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When I prepare for phone calls with passionate authors, I like to revisit “How to Conduct Difficult Interviews” from The Open Notebook. I do it not because my authors are difficult (never!), but because the article is so widely applicable. Who hasn’t had a tough conversation with a business partner, boss, team member, or client (or a friend, partner, or spouse)? In these conversations, you don’t gain a lot of ground by gaining points; you gain ground by gaining information.
 
When facing a discussion that may feel intimidating or adversarial (for me, this is typically an interventional phone call for a fragile or otherwise off-track project), “intimidating” can stand, but “adversarial” must be recast.
 
Feeling intimidated, or what Mallory Pickett calls feeling the fear, can be an excellent exercise in humility. The Antidote persuasively argues that getting comfortable with this kind of discomfort is an important and worthwhile skill. It doesn’t mean ignoring discomfort, though—quite the contrary—it means allowing discomfort to exist, allowing conversations to feel and be challenging, allowing uncomfortable silences to happen, and, ideally, allowing all points of view to emerge.
 
But while it’s okay to be intimidated by the prospect of a difficult conversation, it’s not productive to sustain an inner dialogue and accompanying imagery that casts the conversation as a battle in which a winner will emerge victorious after vanquishing a loser. I know when I rehearse a difficult conversation, I sometimes slip into attack-and-defense mode—but when I want to win and not lose, I’m focused not on the project but on my (single, limited) point of view.
 
Instead of viewing conflict as adversarial, it’s helpful to occupy the position of a science journalist who works not to win a point but to gain as much information as possible. Making information the goal takes the onus off conversational combat and helps to unify different views by refocusing them on the project.
 
Because gaining information is the goal, the best preparation for difficult conversations is, ultimately, preparation. This might take the form of role playing a difficult conversation, or it may take the form of research that provides insight and context for the client’s point of view, or it might take the form of breathing exercises that can provide comfort in the midst of discomfort. Science journalists take on the work of confrontational reporting because they want to fully answer a sometimes slippery question. Their techniques apply to anyone who has to talk it out.
You might already know that Kickstarter has a vibrant and delightful publishing category. Illuminated books? Botanical illustrated sketchbooks? Letterpress type specimen books? Yes, please! The site has helped to launch over 45,000 publishing projects and to raise over 156 million dollars. Can it help you?
 
Maybe! Launching a project is no joke—it’s a whole lot of work—but for authors, especially authors of niche books or books rich in design elements, Kickstarter can be an excellent move.
 
Kickstarter offers a home and platform for entrepreneurial authors looking to go their own way, shorten their publication timeline, raise money for quality printing, determine a more accurate count for an initial book run, and establish a place for fans to congregate and show support.
 
However, Kickstarter should in no way be considered an “easy” route to publication. Its author-driven platform is freeing, but that’s because the author rather than a publishing team takes on fundraising and marketing responsibilities. While that work may be unavoidable (traditional publishers don’t typically invest in niche books with boutique audiences, and they frequently require, implicitly or explicitly, that authors do the heavy lifting in marketing anyways), it can be challenge, especially for the unprepared.
 
Thinking about launching a Kickstarter campaign? Consider the following:

  • Be done: Finish your manuscript. It’s hard (so hard!) to write a book. A work-in-progress not only makes campaign planning impossible, it can also act as a guillotine blade hanging over your head. If it’s difficult to write a book under regular circumstances, it’s nearly fatal to work under the pressure of having to quickly meet backers’ expectations.
  • Be prepared: Because you are the project manager for your Kickstarter campaign, you must manage production, value proposition, and fulfillment (in the figurative and practical sense). This is another great reason to build your campaign around a completed book: Rather than managing the book-writing, you can turn your attention to managing a campaign that showcases your book as a beautiful thing poised to do meaningful work out in the world.
  • Be wary of incentives: Incentives are great, but they can be an unexpected black hole in terms of time and effort. Offer them, but think hard about what you offer. If it’s not the book itself (and even if it is), every gift must be designed, purchased, organized, fulfilled, packed, and shipped to recipients. In theory, no problem! In reality, that could be 127 XS T-shirts in one of three colors to 123 different addresses; 279 M T-shirts in one of three colors to 279 different addresses; 113 L T-shirts in one of three colors to 109 addresses. And more!

 
Successful Kickstarter campaigns reward the prepared and persistent. From our perspective, it’s a platform that’s helping to diversify publishing in the form of riskier, niche-ier projects. If you’ve got one, and you’ve got the energy and passion to fuel it, get in there and kickstart it!

​Well, that’s pretty rare, actually. Although a foreword, a preface, an introduction, and an afterword are all framing elements, they are only sometimes used (and only sometimes read). So what are the differences between a preface, a foreword, and an intro, and what is the point of an afterword? How do you know what your book needs, and when should you start to write it?
A foreword:

  • Is not written by the author
  • Is written by an expert in the field
  • Is about the book’s larger subject and lends credibility to the book and the author

A foreword is an asset to most nonfiction books. Luckily, many nonfiction writers have a network of informed experts (a few of whom probably informed the writer’s source material) who can speak fluently about the writer’s subject matter (and sometimes the writer, too). When to solicit the foreword? Brainstorm possible writers early in the book development process (and when you ask, be sure not to waste anyone’s time).
 
A preface:

  • Is written by the author
  • Is only peripherally about the book’s subject
  • Is often written to explain how and why an author came to write their book

A preface is often an asset to a nonfiction book. It is pretextual in the sense that it isn’t considered of a piece with the content. It can therefore act as a space where authors, freer to appeal directly to their readers, use candid language to make the book’s content more meaningful and the reading experience more intimate. When to write the preface? Write it when you’re done. In some ways, the preface is a preparatory reflection, and it’s often more efficient to write it while looking back.
 
An introduction:

  • Is also written by the author
  • Is typically about the book’s subject
  • Is used to supply extra material that augments the book’s subject

An introduction can also be an asset to a nonfiction book. Unlike a preface, an introduction is considered a part of the book. It’s thus a good place for background material that is crucial to consider but that doesn’t fit the book’s narrative arc. When to write an introduction? Write it when you’re done. It’s not always easy to identify whether or not a book needs an introduction. Once the manuscript is complete, it’s easier to determine what has been left out. If the reader will benefit from contextual information, an introduction will help.
 
An afterword:

  • Is not typically written by the author
  • Is very like a foreword
  • Is used to guide the broader discussion provoked by the book

An afterword is a bit rarer than the other textual frames. Why? Who knows, but maybe out of an assumption that readers will skip out on a book’s last pages? Whatever the reason, an afterword can offer an unexpected and powerful lens through which to view nonfiction (or fiction!) work. When to solicit an afterword? Probably after your book has been released, reprinted, and widely respected. The best afterword discusses a book’s lasting impact on the cultural conversation to which it continues to contribute.

Writing is an extension of your voice. You may not always think about it that way, but every time you put fingers to keyboard, you’re conveying information and communicating something about who you are (even when “who you are” is “someone who uses Gmail autoresponses”).
 
You can put that power to work in your community by writing letters to the editor. Activists and advocates use letters to the editor (LTEs) to speak to the issues that matter to them in a voice loud enough for their communities—and congresspeople—to hear. But “activists and advocates”? That’s you. And me. When we write letters to the editor, we say, and to a large audience, a bit about who we are, what we care about, and why we think others should care about it, too.
 
The best LTEs are the published ones, so follow the rules to get yours read:

  1. Make it short: Aim for 150 words. LTEs over 200 words are edited or discarded.
  2. Make it topical: Offer a timely response to newspaper coverage (or noncoverage), usually within two or three days,.
  3. Make it specific: Name names, including the name of the article or the name of your representative.
  4. Make it interesting: Include relevant stats, personal info, or other connections that make for a compelling story (rather than an alienating screed).
  5. Make it actionable: Conclude with a call-to-action that describes the specific change you want to see.
  6. Make it real: Write as yourself, not as the expert you want others to believe you are.
  7. Make it conform: Follow the reqs for submission, especially those that ask for your name, address, and phone number.

 
While some of us rely on the power of the pen too frequently (guilty!), others seldom make use of its persuasive potential. In an unsurprising twist, this is especially the case for women. The New York Times editorial page recently addressed its gender disparity after reader and PhD candidate Kimberly Probolus wrote in both to persuade women to write more LTEs and to ask for institutional change.

The editors responded to Probolus’s letter by pledging to do better (maybe they’ll follow Ed Yong‘s protocol, as narrated in The Atlantic). The editors also asked women (and others who feel underrepresented) to write in and indicated they would begin to cull letters from a wider variety of outlets.

So, women, if there’s an issue in your community that you care about, if your local paper covers a topic but leaves out the most important parts, if an article fails to make clear to readers the ramifications of a congressperson’s political stance, LTEs offer you an opportunity to flex your informed muscle.
 
Letters to the editor speak to the issues that matter: You don’t have to be an “activist” or an “advocate” to write one. You don’t even have to be a “writer” (or a man). You just have to be willing to use your voice.