Wednesday, October 31, 2007


In honor of Halloween, I thought I would touch on the topic of ghostwriting, pun intended.

I actually do some steady ghostwriting for a client and while I had initial reservations about not getting credit in print for my work, the gig has turned into one of my favorites. The assignments are usually interesting and vary varied and the pieces themselves are shorter than magazine stories. They do not necessarily require any less research on my part or any less time drafting and crafting but the pay is good and prompt and the work is fairly continuous. What more could a freelancer want?

Some people thrive on seeing their name in print. I think the recognition sometimes makes up for low fees especially when one is starting out and accumulating the all important clippings file. At this point in my career, I have enough clippings to paper a house so the lack of recognition does not bother me. In addition, there is nothing stopping me from listing the ghostwriting on my resume as just that, which I do. And I have the anonymous clippings to prove it, if anyone ever asked, which they haven't.

I have never ghostwritten a book, although I have toyed with the idea. I guess if the price was right, I might consider it especially if the client was high profile enough to potentially generate more work. With a book, there is the issue of copyright, which a ghostwriter would not retain. I don't retain it on my magazine articles either but since I do not feel the same pride of ownership as I might with a longer and more substantive work, I rarely have qualms signing my rights away. I might feel more possessive towards a book, even if it wasn't my story.

All of which goes to show you that things are not always what they seem. Chances are you have read ghostwriting without ever realizing it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shot in the Dark

The mantra of "It's a good idea and it is written well but we are not sure if it will sell" seems to be a common theme in the publishing world these days. At least according to the two entrepreneurs who started their own literary publishing house with the sole intention of publishing good writing, regardless of whether or not it fits neatly into a marketing niche.

Their company is Dzanc Books. I read about them on a publishing blog that I read and on a whim I sent them an email inquiring whether or not they might be interested in non-fiction works.

Imagine my surprise when I got an email back, from one of the founders of the company within a half hour of my inquiry. They were indeed interested and they would not hold the fact that I was "represented by an agent" against me. Nice touch.

So I emailed off the proposal with a brief cover letter.

I actually don't think that my book is a good match for their literary press but it was so nice to hear something back from an actual person within a few minutes of asking a question that I figured I had absolutely nothing to lose. Plus they are dedicated to getting writers out into the schools to teach their craft, an activity I heartily endorse.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Secret Service

In yet another irony, the President of the United States seems to have literally followed me home from Washington! I just learned from one of the about fifty policemen surrounding my street, that George Bush is coming for lunch at the home of one of my neighbors.

The security is unbelievable--helicopters over head; police on every corner; roadblocks; men with earphones in "unmarked" vans every three yards--our tax dollars at work preventing anyone from coming within one half mile of George W.'s destination, even those of us who live here!

The need for high level security clearly comes with the job of being President, but it is equally prevalent in the thoroughbred industry. Every owner that runs a horse in the Kentucky Derby is assigned his/her own Kentucky State Trooper to stand vigil over their horse. In addition, most trainers hire their own private security guards to travel and even sleep with their valuable charges.

Rumors of doping, tampering with food or equipment are often just that but horses that run at the highest level of competition are simply too valuable, on and off the track, for anyone to take any chances.

When Barbaro moved to Penn's large animal hospital, one of the biggest adjustments that employees had to make was identifying themselves to the Security Guards that literally appeared overnight at their normally bucolic place of employment.

And when there was talk, almost a year ago, about the possibility of letting Barbaro leave New Bolton for Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, Michael Matz's primary base of operation, one of the biggest obstacles was the lack of security.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the more you keep people out, the more they want to get in.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tragedy at Breeder's Cup Classic

Yesterday's Breeder's Cup Classic race was won by Curlin, winner of the Preakness. It was a significant display of talent on a sloppy track. Only moments before they loaded the horses into the starting gate, I thought to myself that the slop looked deep and heavy and I hoped that all horses and riders had safe trips.

Sure enough, George Washington, who also ran in the Classic, broke his ankle and was humanely destroyed on the track. His injury blocked the blood flow to his limb, in which case, there is nothing to be done to save the horse. In a tragic, ironic twist, George Washington was bred by none other than Roy and Gretchen Jackson, owners of Barbaro.

The Jacksons sold the horse to Sheik Mohammed a few years ago so there were no ties other than sentimental to the late horse. Nonetheless, I am sure it was heart wrenching for them to watch one of their "offspring" (so to speak) meet such a tragic end. Of course, the television announcers pointed out the connection to Barbaro, proof once again of the longevity of this story.

I personally do not understand why George Washington was running in the Classic and not in one of the turf races, the surface on which he ran in Europe. Perhaps the longer distance of the Classic suited him better.

Nonetheless, it was a tragic reminder of the fragility of these magnificent beasts and it was especially heartbreaking to see one go down who was a sentimental favorite. I am sure the Jacksons did not needed to be reminded of either fact, especially in such a public arena.

Tragedy at Classic

Correction to earlier post about euthanization of George Washington:
The Jacksons sold the horse to Irishman John Magnier, not Sheikh
Mohammed as I previously indicated. George Washington was a four year
Sent from my iPhone

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Oprah Effect

There is a horse running in the Breeder's Cup this weekend named Oprah Whinney.

In honor of her equine namesake Oprah invited the jockey, Edgar Prado, on her show on Tuesday. Prado, if you remember, was Barbaro's jockey, and don't you know they showed clips and photos of Barbaro winning the Kentucky Derby. Turns out Oprah was a Barbaro fan, like most of the world and that Prado will forever be known as Barbaro's jockey.

Sounds like an amazing opportunity for this book if and when it ever sees the light of day. And also seems like there is still a "market" for the Barbaro story, if Oprah can bring it up two years later.

Be assured, I sent the clip about this to Richard to bring all these elements to his attention. No word back.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Freelance 101

I have another issue with the concept of self publishing that I
neglected to mention yesterday and that is the notion of writing on
spec. Put simply, I don't do it and neither should any freelacer.

I know it's tempting, especially in the early phases of one's career
but I can honestly say I haven't done it. Have I done the almost
equivalent of writing for pittance just to get published? Yes, but
only if someone asked for a specific article, NOT because I had
written the article and wanted to see it in print.

There's a difference and I'm willing to bet that most freelancers who
have been doing this for some time have also drawn a similar line. We
have to to keep any sense of self-worth.

So to write an entire book on spec, which is essentially what self-
publishing is, goes against my work practices.

I'd rather not write it than write it without a contract.

I'll be in Washingon over the weekend, hence my foray into mobile
blogging. If it does't work, I'll be back on location Monday.
Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Publish or Perish?

I'm a week into this new venture and deeply gratified by the response to date. Many of you have written to me off-site with words of wisdom about patience and voiced your confidence in the book. Others have left comments here that have been thought provoking and equally supportive.

A few of you have mentioned the option of self-publishing which is certainly a topic for a few posts.

Self-publishing has been around forever, although it has come a long way in terms of respectability by the main stream industry as well as in terms of cost to the author. I actually work for one so-called "vanity press" that publishes commissioned books, usually about corporations or organizations celebrating a milestone but I have done personal histories as well. The client orders a certain number of copies of the book and they take care of all "marketing" activities which usually are nil since they give the books away to their employees and board members. I think the average run is between 500-1000 copies.

What has changed in the self-publishing industry since the advent of desktop publishing is the fact that they can now print books on demand. So if one chooses to publish with say, iuniverse, one of the largest in the business, you only pay for as many books as you want. They offer editorial and layout services to their clients and the big ones also have marketing divisions, but the bottom line is that it still costs the author to publish.

All of which may be fine if you are writing your family history or the great American novel that has lurked within you for fifty years, but I think the book I am proposing has greater market potential that those. And while there have been many examples of books that have jumped from self-publishing houses to mainstream ones, at this point, since this project was not my idea, I think I am going to give the tried and true method a little longer to either make or break me.

On some level, I will admit to a certain "snobbery" associated with making it in the big leagues but more than anything else, I will acquiesce to my need for superb editorial services which I assume comes with the turf of say Random House. I am a good writer but a great writer has an even greater editor or two.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Playing in E-Time

I belong to an editorial freelance Listserv that often acts as my "water cooler." A few week ago a member posted an entry related to the timing of follow-ups that seemed to strike a nerve. The member had responded to an online advertisement for editorial services and when she did not hear anything two weeks later, she sent a follow up inquiring whether or not they had received her application. She was surprised, angry and offended when the person to whom she had sent the follow-up blasted her, in no uncertain terms, for being "too pushy." The member was told not to bother following up; if they were interested they would let her know.

It seems to me that a lot of e-communication is one way. When I am pursuing a story and am on deadline, I have few qualms about becoming a pest to obtain the information I need. And it never ceases to amaze me how many people don't call you back even when you are giving them free exposure to which they agreed.

Yet, pitch a story, inquire about payment (the bane of my existence) or simply wonder whether or not the recipient could open your attachment and the silence is deafening.

Which brings me to my question. Are the rules of follow-up different in the electronic universe or are people just generally rude? When does one cross that line between "following up" and becoming a pest? How often do you respond to your e-mail and do you ever just ignore some that actually come from people with whom you do business?

I'm curious to know if I'm the only one working on a one way street.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

To Market, To Market

A significant chunk of any book proposal is devoted to the potential market for one's book. In my 100-plus-page proposal, the first twenty or so pages describe what the book is and who, I think, will buy it.

This includes such facts as Barbaro was the third most popular sports-related Google search term for 2006, behind NASCAR and World Cup soccer and the Barbaro web site established by the University of Pennsylvania vet school logged over 2 million visitors and 6 million page views during the eight month period when Barbaro was hospitalized at its large animal facility. Ray Paulick, the former editor of Blood Horse magazine, one of the industry's leading publications, called 2006 "the year of Barbaro" saying, "What has happened in the aftermath of the tragic Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20. . . brought this magnificent animal closer to the hearts of tens of millions of people than any thoroughbred has been in my lifetime."

Sound convincing? Apparently not, at least so far.

Yet when I read that over 500 people attended a memorial service for John Henry, the 32 year old gelding who was euthanized due to old age at the Kentucky Horse Park last week, some of whom never knew about the horse when he was racing, or receive holiday catalogues of all things equine, I know there is a market not only among racing aficionados but also among animal lovers for this story.

I continue to send these tidbits in the direction of NYC, no doubt becoming a pest, but ever mindful of the fact that it is up to me to make my own case.

Which makes me wonder, all the more, about the process.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Sounds of Silence

And so begins another week in which I wait to hear from Agent Number Two, a.k.a. The Strong Silent Type. The most important thing you need to know about said agent is that this entire adventure was his idea.

In fact, it was just about a year ago to the day that I picked him up at the train station in Phila. and we went out to Chester County to pay a visit to Gretchen Jackson, one of the owners of Barbaro. I remember him asking me what I thought the outcome of the visit would be. I told him that I thought Gretchen would say, "Kit, we like you and we want you to write our story." He looked at me like I was nuts.

Needless to say, about two hours later when we walked out of the Jackson's house, he was a believer. "She loves you," he told me. "You got it."

Of course, it took three months and many lawyers for everyone to agree on the details of this contract. In fact, I signed it two days before the horse was euthanized. The Jacksons still wanted to proceed with the project and based on the media response to the horse's passing, the story was alive and well.

"Take your time," instructed Agent Number Two. "The best books aren't written overnight."

So I dug in, researched enough to put together a proposal but not enough to write the book (a fine line) and began to think about structure and sequence and the all important voice.

All the while I was communicating with Agent Number Two, telling him where I was and what I was thinking and all the while the feedback was encouraging and positive. "Keep going," he instructed.

So I did, never realizing how nice it was to hear his voice.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bully pulpit

In the interest of research, (I am after all writing a book about the horse industry), I attended the local rodeo yesterday afternoon. I should explain that local and rodeo are not two words that are usually used in the same sentence in my neck of the woods, but nonetheless, the rodeo was in town yesterday on the grounds of a venerable horse show--which made it all the more intriguing.

And what an adventure it was! Bull riding, bronco busting and barrel racing, all of which was extremely entertaining, even as I contemplated the welfare of the beasts doing the entertaining. The horses all seemed extremely well cared for, especially those ridden by pseudo cowboys and girls. The broncos were beautiful, albeit extremely docile until a cowboy attempted to get on their backs. Then they did everything in their power to throw the riders, who tried to hold on with one hand for the minimum of eight seconds. I think only one was successful.

Ditto with the bulls who lolled around in a fenced in enclosure, close enough to smell and almost touch, until each one was herded into a pen where a rider gingerly lowered himself onto its back. All but one bucked impressively--the one that didn't just wandered around the ring looking a bit lost and the cowboy got to ride another.

What was amazing to me is that at the end of their turn in the ring, each mammoth bull was herded into a pen with all its relatives and went back to peacefully lolling around. I never thought that a bunch of steers could co-exist without so much as a head butt, but I guess I was mistaken. Either that or these bulls are so used to putting on a show, they have figured out what to do to avoid being made into hamburger.

And while the cutting horses kicked up a lot of dust as they raced around barrels, they are not to be be confused with the pampered thoroughbreds who run around racetracks. For one thing, they are still running past the ages of three or four when most thoroughbreds are retired to the stud farm, and for another, they are a lot more docile. These horses, like the bulls, are totally used to being around people and most will not even blink if you wander over to pet them.

The commercial traveling rodeo may or may not be one notch better than the circus in terms of how it treats its animals but since the horses that compete in the barrel races are owned by their riders, my guess is that they are treated very well.

I'm sure I'll hear otherwise, if I'm totally wrong, but for the time being, I'll cling to the thought that I was not aiding and abetting any inhumane endeavors by a little whooping and hollering.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Agent of Change

It is sometimes more difficult to get a literary agent to represent you than it is to get your agent to sell your work. My current agent, who shall remain nameless because I truly do need him, is actually my second such professional and the two are very different people.

My first agent, who shall also remain nameless because I don't like to burn bridges, was referred to me by a writer who also happened to be one of my best editors. I trust him and I liked Agent Number One and she represented him. She is British and did a lot of work in Australia including representing Gary Larson (The Far Side) down under. She was excited about my proposal for a book about pets with cancer (prompted by the article Saving Bentley also published in The Gazette) since she herself is a cancer survivor and had lost a pet to cancer.

Since agents don't make a dime until they actually get you a contract, (and then they get much more than a dime), I figured if she was personally invested in my story, she would work her tail off to find it a home. I went to NYC (on my dime), had a long lunch with her (split the check), and cranked out a book proposal that followed her template. A little back and forth; no suggestions about content or style and she went off on her merry way to sell the book, which she never did.

But then again, she never told me any of this until I called her to say I wanted to dissolve out contractual relationship. Our phone conversations over the course of a year and a half were always cheerful, hopeful and initiated by me. To her credit, she always called me back and kept me in the loop of where she had peddled the proposal, but never suggested ways in which it might be more marketble until I called to part ways.

But then again, she never promised me the moon and I had found her.

Not so with Agent Number Two, a subject for another day or two.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Work in Progress

It is now readily apparent to me why Google stock is through the roof--they allow anyone with limited computer skills to compose and publish a blog with three easy clicks. And to do it on a whim--which is essentially what I did. It was only after I pushed the "publish post" key and saw the somewhat decent looking results, that I realized I knew absolutely nothing about the actual mechanics of this endeavor.

Thankfully they do allow you to preview your post so I did catch the error that my location was listed as Afghanistan simply because I forgot to select United States! Actually I considered the merits of leaving it on Afghanistan for a few seconds but thought it might trigger some sort of homeland security red flag.

This is all my way of saying that until I figure it all out, don't expect bells, whistles, links or photos--although I think I may have inadvertently figured out the photo thing--just words, which is, after all, what I do.

And thanks, by the way, for yours. Feedback is exactly what I have been lacking through this entire process, except for crumbs here and there, and it is nice to hear your votes of confidence. On about the second edit of my proposal, about which you will hear more in the days to come, the faceless blue pencils gave me back my voice. Once they did, I realized I had a lot to say.

Which is what I am discovering all over again.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Test marketing 101

Welcome to Something about Barbaro, a blog I shamelessly created to test market my book of the same title. I figured if I could demonstrate a following, the proposal might make it past the sales and marketing divisions of major publishing houses where it seems to have run into a dead end. More about that later.

The title comes from my article of the same title that appeared in the University of Pennsylvania alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette in July/Aug. 2006 and attracted the attention of a few literary agents, one of whom took me under his wing. We embarked on a six month odyssey to gain the authorized contract from the Jacksons, owners of Barbaro, a process that involved more lawyers than I care to count.
Contract in hand, I began researching and drafting the length proposal which also took much longer than I had anticipated. About six months and three edits later, I had pretty much created the skeleton of the book, which my dutiful, high profile agent was confident would sell in a matter of weeks.

It's been a matter of weeks and we've had mixed responses. Some love it but marketing can't see the forest for the trees. Some think it's too sad. Some are tired of the story. Some say the writing's good but not great. No one has said the proposal is bad--small consolation but at least some.

So not being very good at waiting, and having been instructed by my agent to essentially put my life on hold because he is committed to selling this book, I decided to test the waters of the blogosphere.
Hence, a hopefully daily report on the progress or lack thereof of my saga and other musings on animal related topics for which I seem to have become associated.

At the very least I hope to answer the question I am eternally asked, "How's the book?" and fill everyone in on the business of getting published.

Welcome and thanks for coming.