The WRITING EQUATION

November 13, 2006

INTERVIEW with BONNIE NEUBAUER–Author, 11/13/2006

Filed under: INTERVIEWS with AGENTS, EDITORS & AUTHORS — plussignpro @ 8:49 am

Bonnie Neubauer is the author of Write-Brain Workbook, 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing (Writer’s Digest Books, November 2005), and Story Spinner, a handheld writing exercise wheel she invented. She is also the inventor of many games.

For much of her life, however, Bonnie had a strong dislike for writing. The worst grade she ever received was in Freshman English Composition in college. Then, one day when she was in her mid-thirties, while on a business call with a client who ran a business-to-business greeting card company, something clicked. She knew it wasn’t her call waiting; it was her calling.

She began writing for the greeting card company. From then on, Bonnie never missed a chance to write: articles, handouts, speeches, ads, brochures. Her favorite was copy for an erotic chocolate catalog.
Everything she creates comes from the formula 1+1=3 and with her life mission in mind: To make her internal smile external in others.

Q: YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN MARKETING CONSULTING. ANY UNIQUE MARKETING METHODS YOU USED TO HELP SELL YOUR BOOK?

BONNIE: Something that many writers forget is that marketing begins before a book is even written. When my proposal for Write-Brain Workbook went to Writer’s Digest, I knew all the competing books, had a list of my target audiences, had presented workshops where I tested my material, landed a famous author to write the intro, and was armed with a marketing/promotion plan. As I wrote the book I kept all these things in mind so that I knew I was writing the best book possible for my audience and that what I was writing was different from other books on the shelf.

Because I have done lots of marketing, I have developed a thicker skin and am able not to take each rejection personally. That’s a big help.

I have a saying I wrote many years ago: “I may look like I’m not working, but I’m really networking.” Marketing is all about networking. It’s about telling everyone and anyone about you and your book. It’s about setting goals and not being afraid to ask for help and to go after what you want. I always pictured going on a book tour up and down the Northeast corridor. And I used my contacts to network my way through the Barnes & Noble system to make it happen. Marketing is a lot of work. And good marketing pays off in terms of book sales.

Q: YOUR BOOK IS ON WRITING EXERCISES AND GETTING CREATIVE IDEAS GOING. SHARE AN EXAMPLE WITH US.

BONNIE: Each page of Write-Brain Workbook has two exercises. The main one is a ten-minute creative writing exercise where your goal is to put words on the page and not worry about spelling, grammar or even if it’s any good. The other exercise asks a question to help you learn about your writing practice and process, and set and meet goals.

The ‘big’ 10-minute exercise for you to try is called Fictionary-3: Write a dictionary-style definition for the word INDABA. (in-DAH-ba) Use indaba with your fictitious definition in a story. Start with “The scream was loud…”

And here’s your ‘little’ (in terms of time, not impact) exercise: If you were to arrange a conference of mentors, whom would you invite? What’s one question you would ask them all? Answer it yourself.

(FYI: The definition of indaba is a conference of indigenous peoples of
Southern Africa.)

Q: HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO SELL “THE WRITE-BRAIN WORKBOOK” TO F & W PUBLICATIONS/WRITER’S DIGEST BOOKS–THE PREMIER PUBLISHER OF HOW-TO WRITING BOOKS?

BONNIE: F&W was the first place my agent sent Write-Brain Workbook. However, there’s a long story that precedes this quick success. Through it all, F&W was always my first choice of publisher.

Many years ago I had submitted the book without an agent and it was rejected. Later that same year I entered a contest run by Writer’s Digest for the best Writing Prompt. I submitted an exercise from my book and it won first place. I then added that information as well as the winning exercise to my query. That helped me land an agent. That agent may or may not have submitted the proposal to Writer’s Digest. I am not certain what she did or didn’t do. It’s not a good agent story so I won’t belabor the point. After our contract was up, I let the entire project sit untouched for a year and a half while I got over being frustrated with the publishing industry.

Then, while at a Writer’s Conference where I presented a writing workshop, I met an agent. We hit it off and I sent her my query. Also at that same conference were two editors from Writer’s Digest. I talked to one who was very outgoing, but not the other. She was more introverted and somehow I didn’t think of a way to approach her. By the time the agent accepted me and we got my proposal up to snuff, the acquisitions editor at Writer’s Digest was none other than the woman to whom I spoke not a word. If ever there was an example of a missed networking opportunity, this was it!  Anyway, she remembered me and I think that helped get the book accepted.

I also think that my experience running workshops in bookstores and that I included a bookstore book tour in my proposal were helpful. One other factor was critical and that had to do with my Story Spinner (a handheld writing exercise idea generator) that I invented. I had sold thousands to Writer’s Digest Book Club a few years earlier and its great sales record proved that my products were marketable.

Sorry that was such a long-winded answer!

Q: WHAT WERE THE KEY SECRETS TO SUCCESS YOU LEARNED ALONG THE WAY?

BONNIE: I learned to network with everyone I meet. I also learned that asking for help is a gift to yourself as well as the person who is doing the helping. Other people, now successful, have been where you are currently stuck. Figure out how to meet them and when you do, ask them how they got ahead.

One very important “not so secret” secret is that publishing is a business. Follow the rules for writing queries and proposals. This is not a place to be clever or break the rules. It is through these items that you are being judged. It’s not just your writing or your ideas that are being evaluated. Your professionalism is, too. Following the rules shows that you understand the system and that you’ll be easy to work with.

Q: BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE, WHAT ARE THE MAIN INGREDIENTS OF A GOOD MARKETABLE BOOK?

BONNIE: The author of a good marketable book knows her audience, spends time with them, knows what makes them tick, is in tune with what they are in need of, and how to deliver it in a new and vibrant manner. In my case, the book I wrote had been tested every time I ran another workshop. I knew which exercises generated the best responses.

Q: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE THE BOOK, AND HOW DID YOU KNOW WHEN IT WAS FINISHED?

BONNIE: The book evolved over a number of years as I ran writing workshops. As far as when it was finished, well…. I thought the book was done when my agent and I had gone over my proposal and crossed every T and dotted every I. Then, at the very end of that conversation, she asked me if it was the best possible book I could have written. That question stuck with me for a few days. I realized there was something I could add that would make it the best book. That’s when I added the follow-up exercises to each page, making it really a book of 366 x2 exercises to liberate your writing.

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR MOST EFFECTIVE WRITING HABITS?

BONNIE: In my case, I divide my time between writing books and inventing games. So I will answer the question in terms of my most effective creativity habits if that’s okay.

I do something every single day to move ahead at least one project. Some days that means I might spend an hour being interviewed which will help other writers make their writing dreams come true as well as promote my book. Other days I might spend 3 hours writing the rules to a game and play-testing it. On the days when my day-job is hectic, I might simply spend 5-minutes jotting down some notes for the next time I have a longer chunk of creative time. My creative projects are living things, like plants or pets, and they get ongoing nurturing from me. Because the work times vary tremendously, it’s probably a very good thing they are not pets!

Q: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MOTIVATORS AND SOURCES OF INSPIRATION TO WRITE?

BONNIE: Every time I walk into a bookstore or toy store I get motivated. So I make it a priority to visit a bookstore or toy store at least once a week.

Inspiration sources are a bit trickier. I do my best to expose myself to new things so that my brain is always making new associations. Most of my projects stem from the equation 1+1=3. What that means in action is that I take two things and mix them together to come up with a third. For example: when I added my love of word plays and bad puns to the thrill I always get at Halloween, I came up with a book I am now working on called Punny Costumes. One of my current interests is fossil hunting. Who knows what I will combine that with to come up with a book, game or other project idea.     

Q: ANY FUTURE PLANS, UPCOMING BOOKS?

BONNIE: Punny Costumes, as I mentioned above, plus a follow-up book to Write-Brain Workbook. I am also in the final stages of developing a word game that is about to be play-tested.

* Bonnie Neubauer may be reached through her website at http://www.BonnieNeubauer.com or via email at Bonnie@BonnieNeubauer.com.

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