Friday, October 06, 2006

Nabbing a Star

Could you explain how you go about interviewing a celebrity? What's the process?

Ah, the seemingly glamorous part of a freelancer's job: landing that interview with an A-lister, then becoming BFFs with said A-lister and eventually being named said A-lister's child's godparent. Ha! Right.

Celebrity interviews are tricky for several reasons.

A) Publicists. Publicists are the gateway to the stars, but often times, they keep those gates firmly shut. If the celeb doesn't have something to promote - a movie, a show, a product, you're likely to get shot down. If the publicist doesn't like the media outlet or deems it too small-time, you're likely to get shot down. If the publicist doesn't recognize your name or think that you can deliver a cushy interview, you might get shot down too (though not always). The point is that publicists, bless their hearts, are hired solely to protect and finesse a celebrity's image, and if your potential interview doesn't fit into their overall game plan for the star, you're likely to be turned away before you can even turn on your digital recorder.

B) The Chicken or the Egg Syndrome. Which should you do first? Nab the celeb or nab the assignment? This conundrum further entangles the situation. Most publicists aren't interested in speaking with you unless you have an assignment, and most editors don't want you to make promises that you can't keep (i.e, "oh, I'm sure that I can get Patrick Dempsey.). I said, conundrum.

C) Logistics. Despite the bountiful pictures on of celebs dining at the Ivy and shopping at Kitson, celebs are busy people. Nailing them down for a phone interview can be tough; getting them in person can be even harder.

So, despite these obstacles, how do you nab a celeb interview? Well, I'll preface this with the statement that there are certainly other writers out there who are far more experienced in this arena than I am, but I'll offer what I know...which is at least a decent amount.

1) Try to get your editor to set up the assignment. If you already have a good relationship with your editor or the magazine, it can't hurt to lob in a celeb idea - "hey, how about a Q/A with Patrick Dempsey on race car driving for the 'hobbies' column" - and have them contact the publicist. This is the route most likely to ensure success, though it isn't a slam-dunk. I was supposed to interview a several-time Oscar nominee, per my editor's suggestion, yet after he'd gone about setting everything up, she still had to pull out at the last minute.

2) Run the idea by your editor, and if she gives you the green light, go after the interview with all that you have. This might mean repeated follow-ups with the publicist or finding a different route to the celeb (through a charity he's involved with or through his network's publicist, etc). It also means not being intimidated by fancy, powerful H-wood publicists who have definitely been known to intimidate. (See: Kingsley, Pat.) The truth of the matter is that editors know that these things fall through, often by no fault of your own, so she probably won't hold it against you if you can't land that big fish.

3) Get creative. See above for other ways/routes to the celeb. While their personal publicist is usually the first stop, it doesn't have to be the only stop. Is the celeb a friend of a friend? Did you go to the same high school? Does he have a book out and thus a book publicist? Etc. If you really, really want to interview him, then you might be able to take a back route into doing it.

Anyone out there a celeb interview expert and want to suggest his or her own tips?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

Can you explain why the publishing process takes so long? I see sales on Publishers Marketplace, and then the books don't come out for a year. Why is that?

You know, I really don't know the official answer to this, but I'd love to hear it, so if anyone knows, please chime in!

I can tell you that in my situation, it will be a year and a half (!!!) from the time we sold the ms to the time it will be published. There's been a lot of lag time but things are picking up now. For a little breakdown - we sold in January, I got my revision letter in mid-February, turned in the revisions in March...and then didn't do that much between March and the summer. In August, I got my cover art, last month, we dealt with catalog copy and copy-edits, and in the next few weeks, we're getting the ARCs, which is when the fun really begins. Once I get the galleys, I'll send them out to my editors/contacts/reviewers, and my agent, editor and PR person will send them out to every person whom they deem important too.

I guess part of the reason for the lag is that some magazines/reviewers need about six months lead time, so if you rushed a book to print, you'd miss out on some big plugs. So, for example, I'll get my women's magazine editor the ARCs by Nov/Dec to ensure that the book could receive potential placement in the May or June issues. Additionally, I know that publishers tend to set their release dates about a year in advance, so if you sell your book and hope that it can come out nine months later, the publisher isn't likely to have a slot for it. Now WHY they work this far in advance, I'm not sure. Maybe it just takes that long for the ms to go through all the steps of the process: the editing, the art, the copy-editing, the promotion, the sales to stores, etc. I imagine that some of it also has to do with getting catalogs and the actual BOOKS into booksellers' hands - the sales team needs time to do that, though how long, I really don't know.

Shrug. That's my best guess. Anyone know something that I don't?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Talk to the Hand

I'm feeling a bit discouraged. I'm searching for an agent, and so far, have gotten a few nibbles, including three requests for partials and one for a full, but mostly, I'm getting rejected or not hearing anything at all. I'd like to pretend that the rejection doesn't bother me, but it does. Any tips for hanging in there?

Okay, well, the first thing I'd do - if you feel like your query letter isn't getting the response rate that you'd like - is run it past other writers whom you trust. Don't know where to find other writers whom you trust? Check out Backspace ( or even one of the Yahoo writers' groups or (Though there are a lot of aspiring authors on, and I can't vouch for whether or not they'll give you sound advice.) I think that a lot of authors aim for about a 20% success rate from their query letter (correct me if I'm wrong, I could be!), so if yours is coming in waaaaay lower than that, you might want to rethink your pitch. Remember: it's not supposed to be a synopsis of the entire book. It's supposed to highlight your voice, tantalize the agent by offering morsels of an intriguing plot, and ensure them that as a writer, you stand out from the pack.

After that, I'd take a look at your numbers. You don't mention how many agents you've pitched, but plenty of folks have to query well over 50 agents (and higher!) before they find a good match. If you're feeling discouraged after, say, 10 rejections or even 20, then you likely have unrealistic expectations of this process. Yes, I know that everyone thinks that his or her own book is genius, but the truth of the matter is that often times, it's not. Or at least not everyone else will agree that it's genius. (The same can be said of most published books too - it's all subjective, right?) Finding an agent is all about finding that one other person who agrees that your work is indeed genius...and that can take time. Sort of like finding the right person to marry.

Now that you've done the math, it's time to think about your mental health. I've mentioned this before but being a writer requires having a thick skin. A VERY thick skin. And I'm not just talking about during the agent hunt. I'm talking about getting critiques from your writing partners, dealing with editorial comments from the publishing house, recovering from scathing reviews, coping with disappointing sales, writing a second book and not having it sell. Need I go on? If you're going to get demoralized at every turn, this isn't the profession for you.

Which isn't to say that you don't have the right to wallow. You do. What I mean by the above paragraph is that you have the right to wallow, but then you have to pick yourself up and move on. So you're getting rejected. Fine. We know that. But the question becomes: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to tweak your query letter or drown your sorrows with booze? Are you going to refine your agent hunt or cry into your pillow? Are you going to ask for objective criticism and consider that it might actually improve your work or are you going to work yourself up into a defensive frenzy and insist that your writing is spun in gold?

I'm of the belief that rejection is just a stepping stone to making your writing (or your attitude) that much better. Use it to your advantage rather than let it sink you. Because if you do let it sink you, your potential writing career is going to go down the tubes with it.

So how do you guys deal with rejection?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I'm Feeling Like a Slug

I'm new to freelancing and am lucky enough to have found some work already. But there are days when I find myself really lacking motivation. How do you keep up your enthusiasm?

Ah, excellent question. And here's my first secret: there are days when I DON'T manage to muster up any enthusiasm. That just like any other worker bee, I want to crawl back into bed or hang out in the company of my Tivo or surf gossip sites all day. More on this later.

But most of the time, yeah, I manage to tackle my work and my assignments with, if not a cheerleader level of energy, then certainly, an adequate amount of enthusiasm that translates into my writing. The first thing I keep in mind (and please forgive me if this is too much of a Hallmark moment for you guys) is how DAMN lucky I am to not only be writing for a living, but to enjoy the fact that I write for a living. How many people trudge off to work every morning with the knowledge that they're really doing what they want to do? Not many, I'd guess, and whenever I'm feeling uninspired, tapping into my good fortune helps spark a little ounce of motivation. The thing is: I KNOW how lucky I am to be in this position - to make a good living working out of my house, to have the flexibility to spend more time with my son, to start with a blank piece of paper and put words on it and spin it into a story and get paid for it. I KNOW this. And reflecting on this every once in a while certainly helps me appreciate things.

The second thing that helps, and I blogged about this a while back when we were just getting started here, is sticking to a schedule. If you're haphazard about when you write, you're probably going to find 100,007 reasons not to write. By establishing a schedule, you'll get yourself into a groove - sort of like going to the gym at a set time - and this can really help boost your motivation. KNOW that you have to work from 10-1, for example, and you're much likelier to do so.

The next thing, and this isn't always possible, is to take on only projects that goose your juice. In other words: if you find an assignment boring, you're probably not going to go at it with your guns a-blazin'. Again, I know this isn't always possible - hell, some of my assignments still bore the hell out of me - but even if it's just one or two that really float your boat, you'll be able to translate that energy over to your other stories.

Finally, and this gets back to my first paragraph, the one about pulling the covers back over my head and bunkering down with Felicity reruns all day, if you really, REALLY can't muster even an iota, a cell, a spark of enthusiasm, then don't. Blow off your day entirely. Give yourself a chance to recharge. I did this one day last week: I simply COULD NOT get myself into first gear, much less fifth. At ten, I swore I would start writing. I read every last spoiler (want to know what's going to happen on ANY show, even shows I don't watch? ask me!) on instead. At eleven, I swore I would start writing. I drained my brain on instead. At noon, I SWORE I would start writing. Really. I shopped online for new maternity jeans and clothes for my son instead. By one, I gave up, surrendering to the fact that this was simply a freebie day. Hell, I barely had the energy to walk the dog, much less turn around a 1500 word piece that was due a few days later.

And you know what? I woke up the next morning and was raring to go: I got more done in those first few hours of my day than I had in the past few days combined. I just needed to step back, give myself a break and return refreshed. So when in doubt, call in a personal day, even if you're just calling it in to yourself. No one will really mind.

What do you guys do to boost your energy and motivation?

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Day of Reflection

I'm not a particularly religious person, but I am taking today, Yom Kippur, to reflect on my past year and how I could perhaps strive for a bit more kindness in my life. Given the state of our world, we could all probably stand to do the same, however you choose to worship or whatever your religion. My husband spends the day (or at least the morning!) in synagogue, but I like to be alone with my thoughts, take a long walk and just sort of meditate.

So that's what I'll be doing.

While I know that I'll need some time to mull over my list, here are a few things that I could improve on:

*Be nicer to my husband. We love each other dearly but do tend to fall into the trap of taking each other for granted.
*Be nicer to my parents. Ditto.

A short list, but an important one. And hey, I'm still thinking...

Back tomorrow with more writing insights!

Pre-Interview Query Rehash

When writing a query, do you interview your prospective experts? Do you tell them that you are working on an article or that you are pitching an article? What is the correct way to explain what you are working on to prospective experts?

All good questions. I answered 'em here:

If this doesn't help or you have further questions, definitely let me know! Happy to elaborate if you'd like me to.