Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guest Blogger: Book Publishing Secrets of Travel Memoir Author Jenny McGill

Drama & Diplomacy was self-published in Mexico. That is where I worked and lived. Although I didn’t intend it to be a memoir, that’s what it turned out to be. I had experiences in my job as a consular agent for the U.S. Government in Puerto Vallarta that were so diverse and bizarre I wanted every U.S. taxpayer to know where some of our tax dollars were going. Many highly-educated Americans have no idea what consuls do in foreign countries. In fact, most of them don’t even know how to spell it. I still hear them called ‘counselors’, and they are, but much more.

Allen Drury won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960 with his book Advise and Consent. He went on to write many other novels, science-fiction and non-fiction before his death. Allen was a frequent visitor to Puerto Vallarta, and we became friends. Allen used to tell me, “Jenny, you have a book in you. Keep notes.” I would tell him that nobody would believe it, even if I did write a book. His response was always, “Just keep notes.”

I kept notes, or rather copies of reports I made on the more far-fetched cases. I retired from my position, but I kept that bag of notes for about ten years. And then one day I decided to clean some of the clutter from my life, so I burned the notes. That is when I got serious about writing a book.

Unlike Dr. Roberta Islieb, author of Preaching to the Corpse, I didn’t do enough researching about publishing, literary agents or editors before jumping into the frying pan. I was eager to get my book out there. I sent out a few queries. I couldn’t say I was devastated by the number of rejection slips I received. I was never even sure my query was received, so I don’t know the feeling of dejection.

I was introduced to a retired literary agent who agreed to read my manuscript and give me tips. She corrected the name of the town where she lived and told me, “One of the first things you should know is that you never bind a manuscript!” She told me literary agents like to lie in bed at night and read, throwing page by page aside as they are read.

The only reason I had bound it was an editor friend of mine had offered to read and give me suggestions. I used up a ream of paper printing out my cherished manuscript, only I called it My Book, not a manuscript. She started reading it and wrote me that she went to bed with a smile on her face and woke up laughing the next morning at the antics described on the pages. She laid my work on the night table. The cat came along and knocked it to the floor. She couldn’t put it back together in order again. I had not bothered inserting page numbers. I knew in what sequence they should be read and I figured that job was up to the printing company.

I trusted spell check on my computer, but since I was working with a keyboard configurated in Spanish and I was typing English, I decided it should be proofread. The retired literary agent had suggested that my husband read the manuscript out loud to me so I could hear how it read. He reads very well so we gave it a try. He read; I changed text around. He read and I caught some errors and he caught some. I re-typed and we both read again. Once we were absolutely positive there were no typos or misspells, we were ready to share with the rest of the world.

I knew several authors who had successfully self-published, and I thought maybe that was the way to go. I knew a young man who had been visited by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents when he was a kid because he had hacked his way into some high security files in Washington, D.C. I promised him I would never divulge his true identity or whereabouts if he would design the book cover and he agreed.

The first edition was a success. The Senior Editor of Mexconnect.com, the one whose cat knocked my unnumbered pages off her night table, came to the fancy book signing held in the luxurious seaside Villa Verano. The retired literary agent came to help her collect money from the sale table. Many of my characters wandered through the gardens and became reacquainted; some of whom had not seen each other in twenty-five years. I was Alice in Wonderland.

And then someone pointed out that I had misspelled Colombia, not once, but twice. Be careful of the automatic correcting toolbar. It seems that some of the chapters were in a different font size. Paragraph formatting is very important, I discovered.

As I was going through the throes of birthing Drama & Diplomacy, some of my friends suggested I would be able to write a How to Write a Book when I finished. They were wrong. Drury was not around to guide me, but I talked to him on a daily basis. John Huston was not around to encourage me on, but the man who wrote his biography, An Open Book, was. William Reed, author of Rocks & Shoals: Memoir of a Navy Mustang and the Cuban Submarine Crisis, Mexican Odyssey, and Huston’s bio encouraged me to revise and publish the second edition, which I have done. It has been edited by two editors.

My secret tips are do what any good writer should do, not what I did. I’m working on a historical novel, which I may self-publish, but I think I would go with Publish on Demand. I would still confer with my thug book cover designer. I would number the pages and not bind the manuscript. I would still ask my husband to read out loud to me, but I would find six or seven or more proofreaders, and DEFINITELY ask my editor to put my manuscript in, and not on, the night table.

Jenny McGill grew up in the
Deep South in Mississippi. After schooling she moved to Dallas where she met her husband, Howard. Their love of Mexico brought them to an early semi-retirement in 1973 in Puerto Vallarta.

Jenny and Howard, moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 1973. She was appointed consular agent by the U.S. State Department in 1982 and spent fourteen years in that position.

Upon retirement, the McGills sought out the tranquility of the western Sierra Madres in the small village of Talpa de Allende, Jalisco. There she devotes her time to writing, promoting local artists and gardening. She says, “My love of robin-egg blue skies, breath taking sunsets that only God could paint, and music, which falls softly on my ear, is reason enough to be in Mexico.” You can visit Jenny on the web at www.mjmcgill.com.

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