There Is No Good Card For This provides the perfect plan for comforting our suffering loved ones

There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love

By Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D and Emily McDowell (HarperOne, $25.99)

Don’t be fooled by what might be 2017’s longest book title. There Is No Good Card For This is one of this year’s most useful, uplifting volumes.

Two empathy visionaries make this book sparkle. Dr. Kelsey Crowe founded “Help Each Other Out,” an organization famed for its “Empathy Boot Camps.” She teams with Emily McDowell, an author-artist who fought Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 24. McDowell created “Empathy Cards,” beautiful (often funny!) greeting cards that bring support to those facing death, disease, divorce and other emotional roller-coasters.

Their book begins with one huge lesson for those afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing to someone suffering. “If you’re choosing between saying something and saying nothing, you’re almost always better off saying something.”

In other words, an ill or bereaved person may deem you more insensitive for quietly disappearing and avoiding an uncomfortable issue. Those who show up and sincerely try, are the role models the authors tout. Simply saying “I’m sorry” may work wonders, they note.

This book’s sound advice is wrapped in McDowell’s charming illustrations. Her calligraphy of empathy ideas transforms the book with the feel of a personal letter from the artist.

How about those meddling do-gooders, when their so-called caring does more harm than good? Who wants to be those guys? The authors define the two fingernails-on-chalkboard types as the “foister” or the “fretter.”

The foisters rush into a situation, slinging unrequested advice and unwanted gestures. Fretters are worriers, grabbing all attention away from the afflicted party. Why didn’t the ill person return a phone call? Are they worse? (No. they may just be busy, tired or sad, especially after all the non-stop attention.)

Crowe and McDowell crash through myths and misconceptions, such as “Three Empathy Roadblocks.” Some of us fear saying, or doing, the wrong thing at the wrong time. Others are afraid they have no time. The authors urge us to be honest and authentic with ourselves in difficult situations, instead of expecting perfection.

I’d compare these empathy advocates to Doctor Phil (if he was double-parked with the motor running.) For instance, Crowe and McDowell underscore the importance of empathic listening with the subtitle “Learning to Shut Up.” Bullseye!

Most valuable in this book are cheat-sheet actionable details. The authors created lists of “Go-To Phrases.” For potentially good or bad comments, the two categories are compared in two columns: “Instead of This” and “Try This.”

Scenario encounters allow readers to see social missteps unfold. “Seeing It In Action” provides a post-game recap of what was good (or what could have been done better).

This book is a keeper. Clergy would benefit from observing the straightforward, non-denominational kindness the authors demonstrate. In fact, There Is No Good Card For This is a book anyone can use, share and enjoy. Even in what seems like’s worst times, all of us have the power to make a difference.

 

 

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SCRATCH: Brave book attempts to convince authors to discuss the money they make

scratch-bookAuthor-editor Manjula Martin reminds me of an Olympic diver.

Dives get scored on their excellence, as well as their difficulty levels.

Martin should get a medal for her creative courage. In Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, she goes for the gold in attempting to get authors to reveal how they make a living from the written word.

Does she succeed? That depends on who the interviewee is. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, explains how her seemingly-large book advances seemed smaller when spread out over four years. She reveals that her newfound acclaim was punctuated by credit card debt.

Other authors get sidetracked talking about how it feels to be an author. What does success mean to them? In more than one occasion, Martin wants authors to talk about their social class standing as a working author.

The specifics of money disappear quickly in such cases. Some, like Austin Kleon, flatly refuse to give numerical specifics. In other instances, Martin asks how much an advance was for someone’s best-known book. The occasional figures seem to mean little when tight-lipped subjects won’t offer any other fiscal details of their work.

Martin’s interviews are flanked by numerous essay contributions from authors. Ghostwriter Sari Botton offers an illuminating explanation of how her little-known trade works. Novelist Alexander Chee praises superstar author and teacher Annie Dillard as one of his greatest influences in college. She estimated that nonfiction writers make three to five times the money fiction writers do. Then, Dillard urged students to break into print through essay writing.

In a majority of the essays within Scratch, the writers feel the need to address their pre- and post-emotional states upon finding paying work through writing. These detours make this reader think that Hmmm…How Does It Feel to Be An Author? may have been an alternative title.

Nevertheless, Martin inspires simply through her desire to pull back the curtain upon writing for pay. Once, many authors may have been shamed to admit they took ANY money for their creative endeavors. Keeping pay a secret has aided only publishers, not fellow creatives. Martin is wise in beginning to Scratch the surface upon a once-taboo topic.

 

 

 

 

That next writing project idea may be in your hands right now

(Photo credit: Jurii/Wikimedia commons)

(Photo credit: Jurii/Wikimedia commons)

You don’t need mentoring.

You don’t need to attend a writing conference.

If you want a clue as to what genre you should be writing, just look at yourself.

Is there a backpack or library bookbag near? Go peek in that. I’ll wait.

Welcome back.

Did you find fiction or non-fiction? How about the age range and reading level?

Stop trying to guess what the market wants. Decide what YOU want.

If you don’t want to read the published cousin of what you’re writing, why should you expect us to?

Non-fiction book proposal formulas revealed by agent

nonfictionbookproposalcoverThe Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing A Non-fiction Book Proposal (e-book, $3.99) delivers on its title. Author (and agent) Andy Ross offers a handy step-by-step roadmap in creating what he describes as your book’s business plan.

This game plan is more than the proposal. Ross starts by addressing the need for a persuasive query letter to an agent. Why should the agent represent you and your book proposal?

Ross notes that the most popular subject he teaches at writing conference is query letters. His top complaint about bad query letters? They’re too long.

One tip the author dishes is to avoid “sucking up.” he doesn’t want query writers to waste time talking about an agent’s list, or life. For Ross, some writers want to praise him on Cody’s, his bookstore for years. “Don’t waste words with your query,” he warns.

Once an agent is willing to read your book proposal, Ross advocates fast action. Don’t wait a month to send the requested proposal. From prescribing 12 point Times New Roman font to telling you which sample chapter to include, Ross reveals all.

The greatest strength of this book comes from actual proposals he’s used to sell books for clients. The only time Ross strays from the path is when he includes an imagined query for War and Peace from author Tolstoy.

Ross may not be an author who’ll create legions of starry-eyed readers. He mentions that he gets 10 to 20 query letters a day, only to choose 10 to 20 projects to represent in a given year. “We have become the gatekeepers of book publishing,” he writes. “We filter out the bad stuff, and only deliver the best quality projects for publishers to evaluate.”

Nonetheless, such a clear, level-headed attitude means Ross is the right pick for non-fiction authors wanting a good strategy before they battle for publication.

 

One writerly lesson from Susan Quiet Cain

quiet coverI was delighted to see a sequel (of sorts) to Susain Cain’s Quiet.

This new book (Quiet Power) brings hope and insight to younger readers. A voice for the voiceless, once again.

Seeing Cain’s “Quiet Revolution” website proves that she’s not done yet.

For frustrated writers or authors feeling invisible, let me share two writing lessons I’ve gotten from Cain’s success:

  1. Be sincere.
  2. Be consistent.

How many books are abandoned even before a first draft gets finished? There are readers who can relate to any theme, provided that the whole literary meal is on the table.

Pick a path. Stick to it. If you don’t believe, neither will the reader.

Think editing non-fiction is impossible? Check out picture book biographies for inspiration

Griffey bookFriend Barbara Kramer is one of the hardest-working non-fiction authors in children’s lit today.

When she’s not creating a new biography, Barbara is blogging. I wanted to applaud her latest post:

I’ve mentioned in the past how children’s non-fiction is a great place for a researcher to start. Well, picture book biographies remind (even adult) authors of two amazements:

  1. Think everything has been written about a topic or personality? Children’s picture books are famed for putting a new spin on an overlooked moment in history.
  2. Think your editing is overwhelming? Look at the minimal word counts on a non-fiction picture book.

In the 1990s, I co-wrote a series of biographies for PowerKids Press. I was told to follow the established format. Ten chapters. Each no more than 80 words. A beginning, middle and end in just 80 words? It’s possible!

Children’s books: not just for children.

 

Write like Red Green

Red GreenNonfiction got you down?

Reality is overrated.

“How-to” reports can get boring.

Why not try writing how NOT to?

This could be recounting your true-life (mis)adventure.

There are readers who could relate.

Don’t believe me? Try searching “Ikea instructions humor.”

If it’s fun to write, the piece will be fun to read.