Category Archives: nonfiction books

Penguin Putnam Author’s Memoir Publishing Tips


In this month’s New Writers installation, Tracy Slater offers memoir publishing tips. A fellow memoirist and nonfiction writer whom I met through SheWrites, her book The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West is slated for release in 2014 by Penguin’s Putnam imprint.

The Good Shufu is a memoir about finding love, meaning, hope, and self in the least likely places, the places we always swore we’d never go. It’s about what we gain and lose, when we forfeit our plans, goals, and even sometimes homes for that age-old cliche, love.

Tracy’s work has also been published in CNNGo, Best Women’s Travel Writing 2008, Boston Magazine, the Boston Globe, and many Japanese publications. She earned her PhD in English and American Literature from Brandeis University and is the recipient of the PEN New England 2008 “Friend of Writers” award for her work with FourStories, a literary series in Boston, Osaka, and Tokyo that features appearances and readings from the world’s most acclaimed authors. Coming this month to the Boston area FourStories are Lauren Slater, Pagan Kennedy, and more.

Today’s takeaways:

  • insight into MediaBistro classes on queries/book proposals and writing memoirs
  • tips on how and why to get an agent
  • not getting duped in the contract
  • how unknown authors land grand book deals

 Click here to listen to Tracy’s podcast then see below for links to resources she recommends.


Visit Tracy's Blog

Visit Tracy’s Blog

Tracy concluded with these words:

“The second (piece of advice) is about the difference between crossing items off my writing ‘task’ list and making something as perfect as possible. In the past, I’d always felt like I was being efficient and successful and making progress if I met my quota of sending out a certain number of queries or finishing an article on one date and being able to move on the next.

“But what this book process has really taught me is that it’s much more important to spend time perfecting and then perfecting and then perfecting again one really important piece, and then finding the absolute perfect place to pitch it (not the most visible even but the one that most likely would want to publish your piece because it fits exactly with their readership or editorial goals) and then working over and over on the pitch until that is perfect. The ‘Motherlode’ piece I published was really short, one of the shortest I’ve ever published, but I worked incredibly hard, for about a month, on just those 800 words, and had lots of people read it and give me hard, honest feedback, and that’s I think how I made it into something worthwhile. So I guess I’d say that for me, I realized that progress should be measured in how close to perfect I can get something, and not in how many pitches I can send out in a week/month or even contacts I can make.”

Take a look at the piece that compelled the Penguin Putnam editor to request her book proposal. The soon-to-be author’s suggested resources listed in this podcast:

MediaBistro’s book proposal course

MB’s nonfiction book writing course

Publishers Marketplace

Nadine Gordimer‘s oeuvre



Learn more about Tracy through her blog.

Do you have any tips of offer on publishing memoirs?

Read about award-winning fiction writer Douglas Silver and glean some publishing tips from poetry chapbook-wielding Sandra Marchetti in previous posts of the New Writers column.


First Writers Conference Experience


Such excitement coursed through my veins the week of 18 February that I practically wore The Joker’s grin. I was simultaneously repatriating after four years abroad and going to my first writers conference. The writers conference exemplified many reasons for repatriation: meet other writers, learn from the veterans, indoctrinate myself to the Phoenix area’s writing community.

It didn’t offer much in terms of long-term literary effects. Though it provided a suitable means for introduction to the process of how writers conferences work. Now let me just say, the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference, put on by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Writing, doesn’t pretend it’s the other AWP. The latter is already marked on my 2014 calendar; DNRS is not. Here’s why.

This writers conference was Arizona-centric. The sole writer friend made at the show had it right by calling it a parade of local literary celebrities. With the exception of Lee Gutkind, I’ve never heard of the authors, their books, or their publishers.


The conference stretched over two buildings on ASU's campus

The conference stretched over two buildings on ASU’s campus


A few hundred wanna-be writers attended, mostly local to the Phoenix area, in addition to these authors:

  • Aaron Allston
  • Jim Blasingame
  • Daniel Bosch
  • Paul Cook
  • Max Doty
  • Diana Gabaldon
  • M.J. Hyland
  • Bill Konigsberg
  • Tom Leveen
  • Barbara Peters
  • Aprilynne Pike
  • Erin Quinn
  • Allan Reeder
  • Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • James Sallis
  • Dana Stabenow
  • Michael A. Stackpole
  • Jessica Tribble
  • Betty Webb
  • Timothy Zahn


The panelist lineup revolved around mystery, sci-fi, young adult, children, poetry, and film. As an aspiring literary nonfiction writer, these genres did little for me. However some panels held promise:

Paul Morris, a travel writer thrice nominated for Pushcarts who’s published in the likes of the three penny review and Alaska Quarterly.

Christine Szuter, director of ASU’s Scholarly Publishing Certificate program. Her seminars on writing the hook and proposals were compelling.

Marylee MacDonald, a fiction and nonfiction writer who gave a seminar on memoir with Bhira Backhaus, a first-time author whose Under the Lemon Trees (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press) I will eventually read because I’m a sucker for Indian tales and Indian writers.

Then, of course, Gutkind, the man behind Creative Nonfiction. As it turns out, even he’s a local.

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 9.22.37 PM


Serial fiction writer (and Alaskan) Dana Stabenow did give us newbie writers all a surprise. Speaking on social networking, she listed the paltry efforts some publishers make for their authors. That published authors are expected to lend marketing and publicity efforts shouldn’t come as a surprise. What did surprise me was learning that the campaign (and book tour) I created years ago for a Mothering Multiples, a La Leche League International book about breastfeeding, was larger than Stabenow’s publisher’s campaigns for her.

Beyond that, I though I’d share some things Stabenow does for her work.

After the Show

As my writer pal Sandy Marchetti advises, after the writers conference I attempted contact with several people I’d met there– newbies and veterans. Two people responded. Two. From that I could see what my new writer friend– who’s lived in the Valley for several years and shares a deep commitment to her work– meant when she said there’s no literary scene here. (I then told her about Aaron Gilbreath, a fellow nonfiction writer and Phoenician who I found through social networking for literary purposes. When asking him what steps to take to get involved with the lit scene, he told me about this conference. That was a week before I left Peru.)

The Take Home

The 2012 conference was four days. This year’s was three, with four seminars each day. For $350 or so it should have been four days, bigger names, more diverse names, and free food an beverages. That price just wasn’t justifiable. We did receive a quality tote bag and the latest issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review, a lit journal published by Arizona State University. I discovered names and books of writers I’d not heard of (but not in attendance). As I said, DNRS served as proper introduction to how conferences work. The biggest reward was meeting up with another writer weeks later.

There’s nothing like talking with someone with the same language, same concerns, same ambitions.

What are some of your writers conference tales?

NW: Anthony D’Aries’s Language Excels


Welcome to NW, a column giving the shout out to brilliant new writers and people in the publishing biz.

Today’s featured author is Anthony D’Aries. D’Aries’s first book, The Language of Men, isn’t a decoder book for women to figure out what men want. The memoir contemplates D’Aries relationship with his father and takes him to VietNam, a place the radically altered his father all those years ago during the war. There D’Aries discovers the man beneath himself and his father. Language was published last year by Hudson Whitman.


Thanks for taking time to help those of us who envy where you are right now. I’d like to start with some advice for my fellow early-writer readers. What’s the best advice ever given to you about writing? Did you immediately heed it or only later realize its truth?
Two pieces of advice, both from my mentors at Stonecoast.

“Don’t let writing get in the way of living and don’t let living get in the way of writing.” –Richard Hoffman

“You write to become the person who can finish the work.” — David Mura.

I think the first piece of advice from Richard immediately made sense to me. I used to think I needed ideal circumstances (re: unemployment) to write well. But I’ve realized that it’s good for a writer to be able to write whenever, wherever — two hours at home in the morning or fifteen minutes in the car while stuck in traffic. We can waste time waiting for the perfect circumstances.

David’s advice didn’t affect me until I finished my book. There are parts, several actually, that I didn’t plan to write. At times, I felt I had written myself into a corner and the only way out was to not hold back, to shine the spotlight on myself as bright as I had on the other characters. I suppose you could compare it to when fiction writers say that their characters can sometimes surprise them, which is a surreal moment since the author is supposed to be in control, right? Same applies to memoir. You are a character, and if you write honestly, there will be moments in the book when you surprise yourself.


You’ve been publicized in HuffPo, Newsday, and The Boston Globe; a blurb by Tracy Kidder adorns your book’s back cover; you have your own music mix; and you do a lot of readings. How much of that is your own effort and how much is your publisher’s efforts to market the book?

Hudson Whitman has done a lot to publicize the book. They produced a bunch of great marketing materials — posters, business cards, pins. They organized the launch party and several other readings. I also did a lot on my own to publicize the book. Sent out a lot of pitches to different publications and a few bit. Tracy Kidder is such a generous guy. A few years ago, he gave a reading at Harvard. I’m a big fan of his memoir, My Detachment — partly because it’s about his experiences in the Vietnam War, but also because it was not a combat story and I was struggling to tell a similar story about my father. I asked him a question after the reading, which I never do. A few days later, I sent him an email, knowing that he’d be in Boston for the semester. He agreed to meet me for coffee and we chatted a while about writing. A year later, I finished my book and got back in touch with him and he agreed to read the full manuscript and write a blurb. In February, we’re reading together in Harvard Square. It all started with one question.

I often have my composition and creative writing students contact the authors we read in class. They’re surprised at how accessible many writers are.

Daries headshot

Many writers get stuck after a successful first book. Publishers therefore advise us to have an idea for the follow-up while the first lies in the their hands. Any ideas for your next book floating around?

I had been working on The Language of Men for about five years. The last two years were intensive. I had spent a semester at Randolph College as writer-in-residence, where I was able to devote a lot of time to shaping the book. A few months after I got back, Hudson Whitman accepted it and then it went through another round of revision. As I was revising, I was beginning to work with the publisher on marketing and design and lining up readings, etc. Suddenly, there was more to this whole process than just me sitting in a room and writing. That was uncomfortable at first because I hadn’t experienced all these other aspects of the writing process. But eventually, marketing the book became a nice break from the revisions, and revisions became a nice break from marketing.

When I wrote the piece for Shelf Awareness about feeling “unmoored,” I had already turned in the final manuscript and hadn’t written anything new for several months. After years of working on the book, it only took a few months to feel as if I had never written anything. That little voice that reminds you that you’re not writing grew louder each month. Even though it was uncomfortable to not have my daily writing routine, I now realize that I needed a break. Now I’m excited to work on the next book: a novel based on my experience teaching in prisons.


Most of us writers are frantic about building an author’s platform. What was your platform like before The Language of Men? Can you give an anecdote about how that prepared you for finding your agent?

I didn’t spend much time thinking about my platform. I think if the writing is strong, publishers and agents will eventually notice. Getting advice from mentors and colleagues is important. Try setting up informational meetings with anyone who you think might be able to help. Don’t hesitate to email an author or professor or journalist. The worst they can do is ignore you. Focus on polishing the work for as long as you can. Then be persistent when submitting the work. Follow up with the people you contact. See if you can set up readings and invite as many people as you can. Lead a writing class at a homeless shelter or correctional facility. Do whatever you can to beef up your experience. These should be things you want to do anyway, so if they also help bring attention to your work, all the better.


Many writers go to seminars, buy expensive books, and otherwise belabor the query letter quandary via copious hours of online chats. We’re bloody terrified to compose the “perfect” query. Would you give us some tips on what to do or what NOT to do?

My book was picked up based on a conversation at a writing conference. But I did spend a lot of time researching query letters. I don’t think it was productive for me. I got burnt out, perhaps because I was trying to write a query letter for a book I didn’t fully understand yet. Working on marketing materials and talking to a few friends who are copywriters helped me learn how to write about the book.

So this answer is probably obnoxious and unhelpful, but it’s the only one I can offer. What NOT to do…don’t waste time reading a million query letters. Go with your gut. It’s what got you to this point, so trust it.


D’Aries received the 2010 PEN/New England Discovery Award in Nonfiction. He is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program and currently teaches literacy and creative writing in correctional facilities in Massachusetts.


Previous posts feature world traveler and Go! Girl Guides founder Kelly Lewis and short fiction talent and Pushcart nominee Doug Silver. Up next month is Robert Brewer, Writer’s Market guru and the mind behind MNINB and annual Author Platform Challenge, which kicks off in April, and who’s about to release his first book of poetry with Press 53.