Penelope Trunk’s new book


As I was promoting my book, I approached lots of writers I admired. Sometimes I wanted them to think of me as the expert on slash careers. Sometimes I was looking for advice about how to make that move from journalist to author. In other cases I hoped the writer would say some kind words about about my book in the form of a review, a blog entry, a blurb. Because I limited myself to writers I admired, I was sincere every time I wrote which made this process enjoyable rather than daunting.

Penelope Trunk was one of those writers I approached. I had heard of her, and read her Climb column in the Boston Globe; but after a reference in the Wall Street Journal to her blog, The Brazen Careerist, I started reading the blog, which developed into a daily habit. When I ultimately choose to write to her, I didn’t really know what I wanted to happen. I just wanted to meet her. I wrote on a day when something she posted on her blog had pretty much flattened me. I couldn’t get any work done after reading the post, and I was affected by how she took took a horribly difficult moment in her life as a parent and turned it into a brilliant piece of advice. Penelope immediately wrote back and we struck up both a friendship and a professional relationship that was one of the gifts of writing my book. (In the end, she did say some kind words about my book, and that was a bonus.)

Well, now Penelope’s book The Brazen Careerist is out and it is as smart, unpredictable and bold as she is. Perhaps the best praise I can give her book is that it has completely raised the bar for the rest of us who write about careers. Every time I think about my next article, column or blog post, I now think, “Penelope has probably already said something original, brilliant, and smart on this.” Then I run to her blog and realize that she has. So I have to try harder. And she’s the first person who will tell me this.

Thanks for the kick in the butt Penelope! And since we all need a kick in the butt, I encourage you to buy the book.

Since you’ll all ask me, here is the post that made me write to Penelope.

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My turn to be the media subject

My book has been out for a few months now and I’ve had several chances to experience playing the media subject instead of the interviewer. I’ve learned a lot from it. Still, each time I do an interview and then read the article, I brace myself to see what the reporter got wrong — or more often, chose to emphasize out of all the words we exchanged. What’s more, it’s always fascinating to see a story that’s told when you know — from being there — that there was much more to the story.

Last week I traveled to Philadelphia for a book event at a very unusual book club. The host, Amy, selects the books and often she invites the authors to appear for a discussion, either by phone or in person. For my book, I offered to bring in a few of the local book subjects since I had three inspiring slashes who lived nearby. Amy agreed and allowed me to lead a panel discussion about the book with Jamie Donegan – theater producer/landscape designer, Debbie Epstein Henry – lawyer/work-life expert/mother, and Joe Van Blunk — longshoreman/documentary filmmaker/dad.

Debbie Henry invited Jan Von Bergen, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and we had no idea whether she’d find the idea interesting enough to cover. Thankfully, she did. She showed up, along with a photographer, and wrote a vivid account of the evening.

The Phenomenon of Slash Careers

If you were there, you’d know that Jane, the reporter, rather kindly left out some of the events details. Moments after finishing the panel discussion and Q&A, I started feeling light-headed and queasy. I thought I was going to pass out (something I have a tendency to do) and quickly excused myself to the powder room. You don’t need to know the rest, but it wasn’t pretty. After that episode, I’m told I emerged looking fairly “peaked.” And just about then, Jane came at me with some of her most thoughtful, challenging questions. “Isn’t slashing really a positive spin on the fact that we have a health insurance crisis and people are taking many jobs to get by?” I was in no shape to answer Jane’s smart questions and I pretty much lied down on the sofa while she talked to Joe, the longshoreman, whom she had wanted to meet for years. She could tell from my white face that I wasn’t just evading.

I knew she had a few days to file the story so I called her when I got back to New York the next day and told her I’d be happy to talk further. Thankfully, she listened.

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Heymarci @ Google!

I don’t like to play favorites, but this Friday, I have a speaking gig that I am more than a little excited about. I’ll be doing the Authors@Google series (Visit the site at your own risk. You may never return).

I’ll be sharing the stage with Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, whose Amazon rank has been hovering at around #10 for more than a week now (I bet I check as much as he does!)

I am a little nervous people might not show because apparently it’s a busy day at the Googleplex. John McCain is also speaking (after us). And everyone is going to see the new Spiderman movie as a company field trip. But a friend told me that maybe it’s good McCain is speaking as it will bring some of the telecommuters onto campus.

There’s a touch of irony about giving a talk about improving your work/life mix on a day when the potential audience is struggling with these kinds of stressful decisions:

1) Should I go to work today?
2) Should I see John Mccain speak?
3) What time should I do the Spiderman field trip?

A typical work day when you work for a company that’s always showing up at the top of those “best companies to work for” lists.

Google posts all author talks at YouTube, so you can watch it here.

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How we introduce

This morning I had my Tuesday morning radio visit with Karen Salmansohn on her terrific show, The Be Happy Dammit Hour, on Sirius Satellite radio’s, Lime Channel 114.

We talked about the hows to introduce people – a subject I think about often. Meeting people is both part of my personality and part of my job as a journalist. But lately, as I’ve been promoting the book, I’m meeting even more people than usual. And many of those are people that friends and colleagues have told me I “need” to meet. These conversations start off much the same. There’s a conversation — or an email — in which Person X tells me I need to meet Person Y.

From there, it goes down a few paths — and here’s where I could use the help of a flow chart designer or some tool in addition to words (That’s a slash I haven’t mastered yet, so you’re stuck with mere words. Should a design-oriented reader care to illustrate this for me, I’d be more than happy to post it!)

Path #1 — Person X then writes a lovely email to Person Y raving about me before I’ve even had a chance to ask how to proceed, ensuring that person Y is receptive to my contact when it arrives. This delightful behind-the-scenes maneuver can also happen through phone calls or in-person meetings. X might copy me on the email (open or blind) or forward it after the fact, whichever her style.

Path #2 — Person X suggests that I contact person Y myself using Person X’s name — the old “referred by X” method. This has mixed results and usually means that Person X doesn’t know person Y all that well or is kind of luke warm about me. It can also mean that Person X is overextended and swamped. Or a bad networker.

Path #3 — This is my current favorite. In this version, Person X doesn’t even bother to tell me the wonderful, generous introduction she’s making on my behalf. She just does it. Then suddenly, like a tulip in spring, person Y contacts me or shows up in some way, eager to make my acquaintence. Someone recently did something in this category for me and it made me realize that this method far outdelivers any other.

That said, there are plenty of times when I resort to paths #1 and #2 myself. And plenty of times when those are enough.

Oh, I guess I left out Path #4 — That’s the one where Person X tells you they want you to meet someone and never does anything about it. Never sends you Person Y’s contact details. Never mentions it again. Acts like it never happened. Lots of things could be going on here. Most of them are bad.

I have a feeling I might amend these over time, especially after if I get some comments. So please, comment.

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Why write books?

Every author with a new book and every writer with an idea for a new book should read today’s New York Times story, “The Mommy Flak: Books That May Generate More Buzz Than Buyers.”

It summarizes so much of what I’ve been pondering lately. And what my author friends and I talk about as we wonder about our future as authors in a time when people don’t need to read books to get the ideas within them. The references to sales figures for some well known books made me a little queasy. (Sylvia Ann Hewlitt’s “Creating a Life” only sold 11,000 in hard copy and 2,000 in paperback!) It’s as if these authors were shown naked in the pages of the New York Times. {As for my own book sales, I like not knowing those numbers. When people ask me how the book is doing, I say it’s like weighing yourself when you’ve just started a diet. I’m still not ready to get on the scale.)

I continue to wonder.

Is the goal to write a book that will sell thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies? Or is it to write books that propel us into places where we attract new and higher profile outlets to express our ideas? Or something else altogether.

Lately when people call me to ask about their nonfiction book ideas, I ask them to think about what they want to be after their book comes out.

Do you want to get more clients?
Do you want to raise your profile as a writer?
Do you want to hit the bestseller lists?
Do you want to expose people to a new way of thinking?
Do you want to entertain and amuse people?

If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your book, it’s awfully hard to know if you’ve succeeded.

Whenever I get a note from a reader telling me that my book validates their way of life, I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do. Still, it’s hard not to focus on the numbers.

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Slash Careers as Works In Progress


Last week I moderated a panel discussion with some of the book’s subjects at McNally Robinson bookstore. I have a thing for panel discussions (talk show host aspirations), so I decided to liven up the book tour by including some panel discussions as a way to bring the book’s pages to life.

Slash lives are never static, and two of the panelists illustrated that. Oscar Smith, the cop/gym owner-personal trainer, had a big change in his police life since his book interview. When I first interviewed Oscar, he worked under cover in the narcotics unit. Recently, he joined an elite unit of the force called the “scuba rescue” team, which employs a fleet of specially trained cops to go on diving missions around the waters of New York. Oscar enjoyed the narc beat, but the cool thing about this new gig is that it brings some of his other slashes into his police work. He’s been a lifeguard for years, so the sea and rescue work are in his blood. His new role is also more physical than many police jobs, which would have him sitting at a desk or driving around in a patrol car. This makes a lot of sense for a fitness guru.

Nina Fine, the actress-singer/real estate investor, is now pregnant and reassessing just how many things she’ll be able to juggle as a new mom. Already, her performing career is more focused on singing than acting. Fine is basd in New York City, but her real estate life is mostly in her prior home of Philadelphia, where she manages a few rental properties, and Hudson, NY, where she and her boyfriend have a second home. I’m wondering whether she’ll make any changes to the real estate part of her life once that baby baby arrives.

And now something new for me — I’m finally posting photos to this blog! Oscar is the guy in the helicopter.

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MSNBC.com covers "The Slash Effect"

MSNBC.com’s career columnist Eve Tahmincioglu wrote a terrific story about the “slash effect,” featuring longshoreman/filmmaker Joe Van Blunk. Check it out here.

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The Give-It-Away Theory of Promotion

Have been thinking a lot about promotion lately, in light of the fact that I’ve been a bit of a self-promotion machine, the state I’m told you need to enter for your book to have any chance of survival in this book-crowded world.

That’s why I’m noticing whenever anyone (author or not) does it smart.

Yesterday I met Carolyn Turgeon, whose first novel came out in November. We were in the (literally) green room where we were waiting to be guests on the launch program for Karen Salmansohn’s new show on the Lime channel(thus, the everything green motif) of Sirius satellite radio. She told me her book was about a woman in the circus, engaged in some pleasant book banter, and talked about our mutual interest in visiting book clubs. She had one of those business cards with her book’s cover on the front (I just ordered some of the same for mine), and because I went home with that, I immediately went to check out her site. When I got to her blog, it was like quick-sand; I just couldn’t leave. There she is, giving it away every day. Now, I want to see what she can do when she’s edited. So off I go to buy Rain Village (November 2006 Book Sense Pick, btw.)

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Using connections vs. pitching cold

When I pitch articles or event ideas, I always first look to see if I have a contact, or know someone who knows someone. Sometimes I defer pitching an idea because I’m waiting for that connection to arrive.

But when I just go ahead and pitch, interesting things happen. My first New York Times article was the result of a cold pitch. So whenever I need a reminder that cold pitches can work — as long as the idea and timing are right — I think about that experience.

Planning my book tour, I fell into the same old patterns. I quickly followed up on leads and introductions and dragged my feet when I wanted to approach a venue and had no contacts. And again, my fear was unfounded. The very first event I secured — and one I’m most excited about — is a panel discussion at McNally Robinson Booksellers my favorite bookstore in my neighborhood (Soho/West Village). All it took was walking in and introducing myself to the event coordinator and then following up with a well-tailored proposal. I’m proud to say that the event planner emailed the morning after getting my pitch offering me a slot — even though she told me they never do events for career books.

Michael Melcher (self-styled career coach to the stars) gave me an emergency coaching session on this very issue a few months ago when I was slipping into pitch avoidance mode. He showed me a pitch he’d used that resulted in a speaking gig at a business school in Milan — a great gig, and a great travel experience. Reading that pitch (and any successful one I’ve written) is another good way to remind myself that it can work. Thinking about traveling to Milan helps too.

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