to look at every word you use and be aware that it has a specific job to do in the context of your project. In your own writing, whether for business or pleasure, let each word carry its own weight, and don’t be afraid to get rid of those that don’t.
  2. Real writers are first and foremost readers. Keep up your own reading for pleasure. If all you read is serious books, treat yourself to a “pot boiler” once in a while. If you read a lot of genre fiction, try something a little more intellectually challenging. One of the signs that you are improving as a writer is noticing that your taste in reading is becoming more challenging.
  3. It takes both confidence and humility to write well. Don’t be afraid to take advice on whether or not you are saying EXACTLY what you intend to say. (It’s easy to rail against the idiots that don’t get what you are trying to say, but, just maybe, you’re not saying it as clearly or as well as you could.) Too often we assume because we know what it is we’re trying to say, others will know it as well. Don’t assume your readers know what you mean, and be clear and concise, and ELEGANT in your language. Understand grammar and punctuation and use it correctly. Hunt those errant commas! Keep your paragraphs short, if you can. Long paragraphs exhaust readers.
  4. I know you probably read it in high school, but go back and read Strunk&White again [White, E.B., and William Strunk, Jr. The Elements of Style (Macmillan Company, 1959)]. You’ll be amazed what a wonderfully example of the very thing it is trying to teach you, that little book is.  Make sure you have  good reference books nearby, like dictionaries and thesauruses (or thesauri, if you’re picky). If you’re writing narrative nonfiction check out LSB founding partner Peter Rubie’s, The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write the Novel of True Events (Linden Publishing)
  5. Know what makes good writing. This is more than just noting and being able to follow the rules. Good writing is like good art, most people know it when they see it but they can’t always exactly say why. Good writing is organized, with thoughts flowing naturally from one paragraph to another. It is clear and unambiguous. It is concise. It uses good grammar and capitalization in a natural way. It is free of typos because you proofread it. It does not assume your readers know much about your subject. ALWAYS make sure your citations are clear and THERE. If you’re working on a book you can put your cites in the back to keep the flow of the narrative humming along but support your arguments as best you can.
  6. Practice “writing” every day if you can, don’t just churn out stuff. Know the rules of writing and try to use them, even when you’re just composing emails and letters. Your job may force you to use a legal tone, but it’s worth remembering one of the most quoted people in modern U.S. Supreme Court Opinions is Bob Dylan. If you can, say it like it is and don’t be deliberately ambiguous. Try not to sound, on the page, like an opera singer who’s decided to “slum” by singing rock n’roll.
  7. Keep in mind that your writing is the best way to put over your ideas, and may well be the only chance you get to really connect with others. Remember rule #1: writing is about thinking. Know what it is you want to say, and then say it clearly and with organization, and hopefully with some poetry (even if it isn’t Bob Dylan.)
  8. Leave plenty of time to REWRITE your piece. Let it sit, like a good wine or piece of meat, so the sediment sinks to the bottom and the juices settle back into the meat.
  9. Use an active voice — the one we speak in most of the time. (I did this, you did that.) The power of the active voice can’t be underestimated. It is immediate, it is engaging, and it avoids passivity which in turn implies an aloofness or distancing of the narrator, which can be off-putting to many readers. Think about the rhythm and length of your sentences. Don’t. Make. Them. All. The. Same.
  10. Write in Anglo Saxon, it is the heart of transparent English. Avoid adjectives and adverbs as much as possible. Try not to “Frenchify” your vocabulary with long, somewhat ornate words, for which there are perfectly good and much shorter Anglo Saxon alternatives. (Hide things, don’t adumbrate them, or salt them away.) Don’t use two words when one will do. Just make sure it’s the right word.

The Dramatic Sentence: An Introduction To Basic Story Structure, by Peter Rubie

Gary Provost and Peter Rubie are the co-authors of How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales. Thank to Gary’s wife Gail for granting permission to share this article. The book has being reissued (2015) by Crossroad Press and is available from BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.Gary Provost died unexpectedly in 1995. He was the author of many books across a range of genres both fiction and narrative non-fiction. Along with his friend Peter Rubie, he was, and Rubie continues to be, a highly sought after writing instructor. This writing reference combines Gary’s instruction with the literary savvy of his longtime colleague and friend, Peter Rubie. This essay is excerpted from the book. 

Typewriter becomes laptop
Typewriter becomes laptop

 

 

My friend Gary Provost and I created what we teasingly called the Gary Provost Dramatic Sentence (with some help from Aristotle). Here it is:

Once upon a time… something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

This is classic dramatic structure. It works because it’s story telling that is most satisfying to the reader. Aristotle defined good drama as storytelling that defined character, created atmosphere, and advanced the action of the plot. No one has ever really substantively improved on this beautifully simple yet profound definition, though I think Norman Mailer came close when he said in a TV interview, “The best fiction is where art, philosophy, and adventure all meet.”

Let’s go through Gary’s paragraph again. This time we’ll stop along the way and I’ll talk about the elements of plotting. Once you understand these elements whether you’re a literary novelist or a writer of non-fiction, or a genre writer you’ll be able to plot any story you like.

Once upon a time… something happened to someone…

This is what we call the inciting incident. In other words, it’s what caused the story to kick in. Say your story begins on Thursday. Don’t begin it on Wednesday, just to set the scene and introduce the characters, a classic amateur flaw. Plunge us right into the action the moment it starts. Why? Because nothing significant happened on Wednesday. You’re not writing someone’s life, you’re writing the story of a watershed moment in that life. The thing that happened to upset the equilibrium or the balance in his life is the thing that begins the story. That’s the inciting incident. That’s where your story should start.

…and he decided that he would pursue a goal.

There’s something this person wants. What is it? It’s the prize, the thing he’s trying to get through, all through the story. What is it that your main character wants? In the long run what does he hope to achieve?

So he devised a plan of action,…

Let’s call this The Strategy. How is our hero going to go about pursuing his goal, or prize? What’s he going to do? What’s his plan?

…and even though there were forces trying to stop him,…

This is the opposition, the conflict. Conflict is the basis of all drama. Our hero wants something, and he’s figured out a way of getting it. Something has to get in his way, something or somebody has to have a conflicting goal, and a conflicting plan C something has got to try and stop him. Nobody’s interested in reading a story about an guy who wanted a million dollars and got it. They want to read about a guy who wanted a million dollars and had a lot of trouble getting it. There are forces coming against our hero, there is conflict.

…he moved forward because there was a lot at stake.

Ah, The Stakes! What our hero wants, what plan he’s devised to get it, and what this effort will cost our hero? In chess, every move forward gains something, but it also loses something as well. Nothing of any importance in this life is free. In one form or another we always pay a price for what we most desire. In a story the stakes have to be very high. What are they in your? Life or death, lovers lost forever, friends becoming implacable enemies, something very important we can all relate to. You don’t want to write a story about a guy who is going to lose his typewriter or his comb. It’s got to be something very important, something big enough to disrupt his life, to change him from what he was into someone else by the end of the story.

And just as things seemed as bad as they could get,…

This is known as the Bleakest Moment. Things are dark and dreary for this person. Everything has gone wrong and it seems as if the forces of opposition arrayed against him have won. But somehow, from the darkness of his despair and depression, from his failures, he finds the strength to persevere and overcome against overwhelming odds.

…he learned an important lesson,

Aha, a revelation. Our protagonist comes through his Bleakest Moment with a gift C understanding. At last he sees, he understands something about life that he didn’t understand before. Stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, are about people growing and changing, about their insights into the human condition. By the end of the story, this new knowledge has changed our protagonist for the better. He is a little wiser, and a little stronger, he has a little more faith in himself, or in others, or in the bountiful nature of life. He has grown and learned a lesson.

…and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously he had to decide whether or not to take it,…

He makes The Decision. The important thing to remember about this decision is that when he makes it, he gains something, and he gives something up. It isn’t much of a decision if someone says, “Hey, here you are. Here’s a million dollars, you can take it or leave it.” But if someone comes along and says, “Congratulations, now you can get your million dollars. But there’s one catch: if you take it you’ll never see your daughter again. And if you want to keep on seeing your daughter, you’ll never get another chance to get your million dollars you’ve just earned.” This now, is an important decision our hero must make.

…and in making that decision he satisfied a need…

Let’s call this The Hole. It is the Aengine that has been driving him to do stuff the whole of his life, and certainly for the duration of the story, though he may not even be aware of what that hole is.

…that had been created by something in his past.

This is the importance of the Backstory. The backstory simply means his past, whatever happened in his past relevant to the story you’re telling about our hero. The need or hole is something that happened to our hero before the story began. Something perhaps that haunts him. The enigmatic reference to the boyhood sled Rosebud, in Citizen Kane, for example. In someway the hero is still incomplete. He’s been injured, or he’s had a part of him taken away. Perhaps he’s lost his faith, or rejected love. Perhaps he’s a loner, someone who’s not good at sharing himself with others, and he comes into this story carrying this thing with him, needing this hole filled. And in the process of the story, the hole is filled as he comes to his realization.   logo

Math and Publishing: A Report of My Phone Call with a Young Student

The email read: “My algebra teacher asked me to contact someone in a profession I’m interested in pursuing to find out where math is used. Is there someone in your organization I could speak to?”

“Yeah, me. I love speaking with young people,” I wrote back. “I’d be glad to be interviewed for your homework assignment.”

Later that day I was on the phone with Madison, an eighth grader from Florida, who loves reading and writing and is in a special accelerated program where her teacher (who I’m certain is a good one) strongly believes education needs to be relevant.

Where is math used in writing and publishing?

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Madison reads above her grade level. When she was in third grade she read at the seventh grade level. Now fourteen, she’s currently enjoying The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I suggested she try the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. She has a tenacious policy never to abandon a book once she begins reading it. Half our conversation focused on questions about what I do for a living and half focused on the initial issue of mathematics.

I told her I had gone through college-level calculus in my studies.

“Where do you use math?” she asked.

“In accounting expenses and income and figuring out how to charge for my services… In calculating the tips on my lunch bill when I eat out with clients and colleagues… In trying to apportion the time in my day… In figuring out how many inches the spine of a cover needs to be based on the page count of a book and the thickness of the paper stock the interior is being printed on…”

“Anywhere else?”

“Knowing math has made me appreciate the world. it comes up sometimes when I’m editing or writing a book. For instance, did you know that sine waves from trigonometry can express sound waves? Or that everything in nature can be expressed in fractal patterns? That the human brain find harmony in the geometry of the golden mean ratio, which shows up in music, in swirling seashells, in the proportions of people’s faces, and in Ancient Greek and Roman temples?”

Sometimes I work on books that are about science and include math. Being able to comprehend those books has enriched my thinking.

It was an awesome question that I highly recommend everybody consider. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Madison by phone, and I got the sense that she’d make a terrific editor in due course because, among other things, she said she could tell about people’s personalities from their writing.

Her last question to me was: “How do you think I could best prepare myself for a career in publishing?” A very good question to ask, especially since the world is always changing and our skills need to change along with it. I figure she’s got eight more years to prepare to launch in life. By then the publishing field may not look much like it does now–considering that technological development makes the computer systems and software we use obsolete every two to four years.

What remains when everything else in this industry changes? Ability to discern quality writing. Ability to articulate perception from reading. How human beings connect. After a few moments of consideration, I suggested she get on her high school and college newspapers, keep reading voraciously, and when she liked something a lot and thought it was well done to make a point to read it a second time and try to figure out what about it made it work.

That last suggestion in particular is probably good advice for all writers–of any age.

If you’re reading this, thanks Madison! I hope you have a good summer.