March 05, 2013

The importance of writing for yourself.

 

 

 

I did not have a public blog until after I was done with treatment and had already written the entire manuscript for my book.  I have a lot of grim and foul thoughts about cancer and its impact on my life.  These thoughts are not on this blog.  They are in 12 spiral bound notebooks in a big storage box in my closet.  And I intend for them to stay there.

When I was going through treatment I never thought about journaling as a task.  The word alone conjures images of haggard ladies sitting around a  new age bookstore with purple notepads on their laps scribbling experiences that I’d rather not know about.  So, no, I did not journal.  I just spewed thoughts on the page at all times of day or night.  My notebooks did not contain full sentences, fleshed out ideas, nor a sense of composition. Most of my handwriting was illegible.  I was just trying to survive and my instinct was to put words on the page.

I love being a blogger and an author and using the screen and page to share ideas, resources, personal experiences, and coping tricks and tips with other young adult cancer patients.  But the best advice I have for any cancer patient wanting to write is to have a separate writing space where you don’t have to think logically, where no audience is present, and you can let the shit hit the fan in whatever way it wants to.  In a culture where the need to share via twitter and facebook is often a compulsion, it is quite peaceful writing for nobody but yourself.

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March 27, 2009

Should You Write A Cancer Book? #3
Tale of Two Publishers

student

Breastless in The City
I’ve started a series about cancer and writing. (See #1 about self publishing, and #2 about writing mentors.) This post is about different size publishing houses.

Five years ago, with no formal training, breast cancer survivor Cathy Bueti wrote a book about being a young widow dating through cancer treatment. She landed an agent (we’ll cover that in another post) and they shopped her book around.

Cathy writes: “My agent eventually got an offer from a small, one-year-old press that published medical guides and wanted to expand into the trade market. My book was a good fit. I hoped for a big house, but as a newbie… I accepted the offer.

“Breastless in the City was published in 2006. In 2008 my small press publisher left the biz and sold the company. A few months later my title, along with other books of theirs, was acquired by a large publishing house. With the large house, a new editor and I worked for six weeks revising the manuscript to bring my story to a wider audience. The new edition of Breastless in the City will be released this May in hardback.”  (You can pre-order it now on Amazon.)

Here are some of the main differences Cathy found between the small press (SP) and the large publishing house (LP):

Editing Process
“The SP edited my manuscript and asked for my input. With the LP, the editor and I worked together editing chapter by chapter adding more scenes, background info, dialogue, and content about my life after cancer. It was emotionally difficult to dig into this deeper, raw content, but it added much to the story.”

Distribution
“I thought my book would be on the ‘new arrivals’ table at bookstores. Not so. Stores want to stock their shelves with sure sellers.  Your publisher has to ‘sell’ the idea of your book to the store for them to even decide to carry it.” (A note from Kairol here – Publishers have to pay big bucks for table space in stores. I’m psyched that my publisher just did so for my book, but not every publisher has the cash or desire to, and extremely unlikely that a self-published author can afford it.) Back to Cathy:

“With the SP, Breastless in the City was in a few Barnes and Nobles in NYC, my local store, plus a few others. I had to create a demand; not easy as an unknown author. The first edition sold about 800 copies.  My LP has a special sales department that helps with distribution, so that is quite different already.”

Marketing Promotion
“The SP gave me more individual attention but had no in-house marketing department, nor the funding to push sales. At the LP, I am in close contact with their in-house marketing department.”

“In both places, a lot the promotion falls to the author.  You have to hit the pavement, connect with others, and spread the word by reaching out to organizations, survivors, blogging, and connecting on the internet.”

Do you journal/blog about your cancer experience? Have you ever worked with an editor or thought of having someone edit your work, even a friend or family member? Does having an editor’s eye seem frightening or exciting?

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March 09, 2009

Should You Write A Cancer Book? #2
Writing Mentors

yellow-desks

A Chronic Dose
Laurie Edwards wrote a great post today about mentors on her chronic illness blog A Chronic Dose. An excerpt reads: “Persistence is a huge component of success in any field, but having people who are willing to share their time and expertise is, I’d argue, just as valuable. For as long as you keep evolving personally and professionally, I think you never outgrow the value of a mentor.”

For the second post in my ‘Should You Write A Cancer Book?’ series I want to look at the issue Laurie raised of mentorship and writing.

Confessions of a Novice
Many authors of young adult cancer books were journalists, editors, or freelance writers prior to their diagnosis. But what if you are thinking about writing a cancer book and have no background in the field of writing or publishing? How do you learn to write? Who are your mentors?

I was a choreographer when I was diagnosed with cancer at age 27. As an undergrad, I had taken one semester of creative writing from a sweet but utterly unconstructive professor. To this day, that class is the extent of my formal writing training. Yet, a few weeks ago a large sized publishing house just released my first book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s. Many mentors have gotten me to this stage in my new writing career, some more obvious than others.

My Big Three
1. My public high school English teacher Mrs. Kogut was an old fashioned type who wore a wool skirt suit and heels to work everyday. She docked one percentage point off of our papers for each grammatical or usage error. Everyone hated her. I ate her class up. She taught me the value of rules in writing.

2. My Dad and Strunk and White go hand in hand. My dad gave to me as a Chanukah present one year Strunk and White’s book The Elements of Style (glamorous huh?) My dad is a mechanical engineer. He is interested in efficient and sound construction, and latched on to a Strunk and White dictum: omit needless words. This is my top writing mantra.

3. Michael Denneny is a 35-year veteran senior editor from St. Martin Press, whose real life experience backed up the mentoring advice he gave me. The rejections my agent received from the first few publishing houses on my manuscript for Everything Changes could have been used as endorsement quotes on the book jacket: “Gripping stories.” “Excellent writing.” “Could not put it down.” Always followed by, “I’m sorry our publishing house cannot take your book. Our sales department feels that cancer does not sell.” Michael Denneny is responsible for getting published the first books ever written on HIV and AIDS. Following his lead, I never gave up on my mission to get one of the big publishers to believe in the need for, and the salability of, a guidebook for twenty and thirty somethings facing cancer. Michael and I were right. Many Barnes and Noble and Borders are selling my book faster than they can stock the shelves.

Writing Chops
Formal training is something missing from my resume– MFAs in Creative Writing or Masters in Journalism were not in my schedule or my budget after my cancer diagnosis.  Working in the vacuum of self-education often feels freeing because I don’t know what or who I’m up against: ignorance is bliss.  At other times, I’ve needed to grab a mentor because I’ve felt lost without a map.  In upcoming posts in my ‘Should You Write A Cancer Book Series’, I’ll investigate other ways to brush up our writing chops. Until then:

Have you ever formally studied writing? Who are your writing mentors or inspirations? If you do not have any writing mentors, where would you look for them and who would you ask? Are there any bloggers or authors of books on writing who you consider your mentors?

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