Ep 13 Authors who’ve disowned their books, Scarlett Johansson’s bizarre law suit, advice from book publicists, and Writer in Residence Kristen Hammond

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In Episode 13 of So you want to be a writer, great authors who've disowned their books, why is Scarlett Johansson suing an author? Australian Gourmet Traveller and Harvey Norman announce the Gourmet Institute, advice from a former book publicist, grow your blog one reader at a time, Writer in Residence and senior commissioning editor at John Wiley & Sons Kristen Hammond, our Web Pick, our Working Writer's Tip and more!

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Show Notes

Great authors who disowned their own books

Scarlett Johansson sues author of novel that stole her image

Australian Gourmet Traveller and Harvey Norman partner for the Gourmet Institute

Advice from a former book publicist

Grow your blog one reader at a time

Writer in Residence

Kristen Hammond is a Senior Commissioning Editor with Wiley Australia.


Web Pick


Working Writer's Tip

Nikki F asks: Can you share any tricks or tips for coming up with a sharp, saleable angle. I often have story ideas but I get stuck sharpening the angle and matching it to the publication I want to approach. 

Learn Magazine Writing Online;

Alison's eBook:

Pink Fibro Bookclub

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Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Australian Writers' Centre



Kristen Hammond is the senior commissioning editor in the area of professional development, business finance and accounting business for John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Today we’re going to have a little chat about what’s involved in a non-fiction book proposal and, perhaps more importantly, how to get it over the line.

Hi, Kristen!

Hi, Allison. Thanks for having me on today.

Always a pleasure. Firstly let’s talk a little bit about exactly what you do, what your role is, what is a senior commissioning editor?

I would liken my role, I'll tell you the details in a second, but I would liken my role to three things. One, sometimes I feel a little bit like a professional gambler. The second and third, sometimes I feel like a carrot and sometimes I feel like the stick.

OK, that’s a fairly interesting job description.

It is, isn't it? Professional gambler, carrot/stick.

Let me just put some context behind that. My role is to acquire books or products for Wiley to publish, and I do that in the business genre. And, so acquiring means that I am looking for ideas or reviewing unsoliciteds or checking out potential offers, getting to understand the market, what people are looking for and what they want, and then approaching people and chatting to them and developing ideas with them and working that up into a book, contracting, and then also working in the space of positioning a book, doing the cover designs, working with marketing and publicity to position the book for the market and get them understanding what it is that the author has created and how we can best take that to market and sell that.

Some days a proposal can be a bit of a professional gamble, so I weigh everything up and go, “OK, I think I've mitigated the risk here, let’s go with this one.” Some days I’m the carrot, so I’m the, “Oh, you’re almost finished with the manuscript,” and, “Think how good that will feel…” Other days I’m the stick where it’s, “Hmm, you haven’t submitted, you’re late.” “This is a poor manuscript.” “We need to do these things…” et cetera, et cetera.

Goodness me.

It’s varied. It’s really great. I enjoy it, I love the people that I work with, really interesting authors and great ideas, and I feel hooked into what’s happening in the business world, which is a great feeling.

I mean that sounds to be like, as you say, incredibly varied, but it would also be incredibly busy. Like, how many books are you actually managing at any one time? Or how many projects?

In a sort of calendar year I could do up to about 20 projects. So, that’s projects through to publication. Obviously there’s a lot that fall off along the way, and I also manage a team of staff here. Yeah, I’m a tad bit busy. Maybe for every twenty books that get proposed there would be maybe three or four that we look at and go, “No, next…” Then often it’s starting a conversation with someone and knowing that you’re just going to have the initial conversation now, but something might come from it in two years’ time.

With non-fiction, like with your sort of area, I mean is there a slush pile? Do people sort of randomly send you in ideas and things like that? Like, is there a big stack of possibilities at the end of your desk?

There’s not a big stack, there’s a lot of possibilities on my desk, but they might be things that I’ve gone out and researched and looked into.

I'm in terms of unsoliciteds, or a slush pile, we do get them, and we probably on a percentage basis, compared to other publishing companies, publish a much higher percentage of those books than the other companies, and I think that’s because the lists that I work on and the manuscripts that come to me many people have often done their homework and they understand exactly what it is that we publish and what we’re looking for. We get quite tailored unsolicited manuscripts that work well with what we are publishing. Maybe out of the sort of forty or so books that we publish every year we might do one or two that come from the unsolicited pile, which I think is quite large.

I was going to say that’s not a bad percentage at all.

Yeah. A lot of the other ones are probably not too short of the mark. We do occasionally get somebody who will send us a fiction book or a cookbook and it’s like, “Well, we can reject that straight out.”

What is it that makes you look at a proposal or a manuscript and think, “Yes, I'm going to follow this up.”? What is it that’s in that proposal or in that manuscript that makes you, “Yes, this is worth my time and attention,” as opposed to, “No, I'm not even going to read past the first page.”?

The first thing that I'm going to say, Allison, is that it’s no one thing.

OK, I knew you’d say that.

If anybody is out there, any of your listeners are out there looking for the silver bullet I can’t give it to you.

Oh, what? Come on.

Sorry! Look, if I knew what the silver bullet was I would be looking for that all the time.


So, I think for most of the proposals that we receive it could be a combination. So, I think we've got to give everything due care and attention. And, often what we get in a proposal you’d need to follow it up with a conversation to then be able to really delve into areas and work out what it is that you've got there, whether there is a diamond in the rough.

I think there’s probably two key things that I'm looking for, one is the author and their platform. I very much view publishing as a partnership between the publisher and the author. And in the non-fiction space that I work in I want to be able to see that the authors are already engaging with a community, with his audience, and has traction with that audience. We'll just call them all ‘hes’ for the moment, by the way. Sorry ladies. But, I want to see that they've got that engagement with that audience. And so I want that to come out in the proposal. I want to see too that what they’re writing about is what the audience is wanting.

In the case of if somebody is out there and they’re doing some speaking engagements and they speak on three main topics, and two of them are really popular and one of them is not, and this book is about the one that’s not popular, then I'm not particularly interested in that. I want to see the thing that the audience already wants. I want to understand, I want to see that the audience is hungry for this material, and I want to see that the author is responding to that.

Then in terms of their platform and their market reach and their audience and the community that they have, that can be a combination of things. It could be a great presence on social media and a huge number of followers, but I want to be able to get onto social media and see that their followers are engaged. I don’t want to see 35,000 Twitter followers, but nobody is doing anything on that feed.

It could be speaking engagements. They might be keynoting and speaking to 20,000 people a year. It could be consulting to big companies. It could be a combination of two or three of those.

I guess I also want to see that there’s an idea there that beyond the author’s audience that I think there’s a broader business audience that would be interested in that topic as well.

Two questions then for you, are most of the people that you’re publishing sort of business people who can write, as opposed to writers who've had a business idea? That was one question. And the second question is you mentioned earlier that you are often researching your own ideas and things like that, where are you looking for those? Are you going to these conferences and seeing these speakers and thinking, “Oh, that person could be great for a book.”? Or are you reading blogs, or how are you finding the kind of talent that you’re looking for?

Let’s take the second question first, because I can remember what you said there. I'll get you to ask the first question again.

Definitely going out to conferences, trolling through social media, looking at hash tags, looking on the web, talking to companies, talking to existing authors about who they’re seeing out there on the circuit, possibly reading the business media, all of those places. I get ideas from all of those, talking to colleagues around the globe about what they’re seeing that’s happening in their market that maybe has not started happening here that may change and those sorts of things.

Ideas I think come from a lot of places, and sometimes it’s not an idea that you see initially, but when you've been looking at lots of different sources for a while you begin to sort of synthesis what that idea is. You know, I'm hearing a lot about ethical leadership. I'm beginning to sort of see a volume of fun, interesting topic sort of things. That’s kind of where I get ideas from. Sometimes the idea is the author, sometimes the idea is the topic, so, wherever the winds may blow me sort of thing.

The first question I asked you, and I had to write this down, so I remembered it, is your authors, are they business people who can write? Or are they authors with a business — who come to you with a business idea or who you kind of decide are the best people to write this particular book.

I think it’s a combination. I think writing is a skill that some people are good at and some aren't. I think what makes those some people who aren't easier to worth with, as they can identify that themselves as well.

Oh, yes.

It’s a bit difficult sometimes working with authors who think they've written something really fantastic and are not particularly open to feedback or editing and those sorts of things. That can be quite difficult, but I think it’s a combination. Some people are naturally gifted. I've had authors who have set down and written a manuscript in 21 days, and just literally put themselves in an office and written it straight out, I've had other authors who have take two or three years to write something. So, that could depend on their other business commitments, or life commitments for that matter.

I think some people need some guidance in the beginning, so they may have got a sample chapter and a table of contents together, but they might need some development advice and some more big picture advice on their sample chapter so that they can then roll that out to the rest of the manuscript. I think it can vary, I think authors who are open to the process and willing to trust a publisher’s judgment about crafting a manuscript and making it the best it can possibly be, I think they’re great authors to work with. I think people who can be a bit intransigent and inflexible that can make life a bit difficult.

Can you remember, obviously you've been doing this for a long time, but you can you remember off the top of your head one of the strongest proposals that you ever received, and why it worked for you, and how the ensuing book turned out?

Can I think of a really great proposal? I can think of one that came with huge block of

Oh that’s always nice.

Yeah. Chocolate never hurts I can honestly say. Look, I think it goes in fits and starts, where you get lots of sort of gimmicks that come along with, and sometimes they’re fun, and if you open it at the right time of the day or it’s been a crappy week, then chocolate is at least going to have me reading it, so that’s a good start. That said, that’s never going to get anything over the line, but at least it might make me open the envelope.

You’re so easily bought, aren't you?

I know! I know. I'm very fond of Freddos to anybody who’s out there – strawberry, thanks.

Oh, I like Freddos too.

I can’t think of a single proposal that has been particularly strong. I think I'm often taken when somebody is a great writer, and you can see that in an initial proposal, and in the initial sample chapter. Although in terms of the process and the books that I'm most proud of, it’s probably those ones where I've actually really worked with an author on developing the manuscript and developing the table of contents.

I guess over time some things stand out for some reason. It’s great to get a great proposal and a beautiful writer, but sometimes it’s more satisfying to work really closely with an author on something and help them develop it and craft it, and make it the best it can be.

I find it interest too, and I think a lot of our readers would find it interesting that you are willing to put in as much work as you obviously do, because I think that there’s an idea that it’s got to be perfect or you’re not even going to look at it, but you’re actually saying that the idea is almost as important as the execution in those initial stages?

I think so, and I think sometimes part of my skill and my experience is being able to see the wood for the trees, or the diamond in the rough, or whatever other cliché I can throw out. To be able to look at that and go, “OK, here we are, we've got a great author, and we've got a great idea, but, gee, he can’t write for anything,” and that may be my working with them more, or that may be my suggesting to them, “Have you ever thought about getting a writer to work with you?”

And in the space where I work often the people I work with are so busy that a ghost writer or somebody to help them collect their thoughts or pull it all together is a godsend for them, so they might not necessarily have the time to be able to pull that all together, and I think some people maybe look at ghost writing and go, “Well, I didn't actually write it.” But in the space where I work, these are these people’s business ideas, this is their intellectual property, so the fact that they can’t put it in writing in a form that’s fantastic doesn't mean the ideas aren't fantastic and the hard work that they've put into those ideas and crafting those ideas is not great. They just get help with somebody to help them write it. I don’t see ghostwriting as the soft option, as such.


To me, it’s often a sensible option.

If I feel that I can add value then whatever it takes to help get that over the line. If an author is open to that process then even better.


Here’s a million dollar question for you the, another one, because I’m good at these, aren’t I? Are there particular books that you’re looking for right now? Like are there particular areas that you’d like to cover, or is there any cherry out there that you’re looking for that you haven’t managed to pick yet?

No, I don’t think so. That’s not to say that there’s not ideas out there. I think I'm often looking for a whole package. Sometimes the ideas might be out there, like I'm getting ideas from people, but they’re not the right author, so maybe I take that idea somewhere else. Or, sometimes it’s the right author, but they’re coming with the wrong book. I think too part of what we’re doing we’re very much driven by who the author is and what their community is. If they've already got an established community that are really interested in hearing from this author on this topic then often that’s enough to get it over the line. It might not have the broader business appeal, but this author has got such a strong market presence that we've got a great launching pad that I can do that. It might not be necessarily the topic of the day, but it’s what this author is talking to people about, and for his community when he’s engaged with them it is the topic of the day.

Having said that, I'm seeing a lot of, obviously, digital, social media, those sorts of things, we’re always looking in that space. I think people are always looking for information about leadership and management techniques, and new ideas to put together. And combining maybe those topics together, so in the sense of, “How do I lead in the digital age or manage a workforce in this sort of environment?” And, “What does it mean for my business on social media?” and those sorts of things. We publish on the list that I publish for with such a broad gamut of topics, whether it be from sort of entry level career graduate up to CEO level. It can be very varied. There’s no sort of one topic that I'm looking for. I'm trying to look for things that will suit all sorts of market sectors and interests.

OK. Just to then sum it all up and finish this off, three top tips for authors who want to get published in this area.

I think know your audience and know what they’re asking of you, know what they want to hear from you, know how to reach them, be engaged with them. So, there’s no point in having 75,000 Twitter followers if you’re not saying anything to them. I think there’s definitely something comic about put your content out there it will come back to you tenfold, those sorts of things. I think there’s a big thing to be said there about audience in terms of tips.

In terms of presenting a publisher I think understand that the publisher does this everyday, publishes books, looks at the market, those sorts of things. I would respect and trust the publisher’s judgment. That’s not to say go blindly, ask around, ask the publisher questions, those sorts of things, but I think there’s a kind of experience there that is to be drawn upon and used and leveraged for each author. So, I think that’s a really valuable thing to sort of come to the process with.

I think sometimes people come with very set ideas about what they want, and that’s great, but maybe for those people self-publishing is a better option, that may work better for them. There may be other options, they may want to put their information out there on a blog.

That’s probably my two top tips.

The third one I would say would be planning. Plan your approach, plan your manuscript, plan your table of contents. I think the more thinking that you put into something the better. I think for many of the people in the space that I work with they've got a lot of intellectual property as well, so a blank page may look scary to start with, but actually when they just even start cutting and pasting from their existing IP they may come up with 20,000 and they haven’t even really shaped the manuscript or thought about how it might work. Plan and draw upon your existing resources.

All great advice, which has brought me to one last question that was on top of the last question. You mentioned putting your content out there and it will come back to you tenfold, et cetera, for people with blogs and stuff like that. One question that we do get asked a lot is how much should I put on my blog, will publishers still be interested if it’s already out there? Is that a question that people need to be thinking about, do you think?

I think so. I think you need to be smart about your content. This depends on whether your business is just a blog, or is your business a blog and consulting and all of those keynotes and other activities? So, if your business is just your blog and you’re putting everything on your blog then that may be difficult to then go and get a book from that existing material, you better be able to talk about something from that, or parallel to that. If your business though is a blog and keynote and consulting and those sorts of things then you’re putting a bit of your content here, and a bit of your content there, then I think there’s opportunities to pull that together and present it as a single source of IP.

Because a book is not just a string of blog post pulled together, is it?


That’s something that I think people who may be thinking along those lines need to also consider, that the narrative process of even a non-fiction book is quite different to a whole string of blog posts put together.

I think there are books that are strings of blog posts, and when they openly tell you that it’s a string of blog posts then that’s all good and well and your reader beware and goes in full knowledge. I think that books that are a string of blog posts they try and cover it up as a book, and it feels — you'll know that it’s a series of blog posts and you won’t be happy reading, I don’t think.


I think then people want authors to then curate those blog posts and pull out the themes and put them together in sort of new ways and maybe offer some new thinking. I think you can certainly take your blog posts and use them as a starting point, but it’s just a starting point.

All right, well, thank you so much for your time today. I really, really appreciate it, and your insights into all of this. I've learned a few things, and I've even written non-fiction books myself, so that’s good to know.

Thanks very much. We will put the John Wiley website into the show notes. If people want to send you send you a book proposal or an idea, or start a conversation with you, what is the best way for them to do that?

They can just send me an email direct to khammond at wiley dot com
I can take it from there.

I'll put that in the show notes as well. Thanks again, Kristen, and we shall look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

Excellent, Allison. Thanks for your time today, thanks to your listeners for listening in. Thanks for all your podcasts, I've very much enjoy listening to it as well.

Thank you.

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