The Art of the Book Proposal

If you're in the process of writing a nonfiction book, you know how crucial it can be to develop a really stellar book proposal. Even if you're writing the book at the same time you're shopping the proposal around, you can get valuable feedback on the process from even some of the rejections you might get. Additionally, putting together the right kind of book proposal, using the right method should help clarify your thinking about what you book is about, and more even more importantly what your book does not need to cover.Enter The Art of the Book Proposal. There are at least a couple dozen nonfiction book proposal books in print right now and all of them have certain strengths and weaknesses. They aren't interchangeable but they are quite similar in fairly substantive ways. What makes Eric Maisel's Art of the Book Proposal stand out; however, is the the level of handholding it provides. Maisel calls himself a writing and book proposal coach and it shows in his writing. Each step of the process is explained not only in detail, but in logical progression and the thinking behind taking each step is explained as well. For example, Maiser describes the importance of carefully crafting a book proposal in this way “like wearing a back brace that causes you to sit up straight, the process of writing proposal demands that you think about what your book is about and why another person would want to read it.”

The book includes sections on what to do after the book proposal is finished, eg submission processes and query letters, which is more comprehensive that similar features found in similar books. An additional sample proposal would have improved this book a bit, but the strength of the way the material is presented makes it more useful than other books that have this feature.

Get Known Before The Book Deal

Great advice, getting old quickly

Maybe I should have known better than to buy a used (meaning older) copy of a book like Get Known Before The Book Deal, but I didn't. So when my bargain book came in the mail, I open it up in great anticipation and found...very old information. This is despite the fact that the book was published in 2008; the constantly changing nature of the internet and social media means any book that relies heavily on the specifics of any particular use of social media and how we interact with it will be out of date before it even hits the shelves. It became clear there was a certain type of information that will never be fresh in traditionally published paper books. I needed a Kindle edition that would be instantly updated or maybe just a really good blog instead.

However the part of the Get Known Before the Book Deal that wasn't tied into specific types of internet interactions and platforms was very good and well worth the price of the book, even new. The basic thesis that the author brings to the table is this: book publishing is based on the author's ability to sell books, and until you have the ability to sell books (your platform is established) there is no reason to attempt publishing a book through conventional means. The author then goes on to explain how to find what is your unique body of knowledge and way of seeing the world, which is the foundation for your platform, and then find others who need this unique body of knowledge. Although I've published four books and spent plenty of time marketing them, this book help me clarify my thinking about my platform, my books and my unique contribution to the world.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

As the youngest of seven kids growing up in rural Wisconsin my memory was that we had a lot of some things (strife, bickering, togetherness, chores, beets) and not enough of others (money, harmony, bikes, free time). My dad, who wanted to be George Jefferson but was trapped in the mindset of Archie Bunker was a big fan of the self help/self improvement books, which in the 70s, were just then developing as a full-fledged, if not fully respected genre.

Every day at 6 am breakfast my dad would slam his hand down on the table and say “Dale Carnegie said “every man is just about as happy as he made up his mind he's going to be.” I am pretty sure that wasn't a Dale Carnegie quote, and it was lost on the groggy under ten set, but was consistent with his ardor: this was an every morning tradition.

We were highly encouraged to read Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People as soon as we were cognitively able. My dad would also institute what he called “Dale Carnegie Days” usually on rainy Sundays when our bickering got to be too much. On Dale Carnegie Days if said anything that wouldn't fall under his suggestion of “winning friends” and/or “influencing people” (ie name calling, being critical, talking ill of another person who was not present etc) we had to go to bed 15 minutes early for each of the incidents. I can recall going to bed as early as 4.15 once.

Anyway, nostalgia aside, I think one of the things that How to Win Friends and Influence People taught me was the basic skills needed to get along with people in a positive way. The most common criticism of the book is that Carnegie merely provided a set of manipulation guidelines on how to get people to do what you want. Coupled with Carnegie's reputation as a person likely to lose friends and annoy people, one can draw the conclusion that these pretty basic “techniques” (although it's overstating a bit to call basic people skills techniques) like remembering peoples' names, asking them about themselves, etc. were merely means to an end for him. However, since they are indeed tools, they can be used however the person reading the book wants to. Although human motivation is naturally always mixed, if you employ good people skills for altruistic reasons, that will become eventually obvious. And even if you employ them to get what you want, it doesn't usually hurt people to be treated well.

Living More With Less

I first picked up a copy of Doris Janzen Longacre's book Living More With Less when I was living in Haiti. I was searching for models of simplicity and simple living, that made sense considering the poverty I was seeing, juxtaposed with the unbelievable conspicuous consumption machine that is the United States.

The first edition was largely practical and I'm not sure how much of it I found helpful in Haiti or when I returned home. However, I recently got my hands on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Living More With Less, and it's been an amazing inspiration.

It's interesting that what was came out of the Mennonite Church in the 50s, 60s and 70s is considered cutting edge in dominant culture now. What Living More With Less called “voluntary simplicity” people now call “living green.” The ideas of making do, borrowing items rather than buying them new, using libraries instead of bookstores, finding ways to use less water, less chemicals are not something a university professor just invented. These ideas were being discussed, considered and processed long before somewhat ridiculous terms like “upcycling” were even thought of.

One of my favorite things about Living More With Less is that it borrowed ideas—and great credit for those ideas-- from cultures outside the dominant US culture. Even Canada could share ideas with us because, as it turns out, no one is better at waste than Americans. With the current financial crisis caused by greed and overcrediting, and a natural environment on the very verge of collapse, it makes me a little sad that the mainstream never read Living More With Less in 1980 when it first came out. Thirty years of simple living could have made a difference.

Secrets of Public Speaking by Lily Walters

I bought Secrets of Successful Speakers when I first began doing presentations as part of my job as a registered nurse. I was relatively new to the field of nursing and as a second career nurse, I was unsure of myself when presenting to colleague who were often younger than me much had more nursing experience.

Walters' book helped me build confidence, figure out how to put material and presentations together. The book also includes great sections on audience customization, building rapport and dealing with difficult audience situations (eg hostile crowd, scattered crowd, distracted audience members). There is also a great section on conquering what Walters' calls “stage fright” which is an interesting choice of words since the book is most assuredly not written for the stage type performer. The book also does well covering all the different aspects of marketing. Considering that the bulk of this book was written almost a decade before speakers were even using AOL addresses and faxing would have been considered 'fancy pants technology use” the marketing information still rings true. One might guess that this is because so much of good networking is just good manners and while specifics of online etiquette are different than offline networking, the basis guiding principles are the same.

While this book has been helpful to me over the years, it does have one major drawback at this point and that is that it is very old fashioned. Very. In fact, the approach with which the author cautions the the reader/speaker about some behaviors (smoking, riding in an elevator car with a member of the opposite gender) is so archaic in tone, it makes the book lose credibility for me. If I didn't already know the book and if I hadn't had the experience of it being helpful to me, I am not sure I would be able to overlook this. This problem could be fixed with a five percent update in a new edition, and it would make the book accessible and useful to a whole new generation of speakers.

Street World: Urban Culture and Art from Five Continents

By Roger Gastman

A friend bought me a copy of Street World: Urban Culture and Art from Five Continents for my birthday and it's definitely not the kind of book I would buy for myself. First of all, don't plan on taking this book on vacation for beach reading because it will tear the bottom out of your backpack: it must weigh nearly five pounds. I have a feeling it was quite expensive as well, but it is a very beautiful book nonetheless. It contains a fair amount of text, but much more of pages and pages of beautiful photography of graffiti, urban wear, tattoos, skateboarding and skateboarding culture, urban cars and car culture, bikes, etc.

The concept of Street World: Urban Culture and Art from Five Continents is that hiphop and punk rose from the ashes of urban blight and so a celebration of this type of art is a celebration of these cultures as well. We all know how problematic this can be: the “everything but the burden” appropriation of an oppressed minority's art and even style. However, what saves it Street World from being appropriation is that the cultures are clearly named and that the photographs of the “urban culture” includes real names, real people and real stories. The fact that Street World describes urban culture outside of that which developed in North America makes it especially unique. The descriptions provided and tales told demonstrate how an urban movement can be built with the help of art, even in the absence of capital.

Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself

My family and I are eagerly awaiting our chance to visit the interactive da Vinci exhibit in St. Louis next month. We already have spots and half-price tickets through one of our homeschooling groups (sweet!), so we’ve been exploring da Vinci through literature in order to introduce our five-year-old daughter to the inventor. Among the books we’ve recently checked out, our favorite is definitely Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself by Maxine Anderson.

The main reason it is our favorite is not because it has provided us with a fantastic introduction to the genius himself, though there is a great, brief introduction to him and the Renaissance in general at the beginning of the book, including a helpful timeline for those interested in that sort of thing. It’s because the book is so interactive and full of just what the title says—amazing inventions and experiments we can do on our own. Though the book is only 122 pages long, don’t let that full you; there are enough cool inventions to keep you interested for weeks. We only checked it out from the library, so I know this is one that we may end up purchasing just so we can do all of the projects in the book!

From your own perspectograph to paper mache masks to drawing lessons, such as one- and two- point perspective, there are plenty of inventions and experiments for the artistically inclined. You can even learn how to make your own paint out of eggs and dirt! Science lovers, too, will delight in many of the activities—such as geometric figures with toothpicks (we’re doing that one tomorrow) to floating animals to the famous camera obscura. How to make a favorite science joke of children, invisible ink, is also included. Even gearheads like my husband will smile when they see how you can make your own monkey wrench.

What’s really cool about the book is that each experiment or invention starts with an explanation of how Leonardo did it himself, and the history behind each thing he was known for—from math to art to invention new concepts entirely. Many of the inventions may even be new to parents; though I had heard of the shoes that could walk on water (you can make them with instructions from the book, too!), I had never known that da Vinci was the inventor of the world’s first parachute. The webbed gloves project is sure to be a hit with the animal lover in your house (that would be my daughter), while the helical air screw model helicopter will impress even the most stoic person in your household. I dare your teen to not enjoy at least one of these projects!

Clear instructions and diagrams make this one of my favorite how-to books I’ve ever come across. It’s paperback and simple to tuck beneath whatever you are doing, so you can easily follow the directions. I heartily recommend this book to any teacher, parent, or creative person—that means just about anyone!—for a kick of extra creativity.

Wild Women Throw a Party

This book shows you how to party like it's 1929.

Chef and Texan Lynette Shirk tells you how to throw a party when you’ve outgrown the local dive bar and vodka scene.In her book Wild Women Throw a Party: 110 Original Recipes and Amazing Menus for Birthday Bashes, Power Showers, Poker Soirees, and Celebrations Galore, Shirk tells you how to create parties based on the lives and recipes of celebrity women.  The book has tongue-in-cheek ideas like Joan Crawford’s Mother’s Day “Mommy Dearest” breakfast and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede.  She also tones it down, however, (probably for women who are little less wild than Joan was) with the Silver Screen Queens’ Oscar Party. Shirk has her culinary chops—she’s worked in kitchens from New York to San Francisco, but also seems to like to have fun—she gave it all up to live in Dallas and make coffee bean brittle.  

Handyman Club of America: Tools & Techniques

Full-colored and easy to use, The Handyman Club of America’s book Tools & Techniques is the perfect how-to book for both new builders and tinkerers as well as home hobbyists. Nearly every technique and tool people will encounter on a general basis is included, from metalworking to plumbing to various forms of woodworking. This makes it an especially helpful book to have around the house simply for those quick, weekend repair projects pop up on the radar.

One of the most impressive things about the book is its well designed layout, mixing plenty of clear photographs and diagrams with text. The text is a little small for my taste, but it does help to cram so much information into the thin, 150-page volume. All kinds of little tidbits, from the grit numbers of sandpaper to standard pipe diameters, are all in the volume as well, making it a very welcome reference book in our home.

The various tools explored within each section are likely already known by most hobbyists and workers within these industries, but they are great for a refresher—as well as for teaching children about the proper names and purposes of each tool. An easy to use index is also present at the back of the book to find information quickly.

Colin Quinn's Long Story Short

Colin Quinn probably should have been famous something like a decade back. Even before Tough Crowd, the comedian was part of a cohort that included Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK, not to mention Jon Stewart and just about anyone else you can think of. Yeah, Saturday Night Live was a boon. And surely, Quinn’s concert ticket prices appreciated the boost in the comic’s public visibility. But he remained a rather gruff figure in the comedy underground – not in the same way Marc Maron’s become quantified. But similarly.

Either way, with Tough Crowd, Quinn circled around him some top tier comics, if not intellects, to craft a comedic news show, sort of like The View, but for guys with drinking problems and a few issues with woman. The show didn’t make it too long and would eventually be replaced only to have Stephen Colbert’s program take off in the same time slot a few years on. Bummer.

Always fancying himself something of a blue collar intellectual, Quinn eventually worked up what seems more like a performance than a stand up set for Long Story Short. The title, though, isn’t exactly accurate seeing as the comedian takes a pretty long time to wade through human history while making his crowd laugh at what isn’t really funny. Quinn’s distinction is his ability to punctuate proclamations in the right way, add a smirk to the end of it and some tossed off hand gesture to make it seem like his observation was either common sense or just thought of in the moment.

Seinfeld, despite being attached as director, doesn’t factor into the proceedings at all – that might be a bonus considering his own sets aren’t really all that tremendous in the first place. But as Quinn begins his historical tour, the accompanying visuals and the stage he stalks around may well have been unavailable to him without the patronage of Seinfeld’s namesake. Much in the same way Tough Crowd addressed each and every facet of political and social life, Long Story Short does roughly the same, only looks back on historical occurrences – like the Greeks being overrun by Romans – turning each into a modern corollary. Somehow, the hour and a half long history lesson flies by. It all might be chalked up to the heaping on of production value, but Quinn seems least at home while making transitions from one section of the show to another. Whatever the case, it’s just about required viewing for comedy nerds.