I’m excited and honored to have Chuck Sambuchino here on The Writing Range. Chuck is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books, and edits the Guide to Literary Agents blog.
Chuck’s newest humor book, Red Dog / Blue Dog: When Pooches Get Political, has just been released (Aug. 2012) — the perfect complement to an election year. Chuck’s first humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack (2010) was optioned for a film by Sony.
At the end of the interview, be sure to leave a comment. Chuck will be giving away a copy of Red Dog / Blue Dog to a random commenter after 7 days.
UPDATE: Laurie was the lucky winner of our drawing. Congratulations, Laurie!
Hi Chuck. Thank you so much for visiting with me.
Congratulations on your new book, Red Dog, Blue Dog, and also being listed as one of Forbes/Traackr’s Top 10 Social Media Influencers: Book Publishing. Before I start, I would like to ask what the significance of the Forbes/Traackr ranking is for you. Being a Top 10 Social Media Influencer seems like some pretty good street cred.
It was very flattering to hear. And you’re right: It is great street cred in the small realm of platform building (upping your visibility to sell more books as an author). I have a book coming out in November 2012 called Create Your Writer Platform. I also work with the division of Writer’s Digest that helps people develop and refine their platform called the Author Services Center. So, in these small worlds, having street cred definitely matters, and the FORBES mention is a boon.
On to the books. First of all, your two books – How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack and Red Dog / Blue Dog – are humor books. I’m guessing you’re a pretty fun-loving guy. Is that true?
Yep. I’ve been a jokester since high school. I actually lost the class clown award senior year to my best friend, who, strangely enough, told me on Graduation Day that he was entering the seminary to become a Catholic Priest. So I finished second in the high school humor department to Father Funnyman.
I love that you’re a fellow dog lover. And, I’d like to be sure and note that you’ll be donating a portion of the proceeds from this book to no-kill animal shelters. I love that too. Are there any comments you’d like to make about dogs (especially how awesome rescue dogs are) before we move on to the writing part?
I will say that my wife had to fight for years before I finally said yes to getting a dog. But it turned out to one of the best decisions we ever made. A good dog just adds so much love to a home. I will also say that if you are considering getting a dog anytime soon, avoid pet stores because many tend to buy their dogs at puppy mills. Look to local rescue and no-kill organizations. Our dog, Graham, is from a local rescue lady we found on Petfinder.com.
When and how was the idea for Red Dog, Blue Dog born?
I LOVE POLITICS. Absolutely love love love that stuff. It was my wife who suggested mixing my fascination for politics and my love for dogs. I remember the exact night we discussed it. We were sitting down to dinner at a nice restaurant for a date night. She could see I was kind of mopey, so she asked me what was wrong. I explained how I felt like I needed to brainstorm more book ideas for my agent because my last few weren’t taking off. Now at this crucial moment in the middle of the date, it would have perfectly legitimate for my wife to tell me that she didn’t get dressed up for a nice dinner just to hear me mope about work. But my wife didn’t say anything like that. She paused, and suggested we brainstorm new topics for humor books. Somewhere in the middle of that dinner and the gourmet macaroni & cheese (it was delicious), Red Dog / Blue Dog was born.
It seems this book would be a good reaching-across-the-aisle gift for a friend or family member who may have an opposing political view. Do you agree?
Yes. More so, it’s a book for anyone who follows politics. It pokes fun at all sides evenly, and can provide some great levity and relief in an intense political season; therefore, it does indeed make a good gift for someone who doesn’t share your political views. (If you want to get a feel for the jokes of the book, simply visit the official website of http://www.reddog-bluedog.com.)
You put out a call for photos to use in creating this book. Did you have a process for sorting and choosing which ones you used, or did the muses take over and guide you?
First of all, the fact that Red Dog / Blue Dog exists is a testament to the power of social media. I had to collect more than 1,000 photos from people to find 140 that worked. The only way I was able to do this so fast was use Twitter and Facebook and rely on friends to help the spread the word along with me.
Concerning which photos I chose, about 60% of them were, unfortunately, ruled out immediately. That’s because a lot of the photos were slightly out of focus or too small in size/quality. Plus, a lot of photos sent to me were images of dogs in Halloween costumes. While they were adorable, they didn’t translate well to the book’s humor. I took the remaining images and figured out which ones lent themselves easily to jokes. After that, I still had subjects and jokes I wanted to include but no photos that matched. To combat this problem, I turned to Flickr and found photos one by one that helped fill gaps. About 30-40 of the photos in the book came from kind people on Flickr.
You’re the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents Blog (http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog) for Writer’s Digest. Readers might assume it’s easy for you to get a book published, since you have all the right connections. If you will, tell us how your path to publishing is like, or unlike, that of your GLA readers.
Wow, this is an AMAZING question — thank you for asking it. The simple answer is that my journey to book publication was difficult — just like everyone else’s. My literary agent and I actually connected over a different, serious nonfiction book concept. We pitched it for one year and no one bought it. It was only after that miss that we got our first hit — the gnome attack book. Then it took about six more fleshed out proposals before Red Dog / Blue Dog was bought. I get rejections just like everyone else. And the rejections are not without value. They motivate me to work harder!
When a random writer is trying to sell a nonfiction book to a publisher, the publisher will ask the writer two questions: Why is the book unique, and why are you the best person to write & sell this book? Do you know what these same publishers ask me or any Writer’s Digest editor when we try to approach them with a nonfiction book? The same two questions.
Your published books are nonfiction, and I know you have another book coming out this year on platform. For nonfiction authors reading this interview, do you have any quick-and-dirty (borrowing from Grammar Girl) pieces of advice?
Ha. Interesting you mentioned Grammar Girl, because I interviewed her for Create Your Writer Platform. And my quick and dirty tip revolves around that same word — platform. If you want to sell nonfiction — be that a book on gardening, raising children, the best wineries in upstate New York, or anything else — you need to have various means to sell and market the book yourself. This visibility in the market — having existing channels in place to sell books through — is what platform is all about.
There’s a lot of conversation going on about the state of publishing. It’s my understanding that agents are still selling books, and are still actively seeking talented authors writing good books. Given the current environment, what is one thing agents want first-time authors to know?
If I could say one thing, I’d say: Educate yourself. This recommendation has always been important, because people need to understand the ins and outs of the writing world. But now it’s doubly important because today’s writers have more options than ever before thanks to the slow rise of self-publishing and e-publishing. You need to understand the pros and cons of each route, and what route to publication best fits your book.
And yes, the role of agents is evolving, but slowly. They still spend a lot of time doing what they always do — reading submissions, signing new writers, and helping new books come to life.
As I close, I’d like to mention that you’ve got some fun things ahead in 2012. Your next book, Create Your Writer Platform comes out this fall, and you’re presenting at several writers’ conferences during the next year. Anything you’d like to say about these upcoming events?
If you want to be a writer, I seriously suggest attending writers’ conferences. There are great sessions to learn about craft & business, and you get to meet a lot of people in the publishing industry. If you want to learn about some great future conferences I’ll be teaching at, follow Writer’s Digest on Twitter (@writersdigest) and also sign up for my free GLA newsletter at http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog.
Also, feel free to find me on Facebook or Twitter just to connect and chit-chat.
Thanks for having me on here, Diane!
Thank you so much, Chuck, for sharing your time. I’ve been a follower of yours for quite some time, and always appreciate your generosity in helping other writers. I wish you well with the launch of Red Dog /Blue Dog, which came out Aug. 1, 2012. I’m excited to see it, and also excited to see your new book on platform later this fall. Give Graham a pet for me.
Be sure to leave a comment. Chuck will be giving away a FREE copy of Red Dog / Blue Dog to a random commenter after 7 days!