Talking Shop

Candid reflections on the writing life.

Mary Norris on becoming a comma queen

I started reading The New Yorker in graduate school in Vermont. I sometimes visited my brother in New York. He had gone to the Art Students League, where he made friends with a woman in his portrait class named Jeanne Fleischmann. She was married to Peter Fleischmann, the chairman of the board of The New Yorker. His father, Raoul Fleischmann, had been the co-founder of the magazine, with Harold Ross. On one visit, I picked up a copy of the magazine. It was dated February 24, 1975. Eustace Tilley was on the cover, and the contents included a piece by E. B. White: Letter from the East. It was the anniversary issue—The New Yorker’s fiftieth anniversary.

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Writing collectives

Every artist needs solitude and society, which is why I am a member of the SF Writers’ Grotto—a workplace for professional writers that just celebrated its 20-year anniversary this December.

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Michael Shapiro on making it as a freelancer

Because I work with writers to develop, edit, and polish stories—and then place them in top publications—I’ve developed some tips that have helped me make it as a freelance writer. These suggestions cover the business of freelancing, rather than the craft of writing.

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Constance Hale’s update on e-books

Electronic rights are the chaotic bazaar of book publishing. Here authors barter with agents, agents haggle with publishers, and publishers brawl with e-retailers. Everyone is vying for his or her claim on the best pomegranate.

This frenzy, and a barrage of media attention, has left most people involved feeling confused. So what should a writer know in a labyrinth of twisting alleys and ad-hoc product stands? Here are some key terms and general guidelines to the unstable warren of the U.S. market.

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Gianmaria Franchini on book-world tremors

The Justice Department suit of Apple and five large publishing houses for price-fixing of e-books has sent tremors throughout the publishing world, and might place the growing strength of the e-book market in’s hands. We take a close look at the suit and the e-book market in this update.

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Bill Petrocelli on the vitality of physical books

Commentators outside the book business often compare books to LPs and CDs in the music business. Since information in a book can be downloaded into an e-book in the same way that music can be loaded onto an iPod, they argue, books and records will share the same fate. What if a book isn’t like a record?

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Meghan Ward on whether PR sells books

Recently, two writers reflected on the the publicity their books got in the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and prime-time CNN. None of that increased book sales. Nor did an editorial one wrote for the New York Times. So, if publicity doesn’t sell books, what does?

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Constance Hale on breaking in

When someone asks me how to launch a career as a writer, I always feel flummoxed. I think of what Mark Twain said about his training (“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”) and about what Picasso said about understanding art (“Why not try to understand the songs of a bird?”). And I think of a stone found many years ago on a beach in Tuscany, when I was walking with the Italian painter who acted as my mentor, imploring him to tell me how to “make it” as an artist. Myriad tiny blue lines scored its cool, jade surface. Any one of those lines, he hinted, might work.

Now, 25 years later, is there any advice I can offer besides a couple of quotes and a metaphor?

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Gianmaria Franchini on sliding book advances

George Orwell, always prescient, once wrote, “If booksellers wanted to be millionaires, they’d be in another line of business.”

Few writers count on becoming millionaires, and just the promise of a book advance is enough to keep many motivated. But is the book advance in retreat? Author and editor Meghan Ward took a survey to find out, and we asked insiders to share their insights.

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Sarah Baker on do-it-yourself books

Go to any panel on book publishing these days, and you’ll hear a lot of hoopla about self-publishing. Easy to do! More control! A bigger cut of the profits! At a time when advances aren’t exactly advancing, editors are often too over-worked, and publicists are spending the house’s dimes on blockbusters, self-publishing sure sounds tempting. Add to this the allure of royalty rates of 70 percent or higher instead of the 15 percent (at most) from traditional publishers, and it’s no wonder all writers aren’t going Indie.

But, wait. Self-publishing might be the word on everyone’s lips, but is it right for you?

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