Oct 162013
Eighth Installment to Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts
(for previous installments, email Francine)

In my quest to educate myself about literary agents to sell my manuscript, Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts, I bought a copy of Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents.

This text lists agents not only alphabetically but by genre. I studied only those agents who are interested in nonfiction books about animals. That page became dog-eared as I sent pitches and proposals to the ones who listed animal stories as topics that interested them. I learned that each agent has her own preferred method of being addressed and pitched. Some want a mere query by email, others a full proposal. Their websites each specify what those two avenues must contain.

In February 2013, I attended the weekend San Francisco Writers Conference organized by the Michael Larson and Elizabeth Pomada agency. I realized how long I had been living in isolation from other writers. Many of the attendees were writing their first books and others were more experienced and more clued into the industry than I was. There was so much information about self-publishing and traditional publishing.

I signed up for the event that allows you to speak to an agent for five minutes, a kind of literary musical chairs. Of the three agents I visited two were quite interested in Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts.

One of them I already knew from a previous experience. Kimberly Cameron several years ago had accepted my manuscript for The Fabulous Fior – 100 Years in Italian Kitchen, the history I wrote of the Fior d’Italia restaurant and the North Beach Italian community. She was very excited about it but could not sell it.

When I met her again at the Writers Conference she was equally gracious and encouraged me to send a query to her associate who for whom manuscripts about animals are of special interest. Another agent with another firm also encouraged me to send her a query.

Neither responded positively to my pitches. In fact  Kimberly Cameron’s associate Elizabeth Kracht said she found my material “did not go deep enough”.

That certainly taught me something. I am writing a collection of anecdotes about my subject which I thought would entertain. My vision was one of those gift books you see in stationery or book stores. I was obviously not appealing to the right market. So I have to do more research.

I have pitched and proposed to over four dozen agents, as of this writing. Responses have ranged from:
·       No response at all
·       This agent has died
·       Thank you, your submission doesn’t fit our needs right now.
·       Please send the complete proposal (followed by no response)

I could get discouraged, many writers do. But I keep in my mind the story of Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, who reportedly received 144 rejections before his manuscript became a massive best-seller and a franchise.

I have a long way to go and, in the meantime, I keep refining my text.

“The misery of keeping a dog is his dying so soon. But, to be sure, if he lived for fifty years and then died, what would become of me?”
– Walter Scott

Oct 012013

Sleeping with petsSeventh Installment The Book Coach Is Writing a Book
(for previous installments, email Francine.)

Publishing has changed so much in the last few years that the decision of how to publish is a big one. Do I want to publish independently or attract a traditional publisher?

I was commissioned to produce my first two books. Since then, I have written books for several clients.  But this one, Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts, I’m doing under my own steam without  sponsorship.

Because finding an agent and publisher is so difficult, many would say my obvious choice would be to self-publish. But I find this option daunting for there are so many variables. Outfits that help you to  produce your physical book independently each have their own specifications – size, number of pages, additional services such as editing and artwork. And they are have their own cost structures. Whichever provider you choose, it is an investment. And it’s tricky finding a reputable one. (See Editors & Predators, http://pred-ed.com.)

Even if you are choosing a firm that will allow you to print on demand – that is you buy only the number of books you want when you want them – you still have to put out cash for the interior and cover design and the production of the physical book.  If you decide to sell your text as an e-book only, there are still editing and design costs. In both cases the author is still the one who markets and distributes the book. In other words, a whole new career path in my view. And since no one is paying me to take this route, I didn’t want to invest more at this time.

I feel strongly enough about my project to pursue the  traditional route of agent and publisher.  Yes, sometimes the demon inside me says I’m no good and the book is silly, but that’s the age-old voice that we all have and I recognize it as a fraud.

Then I think of all the people I’ve interviewed who were thrilled to talk about this project and to be part of it.  I am doing it for them too.

Besides I want to educate myself about traditional publishing, difficult as it is.

I want to be able to tell my clients I have done this and this is how you can do it. My next posts will address my attempts to find an agent and publisher.

Sep 162013

Sixth Installment on The Book Coach Is Writing a Book
(for previous installments, email Francine)

Looking back on the 70 or so interviews I’ve conducted so far for Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts (about people who sleep with their pets), I have to ask myself where did the pleasure come in. Where does the pleasure still come in?

First of all, I love interviewing people. I love exacting the sensory detail they share with me; it teases out the emotion of the experience. If the devil is in the details, so is the heart. I want to get right into their skins.

I urge my interview subjects to  describe the precise circumstances of their interaction with their animals, the disposition of bodies on the bed, the dog’s breed, the bird’s name, the cat’s age, the aspect of their animals. Exactly where in the house, where on the bed they were. Were their pets always allowed on the bed or did they wheedle their way on to it?

I want to know how it felt to have the cat sleep on your chest. I hunger to recreate the experience of having a bunny sleep with his nose tucked under your neck. What could be more delicious?

Writing for me is the balance of the right side of the brain and the left. I strive to get the all the facts that put the incident in context so the reader can relish them too. I also endeavor to recapture the sensory experience as if I were living it myself: what does the interaction smell like, look and feel like? Again, so the reader can also taste it.

But it isn’t just the sensual experience.  It’s the spiritual connection between beast and person. The comfort of knowing you share this universe with another sentient creature. One that has different thoughts than you do, one who thinks you look weird too. But loves you still.

Now maybe some people would argue that a head of lettuce and an egg right out of the box are also sentient. But I just can’t cuddle up to them.

Sep 052013

The Writing Process for Cat Naps and  Doggie Snorts.

Fifth Installment on The Book Coach Is Writing a Book
(for previous installments, email Francine)

In describing the sleeping habits of the  human and the pet(s), I had to offer enough background and context to highlight the remarkable aspects of their interaction.

Sometimes I needed just a few sentences and sometimes several pages.

For instance: Beau, the ten-pound Maltese of Carole and Larry Paulsen in Concord, California, likes to sleep between them.  He lies facing the foot of the bed, then turns onto his back with his back legs wide open.

“He likes for us to put an arm on him the length of his belly, and every once in a while he will stretch and squeeze our arm with all four legs,” says Carole.

In this case, the disposition of the three bodies in space is pivotal to understanding the affection between the Paulsen’s and Beau. And that’s all it needed.

Also: Sandy Farber of San Francisco adopted a 20-pound male cat. The first night she brought him home, Sandy put him in the bathroom—following much-accepted advice about introducing a new animal to unfamiliar surroundings.

She suspected he was an escape artist so she pushed her television on its stand against the bathroom door to secure him within.

Sandy awoke in the morning with the cat snuggled against her in bed.

Here the element of surprise makes the story work.

However, in relating how Marti Touchstone’s two Airedales pinned her under the covers while she was mourning her husband, I had to provide more detail. I had to describe Marti’s relationship with her husband John, John’s fondness for the dogs and his death. Only by building up this background could I give the story the poignancy I was seeking.

I had determined that Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts would be a series of unrelated anecdotes, not a story with a continuing plot line. But I did have to organize them in themes. Several stories could fit into more than one chapter as I sorted them, for instance Reveille, Murdering Sleep, Bed Real Estate and so on. So I just made a decision based on the length of the item and its balance in the chapter.

Always in the back of my mind was the question, will this format sell? I hoped an agent and a publisher would see its value as a gift book.

Sep 042013

Write your life story with author and journalist Francine Brevetti

The 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church, San Francisco
between Irving and Parnassus Streets.
Thursday, September 5, 2013, 10 AM – 2 PM

Don’t leave this life without creating a record of your challenges, triumphs, wisdom and culture. Write for your descendents and for your own sense of fulfillment.Master techniques for stimulating memories and overcoming writer’s block. Learn how to start writing and keep writing.

This free workshop  runs from 10 AM to 2 PM with a break for lunch. You are requested to bring your own lunch and to notify Francine as soon as possible if you plan to attend.

This presentation is sponsored by Encore Adventures, a free program of the City College of San Francisco’s Older Adults Department – in partnership with the 7th Ave., Presbyterian Church at 1329 7th Ave.

For more information call 415-397-7830 or e-mail francinecbrevetti@gmail.com

Aug 272013

Fourth Installment on The Book Coach Is Writing a Book
(for previous installments, email Francine)
Conscientious administration is essential.  Cat Naps and Doggie Snorts  offers the experiences of over 75 people who talk about sleeping withe their pets and the bond they share.  I keep track of everyone I interview, their names, e-mail address, city of residence and phone number and, when relevant, their spouses’ names. I also track citations from online research,

If I had to do it over again I would have entered this info on an Excel spreadsheet or other contact software. Instead I have several unwieldy lists on Word documents.

I’m still a computer dinosaur. Learn new software? Save me, O Lord.  But now I am capitulating and learning.

I recorded 95% of these interviews using an online tool, AudioAcrobat. I pay $19.95 a month for this software which I have always felt well worth it. This way I keep all of my clients’ interviews available to me in perpetuity.

I also retained a transcriptionist to convert these recordings, MP3 files, into Word documents, my faithful and competent  Marcy McGaugh, www.writersrescueBerkeley.com.

For that material which I discovered online, such as medical opinions, the historical characters and celebrities who slept with their animals, I kept a record of the websites and documents I intend to cite.

With many of my interview subjects, I have kept a running e-mail conversation to follow up on questions I neglected to ask the first time around or issues that came to mind later. With some, whose pets were sick, I contact them again to check on the progress of their animal companions.

Aug 222013
Third Installment on The Book Coach Is Writing a Book
(for previous installments, email Francine)

I followed two modes of research — interviews and online discovery.

When I identified an individual who was willing to talk about sleeping with his or her pets, I pose the obvious questions:
·       how many pets do you have?
·       what species and varieties (that is, dog or bunny, sheltie or floppy-eared)
·       sexes, ages and names?

But the questions that draw out their story and open the heart are:
·       how did you start to sleep with your pet?
·       what unusual or unexpected things happened?
·       how does sleeping with your pets affect your household or lifestyle?

Most of the pet owners/guardians I found never questioned that their animals should sleep with them. They would agree with author Anthony Douglas Williams who says, “Some people don’t understand why I allow my dog to sleep on my bed. When a dog is family, they can sleep anywhere.”

For others it was a process of opening up to the experience, some willingly and some not.

It was moving to hear how important it Is for my interview subjects to talk about this interaction with their domestic animals. I came to see that people share their beds with animals do not think this nightly ritual is remarkable. No one had ever asked them about it and they never thought of talking about it. However, this practice Is deeply significant to them.

I was able to categorize their experiences around similar themes, for instance, being awakened in the night, the importance of cuddling, disputes with the spouse over the pet’s presence in bed, the loss of a pet who was once so close.   Each anecdote has its unique and peculiar twist. There are some truly extraordinary stories as well, such as the woman who slept with her boa constrictor.

Not all of these tales are about living pets. Some people need to recount stories of pets long gone. Chatting with me has been a way to recapture that closeness for them.

Online Research
As any good journalist would, I had to see if anyone else had published on the subject. I found no other book on the subject but I discovered a multitude of articles — mostly on the health warnings for the allergic about sleeping with animals. I found more recent authorities who saw sleeping with pets as benign for the human but not so much for the animal. That was a surprise.

When it came to recounting the experiences of celebrities, I decided against trying to contact any famous individual’s representatives to request a personal interview. I knew it would be too time-consuming and probably these efforts would be futile. So I quoted and cited the magazine articles in which such stories appeared.

One of my fondest discoveries was Stanley Coren, a psychology professor, who works in Vancouver. He has written many articles and books on the psychology and behavior of dogs. He contributes regularly to the magazine Modern Dog. I quote him in my chapter on historical figures who slept with their dogs for the research was his.

Aug 152013

When I settled on the idea that it would be fun and fulfilling to write about sleeping with pets, I had to decide on the format. I knew I did not want to write a biography of my beloved Lola’s life. I had no intention of creating the next Marley and Me, by John Grogan.

Rather, I wanted to gather the many experiences of pet owners/guardians. I was sure there was gold in those stories. But how to find these people?

I never thought of going to HARO, helpareporterout.com *. This lapse never ceases to amaze me. It would’ve been so much easier had I considered that avenue at the very beginning.

What I did do was start asking my friends who had pets about their experiences. I also asked them for referrals to people they knew.

I started getting stories. I was thrilled to see how much people wanted to share this aspect of their bond with their pets. What’s more, many of these pet owners felt their stories about their pets were sacred.  Occasionally, I had to get back to them to verify the information in their interview, and they would gladly and patiently revise or correct me.

Using AudioAcrobat.com, I recorded our interviews over the phone and sent the MP3 files to my transcriptionist.

Still I needed more material.

Eventually a contact at the Bay Area News Group (where I used to work) suggested I approach the columnist who was regularly contributing his wisdom on wild and exotic animals, Gary Bogue.

I wrote to this kind man and asked him if he could refer me to any pet owners he knew who might be willing subjects. Instead, he ran an appeal for me in his column. From the one brief notice he published, I got responses for many months after that. God bless him.

More in the next installment!


*HARO, www.Helpareporterout.com connects journalists with the public when they are looking for input and expertise on the subject they are writing on deadline.

More on this in a later installment.

Aug 072013

First Installment
Introduction to  writing Cat Naps and  Doggie Snorts

You are receiving this announcement because you are interested in writing a book. So I thought I’d share my own process with you.

You may also be among the dozens of kind people who shared their time and experiences with me for the material for this book – people who sleep with their animal friends.

I started writing Cat Naps and  Doggie Snorts a year ago after my beloved cockapoo, Lola, died. I missed her beside me at night so very much. One  morning  I arose feeling her absence keenly. I immediately went to the Internet and searched for “sleeping with pets”. I found thousands of articles in popular magazines and scholarly journals.

But no book. So I decided to write one myself. As they say in the cement industry: find a need and fill it.

For the last year I have been interviewing folks who have  adopted  animals and asking them how they manage sleeping with pets or not during the night. Their experiences have ranged from hilarious to heartbreaking and always goofy in their own peculiar ways.

I now  have a manuscript of over 60 anecdotes and 20 chapters. The chapters are organized along themes, for instance: Wild Things, The Big Pileup, Saying Goodbye and so on.

I would be so pleased if you would like its Facebook page under its title: “Cat Naps and  Doggie Snorts”,  https://www.facebook.com/CatNapsAndDoggieSnorts.

Over the next few weeks with one posting a week, I will describe to you my process of writing it and my endeavors to get it published.

For those of you who want to write your own book(s), I thought you might find this instructive and I hope entertaining.

Jun 032013

Since February 2013 I have been working with a nonprofit Under the Baobab Tree, www.UTBT.org.

My friend Lisa Bernard, one of the directors, originally introduced me to her to co-directors, Raj Patel and Yo Yoshida, to discuss the possibility of writing a book about the charity. But it became clear that Under the Baobab Tree needed to update its collateral material.

So I have been designing and drafting a press kit for them.

The work they are doing is admirable. In 1997 the Patel family built a school in a tiny village on the Malawi side of Lake Malawi. Since then they have been supporting the school and feeding each student –400+– a meal a day.

They’ve also brought the village and its students to the attention of the country’s Ministry of Education. Through their contacts, UTBT conducted a health assessment test of all the villagers.

It’s my honor to be working with them.