Southwest Airlines Introduces In-Flight Book Readings

Eric Greitens, promoting his book Resilience, on a March 31st Southwest flight as part of the airline's Artist on the Fly in-flight entertainment program. - peoplewhowrite

Eric Greitens, promoting his book Resilience, on a March 31st Southwest Airlines flight

As part of its “Artists on the Fly” program, Southwest is hosting readings on some of its flights. Eric Greitens, author of the new release Resilience: Hard-won wisdom for living a better life, is the first to promote his book in the in-flight program which has received mixed review.

Alluding to the fearsome experience air travel has become in the post-9/11 age of Germanwings, Slate Senior Editor Jonathan L. Fischer noted that he and his wife sighed after Greitens announced over the intercom that he had a “surprise” for passengers. “I’m generally of the opinion that there are no good surprises on an airplane.”  Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin described the airline’s reading series as a “fresh hell” that only exacerbates the general feeling of being “trapped… hurtling through the sky in a metal tube at 600 miles per hour”.

Their critiques duly noted, with tweaking, “Artists on the Fly” could offer writers a fresh and welcome opportunity to engage with readers.

Instead of couching it as a surprise, it should be presented as a perk to those who want it, with those who opt for it sitting in a special roped-off section so passengers who want nothing to do with it don’t have to deal. There should be flights specially designated for the readings so customers always know to choose or avoid it, and they should be promoted with an angle that makes sense, e.g. Edan Lepucki reading from her bestseller California on a flight to/from L.A., or Hillary Clinton doing a reading and Q&A on a flight to D.C. The airline could also offer discounts to attendees of writers conferences like the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, Harlem Book Fair, Brooklyn Book Festival, or L.A. Times Festival of Books and host in-flight author readings.

Kind of like Starbucks’ well-intentioned but poorly thought-out and poorly executed #RaceTogether campaign, Southwest has something here. They just need to figure out how to make it a welcome add-on to the in-flight experience.

Shortlist Announced for DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

Romesh Gunesekra is one of five writers shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature - peoplewhowrite

Romesh Gunesekra

Last Thursday, November 27, 2014, the five member jury of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature announced the shortlisted titles in contention for its $50,000 prize. After initially culling 75 entries to a longlist of 10, the jurors selected these five books for the shortlist: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Mirror of Beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer, A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie, and Noontide Toll by Romesh Gunesekera.

Colin Barrett Has Won the 2014 Guardian First Book Award

Colin Barrett won the 2014 Guardian First Book Award for his short story collection Young Skins. - peoplewhowrite

Colin Barrett

For his short story collection Young Skins, author Colin Barrett has won the 2014 Guardian First Book Award. Fiona MacFarlane’s The Night Guest, Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition, and May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break made up the shortlist.

Announced on November 26th in London, the prize is worth £10,000 cash, plus an advertising package in the Guardian and the Observer. Young Skins has also won the 2014 Frank O’Connor Short Story Award and the Rooney Prize for Fiction.

2014 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards Winners Announced

Nekhavhambe Khalirendwe, winner, and Zukiswa Pakama, finalist of the 2014 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards. - peoplewhowrite

Nekhavhambe Khalirendwe and Zukiswa Pakama

South Africa’s Maskew Miller Longman Awards have announced their 2014 winners: playwrights Nekhavhambe Khalirendwe, Madoda Mlokoti, Phillip Mothupi, and Cecilia du Toit; novelist and playwright Conny Masocha Lubisi who has written a number of Xitsonga serials for radio; novelist Nakanjani Sibiya; and former school principal and author of English textbook Doorways Charmaine Kendal. According to the announcement, “Each year a different genre is selected for the awards; this year being drama. Of the 117 entries received, 74% were in African languages. Winners were announced in seven language categories, and each winner was awarded R10,000 [about $900], and finalists received R3,500 [$320]. Seven winning entries were published by Pearson this year.” There’s more info about the winners and finalists here.

Mahsuda Snaith Wins 2014 Bristol Short Story Prize

Mahsuda Snaith wins 2014 Bristol Short Story Prize - peoplewhowrite

Mahsuda Snaith

Leicester, England-based writer Mahsuda Snaith has earned the 2014 Bristol Short Story Prize for her entry The Art of Flood Survival. She also won the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2014 and was shortlisted for the 2013 MSLEXIA Novel Writing Competition. The Bristol award comes with a £1,000 cash prize and a £150 gift card to Waterstones book store, as well as publication in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 7. 19 writers made up the shortlist.

31 Finalists in Contention for 2014 Humanitas Prize for TV & Film Writers

Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are among 31 finalists in contention for the 40th Annual Humanitas Prize. - peoplewhowrite

Carter Bays (l) and Craig Thomas

Oscar winner John Ridley and the writers behind the finale of TV series How I Met Your Mother were named finalists for the 40th Annual Humanitas Prize. Established to honor scribes behind television and film content that goes beyond “the guy gets the girl, the bad guy gets it in the end, and if you loved this one, wait for the sequel”, as President Ali Leroi put it, past winners include: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook); Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild); Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious); Steve Levitan (Modern Family, Frasier); Ryan Murphy (Glee); Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife); Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List); Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing); Tim Robbins (Dead Man Walking); Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl); Paul Haggis (Crash); Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) and Keir Pearson and Terry George (Hotel Rwanda).

Feature Film Category
12 YEARS A SLAVE Written by: John Ridley
BELLE Written by: Misan Sagay
NEBRASKA Written by: Bob Nelson

Sundance Feature Film Category
CAMP X-RAY Written by: Peter Sattler
HELLION Written by: Kat Candler
LOVE IS STRANGE Written by: Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias
WHIPLASH Written by: Damien Chazelle

Documentary Category
FINDING VIVIAN MAIER Directed by: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT Directed by: Robert Kenner
THE CASE AGAINST 8 Written by: Ben Cotner & Ryan White

90 Minute Category
MARY AND MARTHA Written by: Richard Curtis (HBO)
RING OF FIRE Written by: Richard Friedenberg (Lifetime)
THE NORMAL HEART Written by: Larry Kramer (HBO)

60 Minute Category
HOMELAND “The Star” Written by: Alex Gansa & Meredith Stiehm (Showtime)
PARENTHOOD “The Pontiac” Written by: Jason Katims (NBC)
THE KILLING “Six Minutes” Written by: Veena Sud (AMC)
TRUE DETECTIVE “Form and Void” Written by: Nic Pizzolatto (HBO)

30 Minute Category
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER “Last Forever, Part 2” Written by: Carter Bays & Craig Thomas (CBS)
MODERN FAMILY “Under Pressure” Written by: Elaine Ko (ABC)
THE MIDDLE “Happy Halloween IV: The Ghost Story” Written by: Roy Brown (ABC)

Nora Sullivan, USC
Han-Yee Ling, UCLA
Jessica Blaire, UCLA

Emily Brochin, USC
Kendell Klein, AFI
Mike MacGillivray, LMU

2014 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship Winners Announced

Yewande Omotoso is one of four winners of the 2014 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship - peoplewhowrite

Yewande Omotoso

South African journalist Simone Haysom, Egyptian writer Ahmed Khalifa, Kenya’s Ndinda Kioko, and Yewande Omotoso (Nigeria-Barbados) have won 2014 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship which comes with an ₤18,000 grant. Judges Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Nadifa Mohamed, and Olufemi Terry whittled down 445 entries to a longlist of 123, then a shortlist of 22, and finally the four winners. Two entrants — Kenya’s Andia Kisia and Nigeria’s Elnathan John — were named Reserve Scholars, should one of the winners be unable to fulfill the terms of the scholarship. Allfrey said, “it is our fervent hope that the year to come will allow the four writers to complete works that can be brought to a wide readership.” Elise Dillsworth, Ted Hodgkinson, Zoe King, Camilla Rankin and Vimbai Shire were the readers.

The Mega-Advance as a Marketing Tool for Debut Books

Debut novelists Emma Cline and Imbolo Mbue cinched seven-figure Random House book deals at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair. - peoplewhowrite

Two debut novelists cinched seven-figure book deals at the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair.

2014 is shaping up to be an incredible year for some debut authors. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, Random House paid $1 million and $2 million, respectively, to acquire Imbolo Mbue’s debut The Longings of Jende Jonga and Emma Cline’s The Girls. Also at Frankfurt, University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of Psychology Amy Lee Duckworth sold her first book Grit: Passion, Perseverance and the Science of Success to Scribner. Duckworth’s book is said to be based on the TED talk she gave last year entitled “The Key to Success? Grit.” Around the same time in early October, and about 3891 miles away, 2014 graduate of the New School’s MFA program Stephanie Danler scored a two book deal from A.A. Knopf. She pitched an agent she was serving at a French restaurant called Buvette in Manhattan’s West Village, and the rest is history.

Well, the beginning is history–and acts as a great marketing tool PR in advance of the book. What happens when the books actually hit the market could determine if these writers will have longevity.

Emily Gould famously sold her memoir for $200,000 in 2008. When her sales did not meet expectations, she had a difficult time selling her next book. Earlier this year, writer Maureen Callahan reported Gould had sold a new novel called Friendship for $30,000. A 2003 feature in New York Magazine cautions against banking on this “literary lottery” as an indication of the writers who will have staying power.

Writer Alex Williams points to the six- and seven-figure advances debut authors snapped up in the aftermath of Alice Sebold’s New York Times bestseller The Lovely Bones, said to have sold close to three million copies:

  • Yale Law professor Stephen Carter — $4 million two-book deal.
  • Medical Student Daniel Mason — $1.2 million two-book deal “on the strength of his manuscript for The Piano Turner.”
  • Former Wired UK editor Hari Kunzru — nearly $1 million for the U.S. rights to his first novel The Impressionist.
  • Former New Mexico reporter Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez — $475,000 for The Dirty Girls Social Club, a book that took her  six days to write.
  • Then 26-year-old Jonathan Safran Foer — $500,000 for his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated plus $925,000 for the paperback rights.

Williams wrote, “The magnitude of Safran Foer’s advance, combined with his tender age, drew so much attention it served to demonstrate to publishers just how powerful a marketing tool the advance itself could be. The larger the advance, the louder the publisher’s declaration that this is the book the house is gambling on this season. The marketplace has become a literary lottery, not just for the authors but for the publishing houses too. A modest advance, which used to signal the intention to invest in a long-term relationship, now indicates lack of commitment.”

For those authors who can’t get a PR-worthy advance, the marketing can come by landing a literary prize or fellowship, or buying a spot on the bestseller list. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that many authors hire book marketing companies like ResultSource to buy enough copies of their book to make the title a bestseller. “Publishing a book builds credibility, but having a Bestseller initiates incredible growth—exponentially increasing the demand for your thought leadership, skyrocketing your speaking itinerary and value,” ResultSource was quoted as saying in the piece. Publisher John Wiley & Sons admitted to recommending ResultSource to their business book authors.

These tactics are not unlike those employed by recording artists and music industry labels. “Payola” — the illegal practice of record labels paying TV and radio stations to play their artists’ songs — has been going on since the days of Dick Clark and likely before then. In 2001, did a piece exposing labels’ use of “indie” brokers to get their artists’ tracks played on the radio. A 2009 piece in The Guardian suggested payola is the basis of internet radio.

Meanwhile, artists are seeking fresher ways to capture the finicky and finite attention spans of our day, whether it’s dropping secret albums like Beyonce did, “gifting” iTunes subscribers like U2 did, or collaborating with unexpected artists, again, like Beyonce did when she sampled author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk. The collaboration boosted Adichie’s book sales, and led to the publication, in text form, of her talk We Should All Be Feminists.

For writers, what’s clear is that their stories can’t be limited to what’s between the covers of their books. Whether we’re talking a book that was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign or some other crowd-funding source like Goldsmiths Prize shortlistee Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, or the story is attached to format i.e. online serial versus traditional print, there needs to be a hook that will inspire the press to cover the book. At the end of the day, it’s about getting share in the attention span of the reader. Once that happens, the marketing yields, finally, mercifully, to the merit of the story.

Do You Have Any Experience Working with Contently?

There’s a service called Contently that promises brands “access to the best storytelling talent” On a companion website called The Freelancer, Contently encourages writers to build a portfolio on their platform in hopes of being connected with clients in need of articles or other types of copy.

They’re saying all the right things about content farms, “deceptive headline schemes and aggregated ‘syndication’ hubs where a quality experience is secondary to profit,” and The Freelancer is packed with useful content. If you’re part of Contently’s “network of 40,000 professional journalists”, please share your experience working with them in the comments below. Looks like a great resource more writers should know about.


After Stephen Colbert Push, Edan Lepucki's Debut Tops Powells Bestseller List

Edan Lepucki's debut novel California hits the bestseller list after push from Stephen Colbert - peoplewhowrite

Edan Lepucki

Maybe all the publishing industry needs is focused and targeted support of new, untested authors by star scribes and bestselling veterans.(See: the time when David Sedaris surprised author Tim Johnston with an endorsement of his novel Irish Girl.)

Ever since Stephen Colbert recommended fellow Hachette author Edan Lepucki’s California (in response to bruising negotiations between Amazon and publisher Hachette Book Group), it has become “one of the most preordered debut titles in Hachette history”. The New York Times adds, “Little, Brown and Company, the Hachette division behind California, has increased the initial print order and doubled the length of her author tour.” (Wait, she got an author tour? :-))

The article is careful to add: “Even before the boost from Mr. Colbert, California was receiving praise from respected novelists like Jennifer Egan and Ben Fountain and popping up on summer reading lists. Little, Brown ultimately printed 60,000 hardcovers.”

Perhaps the most ironic (and awesome) detail of Lepucki’s story is that her husband works for Goodreads, which Amazon acquired last March. Seems the power doesn’t necessarily lie with any one retailer or publisher or prize. A reader’s decision to pick up a book comes down to what it always has — a powerful recommendation (or three).