Write for Your Life recently spoke (well, emailed back and forth with) Jean Hannah Edelstein, author of Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them, which was published by Preface this month and is available from all good book stores.
We covered a range of topics, including research, the world of publishing and putting together a proposal. Look out for part two in the next week or so.
Your book, Himglish and Femalese, came out last week, but when did the writing process start for you?
It was quite undefined, but I guess it started in the autumn of 2007, when I wrote and shopped (or rather, my agent shopped) a proposal for a similar book. My editor and I first met in early January of 2008 and I wrote the revamped proposal and sample chapter then.
I started writing the book in earnest in May 2008 and wrote the bulk of it between August and November. So overall the first draft took about six months, I revised it December – February and it was published in May.
And what about research? When I wrote my novel I spent a few weeks at the start researching, and then kept a pile of textbooks with me throughout. How did you approach it?
Ah, that is interesting because I took a completely different approach. I’d been thinking and reading about the issues that I address in the book for a long while, and the book is very anecdotal, so basically I outlined the things that I wanted to write about, did a bit of preliminary research, and then researched as I went along.
This meant I used my ideas as my points of departure rather than departing from other people’s research.
And did you choose to work like that for a specific reason?
I felt it was important in order to keep the book fresh, as obviously it is on a topic that has been explored quite a bit. Admittedly, this is also how I generally did my coursework in university – it just feels most natural to me, but I’m well aware it’s not for everyone.
That said, I think sometimes people get so caught up in research that they’re afraid to start writing – and I’d definitely advocate starting projects sooner rather than later, because you can research any topic forever and research can turn into procrastination rather than anything useful.
Absolutely, sometimes you need to make that first step and everything else follows naturally. Of course, your book is non-fiction though. Would you say non-fiction requires more research than creative writing?
It completely depends on what you are writing, of course. My book is heavily anecdotal, so a lot of the ‘research’ involved speaking with my friends/colleagues/etc and, of course, mining my own cache of experience.
In that respect, then, I probably spent a lot less time in the library than someone, say, writing a historical novel. Ultimately, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you need to convince your reader of your authority to tell the story, and thus research accordingly.
And what about when you were at proposal stage? What process did you have to go through then as a non-fiction author?
Writing a proposal is a daunting and tedious thing to do! Definitely my least favourite part of the process, since I just wanted to get in to writing the book, rather than have to spend ages explaining and outlining the book.
But not only is a sharp proposal the best way to secure the deal, it turns out to be so useful during the writing process – countless times I’d think, ‘oh, dear, what should I do now?’ and then remember that I had a detailed outline to refer to.
Was it the first time you’d had to put a proposal like that together?
Well, I was lucky enough to get schooled in proposal writing when I worked in two literary agencies before I commenced my writing career.
The most important thing to remember about writing a proposal, I think, is that you have to boil down the concept of your book so that it grabs the editor, and you also have to show how it is commercially viable. That is, what will set it apart from the other books in the market.
And what about us creative writers? Should we have the same mindset when approaching agents and/or publishers?
For literary-minded writers this second part of proposal-writing can seem a bit beneath your lofty ideals, but the bottom line is that publishing is a business, and you have to prove that your book will sell, or you are not going to get a book deal.
On the bright side, however, figuring out what makes your book marketable can make your writing sparkle when it comes down to actually writing the bulk of the book, because thinking ‘what will make this book fly off the shelves?’ means bringing your most creative ideas to the fore.
Check out the second part of this interview now!
About Jean Hannah Edelstein
Born in the early eighties in New York to an American father and Scottish mother, Jean Hannah Edelstein is a London-based journalist with a signature style that combines New York sass and British wit.
Following two years in publishing, Jean began writing professionally in 2007 and has been published in print and online by numerous newspapers and magazines, including the Guardian, the Observer, the Sunday Times, the Independent, and the Independent on Sunday, and has also appeared as a commentator on radio and television.
Her first book, Himglish and Femalese: Why Women Don’t Get Why Men Don’t Get Them is published by Preface.