Saturday, March 23, 2013

Interview with Sam Barry, author, BookPage columnist, guest speaker, contributing editor for Zyzzyva and Marketing Director for Book Passage

Photo credit:  Megan Schultz
Sam Barry is the co-author of Write That Book Already: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now and writes the Author Enablers column for BookPage. He is the author of How to Play the Harmonica: and Other Life Lessons, a contributing editor to Zyzzyva literary magazine, and Marketing Director at Book Passage. He formally worked for Arion Press and HarperCollins. Sam is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, an all-author rock band that includes Mitch Albom, Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Greg Iles, Ridley Pearson, Matt Groening, Roy Blount Jr., James McBride, and Scott Turow. The Remainders have written a book together called Hard Listening; The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All, which is being published by the next-generation digital publisher Coliloquy in May, 2013. Sam’s range of expertise extends to writing, editing, marketing, teaching, publishing and guest speaking. Visit Sam online at
1) In the comprehensive guide Write That Book Already! The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now, co-authored with Kathi Kamen Goldmark, you have a revolutionary approach that goes more deeply into the life cycle of publishing than most.  From the idea (prior to beginning) through agent, editor, marketing and backlist, you extend an approachable view of 'been there and this is how it goes'.  There is humor interspersed so as not to alarm fledging authors already intimidated by the instructive volumes lining their shelves, saying how it's all nearly impossible.  A refreshing, to-the-point title.  From when you completed that book to now, what have you found are the biggest changes in terms of marketing (ex. the author having to take a more active role even if traditionally published, social media, etc...) and self-publishing?
The biggest changes are the advances in social media as a means to spreading the word about books and authors, and the ongoing changes in the landscape of publishers, agents, and booksellers. In social media, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, GoodReads—all of these make direct access possible between author and reader. However, there’s also a lot of noise out there, and that’s difficult for any author to tackle—no one is good at all things. Meanwhile, the big publishers continue to grow, combine, presumably in response to the challenge posed by Amazon; but at the same time, there is real growth in smaller, innovative publishers, in hybrid ways of self-publishing, and the great independent bookstores such as Book Passage or Books and Books (just to name two) are surprising people by thriving. Meanwhile, the e-book is here to stay, and I am certain there are more new forms of reading coming.

2) Your column in BookPage, "The Author Enablers", gives out advice on a myriad of topics in an engaging tone.  If the particular sage advice of an answer doesn't apply to someone, they will often enjoy the exchange of the q&a itself- particularly on the stranger questions asked (of those I've read, I know only writers could come up with questions quite like these).  For the lighter side, tell us about some of the favorite quirkier questions you've received and how you determined your responses.  For the more serious side, what are some of the most common recurring themes you've seen that are on the minds of modern writers.
I particularly enjoyed a series of comments (more than questions) I recently received about how often writers were having people tuck hair behind their own or other people’s ears. A cliché is born. And then there was the time when a middle-schooler basically asked Kathi and me to do his homework for him. But the question we have gotten most is about finding an agent. People are frustrated to hear that they need to do so much work, but I still believe agents are essential to most writing careers and that the time spent finding a good match is worth it.

3) When you wrote of Paris in your BookPage column, you described the rich literary scene.  How much do you feel place (this includes people/community/location and possibilities for networking and inspiration) plays a role in a writer's career/success?
I think sense of place is an essential part of most writing. Miami has fed my brother Dave’s work, and in turn the South Florida writing community has fed his career; Stephen King’s settings in rural Maine are unforgettable; Scott Turow in Chicago; Greg Iles setting many of his books in Natchez, Mississippi; Amy Tan setting some of her novels in her beloved Bay Area and China; the examples go on and on. We often associate writers and their work with place as much as genre; and places like San Francisco, Miami, New York, Mississippi, and so on, each have distinctive literary communities.

4) Considering all of the different facets of your extensive experience (writing, editing, marketing, teaching, publishing, performance in music), what are your favorite things about each and how do they complement one another (whether in terms of creative inspiration or business-oriented insight)?
Great question. I love the mental freedom of writing a first draft, but I also love the discipline and satisfaction of editing something into shape. I love the spontaneity of live music, but just loving to do something doesn’t mean you can make a career out of it, or even know what you want to do with it. Both editing and music have taught me the need to be gentle but thorough. Being exposed to various aspects of the book business—seeing behind the curtain, so to speak—has helped me to think more clearly—and to keep an open mind—about what I might have to offer the world, and to learn from both my successes and failures. Playing music has taught me to prepare for performance, which includes reading, but to remember to be spontaneous and not to dwell on every little mistake at the expense of the whole event. Playing music and the book business remind me that even the solitary act of writing is really collaborative and a team effort, if your work is ever going to see the light of day.
5) You’ve spoken of your career being a “varied and interesting one” and that you “…have always felt that my professional efforts directly contributed to improving the world.”  Talk to us about your beliefs involving the importance of books and the lives they touch, both in general and in a more personal sense in terms of how they have affected you.
In my various roles I have been deeply impressed by the dedication of booksellers, editors, agents, authors, and most of all, readers of the written word. If you are afraid we are losing the written word as an important form, spend more time in a good bookstore or library; you will see that the written word and the life of the human mind that it reflects are thriving. People are hungry for what books offer: wisdom and escape, solace and the jolt of truth, education and beauty, history and prophecy, humor and terror—but above all, exposure to a world we might not otherwise have ever known.

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