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A Few Words From Viet Thanh Nguyen

Hosting Viet Thanh Nguyen on a panel was one of Stuart’s highlights of the Tucson Festival of Books…for the decade. Viet is witty, humble, and brilliant–all qualities that shine through his most recent work, the memoir, A Man of Two Faces.

Stuart tried to take good notes on some of Viet’s best answers to the questions he patiently endured. We hope you enjoy his company half as much as we did.


SH: In your book, you trademark the American Dream™. You’ve also said that Hollywood is the unofficial Ministry of Propaganda for America™.  At what point in the writing process did you realize that this branding was going to be such a central organizing principle for your work?

VTN: As serious as the subject matter of the book is, I think it’s also really playful. I had a lot of fun writing the first two thirds of this book. Two things in my life really set the context for this, one is that I read a lot of contemporary poets of color. In writing about some of them, you read their work, you feel very serious things; however, they’re very playful at the level of language. They use the typography, they rearrange words on the page, to emphasize certain things they’re trying to discuss. Prose writers are not allowed to do that. I don’t know why. Poets can do whatever they want. So I wanted to capture in the writing of this book some of the playfulness I found in these poets. The playfulness is also serious at the same time because they’re using the playfulness to again emphasize certain kinds of aesthetic or political/personal issues. 

So I just let myself go, and it felt right in talking about America. Many people probably routinely say “America” without thinking twice. No matter your politics, we have probably internalized to one degree or another the power of American mythology. To even say the word “America” already implies so many things that many of us take for granted. I wanted to make sure that when people saw the word America, they stopped and had to think about what the very meaning of that word is. 


SH: You’ve discussed how being a model minority, you have to express your gratitude by successfully validating the American Dream™. Is that something that you’ve fought against, that you have to constantly guard against? Or did you never really think you were going to fall prey to it?

VTN:I’ve read a lot of Asian American literature, a lot of so-called “ethnic memoirs” and “ethnic autobiographies.” I think I have a pretty good idea about how it is that a minority or a person of color is supposed to tell their story in the United States. I can give you a five step program of how to write an ethnic bestseller, in case you’re interested. 

I’m not interested in telling that story. I’ve seen it 1,000 times and I know exactly how it’s going to be interpreted. Basically the situation is that Americans are perfectly willing to accept that the United States treats its immigrants kind of harshly, that we had a complicated history, we’ve had an imperfect union; however, the arc of history is inevitably going to make us perfect. “It’s too bad that your immigrant parents or grandparents had these travails, but look at you!” I wanted to make sure that even if I told my family’s story–because it is a meaningful story, a powerful story, an emotional story–that I wasn’t going to let the readers off the hook in terms of allowing readers to turn back to the standard American mythology within which so many of our stories are contained. 


SH: You’re talking about not letting the reader off the hook. Your book contains a pretty good skewering of what you call the “quiet American.” We’ve got the quiet American and the “ugly American.” The “quiet American” is the polite, sensitive person who’s appreciative of multiculturalism but still sort of endorses special ops blowing up innocents with drone strikes, or at least doesn’t do anything to oppose it. As my 18 year old daughter would say, “I feel attacked.” 

VTN: There are different ways in which writing can provoke and writing can entertain. We’re not supposed to educate in contemporary American prose. One of the standard cliches of writing is “show, don’t tell.” That’s perfectly fine; it works in a lot of contexts. But sometimes I’m also really interested in telling. 

When I’m writing memoir, I’m certainly aware of show, don’t tell. I’m aware of the compulsion to reveal the secret, to reveal the trauma. I mean, why would you read someone’s memoir unless there’s something traumatic? “I had a great life.” “Oh okay, good!” I’m more than aware of all the formulas I can choose to work with. But I am also turned on by provocation, by satire—all those things are art forms to me as well. I think you can, in fact, provoke, entertain, educate, satirize all within 10 or 15 pages. 


SH: This book represents a shift in genre for you. You have had great success with your novels, and a lot of times I think that success can potentially get you stuck. It can make you feel like: “I’m a hero and I’m going to stay here.” But you switched positions, to use a baseball analogy, and you started working in a different genre.

VTN: One of the themes of A Man of Two Faces is about coming to the point where I’m able to trust my own intuition and my own rhythm and my own internal voice. Because I grew up raised by very devout Catholic parents who are also Vietnamese which meant I was extremely repressed. Then I went to get my PhD in English which means by repression grew even deeper. Self-repressed is really good for being an academic. It’s not so good for being a writer. So for me to become a writer was about trying to identify where that repression was, where it was coming from, and how to lift it off in order to give access to this voice inside–which also has become increasingly a childlike voice. I if you read the book, there’s a lot of political critique and obscenities and things like that, but it’s all born from the spirit of getting close to that child who’s willing to speak the truth as they believe in it without worrying about what the adult or the authority or the culture at large is going to say. 


Audience member: I wonder if you would tell us, other than family members, who has been most influential in your life and why? 

VTN: It would have to be my partner, my wife. When I told her I was writing this memoir, what she said was, “Don’t write about me.” She reads everything I’ve written. So I finish the book and I give it to her and she reads it and she says to me, “Why am I not in the book?” So the penultimate chapter of the book is, in fact, something I wrote after that. She said, “I think you really need to write about your and my nuclear family.” Not because she wanted to be in the book per se, but she was right. Becoming a husband, becoming a father, was crucial to myself as a person and myself as a writer as well.

Clients Crushin’ It: Reuben Roth

Madison Utley speaks to first-time author Reuben Roth about his book, Recruitment Debt: A Glossary of Terms to Help You Hire Your Next Great Candidatewhat pushed him to want to write it, and how it feels to have worked with the right team to get it into readers’ hands. 

Q: What made you decide to write a book to begin with, and what led you to reach out to Stuart for assistance? 

A: Earlier in my career, I made a list of around 75 things that were core to the recruiting process. I reached out to people who I considered experts in the space to learn more about these things, which turned into a series of blog posts. In putting those together, I generated so many words I thought it might be beneficial to turn the content into a book. To do that I tried working with two different ghostwriters, but things stalled out. Maybe it was me, maybe it was them; it doesn’t really matter. The point is, the process pre-Stuart was too confusing and generally pretty rough. I had been dabbling for almost two years with no success whatsoever.

It was only after Stuart and I partnered up that the process finally started to work. He had me outline everything I thought I knew. Then, we filled in all the blanks. We grouped that content into different chapters–and in doing so settled on the glossary format of the book–and then Stuart re-interviewed me on all those chapters to flesh them out even more. 

Q: What were the challenges of translating your complex, real life work into text in a book, and what were the benefits? How did squaring up to that effort contribute to the creation of the glossary, in particular?

A: Writing a book definitely pushed me to simplify the concepts I’m so used to talking about. That was a challenge, along with finding the theme that unites the different parts of what I do, and getting the tone right. The benefit was that I learned a lot. There were things I thought I knew well, but it turns out I didn’t know as much as I needed to so I had to dive back into the material myself. The glossary concept we landed on was key as it’s quite representative of the recruiting process; it makes it easy to take only what you need to build out the system that’s right for you. Not all companies need the full menu, they might just need a few of the pieces. I’m proud that my book reflects that, and is applicable to all use cases. 

Q: What did the addition of the illustrations (a nod to your natural diagram prowess, SH says) bring to the finished product? 

A: The illustrations keep the book lighthearted and help it flow. Sometimes recruiting can just feel like a list of things you have to do; things you know you should do, but things that take time and require extra work. So the illustrations being fun is important. And working with Molly was great. She was very autonomous which I appreciated, and even with that she managed to capture exactly what I wanted. 

Q: What is the value in having completed this process and getting your book out into the world? 

A: I have only positive things to say here. I appreciate that it gives me something concrete to point at when people reach out to me, but also, it’s just really nice when people randomly reach out and say they’ve read it. That’s part of why I’m in the recruiting space: having the opportunity to help people and give advice that means something.

Clients Crushin’ It: Daniel Bussius

Madison Utley speaks to Daniel Bussius about the process of writing his first book, Marketing Built By Love, the opportunities it has unlocked for him, and how it feels to be able to walk into bookstores across the country and find his work on the shelves.  


Q: Can you talk to me about the motivation behind this project?

A: As a small business owner myself, who has worked with businesses of all sizes since 1998, I’ve noticed a common challenge around marketing. Not only do many business owners grapple with finding the right strategies, but many harbor a genuine dislike for it that really holds them back. Because of this, I ended up dedicating 13 years and over one million dollars to developing a foundational marketing process based on my learning from billion-dollar brands, as well as an understanding of the human-centric aspect of selling. Upon completion, launch, and global validation of this marketing process, I realized the importance of spreading the message to as many people as possible. The way to do that felt clear: I needed to write a book–one that was comprehensive yet accessible, catering to a broad audience while maintaining the caliber of quality that would appeal to established, recognized book buyers and retail stores for stocking. This was where the quest to find help for writing such a book began. 


Q: What next steps did you take once you committed to writing your book? 

A: I tried many different avenues to write the book unsuccessfully, wasting a year of my time as well as a considerable amount of money. Eventually, I connected with Stuart after an exhaustive online search for ghostwriters. His professional achievements impressed me, including being a published author under a major imprint. Our initial conversation was refreshing and reassuring, affirming that he was the right person for the job.

Stuart is a master of his craft. Upon reviewing the manuscript draft, he restructured the outline, made definitive changes to the book’s story arc, enhanced its flow, and incorporated more valuable content for readers. After his involvement, we had a complete manuscript ready for presentation to my publisher, Greenleaf. In their own words, they were impressed to see a manuscript so well polished and with such little editorial work needed from a first-time author. Stuart’s assistance was paramount in shaping the success that my book has experienced thus far.


Q: What did the process then look like with your publisher?  

A: After Greenleaf handled the book’s proofing, formatting, citations, and cover art, they began pitching it to distributors. They cautioned me about the competitiveness in book selection, noting that fewer than 4% of printed books make it into retail distribution annually. However, my book was picked up nationwide by Barnes and Noble. It is also available online through and, of course, Amazon. In its first week post launch, without paid advertising, affiliate marketing, or an official book launch event, the book achieved best-seller status in three major Amazon categories—two in hardcover and one in digital.


Q: How does it feel, knowing that your book is out in the world?

A: The journey from start to finish has been a whirlwind. Stepping into a Nashville bookstore, two thousand miles from my California home, and signing my books displayed on the shelves filled me with an indescribable sense of accomplishment and pride. Writing a book is a significant milestone, whether pursued for personal growth or professional objectives. It challenges one to evolve, reconsider their knowledge, and translate their wisdom into words that resonate with readers worldwide, inspiring them in their own enlightenment. Writing this book has also generated substantial revenue for my marketing agency and led to invitations to notable podcasts and speaking events.


Q: What message do you have for other aspiring authors who suspect they might have a book in them?

A: If you’re here, right now reading this, this is your sign that it’s time for your book to be born. I dare you to create a piece of literary work of the highest caliber, and I urge you to do so with the guidance of a true master of his craft, Stuart Horwitz. He will be your biggest asset, best friend, and guiding light on an incredible journey that you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life.



Finding A Literary Agent: A Numbers Game

When it comes to writing, when it comes to life, there are some things that can wait for inspiration, and there are those things that we just have to do. Finding an agent to represent your project falls into the latter camp, and that’s because it’s a numbers game. 

Some of our authors have found their agent on the 100th reach out, the 83rd, the 17th, the 1st. There’s no rhyme or reason. While that may strike you as discouraging, the productive takeaway is that all we have to focus on is our own efforts. All we can do is keep reaching out. That’s it.  

To put some figures to it, we recommend going to 6 to 8 agents every three weeks, to strike the right balance of generating momentum while ensuring things stay manageable and organized; it’s important you’re able to track your efforts, perhaps through a spreadsheet, in order to manage the air traffic control effectively. 

Reaching out can be time-consuming. Every agent has a special twist. We want the first 20 pages. We want the first 40 pages. We want a synopsis of 800 words. We want a synopsis of 1,000 words. While these preferences can create a headache, that’s what agents have to do in order to avoid getting blanketed by submissions. Tailoring your pitch to fit within their parameters is crucial, as is infusing some sense of why you are going to this specific person in the very first paragraph of your query. 

It can be a challenge not to be emotionally reactive throughout the process. All kinds of psychological demons might surface: your fear of rejection, your entitlement, and the like. I can’t believe they wouldn’t even write me back, you might find yourself thinking. Or maybe you come across an agent who’s open to queries and recently published a comp title, so now you’re getting excited. You’re thinking, This is the person! And you fall asleep with their name written on a piece of paper under your pillow. And then they’re not the person…but maybe your person is over here instead…

The point is, you can’t think of this process as an evaluator of your self-worth. There are so many factors at play; what this agent is looking for, what they feel they can do a good job selling, what they think is selling at all. You could be rejected because they just represented someone very similar to you and it didn’t work out, or because they just represented someone very similar to you and it did work out. But really, it doesn’t matter. Don’t waste your time having emotional reactions to these things, and don’t waste your time trying to suss out why the agent you thought was the perfect fit said no. Instead, put that time and energy into continuing the search. 

Here at Book Architecture, we provide support for your agent search as part of our Phase Three services, which is marketplace assistance and project management for a completed manuscript. (More on that here).  

Phase Three can include the generation of a query letter and synopsis for a fiction manuscript, or the cover letter and nonfiction book proposal for a non-fiction project, as well as a database of literary agents hand-selected for your project or publishers you can approach without an intermediary. 

The databases we put together for our clients aren’t constructed with any proprietary tools that you can’t take advantage of, but we have an efficient methodology to cull through the online platforms. QueryTracker, Publisher Marketplace, and The Directory of Literary Agents are our most utilized, but it’s really a matter of which interface feels the most comfortable and intuitive for you. 

Then, the assembling of the actual database is a rather manual affair. We sort through the mass for the agents who work within your genre, follow the links to see if they’re open to queries currently or if the office is closed, and take note of how they accept submissions and what it is they’re actively interested in. 

As you can imagine, it’s not the most riveting work we do. But the main reason why we keep doing this, and why it’s part of Phase Three, is because it feels really good to be the one to find an agent that’s right for a project. In fact, there’s nothing quite like it.