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Would-be authors get insights into publishing

(From left) William Clark, Elizabeth Encarnacion (’96), Russell Perreault, Will Vincent (’03) and Scott Moyers (’90, M.A. ’91) compose a publishing panel. Photo by Suzanne Seurattan.
Write a book. Get it published. The process sounds easy enough, but two authors based in New York dispelled the notion that getting a work into print was any kind of fairy tale.

Tony Schneider, author of Tony Soprano on Management, and Kate Sekules, author of The Boxer’s Heart, laid out the pitfalls and highlights of writing and selling a book before nearly 100 would-be authors, editors and publicists during the 2004 Ferguson Publishing Seminar at the College.

“Talking about being published from the author’s perspective is kind of like poker from the cards’ point of view, and you’re not sure if you are an ace or a joker,” said Sekules.

Schneider, an entrepreneur by trade, told the audience that he was inspired to write Tony Soprano on Management because he felt useful advice for small-business owners was lacking. He suggested that nonfiction was a good choice for a first book—when you write nonfiction you have the opportunity to sell the idea of the book before committing the time to pen it. Still the process is intense, he said. Your book idea must become a proposal, which is vital to selling it to a publisher or getting the interest of a literary agent.

 

After Schneider’s idea for the Soprano book was purchased, the publisher’s deadline required that his book be ready in three months. Schneider said that definitely was the hardest part. “Nothing writes itself,” he said. “I was now getting paid to do this thing, and there was a lot of pressure, but that is the real world.”

When asked what Tony Soprano’s advice would be on writing a book, Schneider said, “Tony Soprano would never write a book. He would hate the process and not being in control.”


‘Tony Soprano would never write a book. He would hate the process and not being in control.’
—Tony Schneider

Sekules, a magazine writer by trade, had different hurdles to jump in publishing her book. Her experience nearly was disastrous. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Her manuscript was orphaned—the editor who optioned her book left the publishing house before the manuscript was in print, so a new editor had to be found. The editor who ultimately took on the book turned out to be new to editing and barely communicated with her. After Sekules presented the manuscript for review, the publisher claimed the book had not been delivered and refused to pay. The harrowing experience had a happy ending, though, because the book found another home and was published in 2000.

Despite the trials and tribulations, the authors agreed that writing books was a strangely rewarding process. They not only offered advice on publishing but also answered questions on topics ranging from graduate school to networking.

The level of networking that is necessary varies, said Sekules. “It depends on your ambitions. If you want to be high-profile, then you’ll have to schmooze; if you want to write, then write!”

Graduate school is great, said Schneider, “because it buys you some time.” Sekules noted that she wished she had had the experience of writing under the deadlines that graduate school offers.

In addition to the two authors, several alumni participated in the event, including Scott Moyers (BA ’90, MA ’91), a senior editor for Penguin Press, and William Vincent (’03), who works as an editorial assistant with Houghton Mifflin in Boston.

Moyers said he likes the program because he feels it expands the participants’ horizons. “It wakes them up a little bit,” he said.

Vincent said, “This program is invaluable. My current position is a direct result of this program. I don’t know of any other college program like this, which is part of the reason there is such a big William and Mary presence in New York.”

The 2004 Ferguson seminar was the 16th in the series. It was designed to introduce William and Mary students to the general nature of book and magazine publishing and to the prospects for a career in book or magazine editing, design and production, sales and marketing.

The person after whom the seminar is named, William C. Ferguson (’16), enjoyed a long career in American book publishing. He was the editor in chief, secretary and later president of the World Book Company. He also served as director and treasurer of the American Textbook Publishing Institute.

Ferguson wanted to establish a program at his alma mater that would encourage and support students seeking careers in publishing.

“Publishing is very hard for students to get into,” said Mary Schilling, director of career services at the College. She sees the seminar not only as an information session but a mentoring program. “You have to break into it almost. It is wonderful for students to have someone watching out for them from this program.”

In addition to the seminar, the Ferguson Endowment funds a Ferguson-Blair Graduate Scholarship in Publishing that provides money for students to attend one of three graduate institutes in publishing. Additional information about the scholarship is available from the Office of Career Services (757) 221- 3240.

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