Bruce Edlen, M.A. ed., is the author of Jazz Mergirl, The True Story of Jazz Jennings, a Transgender Girl Born in a Boy’s Body is his first book. He was a teacher for 20 years. Having worked with students as well as adults provided him with the background and skills necessary to make this story accessible and engaging to both teens and older readers. Even after “retirement” he still thinks of himself as an educator. “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” He continue to keep up on issues in education, and often shares what he has learned with others, both in the teaching world, and with many more people who hold similar interests and concerns. In his spare time, he follow a number of education and political e-zines and newsletters, and enjoys reading a variety of books (mostly nonfiction). He I also listens to an eclectic mix of music, takes photos of his travels, do a bit of gardening, and feed a bunch of feisty backyard hummingbirds. Some of my quiet time is spent at a rustic, hike-in cabin in the mountains.
What inspires you to write?
Because Jazz Mergirl is my first book, I can only speak to that experience. Well, maybe add in the comments I might pen in reply to a blog, article, or op-ed that gets my attention and moves me enough to respond. But in terms of writing a book, so far that inspiration only applies to my one title, Jazz Mergirl.
When I came across Jazz Jennings’ story, I was inspired to share the moving and uplifting biography about this transgender teen activist and TV star. As a teacher, I also recognized an opportunity to educate readers (teens 15+ to adult) about this most interesting and important topic. (Included in the book’s back matter is an extensive resource section, with helpful information for parents, teachers, therapists, and other healthcare professionals.) Another motivation was that I came to be supportive of Jazz’s TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, to which my book’s profits are given.
The most common question I have been asked by curious and puzzled friends and acquaintances is, “Why did I write this particular book Jazz Mergirl?” To begin with, I was not expecting to write any book, much less one about a transgender teen activist.
But a helpful writer friend who was reading the rough draft of my book’s preface asked how my many years as an educator might have led to my interest in this subject. Thinking about her question, it occurred to me that I had come to teaching with a keen awareness of the women’s rights movement, and over the years, I always made it a point with my students to ensure the girls were treated equally along with the boys. In fact, I decided to write my thesis about increasing gender equity for girls in school, and even conducted teacher trainings based on that research.
So the path to this book was already prepared when I came across Jazz’s wonderful and inspiring story. I just knew this was something I had to share with others. But when I looked for a biography about Jazz, there wasn’t one available. That’s how I came to do what another author advised: “Write the book you want to read but can’t find.” In other words, this book found and motivated me, not the other way around.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’m not into formal outlining, but for Jazz Mergirl, I did put the parts together in my mind, organizing the material into chapters, and the resources into appendices in the book’s back matter. I ended up doing a number of revisions to the rough draft, improving the arrangement and flow of the narrative.
Since Jazz Mergirl is a biography, the basic organization is, of course, chronological. But early on in the writing process, I realized I would also need to insert both additional chapters and sections within chapters to provide the healthcare and medical science background required by readers to best understand Jazz’s life experiences and the transition she and her family have undertaken. In those instances, for clarity’s sake, one technique I employed was to add in visual breaks (*****) within chapters, indicating to readers that what follows is a break in the narrative, going more deeply into the topic at hand.
There are also whole chapters each devoted to one aspect of Jazz’s story, such as an exploration of her incredible, artistic “Jazzworks,” a chapter about her groundbreaking children’s picture book, and one chapter that relates the two-year legal battle Jazz and her parents fought for her to be able to participate in girls’ soccer matches. (That victory has had a profound effect on youth soccer teams across the country.)
Who are your favorite authors?
Over the years I have read many well-written and meaningful books, but I can’t identify any one author who is my favorite. I can say that having read so many excellent books, especially nonfiction works, has had a cumulative effect which definitely influences my writing style, skills, and interests. For example, there is one script writer, Aaron Sorkin, whose smart and incisive television work makes an impression on me whenever I view one of his programs. (Being somewhat of a political junkie, I have re-watched Sorkin’s complete West Wing TV series, probably four or five times. That’s how I learned the meaning of “binge watching.”)
How did you decide how to publish your books?
My book is self-published through the Amazon publishing arm CreateSpace. After carefully looking into the pros and cons of self-publishing vs. the traditional path, I felt that, for my purposes, this would be the most efficient and straight-forward way to proceed. That decision was made only after I talked with other authors, read guides to self-publishing, and attended writers’ workshops on the subject.
Not having gone the traditional publishing route, I can’t say for sure how such an experience would go. That being said, I found a number of advantages to self-publishing Jazz Mergirl. The timeline is much shortened. No need to prepare a proposal and seek an agent, which I’m told can sometimes be a daunting endeavor, and then finding a publisher may be difficult too.
In addition to skipping those steps, you can be your own copy editor and book designer, if that is your want. I liked being able to determine for myself every single aspect of the book’s interior, from the wording, to the formatting, to the choice of font, to where each and every punctuation mark was placed, and how the book’s photographs were edited and laid out. I discovered that there is quite an art to this whole process, and doing all that myself was a challenge I enjoyed.
But for those who want to self-publish without taking on responsibilities beyond writing the story, expert help is just a click away, (for a reasonable cost). Book cover designers, editors, formatters, web designers, these and more services are readily available. Although I did not avail myself of these services, my impression is that, for example, CreateSpace has a huge support network / community available to meet these needs. One more benefit of self-publishing is that the royalty structure may be more profitable to an author than that available through a traditional publishing house.
Of course there are reasons for authors to choose the traditional publishing approach. Again, this is not the path I followed, so I’m not as knowledgeable about it. Going with a large publishing house has the advantage of providing the author with an experienced staff of editors, publicists, art designers, and other professionals, who can give the author support in making their book be the most successful possible. Having an established, well-known publisher behind a new title might at first give it more credibility and gravitas than self-publishing.
Another advantage of traditional publishing is that first editions are more likely to be printed as hardbacks rather than the softcovers usually provided by CreateSpace. Some readers may prefer hardcover editions if available. Also, for Jazz Mergirl I would have preferred that the photo section be in color, but that would have been cost-prohibitive when self-publishing with CreateSpace. It appears to me you are more often likely to find color inserts and hardcover books available from traditional publishers. But these are just my impressions made without having worked with a traditional publisher.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Over the past few years I have heard dire predictions about the impending death of brick-and-mortar independent book stores, and about the end of the analog, hard copies of books we have for centuries known and loved. Only ebooks and online distribution would remain. But so far, time has proven that grim prophesy to be wrong. And I am thankful.
I believe that for the foreseeable future, publishing will continue to offer the same mix of printing and distribution as currently available. While the newer ebook medium is very attractive to many readers, they remain less popular than traditional hard copies. In fact, I read that over the last year, ebook sales have fallen 10 percent.
And for the first time in several years, the trend of the decline in independent booksellers has been reversed, with an increase last year in new store openings. Even mighty Amazon recognizes these trends, opening their first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle, featuring hard copies of all the latest and best sellers by category, as well as staff “best picks.” They have initiated a fascinating new business model that I’m eager to see firsthand.
Just as intriguing are the changes in the publishing process itself. I’m no expert on this, but it’s my understanding that some traditional publishing companies are experimenting with farming out select titles for “print-on-demand” (POD) by such self-publishers as CreateSpace. That business model should prove much more cost-efficient than the old-fashioned print runs and warehousing of each title’s newest edition.
This leads to my next prediction – that the old-school publishing paradigm will eventually be overtaken (but not replaced) by the much more flexible, author-friendly, and efficient self-publishing approach.
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?