The People Who Write Questionnaire: Megan Gannon

Megan Gannon is the author of Cumberland: A Novel and two collections of poems, White Nightgown and
Witch’s Index: Spells • Incantations • Poems

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
You Think You Know How This Story Goes, But SURPRISE!

What is the greatest story ever told?
Gosh. This is hard. The book that most haunts me is Native Son.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
I think the Judge in Blood Meridian has got to be up there.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Probably Virginia Woolf. I think people don’t realize that she was a funny, funny lady.

What is your favorite word right now?
Wisteria. I’m convinced it’s an emotional condition I suffer from.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
I can’t pronounce “penitentiary.” Maybe there’s a mental block from living in the Western nation with the highest incarceration rate.

How many words have you written today?
Alas, probably only 200? And all on Facebook? But it’s only 8:30.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Probably just sitting on the bed in my guest room, which is my best writing space, when a poem or a scene just gushes out in finished form and surprises me and seems like it’s better than anything I thought I could write. That happens so rarely, but there is no better feeling.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Sending out my work.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
Surprising myself.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Most of us are crazy fetishists about books. When I really love a book, I have to go out and find a pristine hardback copy of it to house on my bookshelf. If I loan someone a book and it comes back with a broken spine, our friendship is null and void. I think I’m not alone in these sentiments.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That we write. Sometimes we don’t for long stretches, but as a student of mine said recently, “Everything is research for writing. People watching–that’s research! Taking a nap–that’s research!”

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I’m a big goofball. I think a lot of my writing is pretty lyrical and leans towards the esoteric, but I giggle at scatological jokes like I’m ten.

Poet and novelist Megan Gannon was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and is a graduate of Vassar College (BA), the University of Montana (MFA) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (PhD). She also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia,West Africa from 1998-2000.

Her work has appeared in venues such as Ploughshares, Pleiades, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, The Notre Dame Review, Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and The Best American Poetry 2006.

She teaches at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin.

UK Goodreads Members Can Now Access Recommendations via Kindle

Amazon, which bought book recommendation site Goodreads in March 2013, is now integrating Goodreads functions into the Kindle and all other Amazon e-reader and tablet devices in the UK. Quoting Goo dreads CEO Otis Chandler, shared: “The UK is the largest market for Goodreads in Europe and bringing Goodreads onto Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets has been one of the most popular requests from our members.” Last April, Amazon enabled US Goodreads users to “add both print and Kindle books purchased on Amazon to their Goodreads accounts”. In November 2014, Goodreads announced, via their blog, that users in North America and Australia could also share progress updates via Kindle.

It’s not clear why the integration is rolling out so slowly, one or two countries at a time, but I’m guessing it has something to do with European resistance to the e-tail behemoth. In March 2013, then-French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti announced she was putting a €5m fund in place to subsidize booksellers with cash-flow problems and support them against costly litigation, blaming Amazon for destroying bookshops. In April 2013, indie booksellers in the UK petitioned Prime Minister David Cameron to force Amazon to pay UK taxes. (The online bookseller is said to report its European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit so it does not have to pay UK taxes.) In September 2014, Swedish publishing conglomerate Bonnier joined Japanese publishers in expressing frustration with Amazon too, saying they were being bullied into disadvantageous pricing models.

Though American laws and its judicial process have been relatively supportive of Amazon’s ventures, even as former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was named Amazon’s Senior Vice President for Worldwide Corporate Affairs in March 2015, the company’s bruising and costly battle with Hachette Book Group over e-book pricing caused a cadre of influential writers including Nora Roberts, Malcolm Gladwell and John Grisham to form Authors United and led Stephen Colbert to challenge viewers of his show to boycott Amazon and purchase books from indie bookseller Powells instead.

In spite of the multilateral resistance, Amazon continues to expand its international borders and corporate portfolio. The retailer, for which books are just a fraction of its business, has successfully ventured into entertainment with its acclaimed series Transparent winning a 2015 Golden Globe. When Amazon acquired Goodreads in March 2013, the social book recommendation platform boasted 13 million members. Today, Goodreads has 40 million members.

Swedish Government Agency Gifts PEN International $3.7M

Peeter Kaaman, Program Specialist at Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has awarded PEN International a grant of 31m SEK–$3.7m, as of today’s exchange rate–in support of the writers’ group’s mission to advance freedom of expression. The money will be disbursed over four years to help foster “strong, diverse, and sustainable PEN Centres”.

The gift comes a little over four months after the group’s American Center opted to honor satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo with the 2015 Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The honor was met with resistance as author Teju Cole led five other writers in condemning the type of expression Charlie Hebdo routinely produced including cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad that offended some Muslims and non-Muslims and was said to have provoked terrorists to firebomb the newspaper’s offices in January of this year, killing 12 journalists and staffers in the process. Junot Diaz was among a larger group of writers that joined Cole in “disassociat[ing themselves] from PEN America’s decision”.

The Swedish government agency whose stated focus is to “reduce poverty in the world” has been supporting PEN International’s programs since 2004. Most recently, the two organizations launched a joint initiative to develop civil society and capacity building activities in several countries including Cambodia, Central Asia, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.

Peeter Kaaman, a Program Specialist at SIDA, explained in a statement, “SIDA considers PEN International a strategic partner in our global efforts to protect and promote freedom of expression. With its long history and broad coverage through its national Centres, PEN International is well positioned to influence policy and legislation for the benefit of writers at risk and for freedom of expression in general at both global and national level.”

The Man Booker 2015 Longlist Is Here!

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015 - peoplewhowrite

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015

Five judges–Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, and Frances Osborne–chaired by Michael Wood, have culled 156 books in consideration for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, to 13. The diverse longlist for the £50,000 2015 Prize, not to be confused with the Man Booker International Prize, boasts an author each from India, Ireland, Jamaica, Nigeria, and New Zealand, in addition to five Americans, and three Brits.

The longlist includes the debut novel of New York-based literary agent Bill Clegg, and the third novel and 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist by Laila Lalami. It also nods to 2007 Man Booker Prizewinner Anne Enright, 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist Anne Tyler, and Marlon James. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani called James’ lauded third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, “monumental”. Chigozie Obioma‘s debut novel The Fishermen, released in February, and also on the list,  is racking up major acknowledgments including the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award, The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the New York Times Editor’s Choice.

The abovementioned authors contend with the formidable and celebrated talents Tom McCarthy, Anuradha Roy, Sunjeev Sahota, Anna Smaill, Hanya Yanagihara, and Marilynne Robinson.

The full list is below:

Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family
Anne Enright’s The Green Road
Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings
Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account
Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island
Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen
Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations
Marilynne Robinson’s Lila
Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter
Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways
Anna Smaill’s The Chimes
Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread
Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life

Six of the 13 books will be selected for the Prize’s shortlist on September 15, 2015 and each shortlisted author will receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner, announced on October 13, 2015, will receive an additional £50,000.

How Would You Rewrite Your Existing Character or Published Story?

All the dismay expressed about the flawed, racist Atticus Finch character in Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, versus the saintly Civil Rights attorney and crusader Atticus was in To Kill a Mockingbird, has me thinking about Zadie Smith’s popular quote about redlining her published novel to rid it of “every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor” just before reading from it at an event. As writers, we know the work is never really “finished”, but if we had the chance to publish a new version of a story we’ve already released into the world, would we do it?

If you could, how would you rewrite your characters or story?

Would you revisit an earlier edit, more true to the version you originally wanted to publish, as Lee did? We know that Lee wrote Watchman before Mockingbird, but the editor she submitted it to in 1957 advised her to shift the focus. Lee has admitted of the resulting edit that went on to sell 30 million copies, “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.” Watchman was published unedited, released on July 14, 2015.

Would you change the work to reflect your personal evolution or new information about the topic acquired over time? Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t rewrite her post-divorce memoir Eat, Pray, Love, but after remarrying, her book Committed reflects a new perspective on the institution of marriage.

Would you, like E.L. James recently did with her Fifty Shades spinoff Grey, give a supporting character the protagonist treatment?

Would you rerelease your work exactly as is because the times call for rethinking the themes you explored? To Kill a Mockingbird was released July 11, 1960, just three weeks shy of the day Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad called for a black state; five years after white assailants Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were acquitted in a nationally publicized trial for the murder of 14 year old black teen Emmett Till whom they later admitted to beating, mutilating, shooting dead, and dumping in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River. Go Set a Watchman hit bookstores one day after Sandra Bland, a black woman and vocal advocate of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, was found dead in a Texas jail cell due to a disputed suicide, after being pulled over by an aggressive white police officer and subsequently detained.

Or would you just tighten the language, cutting those redundant / show-off / pointless phrases you were too close to the text to notice before?

If I could, I think I would do most, if not all, of the above.

Repost: What to Look Out for in a Book Contract

What to look out for in a book contract - peoplewhowriteCheck out attorney Daniel Steven’s article on what to look for in a book contract on I’ve reposted it below:

1.  Rights.  Unless you are “work for hire,” (giving up all copyright) the standard publishing agreement will provide that the author licenses or assigns all “print” rights to the publisher, plus “subsidiary” rights: foreign, book club, electronic, film, audio, drama.   Except for print rights, however, all of these are negotiable, depending on your bargaining power.  Unless there is a specific reason not to do so, always try to retain as many subsidiary rights as you can.  Even first novelists should be able to retain film and foreign rights.  Don’t skim over this clause–examine it closely, and, if necessary consult a lawyer or knowledgeable agent if you have questions.

2.  Royalties.  Obviously always negotiable, this rate will depend on whether the book is paperback, trade paperback, or hardcover, and is generally a sliding rate.  For example, a hardcover book might have royalties of 11 percent on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5 percent on the next 5,000, 15 percent thereafter (paperback is generally in the six to nine percent range).  The key to royalties is not only the percentage but what price the percentage is based upon.  Different types of books–nonfiction, fiction, professional textbooks–often use different prices. The alternatives are retail price (list);  invoice price (list minus freight); or net receipts (the amount actually collected by the publisher).   You must understand the implications of each formula before you can  understand your proposed royalty rate.    For subsidiary rights (like foreign rights) retained by the publisher, all net receipts should be split equally with the author.  Again, consult an expert if you’re confused–don’t rely on the generosity of the publisher.

3.  Warranty and Indemnification.  These are purely “legal” clause often skimmed over by authors and not fully understood either by agents or editors.  These paragraphs set forth the respective responsibilities of the parties in the event of claims by third parties against the book, such as for defamation, copyright infringement, or invasion of privacy.  Drafted by the publisher’s lawyers, they often can be overbroad to a ludicrous degree.  You should carefully examine what is covered, who is covered, and whether the author’s indemnities take effect merely upon a claim being made (bad!) or upon a final court decision.

4.  Front and back matter.  In nonfiction books, publishers often require authors, at their cost, to provide “front matter” and “back matter” such as tables of contents and illustrations, indices, and the like, even though the publisher is much better equipped to generate these.  This can be negotiated.  Be sure you understand your responsibilities and the cost to you (such as paying an indexer) before you sign on the dotted line.

5. Option Clauses.  These clauses give the publisher the right to either buy or make an offer for the author’s next book.  Best advice:  don’t accept any option clause.  Most publishers are willing to give on this issue.  If you can’t eliminate an option clause entirely, then make sure it imposes no real burden.  This can be done by setting up a very limited period during which the publisher may bid on your next book, and permitting you to sell the book to other publishers if a higher offer can be obtained.

6. Revisions and Updated Editions.  This clause only applies to nonfiction books, but then it can become paramount.  Make sure the clause has a mechanism to determine when the revisions have become so extensive it is essentially a new book subject to a new contract (and more money!), and that the clause puts a cap on the number of revisions in any one time period.

7.  Out of Print clauses.  I know, you don’t want to think about it, but it eventually will happen.  The publisher may lose interest in your book, and you will want to get the rights to the book so you can have it republished.  It is critical that “out of print” be defined reasonably, especially now that digital and on-demand publishing can make the literal meaning of the clause obsolete.  Ideally, the definition should be pegged to the publisher’s marketing efforts–when the book no longer is in the publisher’s catalog and/or available through major chains, it should be considered “out of print.”

It bears repeating–if you are unsure about these clauses, ask a knowledgable expert for help.   It may save you from a great deal of grief.

With Inkshares, Authors Can Float Ideas for Feedback & Publication

Inkshares Royalty Structure_peoplewhowrite

Inkshares Royalty Structure

Inkshares, a platform that bills itself as a crowdfunded publisher, is seeking authors to create and promote new works for community feedback. Unlike similar social platforms for writers like Wattpad, Inkshares also offers publishing services. The platform is also inviting independent bookstores to get behind titles they believe in in a new way.

Writers must submit an idea, then follow through on it by uploading a draft of the work onto the site for feedback from the community. If 750 people pre-order it, Inkshares will publish it as an e-book; if 1000 pre-orders come through, the work will be published in print and distributed in stores. “We’ll edit, design, print, distribute, and market your book. You’ll make 50% of gross revenue for each printed book we sell, and 70% for each ebook,” copy on the website explains.

According to author Alan Jacobson, “Typically, an author can expect to receive the following royalties: Hardback edition: 10% of the retail price on the first 5,000 copies; 12.5% for the next 5,000 copies sold, then 15% for all further copies sold. Paperback: 8% of retail price on the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% thereafter. Exceptions…include sales to warehouse clubs (like Costco or Sam’s Club), book clubs, and special orders; the royalty percentages for these can be half the figures listed above. …eBook royalties through traditional New York publishers are 25%.” Self-publisher Mill City Press claims authors receive 10-30% of royalties from most self-publishing services.

Through Inkshares’ “Collections” program, independent bookstores can function as imprints. First, they have to seek an author’s permission to publish and promote his/her title, and can “choose to take a share of author royalties”, presumably, on top of revenue from books sold, according to terms explained on

Publishers Weekly reports, “Inkshares has published nine books to date, and has another 46 that have reached their funding goals. …It recently joined the American Booksellers Association and will be including its first book in an ABA white box this summer, Gary Whitta’s debut novel Abomination (July), which received a starred review in PW.”

If you have personal experience with Inkshares, please share.

Center for Fiction Announces 2015 First Novel Prize Longlist

Naomi Jackson's The Star Side of Bird Hill, longlisted for 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize - peoplewhowrite

Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill, longlisted for 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

The 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize longlist announcement reflects a smart synergy between publishers and the prestigious literary organization. With 11 of the 29 books on the list yet to hit shelves, and six released this month, the extra publicity push the Prize nod gives will surely boost anticipation and sales. Perhaps most perfectly timed is the release of Naomi Jackson’s The Star Side of Bird Hill which will be available for purchase in stores and on e-readers tomorrow. Here is the list of titles contending for the $10,000 award:

After the Parade by Lori Ostlund

Against the Country by Ben Metcalf

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

Black River by S.M. Hulse

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

Girl at War by Sara Nović

The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

The Heart of the Order by Theo Schell-Lambert

The Hopeful by Tracy O’Neill

I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them by Jesse Goolsby

Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams

The Language of Paradise by Barbara Klein Moss

Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

The Unfortunates by Sophie McManus

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique earned the 2014 First Novel Prize.

Rejection Letter: You Used *Tribal Language* So . . .

rejection letter_tribal language_peoplewhowrite
“[O]ther than this, it was actually pretty supportive,” the writer who submitted this recent rejection says.

If you have a rejection letter you want to share, email it to All identifying info will be redacted.