The Press Club of Long Island recently hosted a panel of journalists who have expanded their daily journalism careers into writing books.
Reporters Delthia Ricks, Tom Maier, Dan Fagin, and host Bill Bleyer, gave tips and tricks on how to take your passion for writing, along with your skills, and turn them into a book.
How does one know when they have an idea good enough to write a book?
“You don’t,” said Fagin, a former Newsday environmental reporter and science journalism professor at New York University, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for his work “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation”.
Writing a book requires creative genius that cannot be forced, and when a topic arises that you are passionate about, the writing process begins, the panelists explained. Many writers are so focused on creating a book about an untouched topic, or finding an entirely unparalleled idea, however, as put by Maier, the key to a good book is, “writing about a common topic in an uncommon way.”
A good author takes an everyday idea and captivates an audience by introducing an entirely new perspective, said Maier, a Newsday reporter who penned “Masters of Sex,” which has since been adapted to a television show on “Showtime”.
It always helps to have a strong and in-depth proposal, including edited and completed sample chapters that appear in the final product, as well as a short biography, references, and a bibliography.
“It is during the proposal process when you find out if you have a good book on your hands,” said Fagin.
If you can formulate a coherent proposal, and still feel confident in the quality of your idea, then you know you have a keeper, he added.
One thing agreed upon by all three authors was the necessity for having an agent. While making a capital return should never be the main motive for producing a book, an agent is needed in order to “play in a certain arena,” said Maier.
Having an agent is necessary in representing your work to bigger entities and negotiating deals and sales, because, “writers are terrible negotiators,” Maier said.
The glue of the writing process, and a “key factor in the successful production of a book, is having good time management skills,” said Ricks, who is a Newsday writer and whose books include “100 Questions and Answers About Influenza” and “Breast Cancer Basics and Beyond”.
Longtime Newsday reporter Bill Bleyer, who is currently working on a Long Island based history book with History Press, hosted the panel, which took place at Newsday in Melville, N.Y.
-Words by Elisabeth Reid