Angie O'Gorman's first novel, The Book of Sins, is just out from PlainView Press of Austin, TX. Well-known for her human-rights activism, O'Gorman, a longtime St. Louisan, teaches "Theology for Peacemakers" at St. Louis University and is a staff member at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. Her essays and articles have appeared in America Magazine, Commonweal, National Catholic Reporter, and Natural Bridge.
What is the best thing about publishing your first novel?
There is great relief when a publisher â€“ no matter how small â€“ accepts your novel for publication. But the greater satisfaction comes when readers find something of value in your work; something worth thinking and talking about. The actual placing of your work into public hands is a terribly unnerving event.
Please describe the plot in 35 words.
Against the backdrop of life in the United States in the year 2034, after Christianity has become a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of capitalism, an odd grouping of women come into each other's lives, and all hell breaks loose.
What are your hopes for The Book of Sins?
On one level, the story's premise is that Christianity is becoming capitalism's philanthropic arm. On another level, the story probes the consequences of this odd merger on those most negatively affected by it â€“ the poor. I hope this narrative might incite doubt in readers about the status quo's own narrative.
What did your editors like about your novel?
This was a niche thing. My novel and PlainView Press's mission statement were a perfect match.
What advice do you have for people wanting to write and publish a novel?
Write what you have a passion to write, regardless of what the market is buying. Then go to the independent, small presses first. After you're a known quantity (and quality), go for the agent and the big publisher.
What is the worst aspect of writing a novel?
Losing all objectivity. While involved in writing a long work, the writer can become absolutely unable to hear or observe the small, subtle things that can make or break a good story.
What inspires you to write?
The world I see rubs my soul the wrong way. I know we can do better. The friction causes me to write.
Angie will be reading from and signing her book March 21 at the Center for Theology and Social Analysis (CTSA), 1077 S. Newstead, 4:00-6:00 pm; March 29, will guest on Literature for the Halibut, KDHX, FM 88.1, 9:00 pm; April 9: Reading and Book Signing: Plowsharing Crafts, St. Louis, 7:00 pm; April 21: Reading and Book Signing: Left Bank Books, St. Louis, 7:00 pm. Her book can also be purchased from amazon.com.
-First lines should create and hold tension.
-Find the point at which YOU become interested in what you have written, and chop off everything that goes before that.
-Axe "There are," "We were," "It has been," and other "to be" verb phrases. Usually the sentence holds another verb which can be activated. For example, "There is Mother's fur coat hanging in the closet," becomes "Mother's fur coat hangs in the closet."
-"A bad title is like a dunce-cap on a poem" - poet Adrian Matejka said it and I repeat it -- and it's true for prose pieces also.
-The final line had better be right, and if it takes three years to get it right, it takes three years.
-Fiction writers, for some reason you will always be advised to cut the last few sentences of your ending ("End it sooner"). Ignore this advice.
-If a work has a troublesome part, have other writers look at and comment on it.
-About 50 percent of the praise you get is mere politeness, so correct for that.
-If there's one line or paragraph that you cannot get right, try deleting it. Usually the work will be fine without it, perhaps even healthier.
Been resident at two writers' colonies or retreats, each for two weeks. They were great in their ways, particularly the first one, Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois, but there can be a downside to going.
Can't deny, though, that I made some fabulous breakthroughs at Ragdale in 2005, such as starting to write poetry again, and for that I am ever grateful.
I had energy and time enough to either
a) work on finishing my writing and sending it out, or
b) do advance publicity and my marketing setup for upcoming events and the release of Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis (still at the printer's).
I chose "A" and am not sorry.But I learnt JUST NOW that if I left publicity up to others, it wouldn't get done, not even by the sponsoring organization, St. Louis Poetry Center:
Catherine Rankovic and Ed Boccia will read their poetry Tuesday March 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Focal Pointe, 2720 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood, MO, 63143. This event is part of the Poetry at the Pointe series sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center. Free. For information call (314) 973-0616.
I swiftly wrote the above notice using a handy formula called the "five W's." For publicity and news purposes it will never let you down. It states "Who, What, When, Where, and Why", and â€“ welcome to the 21st century! â€“ "How Much?" Also, for "Where," it has become very important in the age of GPS to indicate the whole street address including the zip code. Keep it short! That way, editors will keep their meathooks off of it.
"Ask not" how YOUR event was the one that got lost in the welter. "Ask what you can do to fix the problem caused by neglecting your own publicity."
Wide open market for UNAGENTED young adult fiction -- a new Harlequin imprint, actually -- reported on Tricia Grissom's Coffee and Critique blog. I know that you know somebody with a YA novel, so please pass the information on.
If you're working on nonfiction and need a workshop, I'm teaching an evening workshop called Nonfiction Seminar at University College, Washington University, this spring. It's a 3-credit workshop course for memoir, essay, biography, travelogues, and nature writing; or narrative, as-told-to and other forms of creative nonfiction. The course emphasizes professionalism and publishability.The course meets Tuesdays, 6:00-8:30 p.m., begins January 13 and ends May 5. I am happy to answer any questions. Please pass the word. Thank you.
To register, go to ucollege.wustl.edu and click "Courses and Registration" The course number is U11 313, under English Composition, and tuition is $1495.
I'm also teaching a course Thursday evenings, same place, U11 323, called The Art of the Personal Essay.
If any empire deserves to crumble, it's publishing as we have known it. This good New York Times article discusses online amateur book dealing. When you sell your used books on Amazon it bothers publishers no end because they get paid for the book only once. Maybe like their writers they should get used to being paid only once.
By comparison, a publisher of eBooks can charge for every download, although texts must be priced more affordably. But easy and instantaneous transactions mean the publisher sells more -- even when downloaded books get passed around. More sales and no middlemen mean a bigger chunk of the profits can go to the writers -- not the current lousy 10 to 15 percent.According to the article, brick-and-mortar bookstores must go down with the ship, and that's sad. But the best ones will adapt, mostly the smaller independent ones. They've been pulling for the writers all along, and we will pull for them. Don't confuse the demise of traditional NYC-centered publishing with the demise of books or reading.
True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.
Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.
This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from Creativecommons.org.
Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!
Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.
The writer now has control. You can fix it so your book is available as both a downloadable eBook file that anyone can download into his or her computer -- and as a printed book. This latter as long as someone places an order for a printed copy.
I've explored two reputable companies that do this: Lulu.com and LightningSource.com. Lulu is simpler. You do it all yourself, and you can choose to be your own publisher or let your publisher be Lulu.com. Lightning Source has district sales reps, support via E-mail, a bunch of manuals, and you should be set up as your own publisher already, and have bought your own ISBN.
Both companies will distribute your book through the normal channels and also online bookstores such as amazon.com. Both let you keep all your rights to the material.
With that kind of control the writer now has certain responsibilities. To wit:
1) You have to have a finished manuscript and the confidence that you can do this.
2) There's an initial outlay of money to publish such a book. But not a lot. Can you scrape up $100?
3) You have to follow directions and certain rules, and there's some legal stuff, and tax stuff if you make any money.
4) You can't publish just anything. Porn, for example, or pirated material, is not allowed.
5) You must proofread the copy, lay it out in book-style pages (some cheap or free software programs can help you do this), for Lulu.com turn the file into a distilled pdf (using Adobe software). And you provide the cover, unless that's a job you want to farm out to a graphics professional.
6) If you catch a mistake in the book after it's gone into distribution, and you want to fix it and reprint, that'll cost you mucho dinaro, or, as the Serbs say, mlogo slan, which literally means "much salt."
7) Your publishers make the book available, but they don't market or promote it. You do. A lot. There's a saying I hate that's painfully truthful: "Success is an ongoing effort." (spit-spit-phewie!)
8) Your publishers and distributors take their percentages, just as in the real world, and what's left belongs to you.
9) You have the "self-published" stigma, at least for now. The only way around it is to have kick-booty material! A darned good and worthwhile book that people will want to buy! Ah! That was what those old-fashioned publishers wanted! Does your book have what it takes?
I'll jump in first, and tell you how the water is.