Author David M. Bader on the Publishing Process

Today I add a new category to the blog – author interviews! 

David M. Bader was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his experiences with the world of writing and publishing.  Lawyer turned author, Bader has written numerous books, including Haikus for Jews: For You, a Little Wisdom, Zen Judaism: For You, A Little Enlightenment, and Haiku U: From Aristotle to Zola, 100 Great Books in 17 Syllables.  Here’s the interview…

First, thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences with me and the “A Bunch of Wordz” readers.

1. You obviously had a lot of options available to you being a Harvard Law School graduate. What made you decide you wanted to get published, and do you make your income exclusively from writing now?

Well, yes, a Harvard Law Degree opens many doors. Mainly to law offices. Or government positions, teaching, or even corporate finance. As for why I wanted to write, law is a literate and learned profession, but as a practical matter it involves spending thousands of hours working on numbingly dull material.

I did anticipate problems with legal practice even in law school, but thought that when I was older and wiser, I would see it all differently. Never happened. I reached a point at which I just wanted to create one thing that was fun, original, and not ponderously long.

As for the financial question, some of my books have sold surprisingly well. Haikus for Jews has earned more than many novels and non-fiction books. Especially on a per syllable basis. As financial strategies go, though, it might have made more sense to explore the exciting opportunities in ostrich farming or telemarketing.

But I don’t practice law and feel fortunate to have escaped the golden handcuffs.

 

2. When you decided to publish your first book, did you get an agent first or did you approach publishing houses directly? What was that experience like?

Everyone told me to get an agent, which I did. The experience with my first couple of agents wasn’t great. Lesson 1: Never work with a literary agent whose “home office” is in her living room, near an exercise bicycle. Lesson 2: While friends may be able to introduce you to famous, successful literary agents, such agents are not always good with small, quirky books. When an agent who doesn’t know the market for your book takes it on as a favor, it’s not that big a favor.

 

3. What were the steps you took to find an agent?

To find a suitable agent, I looked at the “Acknowledgments” in lots of small, humorous books. Writers often thank their agents there, and I jotted down the names and looked them up. I gradually assembled a list of agents who had sold offbeat humor to respectable publishers. Some of them actually did get back to me when I sent them samples. I don’t know if this works as well for other genres.

 

4. Have you run into any roadblocks getting your work published since your books fill such a unique niche?

Yes, of course. One agent looked at my sample pages of Haikus for Jews and said, “Yeah, I could get about two cents for this.” She was so derisive that it took a while before I mentioned the idea again it to anyone.

 

5. Is there anything in your publishing career you would have done differently if you had known then what you know now?

Clearly I lost some really good years as a law student and lawyer, including many long all-nighters in the office that could have been devoted to more worthwhile activities, such as sleeping. And I would have had more time to improve as a writer. Then again, publishing involves a lot of rejection and disappointment. Had I gone straight into some form of writing, each time I had a setback I might have thought, “If only I had gone to law school.” Now I don’t have that problem.

 

6. What advice would you give to authors on how to go about getting their first manuscript seen and accepted?

Look for agents and editors with a track record for handling similar work. Try to extract constructive suggestions from people who reject your submissions. And if your first manuscript is rejected everywhere, take a break and start something new. You can always revive the first project later. You may sheepishly realize in a year or two that the people who rejected your first attempt spared you great public embarrassment.

 

7. What advice would you give to authors looking to transition from a corporate career to a career as a writer?

Don’t quit your day job? If you have children, put them up for adoption? First of all, set achievable goals. When I gave notice, I remember a lawyer confiding to me that he had always wanted to quit and write the Great American Novel. Not very realistic, coming from a guy who worked 14 hours a day on airplane leasing documents. Pick writing projects you can actually do. Give yourself plenty of time to unlearn all the bad habits you’ve acquired in the corporate world. And if someone advises you, “Go into haiku, that’s where the money is,” stop listening to that person.

 

8. What is the craziest, weirdest, or funniest thing that has happened to you as a result of your writing career?

Hmm… Nothing too crazy. A lot of my books have been copied or, really, plagiarized on the web or in e-mails that people forward all over the place. As a result, one person I met insisted I hadn’t written Haikus for Jews. She said, “You didn’t write that. It’s from the Internet.” She seemed unacquainted with the “book” concept and treated me like some sort of fraud.

Another person forwarded me an e-mail entitled “Jewish Zen” that consisted of passages taken from my book Zen Judaism. She wrote, “This reminds me of your work, though it’s not as funny.”

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A Poem About Poems — Naomi Shihab Nye

Thank you to Amy Sorensen, a.k.a. The English Geek, for bringing this poem to my attention in her post, Why I Love April.  It’s by Naomi Shihab Nye and was written in response to one of the poet’s students asking her to write him a poem:

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

We Swallow(ed) Spiders in our Sleep

The latest edition of Word Riot is out, and a review caught my eye because of the title of the book:  We Swallow(ed) Spiders In Our Sleep.  The book is a collection of poems by Zachary C. Bush, and you can read the review here, which includes a few excerpts.  I gather that the reviewer, Christopher Cunningham, is a bit of a poet himself, judging from the opening sentence of his article:

“Zachary C. Bush’s hallucinatory poems, riddled with unexpected word choices, strong images, the occasional foray into surrealism and the razor edges of a hard young life being lived are the songs of an adventurous poet determined to squeeze each drop of lyrical imagination from the sun-burned, needle-pricked, aching skin of existence.”

Wow.  If I ever manage to get a collection of my own poetry together, I’ll have to remember to send a copy to him for review.

Unfortunately, like most poetry chapbooks, it’s not available on mass market sites like amazon.com.  The book is published by Pudding House Publications, but is not listed on their early 90’s-style webpage either (frames? really??) for some reason.  The author advises in his blog to contact Jen@puddinghouse.com to order a copy.

Following are pieces of poems I found by Bush in online magazines.  I’m not sure if these poems are published in his book or not, but these should give you a feel for his writing style.  The first excerpt is from Expelling Angels(s) as published in The CommonLine Project:

Love was spending Sunday
Mornings in bed wrapped in you,
Laughing at the weeping angels
Blanket curled, leaned against
The grey brick corner of my mind, holding
Soggy cardboard signs that read:

[Will Work for Some Pity]

And this one is from a poem called 18. as published on the  cleverly named site, Unlikely 2.0.

Blindfold her        tight, not to allow light.
Strip her               slowly.
Lay her                on granite couches clothed in velvet.
Tie her                  limbs with maroon sash.
Offer her              drinks flavored with peppermint and sweat.

I will be keeping my eye on this talented writer and also keeping my fingers crossed that his next book is a little easier to get my hands on.