Thoughts and Inspiration for Creative Writers

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Success for a “Blended” Book at a Small Press

Posted on | June 14, 2010 | No Comments

Mary Collins was recently awarded the Grand Prize for Nonfiction from the Indie Book Awards for her book American Idle.  Below, she describes her inspiration for writing the book, her journey finding a publisher, and the reasons she chose to embrace a small press.

I am often skeptical of writing contests but I must admit that I started my most recent book, American Idle: A Journey Through Our Sedentary Culture, because an essay I did about the culture of sitting for the Health section of the Washington Post won Best Essay of the Year from the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), which convinced me a cultural take on the health crisis (rather than purely medical) could work.

I came to write American Idle as well as the essay on sitting because I had a horrible bicycle accident that took away my previously active life as an athlete. I could not sit for more than a few minutes; I dragged my left leg when I walked. Back surgery (and a lot of swimming and PT over many years) helped me recoup about 80 percent of what I lost, but the impact of being forced into a sedentary life—and all the resulting consequences, including depression, a huge decline in my social life and work life—made me want to explore why the majority of Americans choose such a life.

So I set off across the country to talk to factory workers, poor Hispanic women with diabetic children, health care specialists, even the director of the Olympic Center. Along the way I came to believe that the right to move in healthy ways through our landscape is a civic right, which is currently denied a huge portion of the population. Most people do not CHOOSE their unhealthy sedentary lifestyle—as I had supposed—they get boxed into it because of lack of time, unsafe public spaces in their neighborhoods and more.

As a writer with plenty of experience under my belt, I thought it would be easy to sell American Idle, which reads like a memoir but includes plenty of fresh health science. But I quickly learned that the big publishers really dislike blended books—does this belong on the Health shelf or the Cultural shelf, editors would ask? My agent and I did not have a clear answer, which killed my chances. I did find the trade divisions of university presses like Rutgers and Oxford University Press, very eager, but they also take forever (as much as two years to get through outside readers) and often charge way too much.

So I embraced a small press (Capital Books in Washington, DC) and found out a few weeks ago that American Idle won the Grand Prize for Nonfiction from the Indie Book Awards, which just validates in my eyes my decision to go small, quick, low cost (cover price under $20) and with a blended approach. If your product is good, it will get recognized.

Mary Collins author American Idle

You can find out more about my book and my own background at You can order the book at Amazon or contact Jean Westcott at directly.


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