The Essential Guide Tour Miami #16: Versailles, cheesecake popsicles, and Sexo Para Dummies

Posted on December 3, 2010 by admin   |   2 comments

The reports of the death of the book have been slightly exaggerated. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, we can tell you most assuredly that the book is alive and well, if the Miami International Book Festival is any indication. Hundreds of authors from Carl Hiaason to Patti Smith to Montclair New Jersey’s own Ian Fraser held court for tens of thousands of book lovers. Also on the scene were former president George Bush, Oprah-disser then Oprah-kisser Jonathan Franzen, and Clifford the Big Read Dog.


We arrived in Miami from Seattle on Saturday, and headed out to the old-school Cuban restaurant Versailles, where Jews and Cubans find a common ground: inexpensive and tasty food. Arielle’s grandmother took her there when she was a child, so this was a special familial ancestral residence for her as she dove into her black beans and yellow rice cooked in gobs of chicken fat. Yum!

On Sunday downtown Miami was buzzing with books, authors and those who love them. It was startling and inspiring to see all the different kinds of writers and books in their booths, from the highest brow to the lowest.



Out of the blue we ran into our compadre Roxanna Elden, who took our class in Miami and rocked our Pitchapalooza that was at one of our ATF bookstores, Books & Books, 5 years ago. Ever since the first time she pitched us, we knew there was a book there, long before she’d found an agent, written her book and got it published. All of which she did, step-by-step, yard by yard, mile by mile. It took her a couple of years and many rejections, but her book See Me After Class was published in June, 2, 2009, (David’s birthday) by Kaplan Publishing. It always makes our hearts happy when we see Roxanna not only because she’s such a funny, grateful, gracious, and exuberant person, but also because we have a sense of pride that we helped guide her from talented amateur to professionally published author. We’re very excited to report she’s working on a new book, a novel. Can’t wait to read it.

Our Miami event was our only non-Pitchapalooza, and we were sharing a panel with Betsy Lerner, author/editor/agent/quarter-century-veteran-of-the-publishing-wars. She has a new book out, or rather a new edition of what has become a publishing classic, The Forest for the Trees: An Editors Advice to Writers. It’s a must read for writers: veteran, neophyte or anything in between.

Five minutes before the event there were only 25 audience members, and no Betsy. Then suddenly the audience poured in like prospectors at the Gold Rush. In an instant there were 100 people. And there was Betsy. Right on time. There was no moderator, so it was interesting sharing a stage with someone else, just freeform talking about anything we wanted to talk about. It was a little like playing jazz with someone you never met before, and someone you played with for 10 years at gigs all over the country. Luckily, Betsy is a virtuoso, she had such smart stuff to say. For example, if you are querying an agent, don’t tell the agent that you two are soulmates. Don’t send a love letter. When the agent sells your book, then you can send flowers and candy and be best buddies. And don’t say you’re the next Eat, Pray, Love or Harry Potter. You are almost certainly not. Just makes you seem like an amateur. Think carefully about what your goal is as a writer. How do you define success? And for goodness sake, don’t rely on your husband/wife/mother/father for literary/publishing advice. Unless of course you’re married to Arielle Eckstut or Betsy Lerner. We focused on our 4 Principles of Successful Publishing: Research, Network, Write, Persevere.

We only had 50 minutes, so between the three of us, there wasn’t actually all that much time to talk before we opened up the room to a Q&A. At the end of the event, we tried a technique David used on his Art of the Memoir tour. We offered a free consultation to anyone who bought a book. At the signing table they lined up by the score. We must’ve sold 50 books. That may not sound like a lot. Until you’ve tried to sell a book. We’ve had events attended by 100 people and sold 4 books. People don’t understand that authors are generally not paid to do events. Authors do events to connect with their audience, to celebrate their publication, but they are there primarily to sell books. And despite having written the book on the subject, we have found this part of our job to be continuously challenging.

Afterwards we ran into our Hoboken homey, Caroline Leavitt, one of the nicest and most talented authors we know.

Her new book, Pictures of You, is already in its second printing and won’t even be published until January. We each bought each others’ books at the fair and Arielle started reading Pictures of You on the plane home. She got through 125 pages in 3 hours (and she’s a slow reader) because it was so crazily compelling. She finished it two days later—even though we came home to piles and piles of stuff to do after having been away for a month. She just had to finish it. For all those literary fiction lovers out there, you are in for such a treat. Pictures of You is Arielle’s favorite book of the year. It’s delectable!!!

It was tremendously gratifying/satisfying to end the first half of our tour with a great success. Riding high, we decided to cheat ourselves and go for it decadent brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach. It’s a pastel happy fantastical melting pot of Cuban ex-pat immigrants, flashy trashy fashion pioneers and victims, touristas, bikers, muscleheads and plastic surgery lovers. The brunch at the Ritz-Carlton has a very Fall of Rome feel to it. The people who work there don’t just serve, they seem like they’re happy to serve. Dining poolside was divine. California hand rolls, pancakes with fresh berry compote, roast beast, crab legs extraordinaire, and cheesecake popsicles. Yes, cheesecake popsicles.

David had a fascinating confrontation with a surgically enhanced 50-something. The server brought out two raspberry chocolate treats on a tray and presented them to David, Surgically Enhanced and her daughter. Surgically Enhanced grabbed both of them. Her daughter, clearly embarrassed, said, “Mom, maybe he wants one.” He being Me. Who said, “Yes, actually I would like one of them.” Surgically Enhanced just shrugged, took both chocolate raspberry treats and slouched away, clearly succumbing to one of the type 7 Deadly sins: Gluttony. Speaking of gluttony, stuffed and bloated we waddled out onto the beach. The ocean breeze was a gentle tonic, and we basked in the sun, sea and sand.

Finally, we wanted to give a shout out to the face, brains and heart of the Miami International Book Festival: Mitchell Kaplan. He’s is that rarest of birds: a brilliant businessman who also makes everyone he touches feel special. He had some fascinating things to say about the present and future of publishing. Amidst all the deathknell doomsaying about the book business, he said he can’t operate from a place of panic or doom. He just keeps doing what he does: loving and selling books. And keeps evolving, changing with the times, which are always a’changing. He was one of the first people to realize that a bookstore could transcend bookstoredom. So he brought in a great chef to Books & Books, and now people go there just to dine. The bookstore also has a beautiful courtyard where people can sit and read and write and talk in the sun. He’s brought in the greatest writers in the world not only to read, but into the bookstore to hang. So you never know who you might be sitting next to as you eat your quiche. Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Salman Rushdie. Mitchell said he was starting to shift the fundamental way he does business. He thinks the agency model that Apple and others are using has great potential for independent booksellers as well (we’ll be exploring this more in another post).

We’d like to close by thanking all the booksellers, book buyers, writers, panelists, babysitters, our amazing Workman team, who has made all this travel possible. We’ll leave you with a few lasting images from the festival.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

February 12, 2011 at 8:03 pm Miami Girl

Great pictures. Looks like you guys had a great time down here in Miami.

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February 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm admin

We did indeed!

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