The Fab(ricated) Life

Author Emily Gould - peoplewhowrite

Emily Gould

Maureen Callahan has written a must-read about how media, particularly social media, has contributed to the fabrication of glamorous lifestyles. In the piece, she uses anecdotes from the lives of fashion designer L’Wrenn Scott who tragically took committed suicide amidst alleged financial woes, celebrity photographer Annie Liebovitz who found herself near bankruptcy in 2009, Real Housewife of New York Alex McCord, and writer Emily Gould who earned a $200,000 advance in 2008. (A spokesperson for Scott says: “The figures quoted in the media regarding the financial status of LS Fashion Limited are not only highly misleading and inaccurate but also extremely hurtful and disrespectful to the memory of L’Wren Scott.”)

“People who don’t know think, ‘Oh! You’ve won the lottery!’ ” Gould explained to Callahan, but the reality is her lifestyle didn’t change much. Outside of shopping for new clothes and going out to better restaurants with a rich set of friends, she stayed in her one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment which cost her $1,700 a month.

Callahan breaks down the math:

•  $200,000 in four installments: one-fourth upon signing, one-fourth upon acceptance of the manuscript, one-fourth upon hardcover publication, one-fourth one year later or upon paperback publication.

• 15 percent ($30,000) to her agent.

• After-tax take-home: about $45,000 a year, her original salary

When her memoir did not sell well — 8,000 copies, versus the 40,000 copies her publisher would have considered a success — Callahan says Gould “found herself jobless and broke…no longer [able to] afford to run with her more privileged friends.”

Today, she works at two startups and has sold a new novel called Friendship for $30,000. She says she hardly eats out, and no longer has a credit card.

“Now, when younger writers talk to me,” Gould told Callahan, “I tell them to get a job.”

British Booksellers Caution Publishers Not to Bypass Them

British bookseller Dan Johns - peoplewhowrite

British bookseller Dan Johns said: “If I cannot put my trust in a publisher or a publisher’s rep, I will simply not communicate. I will order my books, but I will not tell you anymore than that. I need to know any information I give to you is not being used to get direct e-book sales.”

The battle for readers between booksellers, publishers, and Amazon continues–although this time Amazon has nothing directly to do with the beef. According to a piece on The Bookseller this week, English booksellers are peeved at publishers for selling titles directly to institutions at the Bookseller Association’s Academic, Professional and Specialist conference in Brighton last week. This incident marks the latest threat to bookstores’ relevance in the age of the e-book. 

Back in 2012, when Amazon launched a publishing division, Barnes and Noble refused to carry their titles which hurt the e-tailer’s book sales may have forced them to focus on bookstores outside the U.S. Last year, when B&N felt Simon and Schuster was not showing strong enough support in their vulnerability to Amazon, the 140-year-old bookstore reportedly reduced orders of Simon and Schuster titles “by as much as 90%.” It took eight months for S&S and B&N to mend fences.

George Saunders Has Won the First Folio Prize

George Saunders, author of Tenth of December, has won the Folio prize - peoplewhowrite

George Saunders

George Saunders’ Tenth of December was honored with the inaugural Folio Prize–and a £40,000 check. The story collection bested Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers and Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing which both just made the Baileys longlist, as well as Anne Carson’s Red Doc, Amity Gaige’s Schroder, Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, Kent Haruf’s Benediction, and A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava.

Folio Prize jury chair Lavinia Greenlaw described Saunders’ work as “both artful and profound. Darkly playful, they take us to the edge of some of the most difficult questions of our time and force us to consider what lies behind and beyond them.” The judges were authors Michael Chabon, Sarah Hall, Nam Le, and Pankaj Mishra–part of an Academy Folio has created boasting 110 literary luminaries–and chosen by lots to ensure “three members from the UK, and two from outside the UK, and there must be no more than three members of the same gender.”

Founded at the end of 2012 by agent Andrew Kidd and Aitken Alexander, The Folio was conceived to reward literary excellence irrespective of gender or nationality.

There’s more on and

Your Canon, Not Mine

BBC Book List Challenge_peoplewhowrite

It’s okay if you haven’t read these books. Or don’t like them.

There’s a post from going around that’s positioned as a lighthearted best man’s bet. The set-up goes like this: “The BBC believes that most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books below. How many have you read? (Tip: The average Goodreads member has read 23 out of 100 books on this list)” Implicit in the BBC and Goodreads name drop and the scoring function is the notion that the person who’s read all or most of these books is a literary savant or culturally approved.

The thing is, after patting myself on the back for having finished several of these titles (or their film adaptations), I was missing several works that are classics to me: Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, Bebe Moore Campbell’s Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby

In college, a list like this would have had me fuming about the absence of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart or Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits or Dorothy West’s The Wedding. And to be clear it still irritates me that there are too few works by writers who aren’t white and male on this list, but now I’m comfortable saying this is your canon, not mine.

What books make your list?

Chimamanda Adichie Wins 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - peoplewhowrite

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie’s third novel Americanah took top fiction honors at tonight’s National Book Critics Circle Award, beating out Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch which has been a near-unanimous hit, dominating most “Best of 2013” lists. Adichie’s book, which examined race from the perspective of a Nigerian hair blogger, also edged out Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being which also earned a spot on the Man Booker shortlist, Alice McDermott’s Someone, and Javier Marias’s The Infatuations. Americanah is also up for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.

Though pop-culture enthusiasts may have firtst become aware of Adichie when Beyonce sampled her TEDx speech on her much-debated 2013 track “***Flawless”, the Nigerian author has commanded literary attentions since her debut. Publishers Weekly called her 2003 novel Purple Hibiscus “lush, cadenced…accomplished”, and it was longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Baileys Prize).

Her sophomore effort, 2007’s Half of a Yellow Sun earned the the Orange, and has been adapted into a feature film starring Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, and Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose set for release later this year. Adichie’s 2009 short-story collection The Thing Around Your Neck was also well received.

National Book Critics Circle Award Winners_peoplewhowrite

The winners in all other competitive categories are:

Amy Wilentz’s Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A letter from Haiti

Leo Damrosch’s Jonathan Swift: His life and his world

Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading

Sherri Fink, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a storm-ravaged hospital

Frank Bidart’s Metaphysical Dog

Visit for more details.

Adichie, Catton, Kushner, & Tartt on Baileys Longlist

Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers, has been longlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction - peoplewhowrite

Rachel Kushner

The longlist for the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been announced and it boasts Donna Tartt whose novel The Goldfinch has sat atop pretty much every “Best of 2013” list, Man Booker Prizewinner Eleanor Catton, and Chimamanda Adichie whose third novel Americanah has been right there with Tartt’s on the love lists and enjoyed a bump in attention and sales when Beyonce sampled the author’s TEDx speech on feminism. Also in contention are Pulitzer Prizewinner Elizabeth Strout, Rachel Kushner, and Elizabeth Gilbert who has tirelessly promoted her latest novel The Signature of All Things with a focus on bringing along the legion of readers who made her memoir Eat, Pray, Love a juggernaut success.

The Prize’s five judges–“Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, writer Denise Mina, Times columnist, author and screenwriter, Caitlin Moran and BBC broadcaster and journalist, Sophie Raworth…chaired by former Managing Director of Penguin Books UK and Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust, Helen Fraser”–will cull the 20 books listed below to six, before the winner is announced on June 4, 2014.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto
The Bear by Claire Cameron
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Elsie Augustave: "Big difference between being a writer & being an author"

Elsie Augustave (l) with Edwidge Danticat - peoplewhowrite

Elsie Augustave (l) with Edwidge Danticat

Elsie Augustave spent 18 years crafting her first novel The Roving Tree. A French and Spanish teacher at Manhattan’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School, and a consultant for the College Board, the Fulbright scholar says the book had to take a backseat to more pressing priorities.”As a single parent, I was only able to write in the summer when my child was at camp and when I was off from teaching,” she explained via email.

Augustave says she used the time to learn how best to tell the story. Here, she shares some of the wisdom she earned along the way.

What inspired you to write The Roving Tree
As I began writing the novel, I could not help focusing on the two months I spent in Haiti with a research grant to study Haitian folk life and the Vodou religion. I also decided, during the process, to address historical and political issues that are meaningful to me. And, as I tried to decide on the plot, I recalled hearing that the daughter of a woman who worked for my grandmother had been adopted by a French missionary couple, and I began to imagine her life in a foreign land, away from everything and everyone she knew.

It is my hope that with The Roving Tree, readers will discover the cultural, social, and political life of Haiti and Zaire during specific eras.

How did you go about getting objective feedback in the early stages?
A few of my friends looked at the manuscript in its very early stage. But I basically wrote the entire novel without having any idea of the craft. I was oblivious to the fact that most fiction writers nowadays have [an] MFA degree and had never taken a creative writing course. But a friend of mine took the manuscript to Marie D. Brown who, bless her soul, took the time to read it. She then wrote me a long letter to basically say that she believed I had a good story to tell, but I needed to learn how to tell it. Upon her recommendation, I took a few workshops at New York University, Gotham Writers Workshop, and at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, where I met some people who later included me in their writers group. We met at a Starbucks every other week to critique each other’s work for about a year.

What’s your agent-to-publication story? 
My agent is of course Marie D. Brown. I wouldn’t think of having anyone else because she believed in me even when I didn’t even know what I was doing. When she thought the manuscript was ready, she presented it to Open Lens, an Akashic Books imprint. Marie and I subsequently worked on the final edit, mostly on technical stuff. The Roving Tree, their second imprint, was published right after Randall Robinson’s Makeda

The Roving Tree, a novel by Elsie Augustave - peoplewhowrite

Akashic Books is an indie publisher. What’s been your experience working with them?
It is a privilege to work with such a dedicated team. I imagine, as a first-time author, I would have been lost with a major publishing house because I knew absolutely nothing about the industry until recently.

This being your first book, how has the dream of being published measured up to the reality?
I had no expectations because I have learned, from past experiences, not to have any to protect myself from disappointments. But I’m finding that there’s a big difference between being a writer and being an author. The writer needs solitude, whereas the author needs to be in the public eye. 

What are the advantages and challenges of working and promoting a novel?
I cannot think of any advantages at this point, only challenges. While being busy traveling, making appearances at book events and giving interviews, I must also make sure I do an adequate job teaching my students and grading papers.

Augustave is currently writing her next novel. 

Does an Editor or Producer Ever Deserve a Writing Credit?

John Ridley (l) and Steve McQueen respectively won the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years a Slave - peoplewhowrite

John Ridley (l) and Steve McQueen

The day after John Ridley took home the Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of Solomon Northup’s book 12 Years a Slave, news broke that things were icy between the screenwriter and the film’s director Steve McQueen. According to,  Ridley and McQueen “were embroiled in a bitter feud regarding credit for the film’s Oscar-winning screenplay…”

Basically, McQueen felt he should share the screenplay credit, while Ridley and the film’s distributor Fox Searchlight felt differently. In the end, Ridley won the Best Adapted Screenplay prize while McQueen shared the Best Picture Oscar with fellow producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Anthony Katagas.

I don’t know the particulars of the arrangement between Ridley and McQueen, specifically whether or not the director/producer actually put finger to keyboard, but the alleged “beef” raises the question of when/if it’s ever appropriate for the person(s) that help(s) shape a story to claim writing credit.

In music, songwriting credit goes to the author of the lyrics and the melody, while in television, a team writers works on a show. The Writers Guild of America breaks down television writer credits like this:

In general, the term “writer” means a person employed by a Company to write literary material or a person from whom a Company purchased literary material who at the time of purchase was a “professional writer,” as defined in the MBA [Minimum Basic Agreement]. For purposes of credit, a team of writers, as defined in the Television Credits Manual Section I.B., is considered as one writer.

If literary material covered under the MBA is written by one member of a team, separate and apart from the work of the team, such literary material shall be considered separate from the literary material by the team for purposes of assessing contributions to the final shooting script. Therefore, such individual is eligible to receive writing credit as an individual writer and/or as a member of a team.

The Guild gets more specific (and a little confusing) when it comes to Screenwriting credit, parsing out the difference between “story”, “screen story”, “screenplay”, “written by”, and the requisite credits due, which you can read here.

This confusion is testament to the fact that as singular as the writing process is, the creation of a story (or screenplay or book or article or song) is a collaborative effort. Writers only get better when they have the right readers.

That said, if there were a Feedback, Shaping, or Editor credit (and a case can certainly be made that there should be), the appropriate people should get their due. But since we’re talking writing, i.e. the process of taking in that great feedback and breaking your head trying to figure out which critiques serve the story and which don’t, the legal credit must lay firmly with the one(s) responsible for doing just that.

"Jack Reacher" Author Lee Child is the Strongest Brand in Publishing

Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher books - peoplewhowrite

Lee Child

Stephen King. John Grisham. Lee Child. When it comes to reader loyalty, this triumvirate of writers has the strongest brands in publishing, according to a recent article by contributor David Vinjamuri. Of the three, “Child carries a higher percentage of his readers with him to each successive book than any other bestselling author. While just 41% of John Grisham’s fans owned or planned to buy his newest novel Sycamore Row, 70% of Child’s fans wanted a copy of the last Jack Reacher tale A Wanted Man.”

Child believes his loyalty is chiefly attributed to the fact that readers know what to expect from him. “A series is better than a sequence of [unrelated] books in terms of building brand loyalty,” he told Forbes’ Vinjamuri. “If you like the author but you’re uncertain of the content of the next book, that’s an obstacle. It runs counter to the literary view of writing that values originality and growth.  Jack Reacher is the same person in every book.”

So how can we build reader loyalty if we haven’t published one book, let alone sequels?

Vinjamuri spoke with writer Michael J. Sullivan. “Sullivan is one of those writers who’d written a closetful of books before he was first published,” Vinjamuri writes. “He moved from publishing in a small press to self-publishing and then traditionally publishing with Hachette starting in 2011.  He’s sold 475,000 books in English and has been translated into 16 other languages.”

Sullivan told him there are no shortcuts. Basically, it comes down to joining a community (or communities) of active readers, and actively participating i.e. reading other people’s work, and sharing reviews and comments–without pushing your own work.

Sullivan also stressed the power of connecting with one person at a time.  “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book.  But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”

Oh, and give your book away.

Vinjamuri explains:

“Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print.  This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public.  ‘I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,’ Sullivan told me.  In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.’

On Writing Crutches

Washington Post editor Carlos Lozada - peoplewhowrite

Washington Post editor Carlos Lozada

This past November, Amelia Diamond blogged about the fashion writers’ crutch: the word “chic”, so overused, it’s become an amorphous catchall. As in “That is one chic woman.” “That woman has chic so down.” “That woman is the epitome of glam rock chic.”

When a writer is in need of a crutch (and aren’t we all?), I’m all for the chic kind. But, The Washington Post‘s Carlos Lozada has put together a lexicon of “verbal crutches, stock phrases, filler words, cliches and perpetually misused expressions” journalists fall on that has essentially “crutch-shamed” me. (I think I still have some time before “_____-shamed” becomes an official cliché.) It’s a necessary reminder to those of us in the business of words that usage has to be carefully considered every time, and that meaning still matters.

Click over for Lozada’s list. He’s inviting writers to let him know what he missed.