If you will it, it is no book dream - review

Susan Shapiro writes a book on how to get published.

  SUSAN SHAPIRO  (photo credit: SUSAN SHAPIRO )
SUSAN SHAPIRO
(photo credit: SUSAN SHAPIRO )

Susan Shapiro believes you are never too old to publish. I am living proof. After decades dreaming of being a writer, I read The Byline Bible, took her online class and followed her technique. It worked; I quickly sold a dozen personal essays in my mid-fifties. I’m not alone. This is the typical trajectory for thousands of her students of all ages.

A best-selling author and popular Manhattan writing professor, Shapiro has published 17 books she admits her conservative Jewish family hates. After teaching at NYU, The New School and Columbia University, she launched private online classes and seminars during the pandemic.

Despite her expansive international remote reach, her proudest feat was getting her 87-year-old mother to Zoom into a book event last week moderated by Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny at Temple Israel in their Michigan hometown.

Shapiro was launching The Book Bible: How to Sell Your Manuscript – No Matter What Genre – Without Going Broke or Insane. Her funny and wise new writing guide offers concrete advice on navigating the intimidating world of books.

Having sold hardcovers and paperbacks spanning eight different literary genres, Shapiro is uniquely positioned to offer practical guidance about tackling every kind of marketable category. The Book Bible spent a month as Amazon’s No. 1 pick on book publishing.

 'THE BOOK BIBLE'  (credit: COURTESY SUSAN SHAPIRO ) 'THE BOOK BIBLE' (credit: COURTESY SUSAN SHAPIRO )

Helping people publish well is not merely a job for Shapiro. It is a mitzvah-laden mission.

Her dedication to giving back runs deep. “My mother, Miriam, was an orphan, who adored the four older brother and sisters who took care of her, and always wanted a big family,” Shapiro explained. “I thought my father, Jack, became a doctor to help save his mother and sister from breast cancer. My parents were both very nurturing, gave to charity and helped out friends and relatives in need. They taught us that tzedakah and acts of kindness are the best mitzvahs.”

Shapiro writes about books, education and antisemitism for Tablet, The Forward and Lilith, as well as The New York Times; The Washington Post; O, The Oprah Magazine; Wired and The New Yorker online. Her last novel, World In Between was set partly in Israel, where she’s visited beloved relatives many times, as well as interviewing her favorite poet, the late Yehuda Amichai.

After honoring her greatest mentors in Only As Good as Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus, Shapiro explored her therapy with a brilliant addiction specialist who helped her quit cigarettes, alcohol and drugs in her memoirs Lighting Up and its recent sequel, The Forgiveness Tour, a Jewish Book Council pick.

She pays it forward by guiding a new generation of writers she mentors for life. Basking in the success of her students, she recently celebrated Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days winning the 2021 National Jewish Book Award. In Book Bible, she quotes many former pupils who’ve made literary splashes, including: Seth Kugel, Alyson Gerber, Abby Sher, Liza Monroy, Aspen Matis, Joseph Alexiou, Zibby Owens, Amy B. Scher, Leah Koenig, Sari Botton, Cat Marnell, David Goodwillie, Jeff Henigson and Renée Watson.

“You know you’re old and in trouble when you’re name-dropping all of your famous students,” she jokes.

Shapiro is fiercely dedicated to building a strongly supportive writing community celebrating each other’s accomplishments.

Wanting her students to be good literary citizens, she encourages them to “buy and read the kind of books you want to write. Go to events for other authors and support bookstores and literary organizations. I buy and read five newspapers a day because I don’t think you can expect to be paid by newspapers if you’re only reading them for free. I believe in Karma.”

If you have a book in you waiting to be told, The Book Bible urges you to commit by carving out daily writing time.

After complaining of writer’s block, her best-selling cousin, the late Howard Fast, author of Spartacus and The Jews: Story of a People, told her “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block. Don’t be self-indulgent, just get to work. A page a day is a book a year.”

This work ethic began young in Shapiro’s life: “I remember in first grade I won an award for filling out the most notebooks in the history of Shaarey Zedek Hebrew school, twelve hundred blue notebooks crammed with Hebrew letters. In my family, achievement was redemption.”

Luckily for us, she is now totally addicted to helping us all see print. Her mottos are “The first piece you write that your family hates means that you’ve found your voice,” “Writing is a way to turn your worst experiences into the most beautiful” and “Publishing well is the best revenge.” The Book Bible will certainly help you get out there and get published. Thankfully, at any age.

Thanks to The Book Bible, Lisa J. Wise is working on an essay collection about family legacy, loss, and living fearlessly with third-generation lymphoma. lisajwise.com