Tim Lemire spoke to us about publishing nonfiction.
Mr. Lemire is the author of seven nonfiction books on a wide range of topics. His publications include I'm An English Major -- Now What? How English Majors Can Find Happiness, Success, and a Real Job; Freak Nation: A Field Guide to 101 of the Most Odd, Extreme, and Outrageous American Subcultures (as Kate Stevens); and The Quotable Drunkard: Words of Wit, Wisdom, and Philosophy from the Bottom of the Glass (as Steven Kates).
Q: You’ve published a number of nonfiction books on very different topics. Could you talk about your process of choosing book topics and finding publishers?
A: I wish I could say having seven books published in five years is primarily the result of something other than luck and just being available, but that’s what it is.
After my first book (I’m an English Major – Now What) was published, a coworker with ties to a small publisher asked if I’d be interested in co-authoring a book about sex. It was a few thousand dollars flat fee, so I said Sure.
This coworker knew I had been a journalist and could write quickly and confidently. The publisher asked me to write a few thousand words on spec, and they liked my style and sense of humor.
I haven’t written a proposal since my first book. The publisher I work with is Adams Media, and not every book they do comes over the transom: sometimes they will look at a trend or another successful title and say, “Let’s get a book out on Topic X.” And they need a writer: someone who, when given a deadline of 60,000 words and four months, doesn’t faint.
After Him and Her, this coworker -- whose name is Wendy Simard—went to work for Adams as an editor, and she very generously kept calling me to see if I would be interested in writing this book or that book.
Q: Why did you choose to write most of your books under a pen name?
A: Initially, I wasn’t sure how my employer would cotton to learning that I’d written a book about sex: a pseudonym seemed a prudent choice. Then once I’d established myself writing these books, I thought it might be confusing to hear that I was the author of a career guide... and a home repair guide. And another sex book. One endeavor didn’t add credibility to another.
Q: Could you talk about your process for writing this type of book? What kind of research do you do? Are there any strategies that you've learned that make the process easier?
A: Research is what you’d expect: reading books and print media, surfing the Web, talking to people. Getting it done is simple, too: I set a daily word count, leave time for editing or sick days, and just charge ahead.
I will tell you one little secret. My great-grandparents came to this country from Ireland, and among the special talents of the Irish is blarney: what some people think of disparagingly as “bullshit,” but really, it’s more nuanced than that.
Blarney is the bold ability to just stand up and start talking, or start singing, or start telling a story. It’s creative chutzpah. It’s sounding practiced with little to no rehearsal. It’s using color and style and humor and passion to carry the day.
I’ve got that.
Q: Your first book, I'm an English Major -- Now What?, explores the different career paths of people who studied English in college. What were some of the most common career paths among the English majors that you interviewed?
A: The publisher for English Major wanted the book to stick with traditional English major career paths: teaching, journalism, publishing, corporate communications.
I think the most helpful thing about the English major I can say is this: When I was an English major, I thought of my major as if it were a key: I’d just stick it into one locked door or another to see which one opened.
Today, I think of the knowledge and skills I developed as an English major more like ingredients in a kitchen. My teachers stocked my fridge and pantry, and now it’s up to me to make dinner. I can follow someone else’s recipe -- making use of this skill or that piece of knowledge -- but the most satisfying meal I can make will be inventive, involve risks and creativity, and will play to my own tastes.
Wait a second... Cooking with the English Major! I love it! Instant bestseller.
Q: Could you tell us something about your latest book?
A: The Quotable Drunkard (Adams Media, 2011) is a collection of quotes on the joys and perils of alcohol and drinking. It was fun to research, but the deadline was very short, so it had its challenges.
If you enjoyed this interview on publishing nonfiction, you might also our interview with Heather Sellers on memoir writing.