A Lesson in Marketing: The Perfect Book Launch


Written by Brendan O’Meara

I’ve written much about Tim Ferriss’s new book and the subsequent drama surrounding the 4-Hour Chef. (To get caught up, read here for a summation).

Ferriss has 1.2 million blog visits a month, so you might think he doesn’t need to do much by way of book promotion. With that many followers, you figure his book is spoon fed into the mouths of his readers. You might also figure he doesn’t have to lay out a marketing blitz on par with war-time propaganda. But you’d be wrong. Just read this post.

You most likely said, ‘I had no idea how little I was doing for my own work.’ If Ferriss is hitting that many outlets with the reach he has, what should the writer who has 15 blog and 300 Twitter followers do? That’s what I call on ‘Oh, shit’ moment.

Now Ferriss is in a unique position in that everyone wants a piece of him. He’s in demand. He drives traffic to their publications, blogs, and websites. How can you be like him? Simply put, what are you going to do for them? What’s in it for them?

You need to reach out to as many blogs as possible and as you reach out to them, you need to put your request in terms of them. How will your book promotion benefit them in some way. It’s a two-way street. A common mistake is to think people will take you on just because you have a new book. Maybe they will if they’re feeling charitable. How rare is that?

The takeaway from the Ferriss Book Launch is two-fold:

1. Vast reach
2. Two-way street

Hope this helps!


Goliath vs. Goliath: Tim Ferriss vs. Barnes and Noble


Written by Brendan O’Meara

Author and life hacker Tim Ferriss knows a thing or two about self promotion and he needs every iota of that skill to get his latest and possibly most exciting book—The 4-Hour Chef—into the hands and e-readers of the public.

It would be made easier if Barnes and Noble planned on stocking the book. But they’re going Ghandi and hunger striking this “cook book”. Why? Ferriss’ publisher is Amazon. Correction. Ferriss’ publisher is AMAZON!

Barnes and Noble is willing to concede the profits Ferriss’ best-seller-bound book will generate in an attempt to sink Amazon’s publishing ship. Yeah, Amazon published Penny Marshall’s memoir (which has tanked), but if she’s a revolver, Ferriss is Amazon’s atomic bomb. If there were ever an author equipped to give the middle finger to the establishment it’s Ferriss and he will need to summon other-worldly skills to get this book sold.

And just look at what he’s doing. First, check out this book trailer (a great 20th-century tactic authors need to adopt for promotion) and tell me you don’t want to buy the book.

His blog gets 1.2 million visitors a month and it’s all free content. His platform is the type that makes agents drool and others like me very, very envious. He uses it for fun. Homeboy has earned it and I’m rooting for him. Penguin and Random House became a—pardon the expression—Frankenpublisher in an attempt to go Moth vs. Godzilla. We’ll see. My money is on the giant dinosaur stomping Japanese skyscrapers.

Ferriss is a tactician and I think that while he’s miffed by the boycott, he’s excited by the challenge of using his Major League talent at promoting himself to stick it to the establishment.

Big time pitchers like to face big time hitters and by boycotting Ferriss, Barnes and Nobel better brace itself for a 100+ MPH fastball it won’t ever be able to catch up to.

And, by the way, here’s another bullet in his chamber.


Editor Dog Hard at Work


Written by Brendan O’Meara

We all have editors and some of those editors are dogs. Sure, Jack, my uber-fixated, medicated, mentally troubled Jack Russel mix doesn’t actually read anything, but his ever-looming presence makes him just about as irritating as some editors I’ve had. Exhibit A:

The Stare. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me. Don’t look at me. I’m not looking at you. I’m not looking at you. I’m not looking at you.

Which is all well and good, but those eyes weigh on you. Soon, even when he’s fallen asleep, I still see him. There. Staring. Judging.

The Lounge. Still staring at you, but I’m in a posture that allows for maximum stamina. I can stare you for hours in this position.

Most dogs sleep their days away. This is the case with my lab mix, Smarty. He’s downstairs right now. Sleeping. Couldn’t be bothered with whatever-it-is-I-do. Which, right now, is a useless recounting of a dog getting in my cage. Naturally, under the stress of such boring eyes, it becomes more intense. Like, “You best get your shit DONE! or I’m telling steady-paycheck-Mom.”

All Business. Your ass better get a move on. Stop blogging.

Fine! Fine! I’ll stop blogging and work on, shit, what am I working on? A new book? A magazine piece? Both. Jack, no! Not the throat!


Author Q&A: Natalie Keller Reinart

Written by Brendan O’Meara


I won’t have to tell you much about Natalie Keller Reinart because Alex, the protagonist of her “The Head and Not the Heart”, is a good chunk of who Natalie is: a writer, a horseman, a believer.

Her indie book swoops the reader into the thoroughbred world. Alex is in her twenties, a strange decade where you’re trying to grab a toe-hold in the world, when college spits you out, and when you’re now a pro against other pros. It’s competition time. Alex is in that world and she tries to find out where she belongs.

While not a traditional “road novel”, Alex leaves her place in Ocala, Fl for a weekend in NYC to look at a horse at Aqueduct. She runs into people her own age and questions her place in the world. Ultimately, she follows her heart.

Here’s my interview with NKR.

What made you go with “The Head and Not the Heart” as the title, because Alex is all heart before she thinks?

It’s really about the horse business, in general. That hard-to-find balance between loving horses, and making money from horses. Can you distance yourself emotionally from your horses? Should you? A successful business plan shows turn-over, it shows tax depreciation, it shows dispersals of unprofitable goods… on horses. You know just to where to rub each horse so that they buckle their knees with pleasure; you know which filly likes cookies and which one likes peppermints and which one will tear down the barn for a bag of Doritos. And you have to reduce them to dollar amounts on a balance sheet.

It doesn’t feel right, and it shouldn’t feel right, to think of horses in the same way that you would a warehouse full of merchandise, but that’s how business decisions are made.

 Alex needed to leave Ocala in order for her to realize its importance, right?

The best way to appreciate anything is to spend time without it.

 Why do you suppose Alex has a hard time fitting in?

Alex is isolated on the farm. That’s typical of horse farms, in my experience. When I was eventing, we met up with our friends at events and horse shows; otherwise we were alone on our farms, scattered across rural areas. When I was galloping, everyone was much older than me. There aren’t that many twenty-something girls galloping racehorses.

The people that Alex does meet are Alexander’s friends, and they, like him, are much older than him and not the sort of people she’d have much in common with. There are a lot of good ol’ boys in the north Florida countryside. It’s a world apart from the south Florida subdivisions and show barns where Alex grew up.

It’s not a “road book” in the strictest sense, but in this instance, how did the destinations help Alex define herself?

Ocala and New York are both sides of Alex’s coin. There was a very common sort of girl at the stables I rode at when I was a kid: gifted, creative, full of intellectual potential, and not interested in anything outside of horses. These girls could have taken two different paths in life. Alex took the path with the horses, but she believes she could have lived some other life, as Someone Creative, Doing Creative Things, and New York represents that to her. When she’s tired of falling off horses, she’s wistful for that archetypal writer/artist’s lifestyle she thinks she might have led. Ocala, on the other hand, is pretty much heavenly for someone that thinks of nothing but horses, and hell on earth for anyone that might have other interests. The minute Alex thought there might be something else out there, Ocala became a nightmare.

 I’ve heard many arguments for and against horse slaughter, but I had never heard the argument you presented, which was, these animals are biohazards, it was a different tack altogether.

Horses put down with chemicals really are biohazards. The chemicals used in a euthanasia procedure can taint groundwater, and so some places have laws preventing the burial of euthanized animals. Water contamination in Florida is a major concern because the water table is so high. Consider also that if you have a farm, you are probably drinking well water from your own land. You don’t want the same chemicals that just killed a thousand-pound animal seeping into your water supply, and the government doesn’t, either.

The chemical argument against horse slaughter is a little different. Basically, drugs, both topical and internal, leave residue in the body. Some have a withdrawal period, after which the meat from the horse is considered safe for consumption. Some, like phenylbutazone, do not. I’ve yet to meet a horse that has either never had bute, or whose owner could prove to me that the horse never had bute. Horses rarely have one owner. Who can account for the chemicals that they’ve consumed over a lifetime?

This story is pretty close to the marrow, isn’t it? To what extent is this book autobiographical?

The struggles to find a balanced life, one that isn’t tipped too far in any one direction… that’s very real.

Horses can very easily take up every breathing minute. The outside world can just disappear. That works for some people… it didn’t work for me. I need a little bit of horse, a little bit of society. Not just one or the other.

You opted to self-publish? How did you come to that decision and what steps did you take from drafting to your pub date?

I wanted to write a book that would ring true to horse-people. I wanted to dig into the emotions of loving horses, and look at all the tragedies and triumphs of life with horses. That’s not a huge audience to write for. The book I wanted to write was not going to have a shot with a big publisher. And I wasn’t particularly interested in smaller presses that specialize in equestrian books, because their books are so expensive and their print runs are so small. A self-published book has a print run that lasts as long as people want to buy the book, and I could price it reasonably. No one wants a $35.00 hardcover of The Head and Not The Heart. They don’t have to. That doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.

I also think that self-publishing is an opportunity for a writer to produce a book as a work of art as they meant it to be read. There are many musicians and artists producing work that hasn’t been edited into a commercially palatable form, and quite a lot of it is very, very good. I don’t think a book necessarily has to appeal to the widest possible audience. I’m not sure a book has to appeal to anyone but the writer. If the writer loves it, and feels it says everything the writer wanted it to say, then if someone else loves it as well, that’s just the cherry on top.

As for the steps that I took before production, I did everything myself at first. My husband, who is a bookseller and who has the same taste in books that I do, was my editor. If he doesn’t like something, he’s right and it’s wrong. I copy-edited. Ten times. I memorized the book. There are a few typos, but fewer than your average Big Six book. I created the print edition. I created the Kindle edition. I created the Nook edition. I created a cover in Gimp, which is the freeware version of Photoshop. I produced the print and ebook editions of this book on less than a hundred dollars.

My publicity largely came from my blog following. I run Retired Racehorse Blog, and was blogging daily at the time. I had incredible page view numbers, which contributed some book readers. I was running a weekly book review of horse books, to draw attention to the genre. Some authors and bloggers ran reviews of the book. And this is where self-publishing’s value really shows itself: it took about nine months for the book to really take off, but since mid-summer it has been a consistent best-seller on Amazon’s Horse Racing and Equestrian lists, and has been reviewed in mainstream publications. A commercially published book that took nearly a year to “hit” would probably not be in print by that point.

I’m a believer.

Which is harder, being a writer, or being a horseman?

Being a writer is a struggle for me; I fall back on the horses over and over again. I always have. It’s hard to live your own life and live other people’s lives in your head as well. Not to mention, as a writer I was paying the bills by writing all sorts of articles I couldn’t work up the slightest interest in, which was just depressing.

Now I do both. I found a day job that lets me work with horses, and I write when I can fit it in. At first, it seemed like a kind of failure: I had wanted to write full-time, and here I was going to work with my lunch-bag every day again. I produce a lot less, which I find frustrating. But I can’t deny that I’m a horsewoman, and I have to fulfill that side of my personality as well. It would be easier to just be a horsewoman, and concentrate 100% on horses and then come home and watch TV and fall asleep and not feel guilty that I didn’t write, but that wouldn’t be fulfilling either. I need to be both.

 Your write, “I was sick to death of horsemen who did things a certain way because that’s the way they’d always been done.” Can the deep-seated culture and Old Kentucky Boys be changed? Will they allow it?

Isn’t the definition of good ol’ boys kind of that they just won’t change from the good ol’ days? They do things the way their pappy taught ‘em? The people I admire in racing come from the sport horse world, like Michael Matz and Rodney Jenkins. They have a more well-rounded understanding of horses, in my opinion. They are riders with first-hand knowledge of the athletic abilities of horses far beyond how fast a horse can run.

Where does your optimism lie in horse racing?

I don’t know that I am optimistic about racing. I know that I love it, but I am rarely successful in convincing other people to love it. It feels like there are just enough rich people buying horses every year to keep the races running, but the average American remains unconvinced.

And there is great gulf between the sport/pleasure horse world and the racing world. On both sides, most participants are completely ignorant of how the other operates. There is no cooperation. There are no shared concerns for the future. There is such potential for collaboration, especially considering big legislative topics that affect everyone involved with horses: land use, the diversion of corn from feed into fuels, national regulation of animals. But racing continues to exist as something apart from the rest of the horse business, isolated.

America has this incredible population of horse-lovers who know nothing about racing and do not care to. Until this year, when the retired racehorse shows and programs started showing up at racetracks, the horse racing industry made it pretty clear they didn’t need the horse-lovers. Maybe that opinion is starting to change.

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Guest Post: How to Make Money Writing

Posted by Brendan O’Meara

With Halloween right around the corner, what better time than to talk about ghost writing?

I’ve got this friend, you see, and she is a wonderful writer. And you know the mark of a great writer? There are two things, really. 1) They teach it. They share the information and don’t hoard it, as if by granting another writer an edge, they lose their advantage. 2) They check their ego and that’s what guest blogger Melinda Copp does. She’s a ghost writer and she irons out a great way for you to make a living writing. But, like I said, you have to check your ego. So, let’s hear from Melinda, shall we?

Enter Melinda:

Ghostwriting isn’t the kind of profession most writers aspire to. I will admit: it’s not the highest form of the art. But it is a way to earn a living, which is something most writers can appreciate.

My first professional writing job after college was working as an editorial assistant to a ghostwriter. Up until that point, I had only a vague idea of what ghostwriting was. And I can remember her explaining to me in the interview that I wouldn’t be getting a byline or credit for the writing work I’d be doing, and I can remember her asking me: Are you okay with that? I can see why many writers wouldn’t be, but I decided that I was. I needed a job.

Since that first ghostwriting job, I’ve had two children, become a full-time freelancer, gotten a master’s degree, and pursued a variety of other ways to make a living as a writer. But when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a freelance ghostwriter. I write books for people who have a story to tell or information to share but don’t have the skills to write it themselves. I’m like a copywriter, only instead of working on white papers and marketing copy, I write books.

How Does Ghostwriting Work?

Ghostwriting arrangements work in different ways. But most of the people who hire me want to publish a book to establish expertise. They are usually self-publishing, at least at first, and they view the project as a business investment. Other times, people who have been very successful in their lifetime hire me to write their memoirs.

Basically, when I work with a client, I take their ideas and mold them into a publishable book. The process involves lots of interviewing, especially in the beginning. I work from the interviews to write the client’s book. Then the client and I go back and forth, revising my drafts, until the book is written the way they want it.

Want to Try Ghostwriting?

If you’re looking for a new way to earn an income as a freelance writer, ghostwriting is an option. Here are a few tips.

1. Choose your clients wisely. You will probably be working with your ghostwriting client for about a year. You won’t always agree on things and it won’t always be easy.

2. Get paid for the work as you’re doing it. Many people have approached me with book ideas that they’re sure will be a best seller. The story is fantastic, they tell me, and if I agree to write it for them, they’ll split the profits with me. I’m sure this happens to every ghostwriter. And most of the time, these people do have fantastic stories to tell. And maybe a book about them would be a huge success. But as a professional ghostwriter, I can’t help these people. The risk that goes along with whether or not the book will be successful has to rest on them. For this reason, I don’t enter into arrangements where I write the book in exchange for royalties that will come in the future after it gets published. The hard fact of the publishing world is that most books aren’t profitable. Ghostwriting is my job and it has to bring a steady paycheck. Plus, I have my own ideas to keep me busy without getting paid.

3. Use a contract. Preferably one that a lawyer created for you.

4. Put your ego aside. All writers have to do this, but with clients you have to remember you’re not working with a professional editor. They may not be able to tell you what they want. And they’re not always going to know what’s best for their own book. As a professional writer, I think you have to tell the client what you believe is the best choice for their story. But as a hired ghostwriter, you have to ultimately write it the way they want it to be written.

On Being a Professional Ghostwriter

I never really set out to be a professional freelance ghostwriter. And there’s a downside to this kind of work—my name isn’t out there with bylines the way it would be if I were a freelance journalist. But by becoming a ghostwriter, I have been able to work as a professional writer, stay at home with my kids, set my own work schedule and deadlines, stabilize my income with large projects, set my own rates, and practice writing book-length nonfiction.

The best part about it is that each ghostwriting project allows me to learn about new topics. My clients, thus far, have been interesting and wonderful people. And ghostwriting allows me time to work on my own projects, which makes me a very happy writer.

[Brendan: being a writer takes on many forms. This is real-world writing and sometimes you have to put ego and notoriety aside so you can do what it is you love: writing. Sometimes a painter needs to paint a jack Russell terrier portrait so she can do landscapes later.]

Follow Melinda on Twitter and check out here blog.

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The Purple Cow: On Being Remarkable in an Unremarkable Market

Written by Brendan O’Meara

As many of you know I’m big into marketing for writers. Authors need to be savvy at creating buzz around their work. Nobody else will.

Author Seth Godin is a marketing guru, and in the canon of his books, I’ve read “The Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.” [Also reading “Meatball Sundae”, and I’ll have insights from that book as well.]

You’re driving down a nice country road in south Jersey and you look at all the pretty cows. Soon those pretty cows look homogenous, boring. Then you see a purple cow. Holy sh*T! Did you see that purple cow!? It stands out. It’s remarkable.

Sure, much of it revolves around businesses that provide a particular service or product, but many of the principles apply to writers. What’s key is NOT appealing to the masses. There is so much static and distraction: Internet, TV, iPad, iPhone, movies, kids, dogs, elections, the Tunguska Event. You name it. You need to get nichey with it.

Wait for it: here’s the question writers love to hear … Who’s your audience? Who’s going to buy your book? And once you figure that out, how will you stand out? How will you be remarkable?

There are four groups of people Godin describes and they fall into the typical bell-shaped curve. On the far left are the Innovators and Early Adopters (leaders looking to get a jump). The belly of the curve is the Early and Late Majority (followers). Laggards fill out the far right (slackers, people buying their first digital camera today.).

The key is to appeal to the far left: the innovators and early adopters. They are passionate consumers looking for the “in” thing. They like to be ahead of the masses so they can recommend cool products to their friends. These people somehow have the iPhone7, the one with the inter-planetary time warp. Essentially, these people are bloggers eager to review and share their insights. As writers in a tenuous publishing climate, we need to seek out these people. They will review your work and talk about it to their 500, 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 followers.

If you can reach several dozen bloggers and their collective readership is 100,000 people and 10% of those people buy your book, that’s 10,000 books. Not New York Times Best Seller stuff, but that’s a lot of books from a modest reach. What if you reached 1,000,000 people from 100 bloggers?

Of course you still need to write a great book. But let’s assume you already knew that. All of this is moot if your book isn’t fit to line bird cages.

What do a lot of [wannabe] writers do? Trust me, I’ve spoken to a lot. Many love this idea of holing up in a cabin and being the solitary writer. Steaming coffee. A fire. Snow in the mountains. This is unremarkable in terms of building a brand. Stephen King can do this. Suzanne Collins can do this. You can’t.


Things I do?

No. 1, and this might seem stupid, but I feel it’s gotten me this far, however far that is. I suit up. I always wear a suit when reporting and when I appear in public. I feel it’s how I got the access I got to the executive characters in Six Weeks. Especially as a sports writer, dressing nicely makes you remarkable, you stand out from the sheep. Plus it makes me feel good. First impressions, when you see a guy in a nicely tailored suit standing next to a guy in tattered khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a ball cap, who will garner a better first impression? Exactly.

No. 2 What I’m working on are videos and book trailers. Goofy mini-movies that sometimes touch upon writing and books. Sometimes they might just be a funny skit. What’s the point? Well, I don’t want to be “spammy” for one, but I also just want to entertain in a different form. If people are drawn to those videos, they’ll be more likely to sample my work. To quote Godin, “Don’t Be Boring,” and “Safe is Risky.”

Another idea that I’m going to employ? Giveaways. This isn’t completely novel, but I have a theory if you give away something, it will snowball into better publicity if the people signing up for the giveaway 1.) Like it. And 2.) Review it on Amazon and Goodreads and spread the news.

Again, Innovators and Early Adapters.

Which is why, if you’ve made it this far in this post, I will give away—for free!—a personalized copy of my book “Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.” All you have to do is subscribe to my blog using the email form at the end of this post. Or you can click on that “Follow” tab in the lower right-hand corner. Once you’re confirmed, I’ll contact you for your address and see how you want your book signed and I’ll mail it away Media Rate (7-10 days delivery time).

Books go to the first 30 subscribers, so I’d love to hear from you in the comments and I’d love for you to subscribe.

Go! Be Remarkable!

Singin’ the Comma Blues

Mathina Calliope came out of the Goucher College creative nonfiction MFA program with me a few years ago. She’s a crazy, salsa-dancin’, hip-shakin’, word-writin’ kinda gal and I think you’re gonna dig her guest post about that little wink of punctuation: the comma. She blogs here and DOESN’T TWEET ENOUGH here, but that’s neither here nor there. But, she is HERE dropping a grammar bomb from the heavens. Enter Mathina!

My freshmen composition students thought they knew what commas were all about. Commas peppered the students’ first essays like New England fall leaves: abundant, lovely, and ultimately destined for unloading. Then, we started looking at comma rules: Use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase. Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction to connect two independent clauses. Use a comma between coordinating adjectives not joined by and. Do not use a comma between cumulative adjectives. Abruptly, comma insecurities crowded the room like monsters in a closet.

The students weren’t the only ones rendered suddenly unsure. I used commas correctly all the time, didn’t I? I mean, I had an undergraduate degree in journalism, a master’s in education, and another master of fine arts—in writing. I wrote test questions about comma usage. Christ. If I couldn’t explain why you didn’t put a comma after “Maryland” in “Jesse and I brought home Maryland blue crabs to throw in the pot for supper,” who could? And yet here we were, getting into the comma weeds, as it were, and the more we discovered, it seemed, the less we understood.

The conventions of written English generally come to native English speakers via silent absorption, the way language does, as we grow up reading all manner of texts, and witnessing, sentence after millionth sentence and word after hundred millionth word, just where commas do or do not pop up.

For nonnative English speakers and for nonreading English-speaking natives, however, commas confound, and the rules only seem to make it worse. Suddenly, it’s not enough to drop a comma in naturally, where one might pause in speech. No, now one suddenly needs to understand advanced grammatical terms: coordinating conjunction (not to be confused with subordinating conjunction), independent clause, clause, phrase. Yet, when one reads the definition of an independent clause—a group of words containing a  noun “doing” a verb but not preceded by a subordinating word—rather than having things cleared up, one must now find still further definitions.

Frustrating, to be sure, but also complex and wonderfully mysterious, even tantalizing.

Any of us, if we have spent any time learning anything, has encountered this phenomenon. I first noticed it right after learning to drive. Never having considered all that went into coordinating steering, braking, accelerating, changing lanes, I viewed driving as nothing but a thing. But after one lesson, when I rode with a friend who safely and confidently merged into high-speed traffic, never interrupting her monologue about her prom date, I stared at her in awe.

Any skill or domain of knowledge with which we have no experience is necessarily opaque to us. As we peer closer, as we remove layers of opacity, we find not clarity but complexity. And this is what makes learning worthwhile, why it is inherently “fun;” it creates dissonance between reality and what we thought we understood. Our reward for resolving that dissonance is satisfaction—and an ever-greater appreciation for the richness that is life and learning.

Now to persuade my students that this is the case …

Mathina Calliope teaches English 111 at Northern Virginia Community College. Read more of her musings—grammatical and otherwise—at www.calliopeterpsichore.com


How to Support Your Public Radio Station


Written by Brendan O’Meara

When you live in the Capital Region of New York, you have access to one helluva public radio station. Led by the tireless President and CEO Alan Chartock, WAMC conducts three fund drives per year where it has to raise $1 million per drive for $3 million a year. It takes 10 days for WAMC to raise the money. That’s $100,000 a day. Amazing. Especially with an economy grinding along with the energy of a 3-toed sloth.

Some people donate $5, others several thousand. But I have a good way to make it easy to make the money. This goes right to the listeners. Here it is? Ready? Good.

Treat your radio like a WAMC Jukebox. Every day (just once a day), when you turn on WAMC, put $1 in a jar, or transfer it electronically into your savings account. $1 a day. If you listen five days a week, that’s $260 a year. Multiply that by 400,000 listeners (maybe a bit high) and that equals $104,000,000. Divide that by $3 million and WAMC wouldn’t need to have a fund drive for another 34.66 years. Even if it’s 100,000 listeners, that’s still $26 million. A dollar a day, you won’t even feel it.

It’s just that simple.


Q&A: Best-selling author Jonathan Evison

Photo courtesy of www.jonathanevison.net

Written by Brendan O’Meara

I recently finished “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”, a novel by New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Evison. It’s the best book I’ve read all year. The book is wildly funny and punishingly sad.

It’s a first-person narrative told by Ben Benjamin, a former stay-at-home dad who takes a course in caregiving. The workforce has passed him by and this is his way of rebuilding himself. He works for the sexually frustrated and tyrannical 19-year-old Trev, who is disabled by MD. Trev’s world is small, limited by his physical body. Ben is disabled in another way. The two are an unlikely pair. They need each other and they hit the road in their van for adventure, for deliverance.

I reached out to Evison on Facebook, asking him if he’d answer some questions. He said he’s on the road a lot, but if I emailed him he’d answer them as timely as he could. I emailed him some questions. He answered them in about an hour. Yeah, he’s that kind of guy. Few authors would do that.

As fate should have it, I went to Maryland this past weekend and he was a featured author at the Baltimore Book Fest. He’s approachable and has earned his lot. He said at the festival, “I succeeded by failing.”

Blogger Celeste Sollod interviewing Jonathan Evison at the Baltimore Book Fest. Evison wrote eight unpublished novels before “All About Lulu” came out in 2008. “I succeeded by failing,” he said.

BO: You’re last novel “West of Here” is big in body and scope, “RFC” is tighter and narrower in its focus, what was the motivation for the change in tactical story telling? “RFC” is deeply personal for you.

JE: Every novel I try to challenge myself in some new way. With “West of Here”, those challenges were formal and structural. With The Revised Fundamentals, the challenges were emotional. I had to dig up a lot of old bones and strew them about, plum a lot of emotional depths, etc. In the end, it was nothing less than cathartic.

BO: Ben is broken. How did you come to nursing/caregiving for Ben to rebuild himself?

JE: My life was in the shit-can ten years ago. My first wife left me for a surfing Buddhist, I was working at an ice cream stand, and I was sitting on eight unpublished books. There were a couple of yeas that were just a blur. I took  a night course in caregiving, which really helped turn my life around. Caring for others while I was barely able to care for myself, built me back up into something resembling a human being.

BO: Trev’s orbit is small, to expand it without risk, he watches the Weather Channel and puts pins on a map, how important was it for him to break free? Did you need a physically limited person for Ben to feel needed again?

JE: Man, I did everything within my power NOT to write a road novel—I was really resistant to the idea. You can feel me trying to subvert the road novel for the first hundred pages. Finally, I just had to give in. The characters made me. They needed the road to deliver them. I’d say Trev and Ben are equally limited. While Trev is physically disabled, Ben is emotionally and spiritually bereft. Also, I think they care for each other equally. Ben needs Trev every bit as Trev needs Ben. Wait, did I answer the question?

BO: How did you approach the writing? Ben has a crushingly sad history and that is carefully parsed out. How did you approach that strategy instead of just dumping it on the reader?

JE: I wanted Ben to earn the reader’s respect. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for any of my characters, not right from the get-go. I wanted to show them warts and all. Structurally, I always visualized this novel as an artichoke, where the reader peels back the layers of armor to get to the heart of the thing. Handling this just about any other way risked being mawkish, I think.

BO: How did you go about assembling this ensemble for the road trip?

JE: I think my unconscious mind did most of the heavy lifting. The cast just seemed to appear inevitably along the way. Each new character naturally addressed one of somebody else’s needs—usually Ben’s or Trev’s.

BO: Many—if not all—of the characters are in limbo, hinged to a heavy past, but trudging through the muck to move forward, talk about that commonality.

JE: Well, first, flawed as they are, they’re all doing the best they can to manage what they’ve got. Critics have called my characters losers, but they’re not. They’re not quitters. They’re not pessimists. They wanna believe things will get better, and so they grope their way through, often failing miserably along the way, but always meaning well. They want to re-invent themselves, they want to find hope, they want to be decent people.

BO: Now, either you had a blast on Urban Dictionary.com, or you’re incredibly depraved—or both—which is it? Ha!

JE: All of the above! I’m pretty sure I made up a few of those sex acts.

BO: How did you strike a tonal balance between humor and somber in the book?

JE: Necessity. I don’t think I could write about irredeemable loss without a lot of comic relief. Tragedy and comedy are all tangled up in my mind, always have been. So striking this tonal balance came very naturally to me. I grew up around gallows humor. Some of the most tragic events in my life have been tinged by humor. Like finding my grandmother dead, with Tums antacids bubbling out of her mouth, and discovering a TV dinner at her bedside, and seeing she only ate the cherry pie, and left the rest. Now, that’s not funny, but c’mon, it is, right?

BO: One of my favorite turns of phrase comes toward the end when talking about, of all things, Mr. Baxter the fish, “I’m guessing he’s bat-shit crazy from turning circles in that murky little bowl his whole life, and that he doesn’t care anymore whether he lives or dies. Then a few pages later when he’s expelled from his bowl, “Mr. Baxter, who I’ve sorely misjudged, is flopping furiously for life on the nearby throw rug …” How did you come to these hysterical places in the book?

JE: Again, my poor bumbling characters led me to them, more often than not. In the case of Mr. Baxter, his life is a perfect reflection of Ben’s own circumstances—stuck, dissolute, depressed. Ben empathizes with him.

BO: The men in your books—Ethan Thornburgh (West of Here), Ben, Bob, etc.—feel shrouded in inadequacy, have something to prove, where does that come from?

JE: I love the theme of masculinity in crisis. Hell, I was raised by bodybuilders, how could I not? As much as I imagine it sometimes sucks being a woman in a world that is all-too-often tailored to the masculine sensibility, it’s anything but easy being a dad in our culture, and living up to the various expectations foist upon us by ourselves, and by women, and by our children. I’m just fascinated by the nuances.

BO: On your epitaph you write, ‘… Mostly, he lasted.’ The same can be said for Ben, right?

JE: And the same can be said for your beloved Red Sox.

BO: Changing gears, give me as sense of the work you put in to illustrate the difference between BEING a writer and those who crave to occupy the writer’s space (Every book signing I’ve done, I get a couple of people ‘writing their books’ but they never do, partly because they don’t realize that it’s WORK)?

JE: Oh, I work my ass off. I get up at four in the morning to write. Do you think I wanna be up at that hour? Hell no. That said, it doesn’t feel like work to me, because rather than draining my stores of energy, it begets more energy. The work makes me a more expansive person—a better husband, a better dad, a better friend. It’s pretty sill to want to occupy the writer’s space, because by and large, it is an exercise in humiliation. The work is where it’s at.

BO: For writers, what has been you experience in promotion your work Is there anything that’s a waste of time and/or money? What should a writer do YESTERDAY that he or she isn’t doing today?

JE: Don’t think of it as promoting, for one. I think of it as an extension of the work. Me, the artist, reaching out, trying to connect with readers. It’s always better to start a dialogue, rather than just blow your own horn. Nobody will listen. You have to engage your readership, not recruit them.

BO: What types of rejection have you faced?

JE: Easily 400 form rejections. Not to mention all manner of other rejections in life. Failure makes me stronger.

BO: Can a great writer be made, or, like a gifted singer, is greatness handed out to the few, like Pavarotti? Can it be earned?

JE: Beats me. I guess I think, like Kierkegaard, that the artist herself should be the first work of art. If you can make yourself into a good, kind, empathetic, observant person who cares deeply about the human condition, and you entertain an endless curiosity, well, then you can probably learn to string some sentences together.

BO: How do you spend your non-writing time?

JE: Drinking and chasing my kid, in no particular order. I walk in the woods a lot, play scrabble with my wife, play a lot of ping pong with my nephew.

BO: How much do you THINK about the act of writing?

JE: Always. I AM the act of writing.

[Brendan’s back] And if that wasn’t entertaining enough, you should take a look at the book trailer for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” I love it. I actually have some commercials in this vein in the hopper. It’s what Seth Godin would call a “purple cow.” Great to see someone of Evison’s profile adopting it. Take a look:


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