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A Look Behind the Book: Nine Info Pros Get Real About Writing
Posted On January 7, 2020
Have you ever thought about writing a book—either fiction or nonfiction? I’ve rounded up some of the NewsBreaks and Information Today writers who have done it so they can share the challenges and most surprising aspects of becoming a published author. (Part of the job, of course, is self-promotion!) I hope you get some inspiration from reading about their experiences with various types of books. (And if you’re looking for something to read—for work or for fun—give one of these a try.)

Full disclosure: Some of the following writers have published books with Information Today, Inc., which owns NewsBreaks.

The Hidden History of Northwestern PennsylvaniaHidden History of Northwestern Pennsylvania

by Jessica Hilburn

The History Press, 2019

What gave you the idea to write this book?

I had been writing posts for Benson Memorial Library’s online history publication, NWPA Stories, for a few years and thought those types of lesser-known local history vignettes could be expanded into a full-length book. People in my area are really interested in local history, especially stories that might be lost to time, and I enjoy bringing them back to life.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

Summoning the mental energy to get it done. Since I was working full-time while writing the book, it was very difficult some days to come home after work and dive into writing. The closer I got to finishing, the more I procrastinated. Ultimately, I just had to get really disciplined with myself and block out time that was meant for writing, and writing only, which really helped. It is a schedule that I still stick to when I am researching or writing journal or magazine articles.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

How little book authors are compensated for all of their painstaking, creative work. Since I was writing nonfiction, I not only had to write the book, but I also had to do a huge amount of research for every topic. That included having to travel to libraries and museums to find primary sources, learn about copyright law for images, and talk to local experts, all before I even started writing. The industry standard for paperback publishing royalties is 8%. Authors are making a tiny fraction of the money that is spent on their creations. I knew going into writing my book that it was not a money-making venture. I wanted to do it regardless of the monetary side. However, it is disheartening to know that so many creative, invested, hardworking people make so little for a process that requires so much.

But I did have creative freedom. My publisher allowed me to take ideas and run with them, which was creatively invigorating. They let me explore whatever caught my fancy and structure the book in a way that made sense to me. They trusted me to know my readers best, and I appreciated that freedom.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

That Northwestern Pennsylvania is a complex, interesting place that they should learn about and visit. My area has been mostly associated with oil since Edwin Drake struck the first commercial oil well in Titusville in 1859. For a long time, historians and authors have only focused on the capitalistic and business side of oil and left out the stories of the people whose lives were impacted, shaped, and sometimes even destroyed by what happened here. I hope my book sheds light on the layered history of the region and provides a unique portal into the past as never seen before.

The Artsy Girl--In BronzeThe Artsy Girl—In Bronze

by Thomas Pack

self-published, 2014

What gave you the idea to write this book?

In the late 1990s, I wrote two books about searching the internet for Macmillan Publishing. Of course, they are now seriously out of date. In 2014, I wrote a young adult novel called The Artsy Girl—In Bronze for a self-published novel contest. I didn’t win, but I got some good reviews (especially on Goodreads). The novel was inspired by several amazingly talented student artists I met when I worked in the communications department for the public school system in Louisville, Ky., but the story is set in Daytona Beach, Fla.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

I found that fiction is, of course, a very different animal from the nonfiction I was used to writing. But I still wanted the story to seem plausible and rooted in real-life concerns, which was especially challenging because I was writing from the point of view of a teenage girl. I have two teen daughters, and their concerns as well as their personalities and ambitions informed much of the story. 

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

I learned that more than 10,000 young adult novels are published every year—a daunting amount of competition.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

I just want people to think it’s a fun read. On the back cover, I describe the book as “a funny novel about art, love, heavy-metal drumming, and the world’s most famous beach.”

Ross YoungsRoss Youngs: In Search of a San Antonio Baseball Legend

by David King

The History Press, 2013

King’s other titles include The Texas League Baseball Almanac (The History Press, 2014), Baseball in the Lone Star State: The Texas League’s Greatest Hits (Trinity University Press, 2005), and San Antonio at Bat: Professional Baseball in the Alamo City (Texas A&M University Press, 2004).

What gave you the idea to write this book?

Sometime in 1999, a colleague at the newspaper told me about Ross Youngs, a San Antonio native who had been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans’ committee in 1972. Ross died in 1927 at the age of 30, and nothing substantial had ever been written about him. He was one of those hall of famers who nobody really knew very well.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

The most challenging part was finding information about him and his life. His few relatives had little information, and there probably had not been more than three or four things written about him between 1972 and 1999, when I started researching. Anyone who had known him was long-ago gone, so I spent many hours scanning microfilm of the San Antonio newspapers, The New York Times, and a couple of stray newspaper databases. I went to the Hall of Fame to see two small scrapbooks the family had donated in 1972.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

The most surprising part was how quickly the publishing deal came together. I was working on another project in 2012 and was introduced to an editor at The History Press. It had taken me until 2012 to get the Ross Youngs manuscript to the point where I liked it (many, many rewrites and changes in tone and approach were involved). Since I had a finished manuscript, I told the editor about it, and I heard back in probably less than a month.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

The book became a combination of a biography and a recap of my search for information. The chapters all begin with a trip to a notable place in his life, none of which revealed many details, and then segue into his story for a particular time period. I hope people understand that this was a journey to learn about an all-but-forgotten sports figure from 80-plus years ago.

The Accidental Law LibrarianThe Accidental Law Librarian

by Anthony Aycock

Information Today, Inc., 2013

What gave you the idea to write this book?

In 2001, I became an “accidental law librarian.” I had just finished my M.L.S., and I was offered a position as a librarian at a law firm in Columbia, S.C. Having no formal training in law, I learned on the job how to help attorneys with their legal research. After a decade in law librarianship, I started thinking about all the things I wish I had known when I entered the profession. My book was an outgrowth of those thoughts.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

The suspicion—nay, the certainty—okay, the fear that I had omitted lots and lots of important information about my topic.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

When I wrote the website blurb for my book, my publisher praised it, asking me if I had ever considered a career in copywriting.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

Every librarian who works with the public is at some point asked for legal information. Many of them are reluctant to answer such questions, afraid perhaps of giving the wrong answer and being liable for that error. Such fears are unfounded; explaining why is a major piece of my book. 

Google This!Google This!: Putting Google and Other Social Media Sites to Work for Your Library

by Terry Ballard

Chandos Publishing, 2012

What gave you the idea to write this book?

I was teaching a class at Southern Connecticut State University, and a student marveled that I thought Google was something that libraries should use to their best advantage, when all the other teachers were saying, “Google is the enemy of libraries.”

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

Sheer exhaustion. A challenging due date and still working full time in Manhattan, with a 2-hour commute each day.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

The wonderful synergy I had working with my dream team of editors in Oxford. Only problem was that I had to get any email to them by noon, due to the time difference.

Also, Google liked the idea so much that they invited me out to visit the Googleplex for a day. I did, and it was amazing.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

That any new technology can be seen as an opportunity for a library to use it as a tool to enhance their service to its patrons. Stay current!

The Embedded LibrarianThe Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed

by David “Dave” Shumaker

Information Today, Inc., 2012

What gave you the idea to write this book?

For me, the book was a case of one thing leading naturally to the next. It all started with work we were doing in Information Services at the MITRE Corp. Part of my motivation to leave MITRE and become a library science faculty member at Catholic University was to be able to spread what had worked for us to other librarians. That goal led to a research grant award from SLA (with co-investigator Mary Talley), which led to an SLA report, which led to multiple speaking invitations. At one such event, I met Information Today, Inc.’s Marydee Ojala, who encouraged my idea for a book and helped me prepare a proposal. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

Grinding it out while teaching full-time. Most of the writing was done over the summer, especially in August 2011. During that month, I set myself a goal of writing at least 1,000 words a day—which I actually met almost every day.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

How much effort and expertise go into the design of the book. It’s so much more than slapping the text between two covers. I especially remember an intense debate about the cover design. In the end, I think we made the right choice.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

What I know—because I’ve received a lot of positive feedback over the years—is that the book helped librarians strengthen their relationships with the other members of the corporate, academic, or civic communities, increase the importance of their work to that community, and gain added recognition for their contributions. Comparing the information services profession today to that of a generation ago, I believe that on the whole we’re much more engaged—embedded, if you will—than we were then. I believe the book was part of making that happen.

Building Library 3.0Building Library 3.0: Issues in Creating a Culture of Participation

by Kenneth “Woody” Evans

Chandos Publishing, 2009

Information Dynamics in Virtual Worlds: Gaming and Beyond

by Kenneth “Woody” Evans

Chandos Publishing, 2011

What gave you the idea to write this book?

Building Library 3.0 was driven by observing the way that changes in technology were affecting library patrons in the early 2000s. I saw this as an empowering moment for our users. From use of cellphones, to social media, and “folksonomies” in library catalogs, it was exciting to see our users participating in their own information services in new ways. Information Dynamics in Virtual Worlds came from watching the weird rise and fall of [the game] Second Life. I was thinking a lot about what people did when they pretended to be in other worlds, and what kind of information service might be called for in those worlds.

Information Dynamics in Virtual Worlds

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

I think working with copy editors and reviewing changes is hard, because I just so want to be done with it and have the thing published. But it’s wonderful to have a smart, concerned editor, because they catch things that I miss and make the work much better than it would have been.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

The most surprising thing to me has been the global reach. My books weren’t bestsellers, but I still had people reaching out to me from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and I think the first review I saw was by a French librarian. All of this encouraged me to think more globally about libraries and librarianship.

What do you hope people take away from your book?

I’d like readers to get a sense of the agility needed when technology is changing our cultures so quickly. I’d hope that readers would begin to think about using policies as instruments of service rather than immutable laws.

One Chapter at a Time …

The Library and Book Trade AlmanacThe Library and Book Trade Almanac, 64th edition

“Libraries Support Scholarship in (and Beyond) the Ivory Tower” (pp. 13–30)

by Barbie Keiser

Information Today, Inc., 2019

What gave you the idea to write a chapter in this book? 

I've been tackling changes in tools and platforms now available to scholars in my bimonthly Online Searcher articles. It was apparent that changes were afoot in many academic libraries, and I wanted to explore this in greater detail than a few pages.

What was the most challenging part of finishing it?

I was blessed to have colleagues and a great editor who were helpful in making me focus my efforts, questioning my reasoning, and polishing the language used to express it all.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

It took me longer than I expected to be able to get the work done. I knew what I wanted to say and had most of the research at hand, but it took me longer to sit down at the desk and actually write.

What do you hope people take away from the book?

I hope that readers will see the breadth of options available to them in terms of making a difference in the scholarship produced at their institutions. Each librarian must identify where his or her library can have the most impact on the research process and create a path for the institution moving forward.

The Successful Academic LibrarianThe Successful Academic Librarian: Winning Strategies From Library Leaders

edited by Gwen Meyer Gregory

Information Today, Inc., 2005

What gave you the idea to write this book?

Seeing the challenges many colleagues faced as academic librarians and realizing how much many of my colleagues had to contribute to each other’s success in the field. So many people were very stressed out by the perceived demands on them. I also was inspired by reading Rachel Singer Gordon’s book The Librarian’s Guide to Writing for Publication.

What was the most challenging part of finishing a book?

Getting all the contributors to send in their chapters, and then editing them all to match in terms of style and format. I should have been more specific when giving their instructions.

What was the most surprising or interesting part of the publishing process?

How fun it was to work with the Information Today staff on the process. They even held a book signing for me at an ALA conference. I felt like a total celebrity; I wish I had pictures of that!

What do you hope people take away from your book?

Some parts are a bit dated now. However, I hope that the book relieved some stress and helped academic librarians to succeed and thrive in their chosen roles by providing insights about areas like job interviews, faculty status, and what the library director wants.

Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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