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Entries in Harvard CME Publishing (3)


Publishing Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: An Interview with Carrie Barron, MD

As we near the date of Harvard Medical School’s CME Publishing Course (March 14 – 16), I’m excited about seeing colleagues again and even meeting some of my current clients whom I have not yet met in person. I recommend the course to almost anyone writing a book about health or well being—it’s a fabulous place to meet agents and publishers—and to learn so much about the publishing industry in a short period of time.

Authors get feedback about their book ideas—and often end up with a much better sense of both what their  book is (what I call the book concept) and what they need to do to become successfully published.

Today, I’ve interviewed Carrie Barron, MD—co-author with her husband Alton of The Creativity Cure, which was published by Scribner and came out in hardcover last Spring. I met Carrie at the Harvard course a couple years ago and began working with her on her book concept and book proposal. Here's

her story.

Lisa: Why did you want to write a book?

Carrie: I spent many years scribbling thoughts and ideas on pads and blank documents and wanted to organize them into something. I was fascinated by creativity all my life--read about it, researched it, lived it as a former singer. In my private practice as a psychiatrist I was struck by how people’s moods and feeling about living could dramatically improve if they were involved in a creative process.

Lisa: Were there specific goals that motivated you? Opportunities you hoped the book would open up?

Carrie: I wanted the opportunity to write because I enjoy it so much.   Writing is a way to explore, to understand, to gain perspective and even to heal. Also, I felt that this information could be helpful to people who were trying to find ways to feel better--less depressed, less anxious--and not having any luck. Creativity has been called “the original anti-depressant.”

Lisa: When we met at Harvard Medical School’s CME Publishing Course you’d mentioned that you’d been playing with the ideas for a book you were calling, “I’m Creative But I Can’t Create.” Can you say more about where you were with the book when we met?

Carrie: Before Harvard Medical School’s publishing course I had many, many pages but no organization.  I had titles, essays, ideas, inspiration but not a coherent package. I didn’t know how to write a proposal. I didn’t have an outline.

Lisa: What did you want to accomplish by attending the Harvard course?

Carrie: I wanted to turn an idea into a product, to have an effective method of writing- meaning a free, letting go part and a structured, crafting part and to learn how to balance them.  I wanted to have a writing life and to be able to maintain it. I also wanted to learn about the whole world of writing and publishing because while writing it self is joyful, getting it out there is a completely different thing.

Lisa: What did you get out of the course at Harvard?

Carrie: I learned an enormous amount about writing from the editors and writers themselves.  I realized the importance of promotion and social media and how to integrate this into the process in a way that feels organic. I met editors and agents with a wealth of useful information. I met many people with interesting ideas. The most surprising things I learned were that I could handle “pitching,” that the idea does not have to be perfect and that collaboration with the right person can make all the difference. I met you, Lisa, and Jeanne Fredericks, who became my literary agent. You helped me clarify my book concept and craft my book proposal and Jeanne became our agent—and negotiated a six figure book contract with Scribner. It has been thrilling to work with the Scribner team.

Lisa: Any exciting opportunities that have come out of being a published author?

Carrie: So many things!  We signed with Scribner.  We have had about thirty- five appearances including talk radio, panels, lectures and presentations. We’ve have contributed to articles published in The Atlantic Monthly, Parade Magazine and others, have a regular blog on Psychology Today, spoke at The Maker Faire, the Zoomer Conference in Toronto, on the Dr. Alvin Jones radio show and recently participated on a panel on Creativity and Mental Health at the Cactus Café at UT Austin. The talks are exciting—people ask  fascinating questions that really make us think.  Other writing opportunities have arisen.

Lisa: Like?

Carrie: We’ll be collaborating on some interesting projects that will focus on using Your Own Two Hands and the value of True Connections to other people. The paperback is coming out in the summer. Frankly, I realized all my goals and beyond.

Lisa: Anything you’d like to say to someone who’s considering attending Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course March 14-16 in Cambridge, MA?

Carrie: This course changed the entire course of my career. It was fun, informative and stimulating from start to finish. If any doctor has dreamed of writing, the HMS course is the place to go.  And don’t forget to sign up for the pitch fest because it is the best preparation for what’s to come!



"Rookie Mistakes" To Avoid If You Want To Publish A Book 

How can you avoid rookie mistakes as a first time physician writer?

The other day I was talking to a colleague about my upcoming publishing course ( and mentioned that I need to find a way to tell the doctors who attend how to avoid saying the wrong thing right off the bat to an editor or agent. 

It's easy to do, because what makes sense to say isn't always the right thing.  In fact, it might be exactly the wrong thing--a statement that gets your book idea shot down before you can even describe the concept. 

My colleague suggested that I prepare some slides that are called Rookie Mistakes You Don't Want to Make.  I just may prepare those slides!  There are a lot of things I could put on them.  Here are 4 examples:

1.  Don't ever tell an editor or an agent that you want to write a book about a topic that "has never been done before."  The more unique your idea, the more likely it is to get shot down.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but if you think about it from a marketing point of view then you'll realize that editors and agents like what is tried and true.  They think that there's probably a good reason why a book such as the one you are trying to describe hasn't been done.  And, as soon as those words come out of your mouth...they're done listening!

2.  Don't start at the beginning!  A lot of people talk to agents and editors about their book ideas as if they are telling a story with a beginning, middle and end.  These folks don't have the time or patience to sit through that again and again.  Begin with the end -- or at least the middle.  I don't mean to confuse them with a an incomplete example, but rather start with your strongest material.  Think of your first few sentences (whether written or oral) as the headline in a news article.  Very few editors are willing to listen to someone build their story to an exciting climax.  They want the climax first.  What's exciting about it and why should they be interested in it?

3.  Don't tell say that you have never seen a book like yours.  This is a bit of a variation on #1, but it's a little different.  You actually do have to differentiate your idea from other books that have been published already.  This has to do with the competitive book analysis that goes into a proposal.  If your competitive analysis is "I haven't ever seen a book that is quite like the one that I am proposing", that statement will mark you as a genuine rookie.  If you say that you've done your research and searched in the bookstore and online booksellers and there are books that are similar but here's how yours is different, that marks you as a pro. 

4.  Don't say that your friends, colleagues, or especially your family members, like your writing or think you are a good writer or anything that even remotely resembles a comment similar to this.  Even if an editor doesn't actually roll his eyes right then, he's thinking, "Oh, brother..."  Good writers publish.  They don't lead with how much their friends or families love their writing. 

I'll write some "Do's" in upcoming columns.  These are just a few tricky pitfalls that truly doom great books from ever getting published!


Should You Invest Money In Your Writing Career?

Two things happened simultaneously today that made me think about whether doctors should invest not only time but also money into their writing careers.

The first thing was that a doctor who is a pretty good writer sent me an email and said that she didn't want to pay a freelance editor to work with her on her book proposal. This doctor wrote that she was willing to spend time on becoming a better writer, but she didn't think she should have to spend any money. 

The second thing that happened was the publicist for the Harvard CME Publishing course that I direct sent me an email asking for a few bullets about why a doctor should consider coming to the course. In both instances, working with a freelance editor and/or coming to a publishing course, means that you are spending not only valuable time but real dollars. Why do that? Isn't just spending the time to write enough? 

Sometimes it is enough to just spend the time. Some doctors are able to publish their novel, non-fiction book, magazine article, etc. without ever going to a course, attending a writing workshop, hiring a freelance editor, and so on. Anyone who successfully publishes must spend a significant amount of time on the writing, but not everyone has to financially invest in a "publishing education."

But many doctors have truly brilliant ideas that are not quite executed well enough to show the world just how terrific their book is. When this happens, and the rejections pile up (or the work isn't even submitted for fear of rejection), writing becomes a really frustrating process. Busy physicians often give up and don't publish what would almost certainly be wonderful books, articles and other materials. 

So, since I need to send the publicist a few bullets, let me jot down some thoughts here and see what you think. I'd say that a few of the top reasons why doctors might want to consider coming to the Harvard publishing course include:

1. You can meet editors, literary agents, publicists and other authors who can offer invaluable advice and connections that are impossible to come by without face-to-face contact. On-line communication is terrific, but nothing beats meeting someone, shaking his/her hand, and genuinely making a connection. Just ask Greg Bledsoe, MD, who founded this website with a colleague. I met Greg at a conference and decided to fit this blog into my busy schedule, because I had met him and really liked him. We connected. He's a real person who's smile I've seen and hand I've shaken.     

2. Creativity breeds creativity. Looking for your muse? You'll often find it when you bounce ideas off of other creative individuals. Sure, your wife, boyfriend, best friend and barber might all listen and offer encouragement, but getting input from outside sources and "vetting" your ideas can make them much stronger and better defined. Plus, it's really fun to hang out with doctors who like to write and talk about creative ideas. 

3. Publishing a book is a dream that many doctors have. But, there are some really phenomenal opportunities that involve publishing intellectual property in non-book form that we'll be discussing this year at the course. I'm working on that lecture now. I've gotten lots of great ideas from past course attendees who have done some amazing things that go beyond book publishing. I'll share lots of info about what they did and how they did it.

4. Finally, there's nothing that beats hearing from the pros what's really going on in publishing. It's a dynamic and fascinating world. The faculty tell it like it is.  They are encouraging and can save you a lot of aggravation and time. They can help pave the way for you to get where you want to go more quickly and effectively. 

I could certainly add more bullets, but what I'll end with is that I've taken my own advice. I've hired editors to work with me. I've gone to writing courses and workshops. Sure, I could have done it all alone, but I'm not sure I would have been able to do with my writing what I wanted to do.  My theme when I write is very focused on healing. If you want to see some of my publishing on healing, check out my website at I didn't learn to become an award-winning writer in medical school. I earned my "writing degree" by working with pros who have taught me a lot. I am continually learning from publishing experts—I won't ever be "done." 

Whatever you want to do with your writing, consider whether a small financial investment will help you to be more successful more quickly. It just might...

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