Picture

Source: CurvaBezier/Adobe Stock

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.

Writers come to us when they’re passionate about a subject or excited to share a powerful message. They’re often way past ready to jump into the long and difficult work of turning their ideas into a real, and really good, book.
Typically, we listen to their (brilliant) ideas and then ask a few questions. Among these are questions about audience: Who is this book for? Who will be persuaded by this argument and this evidence? Who wants to be moved by this message?
 
For many of our authors, the reflexive answer is “everybody.”

Writers of nonfiction often assume that the wider they spread their net, the more readers they’ll capture. While it’s part of our job to convince them that this isn’t the case, it’s not an easy argument. Why not write your book for everybody? Why not offer something with wide appeal? Why not aim to attract both your employee’s millennial social-worker daughter and your grandmother’s middle-aged podcast-loving male nurse?
 
The answer is simple: Because you can’t. You can’t shape your message—in a real and genuine and sincere way—so that it resonates at a deep level with absolutely everyone. The more you try to broaden its appeal, the thinner and more stretched and more general your message becomes. (And if your message is general, it’s just not necessary to spend the time and expend the effort on writing it into a book.)
 
In fact, if you’re writing your book for everybody, nobody will read it. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. Reading a book is an intimate act. We invite the authorial voice into our head, and we allow ourselves to be moved by its argument. If the voice feels artificial and insincere, or if the argument doesn’t seem applicable, we close ourselves to the message and toss the book into an abyss of forgetfulness.
 
So we encourage our writers to get specific in the book development stage—really specific. When we ask them to think about their audience and how their message will land, we crib from Seth Godin’s “Marketing in Five Steps” (from This Is Marketing):

  1. Invent a thing worth making, with a story worth telling
  2. Design and build it in a way that a few people will benefit from and care about
  3. Tell a story that matches the built-in narrative and dreams of that small group
  4. Spread the word
  5. Show up

 
For some writers, it feels ugly to overlay marketing and bookmaking. But a marketing mindset is valuable. By focusing on the needs and dreams of a small group of people, you ensure that your “thing”—your story and your message—are meaningful because they absolutely and truly resonate with someone.

Picture

Tidying Up, the Netflix show based on Marie Kondo’s blockbuster book, debuted this month to many, many hot takes. Even if you haven’t read the book, you still probably know that the show anticipates (and fuels) January’s zeitgeist by helping hoarder-lite accumulators streamline their possessions.
 
The many responses to Marie Kondo, her book, her method, and her show are worth a read. There is something delightful about the method’s animistic approach to stuff. It feels right that every single one of our possessions should spark something—whether that’s joy, usefulness, hope…or just recognition. But, as others (and Twitter) have vociferously argued, there’s also something depressing about radically minimizing our possessions according to our current feelings. Times and feelings, perceptions of “sparks” and “joy,” change. All the time!
 
Whether you’re all in on KonMari mania or you’ve chosen to hold on to that double-stack tower of unread books, KonMari can be usefully applied to writing projects. While it’s the rare MS Word snippet that inherently “sparks joy,” KonMari’s emphasis on disciplined organization—decanting, disposing, and developing a daily habit—can help productively compose a jumbled Google doc.
 
Consider the KonMari-approved method of decanting household products into simple containers. This, argues Kondo, reduces the extraneous “noise” of packaging and frees the product to be, as designer William Morris once advised, beautiful and useful. Beginning a project by freeing it from the confines of its context—perhaps by using Webjets, Scrivener, a new doc, a legal pad, or Nabokov-approved notecards—can help you see your work in a new way, enabling you to push it in more generative directions.  
 
Or try the KonMari argument for guilt-free disposal. Because writing can be so difficult, the material we produce often feels sacred. We might think that a great paragraph—even if it doesn’t really work—is just too good to let go. While these sentences might spark joy, their sparks are obstructive rather than clarifying. If you can, delete your fragmentary darlings with impunity. If you absolutely can’t, create a separate file for fragments. You may find a use for them yet.
 
KonMari also suggests developing a daily habit of cleaning out your bag. We already know that organized writing aids sleep, so when it comes to your projects, this isn’t just helpful, it’s healthy. At the end of your work, go back over what you’ve written. Determine what works and what doesn’t. File the uselessly joyful/joyfully useless fragments in a separate doc. Run spellcheck and format the page. Note what still needs to be outsourced (and sourced), and create a list of writing to-dos for the next session. Like the concept of parking your car downhill, when you make a habit of regularly tidying up your work, you position yourself for maximum momentum.
 
Tragically, the KonMari method is not going to transform your project into a minimalist masterpiece. Big projects will probably always require baroque amounts of  blood, sweat, and tears to be magically transformative. But the KonMari method offers easy-to-execute organizing habits that can help every writer.

If you’re like me (meaning a tech-curious but otherwise regular computer user), new web apps can inspire a bit of excitement. New always promises to be more fun or beautiful or useful than old, but I usually realize and pretty quickly that the new app doesn’t address a need I have, and it quickly disappears into the ether.
Not so with Webjets! Webjets, which I first read about in Kai Brach’s newsletter Dense Discovery, is a mood-board-esque desktop for your desktop. It’s a bit like Pinterest, or Pocket, or Evernote, or a variety of other visually organized bookmarking and note-taking tools. But it’s also broader and much more dexterous. Basically Webjets is an easy-to-use interactive canvas that lets you drag, drop, and arrange images, videos, live links, docs—any type of file—and then organize, connect, and annotate everything in a (limited) variety of different ways.
 
For example, if you’re working on a speech or a presentation, you could fill your canvas with thumbnail links of your subject matter. You could then attach other links (like particularly apt comments or tweets or relevant op-eds), other images (like a grabs from previous presentations), and text-based responses (like lists of audience questions) onto the images themselves.

This is helpful, and in some surprisingly deep ways. If you’re looking to repurpose or refresh a project, Webjets provides an engaging format through which to envision your work. If you’re looking to gain insights or access points into stubborn questions, Webjets can help you reorganize your files in new ways (like lists, cards, folders, or mind maps). If you’re looking to collaborate with a partner or a team, Webjets lets you share your screen for pretty efficient (and frankly very fun) collaborative brainstorming sessions.
 
Did I need a new way to envision and brainstorm new projects? In fact, yes! My old way of brainstorming cannot even be called a “way”; it’s certainly not efficient; and it’s not at all conducive to structured collaboration. As we work on bigger, more collaborative projects at MWS, Webjets offers a narrative snapshot that is more comprehensive and more dynamic than a linear or written description.
 
The question of whether or not Webjets aids productivity is harder to answer. On the one hand, it will undoubtedly add to the bottomline of time spent brainstorming and collaborating. On the other hand, if it means the end result is a smarter and more creative project, then I’ll happily take it. Have you used Webjets? Tell me more.

Picture

As part of the Do-More/Do-Less banner I’ve unfurled for 2019, I’m revisiting Jane Friedman’s book The Business of Being A Writer. Friedman, whose Twitter bio declares that she knows “far too much about the publishing industry,” is the cofounder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house newsletter about publishing.

​​Her book gives a comprehensive overview of professional writing and pragmatic, utterly helpful advice. While it’s an ideal reference for anyone dipping a toe into the world of professional writing, the insight and advice ripples outward to other professionals, too.
 
Take, for instance, Friedman’s injunction to avoid wasting someone’s time. For writers, a pitch to an unresearched editor, to an ill-chosen agent, or to an unsuitable publication is not a hail-mary strategy—it’s a waste of the reader’s time and a waste of the writer’s time.
 
This is the case for all types of pitch-makers. You might be pitching a report to shareholders, a book to an agent, an argument to an audience, a grant to a grantor, or a professional background to an interviewer. In each case, your aspiration should be for your audience to consider the time they spend with you and your work to be worthwhile.
 
You will gain their appreciation by knowing that audience not as an indistinct bulk but as a single person. Recognizing your audience as a single (and actual) person makes it easier to undertake the work of understanding their professional background, needs, and aspirations. Only then can you determine if your work (or your speech or your grant) really is a good fit. Can you give this person something they need? If yes, then you can succinctly and persuasively explain what you have to offer.
 
This type of reconnaissance isn’t as fuzzy as it sounds. You don’t have to divine motivations (though you may want to). You simply have to turn to Google to trace your audience’s past work and current efforts. The time you spend—no matter your pitch, no matter your audience—will always be well-spent.


PictureJoleen Pete photography

​As December’s performance winds up (or down, depending on your POV) and January creeps closer to center stage, I’m ready to give in to the annual tradition of the yearly critique. 

Even if the timing feels a little arbitrary, I like reflecting back on work completed (or abandoned), projects finished (or started), and goals met (or missed). And of course, my favorite sentient frenemy—the algorithm—is always (always) there to helpfully remind me of books I’ve read, music I’ve listened to, miles I’ve logged, and social media moments I’ve posted.
 
Most of us count on the relative success (and/or failure) of this reportage to jumpstart new-year plans for productivity. And if my inbox is any indication, 2019 is going to be The Year for The Big Project. It’s the year to Become an Artist, to Find a New Job, to Run a Marathon, and possibly, to Write a Book.
 
I capitalize to make fun, but I’m a productivity adherent (if not [yet] a practitioner): I am most definitely creating a Google Sheets tracker for 2019.
 
Happily, though, the zeitgeist also suggests that 2019 might be a year for doing things differently.
 
For once this doesn’t appear to necessarily refer to a plan or program or workshop or webinar or other delivery mechanism for efficiently maximized production. Instead, it seems to refer to actually doing less to reach normative notions of success.
 
I’m all for it, especially after reading David W. Orr’s words from Ecological Literacy, recently excerpted by Tina Roth Eisenberg on Swiss Miss. The world, Orr writes, “desperately need[s] more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind…It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world more habitable and humane.” 
 
In 2019, I for sure want to take on more projects, make more money, and accrue some tangible success, but more than that, I want to be less quantifiably busy and more qualitatively engaged in peacemaking and restoration, in practicing the moral courage required to make the world more habitable and more humane. I don’t yet know quite what this means, but I do know that you should join me. Do less in 2019! But also do more.


​In a previous post, we talked about the different kinds of edits that professional editors can provide. But what does the process of working with an editor actually look like? Again, it depends on the type of edit. Here, we’ll focus on developmental editing (for nonfiction books and documents, our specialty).
 
A developmental (or substantive) edit typically happens mid- or late-process. This is to say that you’ve got a draft, but you need support to map the (best) way forward. Having a professional set of eyes on your manuscript at this point means that you’ll avoid going further down the wrong path, or getting attached to ideas or rhetorical moves that don’t ultimately benefit your message (or your audience). And if you’ve hit a stumbling block in your writing process, there’s no better way to get around it than working with a developmental editor. A developmental editor’s job is to suss out big-picture concerns related to the manuscript’s overall focus, purpose, argument, evidence, and organization.
 
In the broadest strokes, a good developmental editor will help you hone in on your message, refine your audience, and determine the best structure for your argument. This means identifying areas for elaboration (or areas where you veer off track), suggesting changes to organization (such as rearranging chapters or sections), and evaluating your tone and mode of addressing your audience (for consistency and suitability). A great developmental editor does this andshows you how to implement these changes in your manuscript. 
 
For instance, when an author brings us a manuscript about leadership and cites their audience as ‘everybody,’ we work with the author to determine who among ‘everybody’ will be most impacted by the manuscript’s message. We then help shape that message to reach those readers, and we use this information to inform the rest of our edit.
 
Ultimately, a developmental edit should leave you with clear and actionable feedback for improving your document. At MWS, we provide both a written narrative of our broad-strokes evaluation, as well as specific queries and suggestions throughout the draft, via the “comments” function in Word or Google Docs (depending on the writer’s preference). For particularly tricky manuscripts, or for early-stage work, we also include a developmental outline keyed to the manuscript.
 
Working with a developmental editor is seldom a one-and-done interaction. Depending on the parameters of an agreement, our work may include subsequent rounds of review or other types of follow-up.
 
We LOVE developmental edits (both performing and receiving them). In our experience, the days or weeks you spend working with a developmental editor will save the (exponentially greater) time (and frustration) of spinning your wheels in the drafting process, or of ending up with a finished product that feels like it misses the mark. It may seem like a significant step to add—and it is—but there’s truly no more efficient way to ensure that you meet your goals for a big writing project.