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AvantGuild Member of the Week

From The Editors: Shambhala

fish+thumb.jpgPresident and executive editor of publishing house says, “If [writers] have Shambhala books, then chance are we’d be interested in their work.”
AvantGuildFrom the Editors: Seeking ‘Books That Can Offer Real Benefit’
RELATED:AvantGuildFrom the Editors: ‘Experience and Passion’ Sought Over ‘Credits’

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AvantGuild Member of the Week: Terry Glover

GloverxHeadshot.jpgAge: Over the Hedge
Location: Chicago
What are you working on now? Acting as Chicago editor for Uptown, a glossy quarterly that highlights the coolest, sexiest bits the Windy City has to offer. The book is published in New York (thus, the Uptown), and they publish regional editions: D.C., Atlanta, Chicago and New York. So, that, nurturing the relationships I have with some really great editors at Chicago and Satisfaction magazines, and a transitional screenplay for TV actress Raven Symone…she can’t stay in high school forever!
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing? To keep doing it. Everyday, not just when you feel like it. Otherwise, you won’t eat, and you won’t create — the two things you need to stay alive.
What’s the worst career advice you ever received? To not try and advance myself into an editorial position. There’s a special place in my heart for human resources.
Based on your experience, how can a writer new at writing celebrity profiles make them come alive and seem unique? Ask questions that are alive and unique! This wasn’t an interview, but one of the best conversations I’ve ever had was with Jeffrey Katzenberg (Dreamworks Animation) who was in town promoting a movie. I did some research and found an obscure little story about the government of Madagascar trying to convince him to include some educational stuff about lemurs in his movie of the same title. Instead, he gave them a generous donation which they used to hire a PR firm to advance the plight of lemurs in Madagascar. He was truly surprised that I knew anything about it, so he let his guard down, we had a great exchange and it resulted in some very nice feedback from his development people.
If you ask the same questions as every other interviewer, you’re going to get the same dead answers.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Rachel Lehmann Haupt

rachellh.jpgToday I speak with a new member–and a new mb instructor. If you live in New York, check out her Boot Camp for Journalists.
Age: 36
Location: New York, New York
What are you working on now?
Stories for Outside, New York and Marie Claire. A book proposal.
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?
The more you write and report, the better it gets.
What’s the worst career advice you ever received?
An editor once told me that I had to get it right on the first try because she didn’t have time to help improve it.
As a teacher, how are you preparing for your first mb course?
When I was a student at UC Berkeley J School, a took a class with Clay Felker, the founder of New York magazine on magazine writing. I’m going back through my notes of his wisdom and reading some of the famous stories he had us read that I also plan to hand out to my class. I’m also going to teach the devices as laid out in Tom Wolfe’s famous essay The New Journalism. The reason for this is that increasingly even newspapers are look for more scene and color. And, we’ll be reading famous pieces such as Gay Talese’s profile Frank Sinatra has a Cold and Joan Didion’s On Self Respect.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Scott Piro

scottpiroheadshot.jpgAge: 36
Location: Harlem, NY
What are you working on now?: Been at Planned Television Arts, the country’s biggest independent book publicity firm for almost six years now. We’re owned by Ruder Finn, which has the biggest NY presence of any PR firm.
Three-quarters of our clients are either publishing houses or authors. We do all kinds of publicity for them – morning drive radio tours, satellite TV tours, multi-city road tours, national print and broadcast campaigns and more. The remainder of our clients tend to be non-profit groups and/or Web sites.
What’s the worst career advice you ever received?: I was once told to always lie and inflate my salary when going on job interviews – thus, insuring greater salary bumps. But a recruiter once told me that your salary is one of the easiest things for an employer to check – making it really easy to uncover that lie. It could kill your chances of getting hired, as well as burn bridges with recruiters, who might not want to work with someone they don’t trust.

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AvantGuild Member of the Week: Matthew Corozine

color head shot.jpgAge: 34
Location: I live in Harlem and have acting studio in Times Square.
What are you working on now?
Running my acting studio, teaching acting, directing shows with studio (we also have classes for writing (geared toward performance), improvisation and speech/dialects/voice overs) Also, renting out our 40 seat theatre for other productions, seminars, groups etc.
What lessons do you think writers can take from actors?
Writing is expressing yourself on paper, actors express themselves with other people in the moment out loud…both demand such focus and discipline to “stay in there”. I think making writing not so much a “solo” art but group is a good idea. Actors are always in a class with other people striving for greatness. It’s a good idea to seek out writing goups, where you read stuff out loud and hear it expressed by others.
What’s the worst career advice you ever received?
Oh God, probably “either you got it or you don’t.” I believe, as a teacher, that everyone has “something” in them: art, instinct, an impulse that can be tapped into.
Based on what you’ve seen as an actor or a director, what are some basic things aspiring playwrights can do to improve their stage writing?
Get into a studio that works with playwrights and original works and do readings. Our studio tries to do this often. My uncle is a playwright and we try to do readings of his work with my actors. We are always looking for playwrights: we want to workshop and nurture a new work that could really “hit” the scene and make a difference. Playwrights need to have their work heard and need feedback and need to be around actors and how they work. Playwrights should also take an acting class. Our classes are based on getting out of your way and expressing truth and many writers benefit from this.
For more info on Matt’s studio, check out his site.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Adrienne Crew

ac-summercopy.jpgAge: fortysomething
Location: Los Angeles, CA
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my first novel about black punk rockers in Los Angeles in the early ’80s. I’m also busy promoting a blog guide book called “Blogosphere: Best of Blogs” that I co-authored with Peter Kuhns and researching radicals who lived in LA in the ’30s.

What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?

That a writer is someone who finishes what they are working on. Also, that revision is the key to writing well.
What’s the worst career advice you ever received?
Go to law school and that way you can earn money while you pursue your creative endeavors.
How did you write the blog book with timeliness in mind? What could you do to make sure the information would still be relevant when it came out?
Timeliness was key. I evaluated blogs by several factors in order to address the timeliness issue.
1. I only included blogs that had been consistently updated for a year. Aside from current events tied to a particular catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, I selected blogs that had been consistently updated.
2. I checked blogs at the end of the proofing process to make sure that the blogs were still current.
3. In certain situations, I emailed the author of the blog to tell him or her what I was doing and to confirm that they planned to keep blogging.
4. We emphasized research tips and taught readers research skills so that they could explore and find blogs, regardless of how timely our listings remained. We wrote the book so that readers could use it as a how-to book as well as a guide to cool blogs.
5. We created a blog about the book and published the URL in the book on several different pages. We also encouraged readers to write in and tell us about new blogs that they’d discovered or that they felt that we missed. That way readers could return to the site for fresh updates. We also posted extra chapters on the site that were not in the book. We wanted to keep a dialogue going with our readers.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Jeff Cohen

authorjc.jpgAge: 48
Location: New Jersey

What are you working on now?

My fourth Aaron Tucker mystery novel, a non-fiction book on autistic students entering college, and a lot of query letters to magazines.
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?
Not to try to do it like anyone else. You have to be yourself, or it won’t work. And never be afraid to try anything. The worst that can happen is that you’ll end up like you are before you start. That’s not so bad.
What’s been the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
I worked for a trade magazine company that made each editorial employee take a seminar upon joining the company. At the seminar, it was taught that every article–EVERY article–could, and should, be written in the same style. They had a diagram. I’m not kidding. It was like “Trade Magazine Mad-Libs.”
Do you have a system for working with different genres? Do you have a schedule?
I actually prefer to work on fiction and non-fiction at the same time. If I get stuck on one, I can always work on the other. And because my background is in journalism, the non-fiction is a little bit more comfortable, although I wouldn’t say I’m better at it. I write a non-fiction book like a series of feature articles, so it’s easier to take a break here or there. The research is the hard part for me on that. In fiction, which isn’t easier, certainly, but is more rewarding when it’s finished (who said, “I hate writing; I love having written”?), flow is probably more important. A reader isn’t going to jump in on Chapter Twelve and just read that. So it’s a more cohesive piece, I guess.
I don’t think I’m better at fiction or non-fiction. I have more fun
with the fiction, and feel more comfortable with the non-fiction. I
wouldn’t want to give up either one.
I certainly have used what I learned in journalism for my non-fiction
AND my fiction, I think. It’s all about getting to the point and not
cluttering up the process. And since my mystery protagonist, Aaron
Tucker, is a freelance journalist, I use my background to help him
find out what he needs to know. I also find that my fiction benefits
from years of screenwriting, since all the story structure and
character development (not to mention dialogue) is ingrained from all
those unproduced screenplays.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Maia Szalavitz

maias.jpgAge: 41
Location: New York City
What are you working on now?
? I’m co-writing a book about how trauma affects children’s brains, personalities and lives with a leading child psychiatrist. He worked with the kids who survived the raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas. He’s one of the people the FBI calls when they have a child who has witnessed or been a victim of a horrific crime. What some of these kids have gone through is beyond belief– but their courage and strength and his insights into how to help them and what we can learn from how trauma affects them are fascinating and important.
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?
Three cliches: show don’t tell, write what you know and kill your darlings. And, yeah, avoid cliches.
What’s been the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t specialize. One of the things that has most helped me in my career is having specialized knowledge of things like neuroscience and drug policy which dramatically reduces the amount of competition I face and gives me an edge in my reporting. Many journalists can write a celebrity profile– but very few can write competently about complex brain science and the intersection between biology and public policy and what it means.
Did you learn anything with your newest book that helped hone your investigative skills?
Cultivating sources is probably the most important thing. I got some of my best material from people who had already done the hard slog of Freedom of Information Act requests and historical document research.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Stephanie M. Cockerl

steph2002a.jpgAge: 32
Location: New York, New York

What are you working on now?

I’m working on stepping up my freelance capacity and currently I have a number of projects occupying my time. These include two website redesigns, an information architecture revamp, a blog facelift, writing a travel guide, producing email marketing campaigns, and managing a couple of online marketing campaigns, in addition to teaching a computer applications and literacy class at a local college.
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?
The most important thing I have learned about writing is to stop and read what you’re writing about aloud before submitting it. In this way, you can see and hear if it all makes sense. Doing that has made a big difference in the grades I’ve received. Also as an adjunct professor, I continue to stress that tip to my students.
What’s been the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
A high school guidance counselor told me that I would not have a chance of making it into my dream “Ivy League” school. Luckily for me, I didn’t listen. I applied anyway, was accepted and graduated. I often use bad advice as a motivator to do something phenomenal and prove the “naysayers” wrong.
If a writer is going to launch a site to promote his or her work, what are some key things he or she should pay attention to in order to make the site as effective and attractive as possible?
The key thing for a writer to remember is to let the work speak for itself. The website design should not overpower the “content”. Some people may think that it is “in” to have the latest flash component or big images on a website in order to be noticed. The search engines are paying more and more attention to content and people searching online are more selective about seeking relevant content. A website is a marketing tool and the “product” to be marketed is the work. As long as the focus of the website is the content and not the design, the work will shine.

AvantGuild Member of the Week: Liza Burby

Age: 42
Location: Huntington Station, NY
What are you working on now?
Though my day job is as editor of Newsday’s Parents & Children magazine, for which I work with 40 writers and an art director to produce 12 issues a year, and I freelance for major magazines, teach an undergraduate journalism class, and do book signings and lectures for my book How to Publish Your Children’s Book, I’m also currently reworking a young adult novel at my agent’s request. That last is the most fun work I’m doing. Though I enjoy all the nonfiction writing I do, writing fiction has opened up a whole new side of creativity for me. When I work on my novel, unlike the controlled approach required of nonfiction articles and books, I never know what my imagination will produce. It’s like discovering new treasures everyday. And I love spending time with my characters, who actually follow me wherever I go, nudging my imagination with other decisions and actions they want to make. It’s really fascinating. And I appreciate how my fiction side actually helps me to be more creative in how I approach ledes and descriptions in my articles. Of course that doesn’t mean I make anything up, but it does help me to appreciate the flow and placement of words, rather than focusing simply on delivering the facts. At the same time, my discipline as a nonfiction writer also benefits my fiction writing. All in all, I think my two writing sides pair up rather well.
What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about writing?
There are a lot of things. That writing about something you know nothing about can often produce a better piece than something you’re so close to you forget to explain your topic clearly and thereby lose your reader. On the other hand, writing about a topic that you’re passionate about–for me that’s children, domestic violence and eating disorders–can change a reader’s life, and I think that makes any deadline worthwhile. That all writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, requires the same skills: accuracy, beautiful writing and an understanding of your audience. Because I have the dual roles of editor and writer, I think I have a more disciplined approach to my writing than perhaps someone who makes their living solely as a writer. I see through both sets of eyes, which is helpful because understanding an editor’s needs makes me a better writer. Of course, this can also make me crazy at times. Finally, I think the most important thing I’ve learned about writing is that you have to be willing to take the risk that a piece you’ve written will be rejected. As one children’s author told me, she’s never met a published writer who gave up. If you get a rejection letter, spend the time to figure out what you could have done better, and then move on. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your writing or topic but is simply a matter of poor timing–the editor already bought or assigned something similar–and unless you keep trying, you’ll never get that assignment letter and the potential for future assignments. I got my first rejection letter when I was 12, and I still get them. It goes with the territory, and if I were asked to start all over, I’d make the same career choice, rejection and all.
What’s been the worst career advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve been fortunate to have had many work experiences that I created for myself, from my first job at 17 working for the writer Mitch Albom, who was then editor of a weekly paper in my hometown, to my current freelance career. But along the way, only once did an editor get in my way telling me I shouldn’t apply for a managing editor job I knew I was qualified for because the male I was competing with “needed the money more since he had a child and I didn’t.” I was young, so I backed down. In the end it worked out since I jumped ship before the magazine folded a year later. But as an editor, I have a lot to say to potential writers. I can’t tell you how often I get queries from writers who know nothing about my publication. Since one of the first things we writers learn is to know your market, I don’t understand why this is such a common issue. I can only assume that in their zeal to get published, many writers feel it’s better to get the query letter out, in effect shooting arrows in the dark rather than purposefully hitting their tarket. But that rarely, if ever, works out. It’s better to send a thoughtful, well-researched query because if the editor appreciates your writing and your understanding of her publication (or publishing house), she may reject your current query, but welcome others, if not assign you something else. Good impressions do count in the field of writing.
What do you think is easier to break into, writing FOR children or writing ABOUT children? (For parenting magazines, etc.)
Sad to say it’s easier to get assignments for articles about children than to write for them, only because there’s a wider, hungrier market for advice for parents, than the more narrow world of children’s books in which most publishers are looking for the next Harry Potter money-making machine. (While I don’t blame them, it can be frustrating sometimes as a writer because there are so many wonderfully written books out there that just quietly earn their royalties without a lot of fanfare.) But in the world of children’s books, it’s easier to break into nonfiction than it is fiction, perhaps because there’s a large market for books that help kids understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of life, particularly for the school and library markets. Every student will at some point be asked to write a report on weather or famous women, so my books help them with that. But the fiction market for children is far more subjective, with editorial decisions often made based on an editor’s personal likes and dislikes, as well as the ever-fluctuating trends of the market. Still, no matter what market a writer approaches, good writing is always required.