PUBLISHER’S DREAMS: Finding a Jewel in the Box


Beth Wareham

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Anyone who has ever worked in publishing has a secret longing: To discover a manuscript, dusty, abandoned, forgotten, transformative, beautiful manuscript languishing in a drawer of an old roll top desk or crammed into a shoe box and pushed beneath a bed. We dream of the jewel in the box that only we can find and open. We dream of unleashing a work of genius on the world. It’s a weird fantasy, I’ll admit, but there you have it.

Gone with the Wind. Confederacy of Dunces. 2666, Emily Dickinson. A Death in the Family. The Diary of Anne Frank. Emily Dickinson poems spilling from tabletops and drawers. Everything Franz Kafka ever wrote – flashes of light winking out of the black rock of a deep mine.

My “jewel in the box” rush came with an email from a rock star author I used to publish. His mom had a novel. He didn’t know what shape it was in…it had been written long ago. Would I look?

Long ago was 1950, the beginning of the years author Ruth Sidransky spent in Vienna, smuggling for Jews who survived World War II hiding in the forest. The novel was huge, literally and figuratively, moving across three continents, a world war, genocide, occupation, a marriage, a love affair, God, torture, revenge, annihilation, religion, joy, belief, endless cruelty and death. We learn to love her new friends and as they become closer the cost of their survival is slowly revealed.

Part Sophie’s Choice, part Everything is Illuminated, Reparations is a monumental book that ends with the surprise choice of a thoroughly modern woman and the triumph of the Jewish people to survive and thrive after certain destruction.

Author Sidransky turned 86 this year; proving you just never know where the diamonds are hiding.

This is one of the third books she’ll publish in 2015.

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by Beth Wareham

After a much publicized and embarrassing fight between Hachette and Amazon, Hachette today announced they would sell books directly off twitter! Let’s have a parade.

Big news! How many self-published authors and digital book companies have paved the way using and others to sell their content and books on twitter. is great, but it is a great big comedown from wrestling amazon to the ground.

The more I observe, the more I see big publishing taking it’s cues from us on the ground. They fail at huge negotiations and cry in their saucer of milk, then turn to see what the working folk have been up to. We’ve been selling books.

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Hey Publishing: It’s About Something More

B2BJzW2IQAAq2Sn.jpg-largeby Beth Wareham

As a publisher spit out of the initial seizure of publishing-shrinkage, I bobbed around like a Styrofoam cup on the waves for awhile. I was angry at industry leadership for fixing prices, lying, lawyers getting all the money. Not writers. Not copyeditors. Not designers. Not agents. Not editors. LAWYERS. What did all this money do? Built an empty library, a room with no books, paper or otherwise. I doubt there were even desks.

Then I removed myself from the industry spin and really started thinking about what e-books meant. Sure, publishing CEOs Carolyn Reidy and John Sargent were testifying in front of Federal Judge Denise Cote with their fingers-crossed behind their backs about price-fixing but, on the other side of the globe (in all respects), the march toward an e-book world continued. Publishing was entrenched in a range war that did not change the fact human beings were afire with information. It was spreading fast and free.

These e-readers, for the first time in history, allowed you to carry the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in your hand. (Well, almost.) These e-readers can be taken where books cannot; down a river to a school, up the side of a mountain to a settlement, into a rural health clinic where mothers are giving birth.

All these e-readers need is to be loaded full of books – on mathematics, science, African novelists, politics, history AIDS, Ebola, conservation, history, medicine, farming, language, animal husbandry, accounting, business – and carried in, by visitors, so they make their destination. The generator charges the e-reader. Believe me, it is achievable now: We still have 30 boxes of kids’ books lost somewhere over the Congo.

Our first school for E-book Africa? Chiawa Basic. It sits atop a slope down into the Zambezi River: Children are lost to crocodiles each year when they go to get water. The former camp of the great “Dr. Livingston I presume” is around the river’s bend and his great Cathedral, built over the slave-fattening pit, is a little upriver. The town is tiny, beyond poor, riddled with AIDS, and beautiful beyond words.

Enter Cherri Briggs and Richard Wilson, owners of Explore Africa and two of the greatest micro-lenders in Southern Africa. They fought off Chinese mining companies and more than a few death threats while keeping their stretch of the Zambezi intact. They provided burials for the kids taken by crocs and eventually got water running up to the school.

Cherri and I started “Chicks for Chicks,” after a foolhardy bounce through Zimbabwe. These vertical chicken farms (watch your predators!) were given to women to create small family businesses. A huge fish farm was dug in the African bush. The restaurants in the capitol of Lusaka are now full of their foods, bought for a fair price.

Cherri and Richard started cracking the code of Africa graft: Go around the NGO and straight to the Village Chief and Elders. When the Chief saw his first e-reader, there were moments of confusion that it toasted something. Then the words sprang up and he shouted. Cherri and Richard knew he knew he was holding magic in his hands. In seconds, the village pushed in on him and they didn’t stop pushing buttons and flipping pages for hours. E-book Africa was on.

So, we begin to our gather of the first 20 e-readers for Africa, Chiawa Basic School, Zambia. We are not teachers and will need huge amounts of help with the books we load. We feel the weight of our task and do not want to choose the wrong words for lives given so little at the start.!e-book-africa/c22up

Me? I’m still a bit of a Styrofoam cup inside myself, but the work on E-book Africa is helping me fall in love with all of life’s work again. I started a publishing services company, edit a wild range of gifted writers that a publishing company wouldn’t let through the front door, and I write my own books again.

Most importantly, when I got away from the anger and hysteria of publishing, I started to read again and feel the edges of that joy starting to return. I can’t wait to get to Chiawa Basic School in Zambia with those first set of e-readers loaded with intellectual loot. I can’t wait to watch those kids watch us put everything together and then pass them their e-reader.

On their faces I’ll see it, that thing I lost. The words. The possibility. The future. The magic.

Like all givers, I am the one that wins: I need their joy to help bring me back to mine.

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5 Tips on Revenge in Writing


/beth wareham

Here are simple ideas for taking revenge into your writing, always a satisfying event, even if no one else reads it. Here are 5 easy ways to get back at people who have wronged you AND have some fun as you sweat and swear over your keyboard:

1. Base odious characters on odious people you know. Give them the same names.

2. Have these odious characters have sex. In unusual ways. A sense of place is good here too.

3. When the book is published, yell “you’re in my book!” as you run past everyone you meet, smiling and waving. You’ll make a lot of sales, I’m sure.

4. Tell your family they cannot read the book before it is published. Do not tell them it is a history of Napoleon’s most successful military campaigns. Watch their faces fall on publication day.

5. Give your book to people at public moments to make them look awkward. If we learned anything from the late Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, it’s that. Remember when he slipped Obama his book during a conga line of handshakes at a G-13 summit? Hilarious.

The next time I publish a book, I want a special laminated bookmark of me, naked, as the promotional piece. It’s just what so many deserve.

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5 Bits of Simple Advice for Fiction Writers from Very Famous Editors

After 20 years as an editor in New York City publishing houses, I heard a lot of things. I even read a book proposal from a woman whose life was transformed after she met Tom Cruise.

Over and over, I come back to the simple advice I heard the best fiction editors (I was your garden-variety non-fiction type) say to their writers:

1. Chronology is your friend.

Start at the beginning and tell the story through to the end, just as if you were telling a friend. Only the most skilled of writers play with time and pull it off: Don De Lillo wrote Falling Man going forward in time, didn’t like it, and rewrote the book in reverse, making 9/11 the last event. Don’t try it at home, kids.

2. Limit your characters and make them vivid.

Dickens was Dickens because he could invite whole cities into his books and keep all the names and attributes straight. Tolstoy excelled at that as well. This will probably be harder for you, so focus on your handful of characters and make them memorable. I’ve read books whose plot still fails me, but a character stands in my mind’s eye still. That is success in writing.

3. Stolen from Stephen King: Adverbs are not your friends.

While I cannot make a citizen’s arrest for overwriting, I want to. Leave adverbs behind. In fact, be stingy with your adjectives. These are words that carry emotional connotations that you should achieve through the story’s action or choice of detail. Which leads to #4.

4. Detail is the soul of fiction.

Pick up a Chekhov short story. On the first page, he’s so completely described the room and it’s occupants on one page, you are now present in rural Russia with peasants, feeling the steam from the pot of potatoes and seeing the poverty in their clothes. One page and you are in their world.

5. The details you choose is what makes you great. 

Part of the joy of reading a book is one intellect bouncing against another, even if the two are not in the same room. A writers choice of detail focuses the work and shows a reader new possibilities for thought and life. Look there, not there, and the entire story changes.

I’ve overheard many more things and have some thoughts of my own. I’ll throw up some more here soon.

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Was it this one? BHS1979GuyFeste

or was it this one? BHS1979JackVentle

The late 1970s were so confusing. But I remember what I was reading. The coat hanger. The frozen facial expressions. The evil. Unknown

Mommie Dearest was not the first time I understood a mother could really screw it up, but a rich famous mother? It seemed impossible. So lurid.

I read it twice as I remember and chased my Mom with a coat hanger until she got mad. The dudes? I think the first one was named Peter and the second Jim.

The 1970s man. What an eye-opener.

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