Welcome to the session on turning news stories into books. We'll be starting shortly.
Our panelists here are Stephen Kimber of the University of King's College and freelance writers and authors Richard Foot and Chris Benjamin.
Richard Foot: as a journalist, spoke to mothers of victims in Bathurst tragedy. That gave him advantage in pitching book to publishers.
Foot: showed manuscript to one mother, was eventually bombarded with requests for changes. Stood his ground but says it was a stressful experience.
His advice: don't show manuscripts to subjects before you publish it!
Chris Benjamin: author of Indian School Road, exploring issues surrounding residential schools. Says he experienced roadblocks in gathering information.
Benjamin: wanted various perspectives ; survivors willing to talk, but faced roadblocks from nuns, Sisters of Charity, etc. Teachers refused to talk to him, access to their archives denied.
Benjamin: a grad student had accessed Sisters of Charity annals and he was able to get details that way.
Since book came out, Benjamin got hate mail from a former residential school teacher in NS. Critics claiming "the natives are being paid to lie."
Benjamin: others glad story is being told. Remarkable to see overall response to book.
Kimber: how to deal with gaps in story. If you stick at it long enough, you may get "magic moment" like document, key info.
Kimber: for non-fiction books, you do a proposal first, then send to an agent.
Kimber : books based on news should not be just years of stories, it has to tell a narrative that stands up, will remain of interest over time. Should be universal.
Rules of journalism sometimes need to be reinterpreted when writing books. Kimber says he showed sections of his manuscripts of Cuban 5 book to subjects to check for factual errors. They generally prefaced their suggestions with "this is your book..."
Kimber: while working on Swissair 111 book, a victim's family member tried to revoke permission to mention her loved one. He ignored it. After book came out, she didn't mention this.
Question: how do you get over publishers saying "this is too regional, niche, etc.?"
Foote: shop to different publishers, especially those who would be more interested in your subject matter.
Kimber: how about self-publishing? May be worth considering.
Kimber: Many authors want to go with a big conventional publisher, but it really doesn't matter to those who are searching on Amazon for a specific book/topic.
Question : what of you stick to rules of journalism and not show sources your manuscript before publishing? Would you do that next time?
Foot: he's not going to show his next book to sources this time.
Once a book comes out, subjects generally accept it mostly because their story is being told. As long as you are factually right, there is less stress in not sharing before.
Question : who owns the content that you've done for news and want to turn into a book? Your boss or you? Kimber said the employer may have rights to the stories themselves, but the information in those stories can be used. It's useful to be transparent.
Foot: if citing other reports, attribute or source them.
Should i have contracts signed with book subjects? Approach it as a journalist and ensure you have people's permission to interview them. Contracts may be more of an American phenomenon at this point but that may change.
Question: Should I get an agent? Kimber has one; Benjamin was approached by publisher; Foot did not have an agent, but noted that agents can help you find a publisher, etc.
Question : writing a book about an ongoing news story? If you know it will have a conclusion, pitch it now.
And that's a wrap from this session. Thanks for tuning in to this live blog!