Talking Shop

Candid reflections on the writing life.

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 Amazon.com’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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Heather Ross with an e-books update

The iPad may sometimes seem like a boondoggle for authors (Yet another must-have device? Now I need an app for my memoir?), but it has been a bona-fide boon for e-book vendors. Caught in the middle are agents and traditional publishers, trying to carve out new territory for themselves and their clients. In April 2010, Sarah Baker explained the finer points of the chaotic electronic book market, informing authors of the state of e-rights, royalties, piracy, and pricing in this competitive (and lucrative) landscape. Let’s trace the zigs and zags of the e-book industry in the year since.

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Orlean, Bronson, Butler and others on style

Ask any writer to define literary style, and you’ll find that the answer is as distinct as, well, that writer’s style. I noodled around on the Net and found that Gore Vidal defined style as “knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” Curious, I asked some of my favorite writers–including Po Bronson and Susan Orlean—to share their thoughts on style.

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