Meet Patti Ann Browne - (Part 2)
Last week Patti Ann discussed her memoir, Write Your Own Story - How I Took Control By Letting Go. She shared the history of how the book began, her struggle with the title, how long it took to write, and her personal writing process. She delved into the cathartic aspect of writing a memoir and urged everyone to take the same leap. When asked about her journalism background, she opened up about the role that played, and how writing news copy, which is essentially a series of short sentences, differs from writing a book which allows the author to expand on thoughts by adding rich details.
This week we focus on the tricky part of writing a memoir, writer's block, beta readers, the publishing process, seeking representation, and Patti Anne's best advice for aspiring authors.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
Memoirs are tricky because they involve other people—people you care about. Your friends and family will have strong opinions about how they are depicted in your book. I thought I portrayed my loved ones very positively, but when I showed them the early drafts, they definitely requested changes.
In addition, when you tell friends you’re writing a book, some will ask if they’re in it. Some will take offense if you say no. It can be difficult. Just because someone isn’t mentioned by name in my memoir, that doesn’t mean they aren’t special to me. It just means they didn’t happen to be tied to any of the anecdotes in the book.
Did you experience writer’s block at any time while writing your memoir? If so, how did you deal with that?
For me, walking away is the best way to clear writer’s block. I go for a 3-mile walk, listen to music and clear my mind. By the end of Mile 2, by activating those alpha waves and endorphins, I suddenly figure out the perfect way to tell a certain story. I deliberately don’t think about specific questions when I walk, yet the answers often pop into my head.
How important was professional editing to your book’s development?
Many of my former colleagues have had their books published by the big companies and they complain that editors changed their writing substantially. But my book is being published by a small independent publisher that takes a hands-off approach. I like that. My editor mainly added and subtracted commas and fixed other grammatical errors. She also put some notes in the margins, saying I might want to clarify this or that. But honestly, very minor. I was allowed to keep my style and my voice.
The down side is that if your book doesn’t have a good structure, a small indie might not tell you it needs to be completely revamped. A big publisher will. Good editing makes a book better.
For that reason, I’d like to stress the importance of early readers, who are also known as “beta readers” because they basically beta-test your book, looking for errors, continuity issues, etc. Beta readers are especially important if you’re going with a smaller publisher that doesn’t have as many layers of oversight as the big ones. Betas are essentially your first editors.
I mainly chose relatives as early readers, because I wanted them to read it anyway, to ensure that they were comfortable with the stories I told about family. But they also happen to be good writers themselves. They caught lots of errors that I missed. And they were honest about sentences that didn’t work, jokes that fell flat, parts that were confusing, even whole stories that they felt should be chopped out because they didn’t add anything. I urged them to be ruthless and they were. I appreciated that. I’d rather hear it from them than from Amazon reviewers.
I read somewhere that writers need to make friends with their delete key. Very true. It’s a liability to be so in love with your own writing that you can’t bear to part with one of your beautiful, well-crafted sentences, even if it proves to be unnecessary.
Thanks to my beta readers, my book was in pretty good shape by the time I turned it in. My editor told me my manuscript was very well written, so she didn’t have to do much. That was great to hear and I certainly hope she’s right! I guess time will tell.
How did you know when your book was ready for representation?
I did things a little differently. After I wrote that first chapter and was encouraged to try to get it published, I did some reading online. I was surprised to see that writers of non-fiction books often write a lengthy “proposal”, get an agent, and secure a book deal BEFORE they write the book! Others write the first few chapters along with the proposal, so they can submit a sample chapter or partial manuscript with it. (For fiction books, the proposal is called a “query” and the process is slightly different.)
So that was something else I did during my “organizational phase.” I read all about how to write a non-fiction book proposal, 20 to 30 pages in length. I was shocked by how involved it was. I was also disappointed to see that only half of my proposal was supposed to be about the book itself. The other half would be about my “promotional platform.”
I put together a 27-page proposal detailing my plan for the book, my ideas for publicizing it, the number of followers I have on social media, etc.
My first step was to send it to a top agent who had worked with some of my former colleagues whose books had become bestsellers. I knew I was aiming for the fences, since I had been off the air for two years already, and my promotional platform was shrinking by the day. But it was worth a shot.
Well, that agent said what I already knew: “Your timing is terrible! You’re supposed to write your book while you’re still on TV! That way you can promote it relentlessly every day to all your viewers. You no longer have a platform.”
I was so discouraged by that one attempt, I dropped the whole idea of finding an agent for a few months, and focused on writing the book. That was the fun part anyway.
But eventually I had to ask myself if I still wanted to get this thing published. The answer was yes, so I had to get back to shopping it around and brace myself for more rejections.
This time, I decided to bypass the agent altogether. I should emphasize that most people will tell you it is a mistake to skip the agent. Most of the big publishing houses won’t even look at an unsolicited manuscript. But some of the smaller ones will. It seemed likely that I would be signing with a smaller publisher, if I got a deal at all. So I might as well approach them directly.
I started checking memoirs that I considered similar to mine, to see who had published them. I consulted those publishers’ websites. Many did not accept direct submissions. But a few did. I sent them my proposal.
To my surprise, I heard back from several publishers and had a few phone interviews. Encouraged, and wanting to line up as many offers as possible before making a decision, I checked my LinkedIn to see if by chance, I had connections in publishing. It turned out I had mutual connections with the head of a well-established small publishing company. I sent him my proposal.
He contacted me, I sent him my partial manuscript, and by the end of our phone interview, I knew this was the publisher I wanted. It was just a good fit. And Post Hill had published books by friends of mine, so I knew it was a solid company.
Thankfully the publisher agreed that this would be a good partnership and we did a deal. I’m not supposed to talk about the deal, but you can reasonably assume that it was not one of those million-dollar advance situations. Nonetheless I am very happy.
Since you are well-known through your television anchoring and reporting, was it easy to find a publisher?
Yes, I should acknowledge that the path I describe above might not work for everyone. The reality is: one of the reasons I heard back from these publishers is that the subject line of my emailed proposals was: “Former Fox News anchor book.”
Considering how many Fox News anchors’ books have become bestsellers, that definitely grabbed their attention. And luckily a former Fox colleague had recently asked if I’d be willing to appear as a guest on his highly-rated show. So that made my promotional platform a lot stronger.
I would like to think I could’ve gotten my book published on its merits alone. But I can’t be certain. Even if it’s a great book, getting someone to read it when they are bombarded by proposals on a daily basis is a big challenge. So, I know I was lucky. Having a hook like being a TV personality (or even a former one) definitely helps. However, my publisher does read unsolicited proposals and takes pride in discovering new talent. I’m sure that’s also true of many other smaller shops that take direct submissions.
So don’t give up! You might need representation to get your proposal seen, so start looking early. I almost gave up based on one rejection by one agent. There are many agents, many publishers, and many ways to get your book out there.
How did you celebrate when your book was finished?
Dinner with my husband and son at a popular taco place in town! It was a great feeling once my manuscript was finalized, after weeks of going back and forth with minor edits.
But finishing the book is just one hurdle. To my dismay, I learned there is a long wait between locking the manuscript and seeing your masterpiece in print. My pub date isn’t until April! That’s 10 months from when I delivered my preliminary manuscript in June. And it’s almost 2 years from when I first started writing. My author friends assure me that this is a typical timeline, especially during the current pandemic and supply chain crisis.
The publishing process includes more than just writing. You have to shoot the cover photo, choose an image out of hundreds, and then go back and forth with the design team over the cover layout. Work with editors on the “flap copy” and “back cover” copy, which will also be part of the online listing. Provide “metadata” tags to be incorporated into the book’s sales listing. Send out the book to people you’d like to provide “blurbs” for the back cover and online listing. And since my book includes a photo insert, I had to get image permissions from my former stations. This was time-consuming but very necessary to avoid copyright lawsuits.
Meanwhile my book is also coming out on audio, so the audiobook rights were sold by my publisher. (So we earn a set amount for that sale, and then no royalties. All future proceeds go to the audiobook producer who bought the rights.) Then I had to submit a voiceover sample to the audiobook producer, to audition for the job of narrator. Of course the author is given preference for narrating their own book if they want to, but not all writers are strong narrators, so an audition is standard. I was hired, so I am also earning a modest sum for my voiceover work.
And then there are phone meetings with marketing to discuss the publicity strategy for the book. I’m only just starting the marketing phase so I don’t have much expertise on this part yet. The latest thinking is that it’s a mistake to start promoting too early. There is an “excitement curve” about your book. You don’t want that curve to peak too early. By the time your book finally comes out, people will be over it already. But right now, my publisher is doing all sorts of stuff behind the scenes. The marketing is important. Publishers put a high priority on getting the word out about your book and rightly so. Your book might be great but that only matters if people know about it and read it. That is the whole goal, right?
What advice would you give to aspiring writers working on their first book?
Take advantage of the many resources out there to learn about the writing process and the book business. Find a community, such as this excellent one, Wordy Tips and Tidings, where you can read other people’s stories, stay excited about the writing process, put rejections in perspective, and learn a thing or two at the same time!
I wish you all the best in your journey to become an author!
To learn more about Patti Ann Browne or to pre-order her memoir due out April 26, 2022, visit:
For on-air photos and links to videos: www.PattiAnnBrowne.net
Barnes & Noble: