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The BA Band: Michele DeFilippo

 

Madison Utley speaks to 1106 Design founder Michele DeFilippo about how she got into the business of book designing, what seems to most surprise people about what it is she does, and why she’ll be forever grateful for the Catholic nuns of her youth. 

 

Q: To start, can you give us an overview of what it is 1106 Design does?

A: We provide authors a variety of services to self-publish their book when they don’t want to do the work themselves–and we do it with traditional publisher quality. I started my career at Crown Publishers in New York and every person on my team has 20 or more years of experience in the publishing industry. That’s how I’m able to say with confidence that we’re equipped to go about producing a book the way a publisher would with careful editing, careful proofreading, and collaborative design. 

When it comes to self-publishing, there are unfortunately a lot of providers out there now who will just slap something together, but we know that our authors have put their heart and soul into their books and it’s important to us that we handle their project with the highest level of care. 

Doing a good job with this work is a balancing act; our team takes the lead, making each step clear and driving the process, while also ensuring the author understands they have full freedom to collaborate and are encouraged to use their voice to tell us what they do and don’t like. We always hope our clients listen and respond to our experience, but ultimately what matters most is that the author feels able to execute their vision for the book and is happy with the final product. 

Q: What do you most enjoy about this line of work?

A: Authors put so much of themselves into their books. When they’re done with the writing process, a lot of them are scared to death. They have this treasured manuscript and they’re not sure what to do with it. They’re overwhelmed with all of the things they’re finding online about how to publish a book. They’re worried about how they’re going to manage the design process when they’ve never done anything like it before. 

When we step in, we like to think we bring a sense of control and calm to this internal chaos. We’re able to say: “Don’t worry. We know you don’t have the experience. We know you’re going to have a lot of questions. The good news is we do have the experience and we do have the answers. All you have to do is communicate with us, and we’ll guide you through every step.”

Q: What do you wish people knew about the work that you do?

A: Authors are often surprised by the amount of time, effort, and interaction it takes to produce a book. I think the perception before they come to us is that you just click a few buttons and everything magically comes together. When I recently gave a quote to an author she went, “You can’t fool me! I know it takes 15 seconds to make a book cover. You just slap a title on a picture and you’re done.”

That’s obviously an extreme example, but it does seem like a lot of people underestimate the time designers put into each job. The truth is that we’re analyzing every aspect of the process continually, trying to come up with a cover design and an interior design that’s going to best serve the author and most appeal to the buyer. 

There are so many pieces to that. Somebody has to decide how the book is going to be formatted and why, down to the smallest detail. We consider questions like: What’s the book about? What’s the mood of the book? What’s the age of the audience? That one is particularly important with typesetting because if your audience is older you don’t want to use type that’s too small and make it difficult for them to read. The point is, there are a lot of considerations that go into this process that can be overlooked if you don’t know to address them.

Q: What’s something you’re most proud of about what you’re doing at 1106 Design? 

A: We don’t take a commission on each book our clients sell like some of the other entities in this space do. Many other self-publishing companies structure it so authors’ books are sold through their account, meaning that they take the revenue from every book sale, keep a portion of it, and then pay the writer a royalty. The way we set it up, all of the financial transactions go directly to and through our clients. 

This is something we encourage authors to be on the lookout for. These companies might quote a lower price up front, but unless you know to ask explicitly, they won’t make clear that they will actually be taking a couple of dollars out of your pocket every time a copy of your book sells. I have to give some credit to the nuns with this one. I survived Catholic school, but I believe the nuns who taught me–and taught me well–are still watching so I wouldn’t dare do anything that’d upset them. At 1106 Design, we believe the author can and should control their own finances when they decide to go into publishing.

Knowing Your Why: 2022 Tucson Festival of Books

Book Architecture’s very own Stuart Horwitz had the opportunity to moderate two panels at the 2022 Tucson Festival of Books. The authors who participated in the sessions have published novels across a swath of genres but, in their own way, each linked the success they have found in their careers to having identified and articulated the why behind their writing. Without that clarity and conviction, it becomes much harder to get a work over the finish line and into readers’ hands. Below is a compilation of some of their key thoughts from the TFOB panels and beyond. 

 

 

Beasts of a Little Land, Juhea Kim

Juhea is a writer, artist, and advocate based in Portland, Oregon. Beasts of a Little Land is her debut novel, but she is also the founder and editor of Peaceful Dumpling, an online magazine at the intersection of sustainable lifestyle and ecological literature. 

Juhea says, “Why do [I] write? No one ever asks me this but I repeat this every morning while taking a walk in my neighborhood. I write to save nature and reduce animal suffering. That’s the throughline of my work across genres (essays, journalism, short stories, novel) even when the writing in question doesn’t look like it has anything to do with nature. 

Knowing the reason I write was what kept me from giving up whenever I was staring down yet another rejection. And it will continue to inspire me through the ups and downs of writing life.”

 

The Scribe of Siena, Melodie Winawer

Melodie is a physician-scientist and associate professor of neurology at Columbia University. She has published over fifty academic articles and contributed to several anthologies. For her, fiction writing is an invaluable outlet that brings balance to her otherwise fact-bound life. 

“The way I do scientific research goes something like this: I come up with a question I don’t know the answer to. I try to look up the answer. If I don’t find an answer, I look harder, and in more sources. If I still don’t know the answer, I ask colleagues with expertise. If no one knows the answer, or even better, if there is disagreement, or even controversy about the answer, that’s when I know I’ve found my next research project… 

“But in fiction, uncertainty is a foundation for invention. That means I get to make things up. And that is intensely pleasurable.”

 

Our Woman in Moscow, Beatriz Williams

Beatriz got her MBA in finance from Columbia University and worked as a corporate strategy consultant in New York and London for many years. 

She said, “The business career was something I was doing to be successful at, until I had the nerve to try what I really wanted. I was always writing. I was literally writing books on company laptops and scrubbing the files before I turned the laptop in. It was always what I wanted to do.”

Once Beatriz stepped away from her career to have her children, she decided it was time to prioritize her decades-long urge to write with more commitment. 

“I thought, it almost doesn’t matter now if I crash and burn — at least my kids need me and love me. Now that writing was no longer the most important thing, I had the guts to go ahead and try it.”

 

A Ballad of Love and Glory, Reyna Grande

Reyna crossed the US–Mexico border to join her family in Los Angeles as a young girl, a harrowing journey chronicled in her memoir, The Distance Between Us. For Reyna, the why behind her dedication to her writing career had a real urgency to it. 

She said, “When I discovered books, I felt that I had been saved. My childhood was full of things that were beyond my control. Books gave me an escape. I was able to hide in the pages of those books and for a moment get away from all the chaos around me. 

“Once I discovered Latino Literature when I was in college, the books I read helped me to define myself. I was Mexican and American. I could celebrate my Mexican culture while at the same time also feel at ease in the American culture. They helped me not to feel torn between the two.”

Both of these things helped equip Reyna with the tools she needed to write her memoir. 

“A lot of books about immigration are from third parties who are researching the topic, and they’re interviewing immigrants to write their experiences down, but it’s very rare when that immigrant gets to tell that story herself without having somebody else tell it for her. That’s what I’m really grateful for—that I can use my own voice to tell my own story. I wish more immigrants had that opportunity,” she said.

 

Island Queen, Vanessa Riley

In addition to being a novelist, Vanessa has an astounding number of degrees (like we’re talking: a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Penn State University). While her published novels are rich and varied, they are united in putting women and people of color–groups that have largely gone voiceless in history books and historical fiction–in the spotlight, reminding readers that they too lived and loved fiercely, and had complex and rich lives and legacies. 

Vanessa said, “Female-centered historical novels are having a moment, particularly when uncovering little-known histories. Resistance to these narratives, which cast heroines with agency, hidden talents and extraordinary achievements, has declined, but only after a hard-fought battle. 

“Perhaps women have won the war and we can pen stories of our ancestors without the dreaded attack of the old guard — a patriarchy accustomed to controlling the narrative and wielding the term “historical accuracy” like a weapon.”

 

The Christie Affair, Nina de Gramont

Nina is a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She is the author of The Last September, several young adult novels, and The Christie Affair which was her first New York Times bestseller. 

Nina diligently worked at her writing career for years, motivated and sustained by the why that was entrenched deep within her. 

Upon the success of The Christie Affair she said, “If this had happened when I was 25, I’d think that it meant I was really brilliant. Happening at 55, I know it means I’m really lucky. So I’m appreciating it, for sure.”

Book Architecture Turns 20

Madison Utley speaks to Book Architecture Founder and Principal, Stuart Horwitz, upon the 20th anniversary of his independent editing business; how did he reach this milestone, what has he learned along the way, and what’s in store for the future? 

(No, he does not get special treatment simply because he’s the boss. My new interview format is my new interview format). 

 

MU: Initially, what appealed to you about a career as an independent editor? 

SH: I was speaking to my colleague, Anita Mumm, about this and she told me that one day she had an aha moment about wanting a writing life. I think that’s what hits all of us independent editors at some point. I wanted a life that has to do with the thing that I love, which is books and writing and words. There are more traditional routes and less traditional routes to getting there; for me, heading towards independent editing had to do with avoiding any more toxic bosses than I had already experienced. It was terrifying to have my life in someone else’s hands, for them to be able to handle my well-being whimsically–especially as I got into my thirties. 

 

MU: How did the vision that you had in your mind for what your business could be 20 years ago match up to how it has actually unfolded? 

SH: I didn’t expect Book Architecture to be my full-time job; originally, it was supposed to be a way to make money while I went to graduate school in East Asian studies. My goal was to become a professor of Buddhism. But over time, I came to find that the academic future I pictured was an image that I had for myself rather than my actual path. 

Concurrent to this realization, there were changes happening in the industry that were radically increasing demand for independent editors. The advent of self-publishing, the profusion of e-books–it was sort of like buying a stock at the right time. I was doing better financially than I would have as a professor, but it wasn’t just that; I was also getting a much broader context of exposure to the world through the projects I was doing. It was all just happening, and some of that is certainly luck. If I sit here and look at the last year, two years, five years, twenty years, it’s clear that nothing is clear. Book Architecture was just meant to happen. I figured it out before it was too late; that’s the only credit I feel like I deserve. 

Stuart’s former office in Providence, which had red walls because he wanted red walls. His current office is in San Diego, because he wanted it to be in San Diego. // Alternate caption, sourced from SH: “I am my own man.”

 

MU: Where did the name Book Architecture come from?

SH: I did an architecture course during my first master’s degree. There was so much more artistry to it than I realized, in the proportion and emphasis and repetition of stylistic icons. It struck me as a symphony in stone, something creative but also solid. That’s what I wanted to bring to my business; something beautiful, but also built to last. That is book architecture. 

Book Architecture also represents hope. The hope that you can structure your octopus of a manuscript in progress, that there’s some kind of clarity and sanity to be found. The hope that your voice is enough, that you as an author are enough. The hope that the critics in your head saying you can’t do it can be silenced and your creativity is inexhaustible. That hope has become my mission of sorts, to help strengthen the roots of confidence within others and myself. 

 

MU: Something we’ve talked a lot about is the intensity of this job, in being brought into clients’ worlds and entrusted with the details of the most meaningful and, often, the most painful parts of their lives. Can you talk about how that’s been? 

SH: These are the things that make for the best books, so if I’m in a situation in which things feel flat or uninspiring, I’ll usually start digging to see what we can liberate. But truly, in these situations of working with a client before they go to prison or a client with a terminal cancer diagnosis who is aware they’ll die before the book comes out, it is a profound privilege to tell their story. Some of the books I’ve worked on with these kinds of stressors have impacted me profoundly and changed the way I view the world. Experiencing that was part of what validated my leaving academia; this work became better than more formal education. The courses I take now are all one-on-one, they’re more varied, and there’s a richness, an immediacy, a real-lifeness to them.

When you’re in the groove and collaborating together with someone, it feels like a multiplication and not an addition. So, being able to be in the creative process with people of quality, and getting paid for it, and setting my own hours? Yeah, sounds good. 

 

MU: How has helming Book Architecture impacted your personal writing endeavors? 

SH: One of the best things about this job is that it has allowed me to work on my own writing concurrently, whether that was my three theoretical books on writing, my memoir (which is in a very exciting phase), or the novel that I’m currently working on, which is incipient but glowing. I think there are some people who feel like they can’t work with words and then also do their own writing, like somehow they’ll be using up their talent or it’s too much in the same headspace. I can empathize with that. For many years, I thought I had to wait tables, because that way I would have my creative energy all to myself. That makes sense in theory, but in reality I was existing in a toxic and draining environment. While my creativity may have been safe and untouched, nearly every other kind of energy was being sapped, which seriously inhibited my ability to sit down and write effectively. 

Committing to my business full-time and being in control of my own destiny has had a huge impact on how quickly I’m able to clear my mind before a good writing session starts. Now, there’s a lot of cross-flow between the work I do for Book Architecture and the work I do for myself. I can do my job for five hours and then I can take a break, exercise, meditate, go to the coffee shop, whatever, and then write at night. I’ve created the context and learned the tools I need to access that headspace.  

 

 

MU: What are you most excited about moving into a new decade of Book Architecture? 

SH: In thinking through my answer to this question, I realize that Book Architecture is able to fit with everything that I want to do with my life moving forward. My wife and I are anticipating opening up a retreat center for writers in the next two years or so, and I fully intend for my work as an independent editor to continue through that. If there are areas of life that I’m more interested in learning about, I can seek out those clients. If I want to work more, I can get more clients. If I want to work less, I can get less clients. If I want to go be a digital nomad, done. I’m there. Over the past 20 years, it seems Book Architecture has become intrinsic to my identity and my lifestyle–and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

 

Clients Crushin’ It: Carla Albano

Madison Utley speaks to Carla Albano upon the release of her first book, Soul of A Swimmer, in which she tells the true story of Nicholas Dworet, a champion swimmer from Florida whose life was tragically cut short in a school shooting. While Carla first heard Nick’s name in relation to the devastating news, it became clear there was a much more complex story to tell about the young man’s life and legacy after speaking to his family, friends, coaches, and teammates. In this book, Carla describes the lifelong process of nurturing a child who has extraordinary talent and the drive to put it to its best use. 

 

 

Q: How was it that you ended up involved in getting Nick’s story onto paper?

A: The project is a little unorthodox, I know. When Nick passed away, I had just restarted my swimming career. Swimmers are all connected by a love of water; there’s a real community there. And so faced with the fact that we lost one of our ownmeaning a fish, a swimmerI felt like I needed to do something positive, as part of our community grieving and as part of my own grieving. 

Initially, I decided I wanted to write an application for Nick to be admitted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, but as I started to compile what I needed for that, I got to know his coaches and all these other people in his life. It wasn’t long before I realized: “Holy cow, this is bigger than an application. This is such a great story.” The more I learned about Nick, the more inspired I felt to write a book. I was exhausted by hearing about all of the bad things about mass shootings and body counts, but never knowing anything about who these people we lost are. And so, I decided I wanted to write a biography of this boy who was a champion swimmer, and one of my kind. 

Q: How did your previous experience prepare you for this endeavor? 

A: During this process, I was able to call upon my own experience growing up as a swimmer while interviewing Nick’s friends, teammates, and coaches. I feel like that gave me instant rapport with the subjects who in turn gave me the material I used in the book. I even went on swims with some of them after the interviews were over, which was really bonding.  

As for the writing itself: good swimmers know that they need to have a good coach, so I started with Stuart from the very, very beginning. Given that it’s my first book, I had no perspective on how to structure my thinking or how to put the material together. Stuart was amazing from the start; he didn’t tell me what to do or how to write, but instead he helped direct my voice through this process and guided me towards where I needed to go next. We had a lot of dots to connect and I’m so grateful to Stuart for helping me with that. I wouldn’t have been able to get the message straight or tell the story the way it needed to be told without him. 

Q: Tell me more about your experience interviewing the people in Nick’s life. 

A: I believe this project was very healing. For many of the young adults that I interviewed, Nick’s friends and teammates, this was the first opportunity they were given to speak about him in a positive way, outside of the circumstances of his death. So it was a hard process, but one they thanked me for. They shared a lot of really intimate stories with mesuch great, happy stories. And that’s what I wanted to focus on, the bright and the good; I felt it was my mission to keep this boy alive.

Throughout the process of writing this book, I started to think our community is scarce on mental health/counseling resources. It seems people might not get the outreach they need to be guided towards help, so it was special to be part of this process. I’m actually still in contact with a lot of the kids that I interviewed. They’ve become part of my life and vice versa. They view me as a safe person to share their grief with.

Q: Who do you view as the primary audience for this book? 

A: Swimmers of all ages, young adult athletes, parents of athletes… The story is about how to cultivate and nourish a talented child, whether they are academically or athletically gifted. This book describes the process of identifying talent and helping encourage young people to get motivated and push towards their dreams. I truly hope that readers are shown what a family and what a community needs to do when they are entrusted with a talented child.