Having a byline on a story is great and all, but what about having a published book with your name on it?
In a virtual Society of Professional Journalists breakout session on Sept. 4, vice president and executive editor of book publishing house Simon & Schuster, Mindy Marquez Gonzalez, and Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, associate professor of journalism at Santa Monica College in California, discussed how to turn a news story into a book. And shared helpful tips.
“Unlike the story that you might write for the paper or for your broadcast, a book really has to have a story part,” Marquez Gonzalez said. “And it has to have character… something that proposes the action from beginning to middle to end.”
Character development is also really important, she said.
Prior to joining Simon & Schuster, Marquez Gonzalez was the senior vice president and news and executive editor of The Miami Herald. There, some of her colleagues worked on “Dirty Gold,” an investigation into how nefarious, gold industry players laundered dirty money through Miami. The issues-focused project was later turned into a book.
“When [the reporters] went to write the book, they really had to go back, pick three characters, and then really tell the story through those three characters,” she said. “So, it was a different kind of reporting.”
Marquez Gonzalez said an important question to ask yourself when thinking of writing a book is whether you’re knowledgeable enough [on the book’s topic] that you’re one of the few people who can tell the story.
“Julie Brown, who [wrote] ‘Perversion of Justice’ on the Epstein investigation … her book just came out a couple of months ago, you’d say she was uniquely positioned to really write that story,” Marquez Gonzalez said.
“Other people have written Epstein stories, but she had done so much reporting. She had lived with it for so long. She [developed] a relationship with the victims from the start. She had a lot that made her uniquely positioned and in that case, it wasn’t just developing the characters but she also had to put herself in it.”
So, how do you go about approaching a book agent with your idea? Blaize-Hopkins said a book proposal is key to sharing your story with others.
“It’s not only needed for the publisher to understand what you’re trying to write and [so] they could envision it and see the finished product in their mind’s eye, but also as you’re writing the book, it is kind of your blueprint, that you keep going back to,” Blaize-Hopkins said.
“Especially when you have those days where you don’t feel like writing, or you’re like, maybe there’s nothing else in my head about this subject matter,” Blaize-Hopkins said. “You go right back to that proposal and then you remind yourself, OK, that’s right I wanted to cover this… that way it becomes much easier to approach the process of writing a book, and not make it feel so intimidating.”
After the proposal, comes the long process of book writing, and of course, editing and revising. Marquez Gonzalez said that something surprising about the book editing process is that while there is copy editing, there is typically no process of fact-checking.
“For instance, Julie Brown said, ‘I found that I had to really be way more careful in my own reporting and writing and double checking,’“ Marquez Gonzalez said. “I just finished editing a 500-page manuscript by an excellent author, but I found myself googling things. I just had to double check, but I think that’s my journalistic instinct.”
Even so, Marquez Gonzalez said you don’t need to have a masters in fine arts to write a book. She suggested investing time in reading subject matter that “helps you think about the structure of a book” and said when it comes to book publishing, it’s important to “understand how you feel about your own role and where you’re at with your abilities.”