Push to Publish Series: Meet the Experts- Beth Kephart


The first time I met Beth Kephart, I was working the Push to Publish event and she was the keynote speaker. She crossed my path again at another writing function. The third time I saw Beth was at a talk she gave at Rosemont College. Up on the stage were all of her publications. I was stunned into silence. I couldn’t believe she had written so much, so well, and so often. The day, Beth Kephart became one of my literary heroes.

When I found out she was once again coming to Push to Publish this year, I was so excited. Not only would I get to meet her again and say hello (maybe if I’m lucky get a hug and some her enegry and genuis will rub onto me) but I knew I’d get the opportunity to interview her again and “steal” more from her wealth of knowledge.

Below is the interview with Beth Kephart who will be on the panel of YA novelists. (http://www.philadelphiastories.org/push-publish-2012-strategies-and-techniques-get-your-work-print-and-online)

Wittle: What do you find are the most helpful tools for a writer in YA to market his or her book? Should they have a blog? A twitter account? Maybe reach out to the local libraries and host a writing and or reading session?

Kephart: I am afraid that I never really think about tools or strategies.  I think about who I want to be in the world—what kind of community I want to live within.  And so I blog as much to exercise my own brain (made stagnant at times by too much corporate work) as to exchange thoughts with readers and writers who inspire me.  I twitter very rarely, and usually it’s to have some comedic relief or to spread word.  I have a book party each time a book comes out at Radnor Memorial Library with the great hostess Pamela Sedor because she is so kind and because friends come (indeed, we are having a party for Small Damages on September 12 at 7:30 at Pam’s fabulous library, should any readers of this interview like to come; there will be cake!).  Mostly, though, I try to participate in the greater literary community.  I write for The New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, Shelf Awareness, Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishing Perspectives, and elsewhere on the state of books and culture and teens, or on places that I love.  And this, I think, keeps me in the mix more than anything.


Wittle: Could you explain a bit more about what Young Writers Take the Park is and if there are plans to do it again this coming year?

Kephart: Oh, we had fun last year in Manayunk for this Young Writers Take the Park event.  I worked with The Spiral Bookcase, a new independent, to produce an event in which teens from all over the Philadelphia area responded to a writing prompt, had their work evaluated by Elizabeth Mosier and myself, and then were invited to a workshop that Libby and I conducted.  The teens then had a chance to read their work to gathered friends and family (in the park)—and to have it published in Philadelphia Stories, Jr.  A.S. King, Susan Campbell-Bartoletti, and April Lindner were also on hand to sign books and talk with the teens.  There was, to top it all off, great music provided by teen musicians (sponsored by your own Christine Weiser).  We have not yet talked about next year.  It was, as you can imagine, quite an organizational challenge.


Wittle: For you, what genre is the most difficult to work in?

Kephart: I have yet to fully conquer the writing of an adult novel.  Try as I have.  And so that has proven to be the most challenging thing for me.

Wittle: For those unable to attend the year you were the keynote speaker at Push to Publish, could you give us some of the major points from your very inspiring speech?

Kephart: Oh gosh, that feels like a long time ago.  Thankfully I have an electronic copy.  I was talking about how hard it has been for me to get published.  All the near yeses, all the maybes that became no’s.  I was talking, too, about a book I had written 80 times—a book I had not yet published at that time, a book I didn’t think ever would be published.  That book became Small Damages, newly published, which has had a kinder reception than any of my other books.  Persistence pays, I said.  I ended with these words:

There are no guarantees out here, but I do believe that persistence pays off.  Believing in yourself pays off.  Writing keeps us alert, it keeps us astute, it keeps us alive.  Publishing and writing are not the same thing.  It’s imperative that we remember that—that our work has validity because we have created it, because it is ours, because we own it.  No publisher’s decision can ever take that away.

Wittle: You also teach Creative Nonfiction at U of Penn. What books should a person interested in writing in this genre read?

Kephart: At the risk of sounding just horribly self-promotional, I would suggest that writers of memoir read Handling the Truth: on the writing of memoir, which I have due out next August from Gotham.  I say that not because my ego is gigantic, but because that book contains an appendix featuring 85 memoirs/books about memoir that I feel must be read.  None of those 85 books are, I should perhaps note here, my own.

Wittle: What was the most helpful advice you were given about pushing yourself to publish your first book?

Kephart: Again, I’m going to bore you here.  I had no advice.  I was operating in the dark.  I did not receive an education in writing and had gone to just three summer workshop programs to try to understand what literature was, how writing worked—and to talk to writers for the first time, save for a bookstore conversation I had with Fae Myenne-Ng when I was 32 years old.  I had recently been to Bread Loaf.  I had seen some editors speak.  When the first editor declined my work, I simply sent it out to another whose words and manner I had liked.  That editor, Alane Mason of W.W. Norton, said yes, and that began a three-book relationship with her, and a continuing friendship.

 Beth Kephart Bio:

Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including, most recently the southern Spain-infused novel Small Damages (Philomel), which received three starred reviews and was featured in the New York Times, LA Times, BookPage, Family Circle, and elsewhere. In March 2013, New City Community Press/Temple University Press will release Kephart’s 1871 Philadelphia young adult novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, and in August 2013, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir will be released by Gotham.  In the winter of 2014, We Could Be Heroes, Just for One Day: A Berlin Novel, will be released by Philomel.  Kephart teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania and writes reviews and essays for The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Shelf Awareness, and Publishing Perspectives.  She is the strategic writer at Fusion Communications and her literary blog, http://beth-kephart.blogspot.com/, was twice named a best author blog by the BBAW.

Push to Publish Series: Meet the Experts- Don Lafferty


The 21st century has given writers a new way to talk with their readers and connect with other writers and fans.  It also gives writers different ways to market and sell their books. Today’s Push to Publish Series talks with the social media guru Don Lafferty. He will be at the Push to Publish event helping writers find their way towards all the great resources to help writers promote themselves (http://www.philadelphiastories.org/push-publish-2012-strategies-and-techniques-get-your-work-print-and-online).

Here is an interview with him that discusses just a small sampling of the resources for writers.

WITTLE: For those that may not be familiar with The Liars Club, could you explain what it is and how people can benefit from it?

LAFFERTY: The Liars Club is a group of positive thinking, like-minded Philly area writers who understand and cherish the value of their relationships with other writers, and the cascade of benefit that our fellowship brings to each of us.

We provide a physical, living, breathing, FREE community for writers here in the Delaware Valley. From that community, writers in all stages of their careers can draw on the community’s collective body of experience. Outside of a pay-for conference, it’s one of the only forums where you can ask a New York Times bestselling author or other publishing industry expert for advice about your query letter, the first page of your manuscript, an agency issue or a marketing question.

The Liars Club is all about writers helping other writers – for free. We all know what it was like when we didn’t know the first thing about the process of becoming published, and we want to help shortcut that learning curve for up and coming writers. Be sure to join our Yahoo group to stay plugged into our schedule of FREE events where we share everything we know about the world of writing and publishing. Go to Yahoo groups and search “WritersCoffeehouseOnline”.

WITTLE: What are the three social media avenues every writer should have and why?

LAFFERTY: Facebook, because 75% of the readers in North America are there. Twitter, because if you know how to “listen” for the key words that will tip you off to the conversations being had by your target connections, you can discover and connect with them and larger pockets of community. Goodreads, because it’s a community of readers and writers, telling everybody what they love, what they hate, what they’re going to read – and who they’ll never read again.

WITTLE: How much do you think social media and networking plays into being a writer?

LAFFERTY: I don’t think it has anything to do with being a writer, but good social media and networking skills will help a good writer become more widely read. The Amanda Hocking story is a great case in point. She was a self-published author, badly in need of an editor, but her solid story telling ability and stellar social media chops got her a three million dollar payday, one of the best editors in the business and shelf space in every bookstore in the world.

WITTLE: In your opinion, how has e-publishing enhanced the publishing world?

LAFFERTY: Ebooks have blown the lid of the long tail of the commercial side of writing. The lack of friction in this distribution channel, combined, again, with good social media skills, makes this the best time in the history of the written word for writers to reach their readers, no matter how niche the market. It has and will continue to change the business of publishing, but I know the trees are very happy about it.

WITTLE: What is one piece of advice you would give a writer trying to get his or her work out in this digital age?

LAFFERTY: Most importantly, make sure your writing doesn’t suck. Then, connect in person with a local community of writers. Be sociable. Play nice. Be kind. Check your ego at the door. Do unto others, and all that stuff. Take advice from those that have demonstrated success, and then pay it forward every chance you get. Yes, that’s one piece of advice. 😉


Don Lafferty’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE MAGAZINE, CRIME FACTORY MAGAZINE, SHOTGUN HONEY and a number of other markets and anthologies. He’s written corporate communication, marketing and advertising copy, and feature magazine articles. Don is a regular contributor to the global conversation about marketing through the social media channel, and blogs at www.donaldlafferty.com.

Don is a regular speaker, teacher and the Chief Marketing Officer of the digital marketing agency, Mingl Social. He’s a member of the Philly Liars Club, the social media director of the Wild River Review, and serves on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.


Push to Publish Series: Meet the Experts- Marie Lamba


Interview with Literary Agent and Young Adult Author Marie Lamba:

In preperation for the annual Push to Publish event held at Rosemont College on October 13th (http://www.philadelphiastories.org/push-publish-2012-strategies-and-techniques-get-your-work-print-and-online), I thought it was best to do some interviews so you could get to know the wonderful and talented experts coming to Rosemont.

Wittle: For someone just starting out in the literary life, could you explain the function of a literary agent? Almost the down and dirty definition.

Lamba: A literary agent is a partner in your professional writing career.  This is someone who will be your cheerleader, who will target your work to the right publishers, and who will help shape your future in a way that will be best for your own goals.  Because your agent is your professional partner, he or she should be encouraging about your writing, but also honest about manuscripts that you would like to send out to publishers. She should believe in you 100% and be relentless in finding the best home for your best work.

Wittle: How did you become interested in being a literary agent?

Lamba: I’d been a full-time YA author for a number of years.  During that time, I’d gained many skills we authors must also have these days: editing, promoting, marketing, communicating, networking.  But I’d never considered becoming an agent in addition to an author until my own agent Jennifer DeChiara invited me to become an Associate Agent for her firm.

When I thought about it for a while, I realized what a great fit this would be for me.  I love to mentor, to edit, to support writers.  I adore reading and discovering new talent.  Promoting has become second nature. And I get so much out of interacting with smart and witty editors, and with committed and creative writers.

Wittle: What are the hottest trends in the literary world today? Which ones are flooded?

Lamba: When I speak with children’s editors and ask them what they are looking for, most tell me they are hungry for middle grade manuscripts, especially ones with boy appeal.  In the YA market, editors usually ask for that magic combination: a literary book with commercial appeal.  What’s that?  I think it translates to smart beautiful writing with a salable hook.  As for paranormal? While it’s still selling, I know there’ve been a lot of these projects crossing editors’ desks.  As one editor said to me, “Please, no more special powers!”

In my own inbox, I’ve been flooded with stories of a teen whose parents are missing/away on work/dead, and who suddenly discovers that she/he is a fairy/witch/werewolf/psychic/reaper/mermaid/etc. and even as she must come to grips with this, she discovers she is at the heart of a prophecy/curse/legacy/myth and must step up or everything she loves, including the entire world, will end.  Now that’s not to say that this motif isn’t valid (Harry Potter, fairy tales, etc.), but it’s something to be aware of.  If I’m getting, say, 10-20 of these a day, you can imagine how it will feel predictable and dull. Writers must see how they can present an original angle to something that currently feels overdone.

Wittle: What gets your attention most in a query letter?

Lamba: A clear idea that feels fresh.  I’m always looking for books that present the world to me with a new perspective. If a book feels like a shadow of something that’s already out there, I’m going to pass.

Wittle: What are the top three things that will make you walk away from a writer’s manuscript?

Lamba: A bad attitude.  I don’t care how excellent the writing may be or how many credentials an author has.  If they are obnoxious, arrogant or in any way showing a difficult side, it’s an instant no.  I have to partner with this author, and it must be someone that I can respect. This bad attitude can rear its head in the query letter (“If you know what’s good for you, you will sign me immediately,” “This is the best book you will ever read, and will certainly become an instant bestseller,” “I know you agents only care about money,” “I have been through many agents, but none were good enough,” etc. etc. etc.).  Sometimes the voice and opinions of the author actually show through in the narrative of their novel.  If I find a racist, misogynistic, or abusive voice coming through as the voice of reason in the author’s mind, I’m outta there.

Poor writing and editing.  Some folks just don’t take writing seriously enough, don’t study the market, don’t edit their work, and think that they can dash their ideas onto their computers and press send. Even if the idea is fascinating, if you don’t have the chops to write it well and the professionalism to present it in its best form, it’s an instant no.

The “young” book. People who are new to writing often learn from working on numerous novels, growing with each new book they create.  They start out writing novels about themselves (that trip to Europe, that bad breakup, my first year in college, my weird family), and imitating authors they love (sounding like Sarah Dessen, or plotting like Hunger Games, or writing yet another version of a Stephanie Plum mystery only set in Pittsburgh), which almost reads like fan fiction. Writers need to find their original voice and a fresh story, and sometimes that takes time.  Young books may show some nice style, but are often too obvious.  And sometimes a young book is one that may end up excellent some day…after much more restructuring and editing and growth.

Wittle: What three things make you want to take on a manuscript and a writer?

Lamba: When I finish reading it, I leap to my feet and think, “I LOVE this. This has to be a book.  I must represent this person!” Then I race to my phone.  Yup. That’s it. My #1, #2, and #3.

Okay, I’ll dig deeper.  A book that sets up a unique and interesting premise, and then not only lives up to its promise to the reader, but exceeds it.

A book that haunts me.  I find myself thinking about it long after it’s done, and wanting to tell everyone what it felt like to walk around in that world.  A book that breaks my heart, or makes me spit my coffee out when I laugh, or does both!

Wittle: What advice would you give someone considering a career as a literary manager?

Lamba: Amass the skills that you need to be successful in this field: editing, writing, critical reading skills, marketing and public relations ability, interpersonal skills.  See if you can work with a publisher or an agency to help read their slush piles or intern doing office work. That’s how most agents I’ve met got their foot in the door.

Marie Lamba Bio:

Associate Agent, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency (www.jdlit.com)

Marie Lamba (www.marielamba.com)is author of the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), OverMy Head and Drawn. Her work appears in the short story anthology LiarLiar (Mendacity Press), the anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures inMulticultural Mothering (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing), and her articlesappear in more than 100 publications including national magazines such as Writer’s Digest, Garden Design and RWR. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer,and a book publicist, has taught classes on novel writing and on authorpromotion, and belongs to the Romance Writers of America, and The Liars Club.

As an agent, Marie is currently looking for young adult andmiddle grade fiction, along with general and women’s fiction and somememoir.  Books that are moving and/orhilarious are especially welcome. She is NOT interested in picture books, sciencefiction or high fantasy (though she is open to paranormal elements), categoryromance (though romantic elements are welcomed), non-fiction, or in books thatfeature graphic violence. For submissions guidelines, please visit: http://jdlit.com/submitpages/mariesubmit.html