Hillary Clinton’s Four Lessons for Authors or Anyone Writing a Book
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is writing another book. The yet-to-be-titled Simon & Schuster project provided Clinton reason to share with publishers at the Association of American Publishers annual meeting lessons she learned as an author:
Lesson 1: Call Carolyn Reidy
Reidy is the CEO of Simon & Schuster, Clinton’s long-time publisher, and outgoing chairman of the Association of American Publishers.
A direct connection to the CEO of a major publishing house is probably a luxury that many authors don’t have. That said, there is a larger lesson, which is to exercise any relevant connections you have. There’s little reason to keep your book project a secret.
Lesson 2: Quit your day job
When Clinton wrote Living History, her 2003 title about her life up until that point, she was a U.S. senator and was overwhelmed by the amount of work necessary for doing her day job and writing a book in the evenings.
This time around, her departure from the State Department would provide her with the peace and quiet necessary to write a book:
“I was leaving the State Department, stepping off that high wire of American diplomacy. There’d be no more interview requests, no more frantic media speculation about my plans — just peace and quiet. So I thought, let’s write another book. It has not worked out exactly that way,” she said, referring to the constant media speculation that she is planning on running for president in 2016.
Not all authors have the luxury of quitting their day jobs in order to write books. That said, the lesson for many authors here is first, that you can write a book even if you have a full-time job, such as U.S. senator. Second, that writing a book is a very large commitment, so be ready for much of your time to be taken up.
Lesson 3: Keep your friends close and your best readers closer
Clinton’s “best readers” are her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her daughter Chelsea. They and a team of other long-time friends, along with her editor Jonathan Karp, pore over each paragraph of her work, often disagreeing vehemently on the quality of the output.
The lesson here is to have as many people as you can that you trust read and critique your work. It won’t always help, but thoughtful critique likely won’t hurt.
Lesson 4: Always check the foreign translation
Clinton’s last book sold 200,000 copies in China, but the translation excluded almost any reference to a 1995 trip she took to the country where her speech about human rights and women’s rights was censored by the government. This limitation on her expression was annoying, to say the least.
“That made me even more passionate about standing up for freedom of expression and intellectual property rights,” she said. “I made that a priority of American diplomacy.”
It wasn’t her first run-in with peculiar Chinese translation. Her husband’s memoir, My Life, started:
Early on the morning of August 19, 1946, I was born under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother in the Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, a town of about six thousand in southwest Arkansas, thirty-three miles east of the Texas border at Texarkana.
According to Clinton, the Chinese edition of the book begins like so: “I was born in a town called Hope with good Feng Shui.”
Not all authors will have their books translated into Chinese or even censored if they are. But the lesson is to attend to details. Even one copy error in a book can sour a reader’s experience.
Another quirky fact of the My Life translation was that due to his often talking about Arkansas watermelons, in the Chinese edition, Bill Clinton’s nickname is “Mr. Watermelon.”