John Shelton Reed interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Mar 19, 2016 3:58:32 PM
John Shelton Reed interview with David Alan Binder
1. Where are you currently living? Chatham county, North Carolina (south of Chapel Hill)
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far? Try not to write anything you wouldn’t say.
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk? Someone else would have to tell you.
4. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher? All of my books have been through publishers, but I’m thinking of self-publishing one that may have no market, just for the record. Since fewer and fewer publishers these days provide much in the way of editorial assistance or marketing, I think self-publishing will be an increasingly attractive option, even for books that publishers might be interested in
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they? Check my website – I’ve had seven or eight different ones, mostly (but not all) university presses.
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing? I have bought eBooks when they were the only alternative or substantially cheaper, but I prefer books that can be signed by their authors, passed around to friends, and sold or donated when no longer wanted. And read in the bathtub without concern about destroying an expensive “device.” Print-on-demand books, on the other hand, strike me as a wholly good thing.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published? No, although I observe that connections help to open the door. After that, it helps to have written a good book. Don’t ignore the usefulness of “weak ties” – friends of friends.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one? I got lucky: An agent read one of my university press books and got in touch with me to see what else I had. From time to time I’ve introduced other writers to him (although I don’t think any of these referrals has actually led to a contract). I’ve only done this voluntarily, however, when I thought they’d written something he’d like to see; I’d rather not be asked for an introduction.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)? Have a day job. Seriously. The chances of making a living from writing are about like those of making a living from tennis.
9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating? I don’t know about the creative process, but I’ve been surprised and disappointed to learn how incompetent some (by no means all) marketing people can be.
10. How many books have you written? I’ve written fifteen books (three of them co-authored) and edited another five.
11. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)? I always read my stuff aloud, or at least sub-vocally. It’s a good way to catch things like sentences that need to be broken up or dialog that could not be actual conversation. It also helps to have a particular reader in mind – a friend, say, who is intelligent and educated, but may not know much about what you’re discussing.
12. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story? I don’t write fiction (or try not to, anyway), so I can’t help here.
13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd? Speaking as an essayist: You have to have something serious to say, but you don’t need to show how learned you are while saying it. You want to tell complicated stories simply, making it easy for your readers. At the same time, you don’t want to be seen as talking down to them. There’s a sweet spot between indifference and condescension. Writers like Joseph Epstein and Paul Fussell hit that spot reliably, and I admire them for it. I even admire Stanley Fish, as an essayist.
14. What are some ways in which you promote your work? I wish I could say that I leave that up to my publicists, but often that would be a mistake. I like to think that if I were a generation younger I would do mighty things with social media, but I don’t. Talking about a book is the best way I’ve found to sell it, so I just hold myself ready to go almost anywhere at any time to talk. I do a lot of lecturing anyway, and I’m sometimes interviewed by journalists, so I can plug any related book while I’m at it. I also pop into independent bookstores in strange towns and introduce myself. If they have any of my books, I offer to sign them; if they don’t, I suggest that they might want to check them out. Booksellers like to be able to say things like, “When the author was in here the other day. . . .”
15. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why? I wouldn’t change a thing. I recognize that I’ve been extraordinarily lucky at every turn, and I wouldn’t want to jinx it.
16. What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by? If I could have “Sprezzatura” on my tombstone, I’d be delighted. It’s something I greatly admire. But it’s not for me to say that I’ve achieved it.
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