Winter 2011

Writing the Book

How does a journalist make the journey to author? A variety of paths and potential pitfalls are here for you to learn from. Authors of memoirs, novels and nonfiction narratives write frankly about the ups and downs. These days the topic of books can’t be discussed without mentioning online platforms and self-publishing so you’ll also hear from the individuals behind The Atavist and Byliner as well as an author who brought his book back from the dead via print-on-demand. If you have a publishing (horror or success) story you’d like to share, please drop us a line at
—Jan Gardner, Assistant Editor

Concept to Content
Compelling Story, Unflappable Belief, and Digital Teamwork (1 comment)
‘What I knew was that everyone who said there was no audience for this story was wrong. Not because I saw the future, but because I understood the present.’
By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Feeling It’s a Book, Then Pausing to Wonder If It Is (2 comments)
‘Does the fact that this story hasn’t been told mean that there’s not enough to tell it?’
By Mitchell Zuckoff
On the Road to Writing Books: Blazing New Trails (2 comments)
‘What transforms journalists into nonfiction authors is the heft of their voice, the narrative arc of their idea, and its marketability. These aren’t lessons that tend to be reinforced on the way up the newspaper ladder.’
By William Wheeler
Brief Story, Book Proposal, a Longer Feature, Then a Book
‘… it would be a while before people would say, “Hey, this is a book.” ’
By Amy Ellis Nutt
Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life (10 comments)
‘At one point, my mother, a woman who is anything but acid, told me: “Get a job, and get a life.” She said this out of love and concern because all I ever did—all I ever do—is work, seven days a week, practically every waking hour.’
By Gaiutra Bahadur
A Year of Reinvention
By Alfredo Corchado
Starting as a Journalist, Ending as a Memoirist
‘I have come to realize that my obsessive precision—a great virtue in a reporter—wasn’t necessarily the greatest quality in a would-be memoirist.’
By Lucette Lagnado
Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory
‘The story must move beyond a verbal regurgitation of hastily recalled anecdotes. You need to report live from your life, researching with interviews, data and documents that support your recollections.’
By Michele Weldon
Tips for Journalists Writing Memoirs (3 comments)
By Michele Weldon
Newsroom to Classroom: Books as a Thread of Connection (2 comments)
With a forthcoming book about undercover reporting—along with a reporter-friendly database of historic examples—a j-school professor keeps her focus on familiar topics.
By Brooke Kroeger
Narrative Writing: Craft to Ethics, Theme to Characters
In ‘Storycraft’ Jack Hart ‘reveals the story behind the stories.’
By Beth Macy
A Literary Exploration of How Power Corrupts
This story is ‘about how the worlds of journalism and fiction writing are not as unimaginably different as one might think.’
By Thrity Umrigar
Novels Win Out Over Journalism (1 comment)
‘The biggest shift in going from journalism to books is not from scribe to artist, but employee to entrepreneur—suddenly self-employed, with no benefits, no expense account, and no security.’
By William Dietrich
Will I Ever Write the Book? Why Not? (3 comments)
‘I teach nonfiction books. I study them, praise them, and pick them apart, and as I do so, I often wonder what’s holding me back from writing one.’
By Bret Schulte
Leapfrogging the Book: A Newspaper Story Jumps to Film (1 comment)
‘The desire to have the best—or most salable—story must never undermine our responsibility to challenge even our most compelling material.’
By Paul Lieberman
Dealing with Hollywood
By Paul Lieberman
Nieman Notes
Trying to Make a Difference
A series that points the way to preventing deaths when police respond to 911 calls involving the mentally ill elicits praise, but not change or even a public conversation.
By Annmarie Timmins
Class Notes
Compiled by Jan Gardner
A.C. Thompson of ProPublica Named Winner of 2011 I.F. Stone Award
By Jonathan Seitz
Tom Wicker, Political Columnist for The New York Times, Dies at 85
Grateful for Well-Timed Words From Wicker
By Alvin Shuster, NF ’67
A Way to Understand the World
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Eli Reed
Platform to Audience
Journalism: Done The Atavist Way (4 comments)
‘… I liked the idea of being part of something new and something that attempts to reinvigorate the field of long-form journalism by re-engineering the business model that pays for it.’
By David Wolman
It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book. (2 comments)
‘Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length.’
By John Tayman
The Writing Life: Examined in a Digital Minibook
E-Book Excerpt by Ann Patchett
Transformation in Publishing and Optimism About Books (1 comment)
‘An enduring challenge for journalists is to take their experiences, background and skills as a writer and turn them into a fully developed narrative.’
Conversation with Peter Osnos
Sooner Sounds Better (3 comments)
By Philip Meyer
Telling Political Stories in Closer to Real-Time Books (1 comment)
‘The digital book project is a way of ensuring that these tips and anecdotes and character insights don’t get pushed aside, and instead are developed and given to readers in a format that puts them in the best light.’
By John F. Harris
E-Books as a Business Strategy
Owni ‘doesn’t carry advertisements and publishes all of its content under a Creative Commons license. Selling products—including e-books—is its big bet.’
By Federica Cocco
Visual Intensity of Words (5 comments)
‘Does the Kindle allow the visual even more dominance over the other senses in the act of reading?’
By Len Edgerly
Out of Print, a Book Reappears—And Earns Its Author Money
‘Because of the Internet and some very slick printing technology, “Little People” remains visible and available. It’s even making me money for the first time since 2002 …’
By Dan Kennedy
Journalist to Marketer—With a Book In-Between
‘... being a great reporter is no guarantee that you can successfully sell your book, even when you’ve done cool stories about books.’
By Rochelle Lefkowitz
Making a Book—Digital and Print—From Scratch
‘By building a book in modules—rather than constructing it as a complete “bible”—I can gain flexibility, respond easily to the rapid pace of changes, and be happier than if I have to rewrite my entire book.’
By Elizabeth Castro
Learning the Inner Workings of an E-Book File
By Elizabeth Castro
Voice to Visual
Powerful People and a Book They Almost Stopped (21 comments)
When a Philippine investigative journalist revealed the inner workings of her nation’s Supreme Court, the country’s largest book publisher and leading distributor walked away.
By Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Books Take Over Where Daily Journalism Can’t Go
‘It is difficult to do justice to the complexities of Zimbabwe’s story while still grabbing and sustaining readers’ interest when so much of what reporters hear is depressing.’
By Andrew Meldrum
Transit: An Assignment and an Idea—Now a Book, Exhibit and Website
An Essay in Words and Photographs
By Espen Rasmussen
A Photography Book—Absorbed in Print and On the iPad
‘In “Capitolio,” a book and an iPad app, Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson connects circumstances of Caracas’s common folk with the failure of urban modernization.’
By Boris Muñoz
Editor's Corner
Guided By a Simple Vision
By Melissa Ludtke