Starting a Company

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http://www.shadowteams.com
/beth wareham

About six months ago, I started a publishing company. It’s a bunch of people spread across the universe, working at all hours and with varying degrees of jubilation, on stories. We have big long stories about the holocaust and short little stories about a young woman and the first time she understood what bravery meant.

In this first small group of books, we have themes that make me want to run and cry: teenagers hold their mother as she starves to death of stomach cancer; a young American Jewish couple confronts the fallout of the Holocaust in 1950s Europe; essays from an 85-year old writer encouraging young women as they start their lives to seek out valor, courage, honesty, discovery, and living without fear.

And of course, I had to write a little cookbook and throw it in there because hell, why have a publishing company and not publish yourself? It’s masturbation and I LOVE it. (Thank you, Louis C.K.)

The real point of this is that in 6 months, me and my merry band of Indies made 6 books more beautiful and interesting than anything I ever made in a building in mid-town Manhattan. I worked in a skyscraper with 800 people and getting 6 books out took about half that group. I published about 15 books a year, some of it crap, some of it sheer genius. It was a huge, complicated, completely stupid way to make a book. I shudder thinking of those horrible covers.

Me and my merry band are, at our biggest, a group of six. We are always changing, always upping the tech knowledge and speed. We sell books in surprising places, pulled from the pack, highlighting the craftmanship and art of the work. We have no crap trying to sell you something else. We have no corporate boilerplates that mean nothing to any one except that guy in the corporate pr office. We are, to a great extent, enjoying a moment of real freedom.

Take a look at some of the first offerings. Let us know how we are doing. We do this out of love and we do this out of the belief that everyone has a story and the inherent right to tell it the way they want to.

We have nothing but respect for people who put themselves on the line with art, the people willing to expose and examine what is difficult, sometimes beyond comprehension, but essential to the movement – hopefully forward – of the human race.

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Here’s Ruth reading from Reparations, a novel begun in the 1950s that sat in a box, one of those special jewels of Indie publishing.

Ruth Sidransky’s three new books as well as her masterpiece IN SILENCE are all available on amazon.

If You Don’t Like Questions, Memoir Isn’t For You

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/Beth Wareham
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I just spent a few days with a novelist who had to keep yelling “SHE ISN’T ME” about the main character in her latest book. Of course it’s her. When publishing, she did put the word “fiction” on it so we had to back down. We have to honor — as friends and literary lovers — that she says the book isn’t her life story. I am not going to know who she was talking about when she wrote about a sexual encounter in the Dean’s office in college. (The idea of it excited me, by the by.)

Who WHO was it? Maybe Louis had the gumption, maybe Mike. Finally, one night, gone on buttery chardonnay, my friend blurted “memoir” instead of novel. I had her dead-to-rights and she knew it. My form of Rendition began.

Within 8 minutes, (I used a kitchen towel and Diet Coke) I’d broken through her little “fiction” to the “memoir” and found she did it on the Dean’s oriental with Martin the TA. I was appalled. Martin looked like Gene Wilder and my friend was in need of an A in Shakespeare. Our friendship has not been the same since.

Own what you’ve lived or use your imagination to build a world in which the reader could live. Spin something into something larger or spend some time on earth before you race to tell your “story.” Know why you do what you do. Do it well. Contribute higher not just more.

I knew who my friend’s heroine in her novel was: I wish she had called it a memoir, given herself credit for a life well-lived and made up something for a story later.

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PUBLISH. RUN.

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/Beth Wareham
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During some of my forays into publishing, I wasn’t prepared for the people that came after me with various questions and off-the-wall ideas. A young woman in Paris did her dissertation on a small humor book I wrote and sent reams of questions each week. How did she find meaning in the pages of that little mental fart? She did and I took her work as seriously as she did. I hope she got an A, or AH as it were. I don’t know what any of it meant, really.

I spoke at a conference and a woman there seemed to just want to follow and touch me. I’d smile, introduce myself and try to talk. She wasn’t having it. She just wanted to follow and touch. Follow and touch. When someone asked her if she had bought my book, I overheard her say, “she wrote a book?”

The real terror of old-fashioned publishing were the live call-in radio shows. I remember a guy – a first time author – who edited a book of famous writers talking about dogs. During his first question in his first interview for his first book ever, the disc jokey of a live radio show in North Dakota asked, “why do dogs lick their butts so much?” I could hear his tears behind their suppressed sniggers.

I got talked into a corner during a live radio show in Louisiana where a young woman on the phone came unhinged during our exchange. Seems her elderly neighbor had been conning her into during her laundry for months and her rage was at a break point. Maybe this wasn’t about the laundry but BOY was she upset. The host excused herself to make sure the young woman got the number of a hotline of some kind. I forgot what I talked to her listeners about while she was gone.

Don’t ever miss the “glamorous” days of publishing. It was weird and kinda dumb and the last thing anyone seemed interested in was the book. Famous writers would have to travel from city to city, going on local radio shows and chucking water balloons at commuters or passing out cookies at the door of a store.

Today, books are sold off samples and never before has the actual writing been more important. Thank God. I can sell it instead of talk to a woman who won’t talk back and keeps trying to touch me. It’s the way a book should be sold – like music – you hear or see a piece of it and want to buy it and explore it further and deeper.

I miss little about the days of yore and love the anonymity of the internet.:) I just can’t go to any more of those conferences.

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Chop Chop Writers

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by Beth Wareham

www.shadowteams.com
So, this meat clever is kinda scary. Blood. Animal? Human? Ha!

This is writer’s blood. From the way the red rises in the middle of the cleaver, forensics tell us someone was killing whole paragraphs. (Little splatters on the end suggest adverb and adjective removal.) Consistent smears along the blade tells us it was a sentence hunting mission. CSI for Writers: The Cleaver Tells All.

Every writer must be a ruthless editor, meat cleaver worn on a tool belt as he or she types. This editing is one of the hardest aspects of writing – we all think our words should be carried around on little velvet pillows – and that thought often embarrasses you later when you have an overwritten, indulgent book no one wants to read.

So, in a wildly simplistic list, here are the things your clever should do for you to progress in your life as a writer:

1. Adverbs and adjectives: CLEAVER THEM. AS MANY AS POSSIBLE.

2. Vary sentence length for dramatic affect. Consider these two scenarios:

“Walter walked in the back door, throwing his jacket to the floor, and commenced his feral wandering from room to room, beer in hand, waiting for a child or slow moving aunt to verbally ambush.”

“The door slammed. Walter threw his coat on the back of the chair. He immediately walked over to the refrigerator, pulled out his customary beer, and began to pace the first floor of the house. The living room was empty as was the front porch. He really wanted someone in his family to appear so he could burn off some of his darker feelings.

3. Don’t go down alleyways. Writers have curious minds and it is easy to write yourself off course. The cleaver must come out if you go on, say, a two page chat about derivatives in a South American love story. Stay on story or it’s the cleaver for you.

4. Don’t say the same thing in a bunch of different ways. We all assume a writer has the skills to tell us a story using different devices. Have enough faith in yourself to pick one story and tell it the way you want to….no hemming and hawing.

5. Write a book of appropriate length. You are writing in the age of the internet, not the 19th Century when entertainments were a bit slower moving. Keep it tight. Test yourself. Use the poet’s skill of distilling words to write prose. Practice writing short on twitter. Write to your time. Word selection is the 21st Century game of the highest importance. Just look at Search Engine Optimization. ūüôā

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Rejection: A Case Study for Writers

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-Beth Wareham

Getting through the layers of agents and editors used to be the great head-bangers ball for writers. With as many opinions as there are interns, most books are DOA in the mail room. They sit there, they slowly move upstairs, an assistant opens them and puts them in a big pile, an editor assigns the first read to a younger editor, an assistant or even unpaid help. Someone doesn’t read far enough, doesn’t understand the history or context, spills their Starbucks on the manuscript. The agent calls and inquires as to how the editor liked it. The editor has not yet seen it and around we go.

Helplessness. The creative’s helplessness in the face of the publishing machine has always been a monumental problem. The arrogance of one side and the sheer powerlessness of the other made publishing toxic. The new world order is changing this and books now go straight into production at the author’s behest. They go on sale that way as well. Publishers now approach authors that have broken the sales code in hopes of hitching their wagon to a self-publishing star.

If this new world leaves questions in your mind, I offer a look into the rejection of some of the great writers who came before you. If they could take it, so can you.

16 literary agents and 12 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, was turned down by 14 agents until an employee at Writer’s House picked it up out of the slush pile. That employee now has a job for life.

Alex Haley’s Roots had 200 consecutive rejections and went on to be an international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize Winner, showing American publishing that black people DO buy books.

Mom, a Bloomsbury editor, wanted to reject a book, but her 8-year old daughter insisted she get to finish reading the manuscript about a kid named Harry Potter.

Agatha Christie received editorial rejection letters for 5 years until her first acceptance. She is second in sales only to William Shakespeare.

Louis L’Amour read 200 letters telling him he couldn’t write until Bantam Publishing disagreed. One letter from an editor said, “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” With Bantam, he published 330 million books.

Richard Bach was famously jeered at for his little book about a seagull. Turned down by every publishing company at least twice, a young female editor interested in flying picked up the book and Jonathan Livingston Seagull flew out.

When “Chicken Soup for the Soul” made the rounds of publishing houses, the overwhelming response was “no one reads anthologies.” I mean, I just don’t know what to say about how wrong that is.

When Random House rejected his first novel, The Long Walk, he shelved it and began again. Stephen King got a contract on his next book.

So, writerly-types, the world is getting better. Tons better. It is even HARDER to get inside a publishing company these days, but I think you will find less and less reason to do so as the world develops.

#amwriting

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Tough Writer’s Manifesto: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Never Stop

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/Beth Wareham

Richard Bach, author of that 20th century pop icon, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said a mouthful with “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Richard – who once let me fly his plane – would not like what I have to say about much of his writing. But his work on aviation is magnificent. He was also based in the same squadron as a really professional writer – one James Salter – during the Berlin crisis. Salter, author of A Sport and A Pastime, among others, never chose a wrong word in his life.

A tough writer, amateur or check-casher, doesn’t quit. A tough writer works through problems, wipes out pages, starts over. A tough writer knows how you can get inside a book and slip and slide in it, failing to accomplish much of anything. A tough writer understands the words “begin again.”

Below is some pretty interesting advice I’ve heard from authors and editors in a 20-year career in the larger publishing houses of New York. Some of it will depress you and some will set you free.

You must remember, though, that part of the extreme joy of reading and writing is the discovery of the new voice, seemingly from nowhere, who changes your point of view.

What you also must remember, sitting glumly at your keyboard, is that voice just might come from you:

TOUGH WRITERS MANIFESTO

1. No one is watching you.

The great Ilene Beckerman, author of Love, Love and What I Wore, confessed that what she liked about writing was that nobody saw when she wrote a sentence like “She carried the steaming tureen to the table.” Allow yourself all the mistakes you need until it feels right to you.

2. Plan and destroy. Plan and destroy.

Map a plot. Change it. Flush out characters, modify, remove, add more. Throughout the process of putting a book together, you need the plan of a soldier who is ready to shift positions at any moment for a more effective line of attack. Rigid flexibility. Think on it.

3. Who are you writing for?

Too often, especially in non-fiction, authors are writing for peers. That’s fine, if you want to sell books to the 200 other forensic accountants in California. Who is your reader? Who do you see in your mind’s eye as you work on the book? Act accordingly. Don’t use technical words if you trying to reach the layman. Choose communication over showing off.

4. Feed a fever; Starve a cold

If you don’t believe in the muse, then you don’t believe in Faulkner, Mozart and Beethoven. Whole chunks of finished passages just appeared in their heads and the test was to write it down quickly enough they didn’t lose it. This is true of you as well. If you become deeply engaged in writing a scene, stay with it. Sitting down at a computer and doing 500 words a day is the drip, drip of sinuses disengaged from the passion of writing. Stop word counting and start throwing your soul into it.

5. Facts are not the truth.

In fiction, there are no facts but abundant truths. Since all writing is autobiographical to a degree, never got bogged down in the actually memory of a room or character. Remake them anew to meet the truth of what you are writing. You owe no one an explanation for your art.

6. Raw is good.

The closer you can get to the bone, the more you feel what you write, the more your reader will too. This is what Hemingway meant by his comment that being a writer was no big deal, you just sat down and bled on a keyboard all day. Readers know when they are being kept at arms’ length and most don’t like it. Bring them in to you and the story.

7. Detail isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything.

Every detail you choose should further your plot or give us more information about your characters and the “truth” of your book. Here’s a simple example of how you might or might not choose detail for a character:

Meyer’s suit was blue and his shoes were brown.

Meyer’s blue suit shined at the elbows, leading the eye downward to a pair of brown crepe-soled
work shoes.

Simple, right? And no one ever talks about the writer’s eyes; the painters get all that public relations.

8. Simple formulas make powerful books.

A) Tell your story from the beginning and end at the end. Simple. Never fails

B) Try the song form: A,B,A. Used for thousands of years, you can see this form best in a series
like Lord of the Rings: A is the Shire, B is the adventure, C is a return to the Shire with
lessons learned and evil vanquished.

9. Edit like Stalin.

Everyone, EVERYONE, uses too many words. Edit yourself ruthlessly. Any word that is not absolutely necessary to further your story should go. You owe this to your reader: don’t waste their time with overwriting. Proust covered that already.

10. Let the manuscript rest before final carving.

Polishing a manuscript brings up an interesting combination of anxiety and joy. You are close to a finished book. Give it that last read and polish it up. Remove the final unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Tighten descriptions. People will read it soon, thus the anxiety. People will read it soon, thus the joy.

Some will judge you positively, some might not. But somewhere, someone will read your book and it will change his or her life.

And that, my friend, is why you do it.

Stay tough.

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

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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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ANTI-INDENTIES: “Traditional” Publishing Lovers Are True UFO Believers

You hear it all the time: I like a book. I like to feel that paper in my hands. Great, I always say. There is no other answer. It’s what they say they like and I believe them.

Then there are people in and around the trade publishing world that say weird things about content all the time: like there isn’t a bear eating their drapes. They say things like “I’m writing the flap copy in my head now!” or “I’m writing a book about Silicon Valley but they don’t want to talk to me until I say I have a deal with a traditional publisher.” Whaaaa……? Did you just climb out of the crater in Roswell? Some of the coolest publishing on Earth comes out of Silicon Valley, the great disrupters of the Universe.

Within 2 -3 years, most reading will be done on a cellphone. It’s coming, it’s happening, it’s the next logical step. Everything will be on the cell or the home computer. People won’t carry an iPad and iPhone or Galaxy and Kindle or whatever combo they cary. They will want just one thing to carry and just one thing that is possible to lose. And if you don’t believe me, WHY DO YOU THINK AMAZON PUT OUT A CELLPHONE?

I’d like to read on the Glass, but I can’t afford it. A wristwatch might be fun if someone gave me special wizard glasses with long thick lenses. Hmmmmm… business idea? I just don’t know. But all of it is blowing wide open and to think otherwise is to see UFOs in the skies over Cleveland.

ANTI-INDENTITES: Are traditional publishing lovers the true UFO believers?

You hear it all the time: I like a book. I like to feel that paper in my hands. Great, I always say. There is no other answer. It’s what they say they like and I believe them.

Then there are people in and around the trade publishing world that say weird things about content all the time: like there isn’t a bear eating their drapes. They say things like “I’m writing the flap copy in my head now!” or “I’m writing a book about Silicon Valley but they don’t want to talk to me until I say I have a deal with a traditional publisher.” Whaaaa……? Did you just climb out of the crater in Roswell? Some of the coolest publishing on Earth comes out of Silicon Valley, the great disrupters of the Universe.

Within 2 -3 years, most reading will be done on a cellphone. It’s coming, it’s happening, it’s the next logical step. Everything will be on the cell or the home computer. People won’t carry an iPad and iPhone or Galaxy and Kindle or whatever combo they cary. They will want just one thing to carry and just one thing that is possible to lose. And if you don’t believe me, WHY DO YOU THINK AMAZON PUT OUT A CELLPHONE?

I’d like to read on the Glass, but I can’t afford it. A wristwatch might be fun if someone gave me special wizard glasses with long thick lenses. Hmmmmm… business idea? I just don’t know. But all of it is blowing wide open and to think otherwise is to see UFOs in the skies over Cleveland.