Interview with Mitch Joel

book_trans.gifMitch Joel is a social media rock star who runs an extremely successful digital marketing business in Beautiful Montreal. I’ve been listening to his Six Pixels of Separation podcast since he started it. Since he’s just come out with a book by the same name, everyone is interviewing him about his social media insights.

I, on the other hand, wanted to talk to Mitch about publishing. He’s said too many interesting things on Media Hacks recently. (Two of the other contributors to Media Hacks, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, have just published a best-selling book together, and another one, Hugh McGuire, runs a book start-up.)

In this interview, Mitch talks about:

  • His previous experience with the publishing industry
  • The importance of having a platform
  • The difference between writing a book and writing a collection of blog posts
  • The powerful mystique that publishing a book retains even (or especially) in the age of social media
  • The value of a good editor
  • Why his publisher made his book more blog-like
  • Distribution and business models in publishing
  • What makes a book a book

Mitch is an incredibly articulate one-take podcaster. I’m not. I’ve edited this interview slightly for fluency. In particular, I’ve rearranged the beginning, because Mitch and I started our conversation before his introduction.

A big thanks to Mitch for such a fabulous interview.

Since they can’t keep Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone in the stores, I’d recommend you all buy it on Amazon (and give me a few cents in commission while you’re at it).

Book Review: Thinking Like Your Editor

Book Cover: Thinking Like Your Editor
Thinking Like Your Editor:
How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction—and Get It Published

Susan Rabiner & Alfred Fortunato
W. W. Norton & Company, 2002
Paperback, 288 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-0393324617
List Price: US $15.95

I’ve read many (very good) books about how to write a non-fiction book proposal. While Thinking Like Your Editor includes a substantial section on your “submission package” and concludes with a sample of a successful proposal, the best parts of this book are the subjects not covered in similar books.

Of course, the authors should know all about the importance of including something in your book that your competitors don’t have: they’re literary agents. Before she was an agent, Susan Rabiner was an editor, first with a university press, then with HarperCollins. She provides a lot of inside info not just on how editors interact with authors, but on how they deal with booksellers. (Getting a new book onto a prominent display of new titles requires the payment of “co-op money.”)

There are too many important points made in this book to list here, but one that I can’t remember seeing put into so many words is “Every work of serious nonfiction (Rabiner and I disagree on the need for a hyphen in that word) begins with a question the author has about the topic and ends with an answer the author wants to provide.”

This is something I need to ask my clients, many of whom have a topic but aren’t yet sure which book on that topic they’re going to write: “What is the question driving your book?” The answer to that question could result in several different books on the same topic—books that might compete with one another, but which might all find publishers, nevertheless.

In fact, I might even start asking that question of my blog and podcast clients. It has that “If it was a snake, it woulda bit me” sense of obvious rightness to it.

In addition to such tips as how to leave a good voice mail message for an agent, the book addresses the specific issues of writing serious non-fiction, methodically laying out many things that lurk in the realm of intuition for those who have read widely in this genre. There are lots of good tips for recovering academics, things I had to learn by doing when I made the transition from jargon-laden academic writing to punchier, to-the-point business writing and copywriting.

The one problem I have with this book is that it doesn’t define “serious non-fiction.” For instance, given that Wiley, the largest publisher of business books, isn’t listed among the trade publishers of serious non-fiction on page 130, you might think this category of book doesn’t include business books, yet there are business books chosen as examples elsewhere.

I would recommend that if you’re in doubt as to whether publishers (who themselves seem to have a different definition from this book’s authors) would consider your book “serious non-fiction,” you should read the book anyway. You can check it out of the library, as I did when Hilary Powers recommended it on the Editors Guild list, or you can buy yourself a copy to keep around as a reference, which I expect to do soon. But make a point of reading it, either way.

The Best Way to Get a Book Published

Reed Smith asked the following question on LinkedIn:

What is the best way to get a book published?

What is the best way to go about getting a book published. Any advice for a first time author?

This was my answer:

I’m assuming you mean a non-fiction book; things work a bit differently for fiction. One of the best things you can do, whether you choose traditional publishing, self-publishing, or Print on Demand, is write a book proposal. (There are plenty of books about how to do this, some with examples, and also professionals to help you.) A proposal forces you to analyze your target market, your book’s strengths and weaknesses, your goals for the book, and your own ability to sell it.

No matter what form of publishing you choose, promoting the book is your job. Publishers care less about how well you can write (you or they can always hire a ghostwriter like yours truly to ensure the writing is up to their standards) than about whether anyone will want to read it and how you’re going to reach them.

That means you need a “platform”—a way to reach potential readers. If you do a lot of public speaking, have a large (in the tens of thousands) e-mail list, have a popular blog, know celebrities in your field who can endorse the book, etc. and so on, it will help you immensely.

Once the proposal is finished, writing the book is easy. And it’s the proposal that will sell the book for you. If it doesn’t, you don’t have to write the book, unless it’s so important for personal reasons that you don’t mind investing the time and effort without expectation of financial returns.

It’s funny how I can never write a blog post that’s as short as my Answers on LinkedIn. Incidentally, my response wasn’t chosen as the best answer. The best answer was “,” and I would agree that Lulu is one of the best POD houses. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who’d already chosen to go that route. I wonder how Reed’s book is coming along?