2003-07-30 / Front Page

Young author offers tips to audience at workshop

Caren Lissner says love
of writing should be first
ingredient toward success
By clare MARie celano
Staff Writer

Young author offers tips
to audience at workshop
Caren Lissner says love
of writing should be first
ingredient toward success
By clare MARie celano
Staff Writer


Caren LissnerCaren Lissner

FREEHOLD — Some writers really do "make it," and Caren Lissner can count herself as one of them.

Lissner just published her first novel, Carrie Pilby.

Lissner, 31, grew up in Freehold Township and attended the Laura Donovan School and the Barkalow Middle School. Earlier this month, she was the guest author at a writer’s workshop held at Barnes and Noble, Route 9.

Using her book, which details the trials and growth experiences of a 19-year-old female genius as a tool and her own experience as a published writer, Lissner gave the audience advice and valuable information on how to begin the process of getting their own work published.

Adding a dose of encouragement to the mix, the young author gave would-be writers a helping hand, a pep talk and informative hand-outs on publishing.

Reading from her book, she highlighted some passages depicting her character’s wry sense of humor, spunk and what can only be classified as an "edge."

Lissner gave her audience a taste of her novel and a dose of the observational humor which has resulted in essays and opinion pieces published in The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Jane magazine.

Lissner said she wrote her book in between her work as a journalist and editor-in-chief for the Hudson Reporter Newspapers, a group of eight weekly newspapers based in Hoboken, Hudson County.

Lissner’s novel tells the story of Carrie Pilby, who has just graduated from Harvard and has no idea how to socialize in the real world. She does not have many friends, with the possible exception of her therapist.

According to a press release from Lissner’s publishing company, Red Dress Ink, Red Bank, "Carrie Pilby is too smart for her own good — literally. Although blessed with the IQ of a genius, she is also cursed with the social skills of a piece of furniture. She regards the world as being populated by immoral, sex-obsessed hypocrites."

Lissner said the book takes her character through relationships, even dating, which she initially has some difficulty with.

She said that through her relationships, Carrie eventually loses some of her extreme attitude and harsh edge and begins to warm up to people and, therefore, to life.

Discussing how to submit work to an editor or a publisher, Lissner said she doesn’t see rejection as a bad thing.

"Rejection is not terrific, [but] it does not mean your work is terrible. It may just mean that people have different tastes. You have to keep sending things out," she said, adding that her work, under the guidance of an agent, took more than a year to finally get noticed.

She told participants in the workshop that she sent the first 50 pages of her book to six agents.

"One gave me two pages of good suggestions even though he wasn’t ready to represent it," she said. "Another wanted to meet me in person and gave it to someone at yet another agency who he thought might like it. The others were not as interested. Eventually, a chain of contacts that emerged from one of the people led to an agent."

Lissner said an agent is important to help market and sell an author’s work. She said she could never have put in the time that an agent would in order to try and sell their clients’ books.

The most important piece of advice Lissner gave to the aspiring writers was to "write only a story you will be glad you wrote even if it never gets published."

She told the audience members that they must believe in their project and story.

"If there is a story gnawing at your brain and clawing at your heart, then write it. Your goal won’t be publishing it; it will be having written it," she offered.

The young writer also presented tips on how to get a piece of work ready to send out to agents and publishers.

"Bounce it off other people," she said, adding that a writing group or class where writers critique each other’s work can be quite beneficial. "If you hear a few peopletelling you the same thing, don’t get defensive — consider that you might have to work harder to make your manuscript readable and clear. Trust your instincts, but also be open to criticism.

"There’s one thing you have going for you no matter how many people are writ­ing and it’s this: editors and agents are afraid of missing something. For all they know you are the next literary genius or your book is the next bestseller," she said.

Lissner said that’s the motivation that drives editors and agents to "take a peek." She emphasized that snagging editors and agents right away is crucial.

"Make your first few pages really, re­ally great," she said.

Lissner offered two suggestions to find an agent. Check out Writer’s Digest man­uals that focus on literary agencies or find a book similar to yours, read the ac­knowl­edgments and you may get lucky enough to find the agent who helped to sell that book. He or she may also be willing to take a look at yours.

Other important piece of advice dis­pensed by the young author was to not pay an agent to read your book.

"An agent who takes your book does it for free, as an investment. He does it be­cause he loves the book and/or thinks it will get published. That’s how he’ll make his money," she said.

Lissner said she has always written sto­ries, even as a child. She credits her early years in Freehold Township schools for fostering and encouraging her creativity during her formative years of education. She later graduated from high school in Old Bridge.

Her talk may have inspired those in her audience to go home and start working on their own book.

"Everyone has a story in them," Lissner said. "I encourage everyone I know to write theirs down."


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