Nowadays, quite some journalists transition from writing news reports to writing fiction or non-fiction novels. Claire Prentice, who’s worked for The Washington Post and The Guardian and Stephan Talty, who’s worked for, amongst others, the New York Tomes Magazine, have taken on this particular challenge. They came to tell us a bit more about their work, digital publishing with Amazon, customer relations and good practices and pitfalls in the field. After the session, Beniamino Pagliaro from La Stampa and Giovanni Grezzi from Agence France-Presse, hands out an award to three students who made videos that were digitally innovative. The session was organised and sponsored by Amazon.
Both Prentice’s as well as Talty’s books have been published with digital tools designed by Amazon. Talty used to be a police reporter covering crime and murder, but then transitioned to writing non-fiction books. Some of these are Mulatto America, about the mix of the black and white culture throughout American history and The Illustrious Dead, about the invasion of Napoleon in Russia and the typhus epidemic that accompanied it. Talty tells us that an author should be flexible when dealing with new technologies. He should tell stories in as many ways possible and publish in different formats.
Prentice is a journalist and also an author of two non-fiction books, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island and the bestseller Miracle at Coney Island. She says that, as a journalist, she prefers the research part most and is often frustrated when you don’t get enough time for this in daily journalism. In researching a book however, the author stays with a story for a longer time, so the research can also go deeper.
When it comes to tailoring their stories to the reader, Prentice and Talty both have different strategies. Talty mentions that nowadays, readers want more complexion: the simple idea of a hero and a villain is over. He says that, in creating his characters, he thinks of the fact that people’s lives are difficult and that people want to be challenged. According to Talty, the writer should be the person who can take the reader through the story.
Prentice emphasizes that it is important to always keep your reader’s interests in mind, which she considers a journalistic reflex. She thinks that a lot of people are already covering generic stories but she herself wants to write stories that no one else is working on.
When it comes to customer reviews, Talty tells that he just doesn’t read them. Readers do provide the authors with feedback via their contact details on Amazon, which is something both Talty and Prentice can appreciate, as this gives them an idea of what they can improve upon. Talty finds it helpful to find out where the readers are disappointed: he often sees patterns coming back that he can learn a lot from for the future.
Tips and pitfalls
As published authors, both writers share both their good practices as well as their pitfalls on their way to success.
Talty recommends choosing a story with a hero, even when this means attacking an idea or even society. He also suggests choosing a story that has some relevance today and writing about something that obsesses you. The latter, though, could also imply a possible pitfall, as an author can take obsession too far. For example, he admits trying to get published with subjects that didn’t resonate with the audience for too long, when he should have given in earlier.
Prentice recommends just trusting your instincts. She, on the contrary, emphasizes the importance of perseverance, and thinks that it counts for a lot more than talent does. This also implies having a thick skin when it comes to rejections and bad reviews. She also recommends indulging in your curiosity and being fascinated by human beings and what makes them thick. As a pitfall, she mentions doing too much research. She says it is important to know a subject well but that there comes a point that the author has to start writing on the actual story.
Following the two author’s talk, Beniamino Pagliaro hands over an Amazon award on digitally innovative videos to three students. Agence France Presse TV correspondent for Italy and Malta, Giovanni Grezzi, gives some feedback on the techniques the students used. He noticed that the differences between the videos were very much connected to the student’s original countries.
By Charlotte Teunis