On the Path to Publication: The Latest on Making the Book

A few weeks ago I made my second trip out to Berhman House, in New Jersey, to meet with my publishers. These are always exciting trips for me, as we pack as much as in as we can, as we so rarely get to work together in person (it’s all emails and phone calls and Skyping). And they are SO smart, and kind. It’s such a pleasure to go from over a decade of mostly being the solitary writer to now – in the publication phase – to be part of a team.

I am excited to share with you all we worked on and what it means for Seltzertopia in 2018. The publishing process is all so new to me so I thought you might be interested in learning with me all the steps one has to go through.


1. Pitching the Book

First we explored two upcoming opportunities this spring to build buzz in the book industry.

The first is at the Jewish Book Council Network. They have 120 or so member organizations and provide over 250 authors a way to share their books each year. To quote from their site, “For authors, this is an opportunity to promote current books of Jewish interest and make connections to communities around North America. For program directors, JBC Network provides a wide selection of interesting authors who will present book programs for no honorarium.” Oh, I don’t think I’d seen that last part (and the bold was their work, not mine). In any case, and here’s the fun part, “Each spring, the Jewish Book Council sponsors a conference for the professional representatives of JBC Network member sites and their lay committee members…”

Long story short, this May I will have THREE MINUTES to impress these 120 member orgs – it’s my own shot (and, yes, I am going to take it!). Then, like a Jewish book-match-maker, the JBCN then coordinates sites with speakers. Anyone who knows me knows, I love a good set of constraints, and can’t wait to start condensing 14 years of research, and 200 pages of a book, into three solid gold minutes.

But wait, there’s more! A few weeks later is the New York Book Expo at the Jacob Javitts Center (if that name doesn’t mean anything to you, just think BIG. That’s where we host ComicCon).  I am honored and so delighted that my publisher has select ME to be one of the two books they will promote during the event through a book signing (I presume it will be what I now understand is called an ARC – an Advanced Reader’s Copy) to build interest among book stores. Also, I won’t be alone. ANOTHER Behrman house author will also be signing her book. It’s not yet locked in but I will flip out if it turns out to actually whom I was told it MIGHT be (I have to be mums about it for now, but you’ll be the first to know. Hint: She’s also Jewish).

2. Working the Networks

Next, we explored what networks exist that might hold interest in  Seltzertopia. What are the industry tie-ins? What are my personal connections, like my college Alum magazine? What about those people featured in the book – whom might THEY know? Who is organized around an interest-group related to seltzer or some aspect covered in the book?

We then shifted to SOCIAL networks: How will Facebook’s new algorithm affect our strategy? Should I make a presence on GoodReads? Should we make a YouTube promotional video (I have a rap in mind)? Should I re-launch my dormant seltzer podcast (more on that soon)?

3. Blurb

Now that we’d gotten through the promotional opportunities, we turned to blurbs, the few sentences of praise and recommendation for the back cover, or the inner front pages. Who did we know whom potential readers might know and respect? Who in the public eye represents any of the different facets of Seltzertopia: health, food, science, comedy, and more. Mel Brooks – I am coming for you!

4. The Cover

I thought it was hard to write a 200 page book.  Compared with summarizing it all in a book cover, writing was the easy part. The designer, whom I have not met (my editor works directly with her), has been great, exploring and developing with us all sorts of ideas. But we are not. Yet. There. My son was with me and he contributed his opinions as well. Hopefully the results of this meeting helped move the ball forward.

5. Permissions

Bleh. Not my favorite part. But what text in the book requires a permission, and from whom? Berhman will help, but it’s my job to identify them and do the reaching out. In fact, until I wrote this just now, I forgot I had to do this. That podcast thing might need to wait another month…

6. Photos

Everything above we COULD have done remotely, but not this last item, which was the main motivation for this meeting. We cleared the table, I poured out hundreds of photos and illustrations, and we went to work identifying the best for the book. The photos of the people profiled. Old illustrations of locations otherwise only described in words. The technology behind the machines and the bottles. Old ads. So so much, and so fun to look through, and imagine which ones we will get to eventually share with you in the final book (coming to a brick-and-mortar or online store this October!).

Phew! So it was a busy afternoon. In the weeks that followed we finished revising the text of the book (I wrote a new section, moved a few things around, and many many lines were edited) and now a chapter is being designed to see what the book will look and feel like, visually. The cover is still being finalized, and soon, I understand, we will prepare the Advanced Reader Copies, for all the reasons one does.

And yes, as I just reminded myself, I need to get on those permissions (but boy, wouldn’t that podcast be SO much more fun…)

Bottles of Death from the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works
Bottles of Death from the Pittsburgh Seltzer Works

Senator Chuck Schumer declares government shutdown over with glass of seltzer

Well, this is not something I expected to see today!

On January 22, 2018, Senator Chuck Schumer, on the floor of the Senate, declared the government shutdown over with glass of seltzer.

“Thank you, Mr. President. Now, today, we drink seltzer. Today we enter the third day of the trump shutdown, the first ever real shutdown to occur when one party controls the entire legislative process…” (More here: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/0…)

Watch the video here:

I love that the Senator from NYC needed to drink some liquid chutzpah before taking on his opponents!


Seltzer: A Poem

Yesterday I was at the Future of StoryTelling festival, which, among fantastic virtual reality experiences and interactive theater, offered roaming creative acts. Which is how I found myself at the POEMS To Order station, ordering a seltzer-themed poem.

Sitting in the field, on this unusually mid-70s warm October day, it was amazing to watch GennaRose create, out of the blue, a seltzer-themed poem.

GennaRose at Work

Within two minute, GennaRose read me the following poem:

Pretty amazing, huh? “Beyond it all, is the call, of the river dreaming up clouds.”

Dreams up your own clouds! Send me your seltzer poems. Tell me what seltzertopia means to you. (Me, I’m working on the first seltzer rap…)

Here’s the full gorgeous text she handed me at the end:

The text of the seltzer poem

My appearance on episode 29 of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know competing with The Origins of Seltzer

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know is a lovely podcast from the Dubner-side of the incredible Freakonomics Team (Stephen J. Dubner, that is).

Framed as a “new kind of game show,” Dubner gathers some guest hosts, a funny fact-checker, and then a group of people who know a lot about one thing. I’m one of those people who know a lot about one thing. Can you guess what I spoke about?

We each took turns presenting something the guests, supposedly, don’t know anything about. Questions are asked. Jokes are made. Then at the end one of us is voted the most interesting of the night.

It was super fun to do and everyone there was amazing. It was also incredible to meet Dubner, as at least one chapter in my upcoming book takes its detective approach from Freakonomics.

The entire podcast can be listened to here, and you should listen to it, but I also have a video of just my segment, which you can watch below. Enjoy.

I might not have “won” that night but I know, if you’re reading this, that I will always have your vote.

Working With My Editor on the Structure of Seltzertopia

So, “Where’re we at with Seltzertopia, the book?” you might be wondering.

Well, when I’m not on Facebook fielding press requests from NPR, I’m hard at work with my editor, Dena, trying to find the right structure for the book. What will make Seltzertopia not just original but stand the test of time is how we choose to frame the story of seltzer.

Over my 13 years working on this project I have structured, and restructured, it many many times. In fact, each new book structure drove the work that followed, inspiring the next set of interviews and research and the eventual writing of new chapters. It almost feels like making a sculpture out of marble. I keep wacking at it, then look from afar, then try again.

I think we’re almost there. It’s feeling good. I’ve made something rather complex, but accessible, like the structure of Netflix’s series Dear White People, because the stories are all interwoven. The story of seltzer is about many strands that, overtime, interconnect at different points, around different people or events, and then continue on their own. It would be SO much easier if the story of seltzer was a simple, linear, chronological narrative. But it’s not. Writing it has been so much more fun as a result and, I hope, will be that much more rewarding for you to read as well.

But first we need to nail it down. I think we’re close!

Hosting My Own Seltzer Tasting Party (compliments of Spindrift)

Last week, after my brief but illustrious appearance on NPR’s All Things Considered, I found a lovely message waiting for me on Twitter:

Twitter message

Now, if anyone knows me, they know my seltzer flavor of choice is… none. I make my own, with my old trusty Sodastream, and drink it straight.

On the other hand, who am I to turn down a free offer of seltzer? A few days later, this is the package I opened with my family:

That’s right – seven different flavors in 36 cans. Thank you Sprindrift! There was only one way I could imagine sampling them all – hosting a seltzer tasting party (for my family).

So here’s what we did. I made four columns of 4 Dixie cups each, with the number of their column written on each cup. Then I filled all the cups in a column with the same seltzer. Then I placed the cans in a row at the top (but NOT next to the same flavor).

Then, each member of my family took one cup from each column and, on a piece of paper, recording the number of the cup, their guess of the flavor, and their vote of how much they liked it (1 the worse, 7 the most).

After we each had tasted one from each column, and filled out our sheet, we went from cups 1 to 7, as a group, sharing our flavor guesses and our preferences. (My two favorite flavors I guessed to be Grapefruit followed by Cucumber; and I hated Lemon and Orange Mango).

Then I revealed, one at a time, what the correct flavor was for each cup. Anyone who guessed a flavor received a point. (That was when learned the one I labelled Orange Mango was the Grapefruit, and visa-versa, which meant my favorite one was ACTUALLY Orange Mango after all).

Then I tallied the votes to see which ones we like the most.

As a family, our two favorite are Orange Mango and Lemon. Our two least favorites were Cucumber and Grapefruit.

Personally, however, we had our differences. My son enjoyed the Strawberry, my wife the Blackberry, and I, alone, the Cucumber (which reminds me of the ice cold water in hotel lobbies).

My first choice is still a plain seltzer, but I appreciated Spindrift sending over the cases and now know where to turn next time I am feeling nostalgic for a hotel lobby.

NPR’s All Things Considered covers Seltzer (with ME!)

This morning on my Facebook group someone posted the following message. “Hi there, I am a producer for NPRs All Things Considered. Would you be available to chat about All Things Seltzer today? I am working on a piece and would love you have you involved.

I didn’t see the message until almost 1. I called, he interviewed me, and FOUR HOURS LATER there I was, on NPR, on a show I’ve been listening to for over a quarter century, in this really fun piece that does a good job of nailing the Seltzer Summer of 2017.

Here it is, from the NPR web site, both the full audio and the transcription. Grab a cold glass and enjoy!

Seltzer’s Popularity Bubbles Up In The U.S.

We may be in the middle of a seltzer bubble.

Americans are drinking nearly 170 million gallons of the fizzy stuff each year, and sales have gone up 42 percent over the past five years with no signs of slowing down. There’s even a restaurant in Boston offering a $40 flight of limited-edition seltzers.

“We’re now at a point in American history where seltzer is more popular than it’s ever been,” Barry Joseph, author of Seltzertopia, tells All Things Considered. He says today’s obsession with seltzer has its roots in 1971, when Perrier launched in the U.S.

“A new drink comes over from Europe in 1971 called Perrier, and suddenly people aren’t only interested in flat water anymore,” Joseph says. [Note: I should have said 1977! Whoops!] “Now, they like maybe a mineral water. They like the idea of sparkling water, and people rediscover this thing we’ve had around for a while: seltzer.”

Joseph says today people are turning to seltzer as a healthier option than soda. One brand in particular is having a moment among millennials: LaCroix.

Rapper Big Dipper’s YouTube hit “LaCroix Boi” is an ode to the sensual possibilities of seltzer.

It’s somewhat mysterious how Continue reading NPR’s All Things Considered covers Seltzer (with ME!)

The Word Behind fnnch’s 9 Cans of LaCroix Paintings

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new exhibit, by a San Francisco street artist who goes by the name fnnch, dedicated to paintings, ala Warhol, of cans of LaCroix seltzer.

I CAN’t even. #fnnch #stencil #layers #greycocktails #fridaywiththeboys #andamiyra #nofilter

A post shared by James P-N (@jamespn) on

I wanted to share fnnch’s recent e-newsletter describing the thinking behind the project.

I half-jokingly refer to these LaCroix paintings as “soup cans for Millennials”. The paintings pay homage to the Warhol works in a few ways, being both the same size (16″ x 20″) and having roughly the same perspective on the cans. There’s a quote from Japanese poet Matsuo Basho that goes “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” I believe that I’m exploring some of the same cultural and aesthetic territories as Warhol did with his soup cans.

There’s a wonderful quote from Warhol that I’m going to paste here in its entirety:

What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.

There’s something special going on with LaCroix right now. It’s definitely part of the cultural zeitgeist. I believe that its rise can be credited in large part to the fall of sugar sweetened beverages like Coke, a trend I wholeheartedly support. The billionaires of Silicon Valley do not drink Coke. Movie stars do not drink Coke. But they do drink LaCroix. And you can too. There’s something wonderful about that.

The LaCroix cans were originally conceived in collaboration with a collector looking for an installation in his dining room. When I painted the 9 cans, I knew I had to show them to people, and he graciously permitted me to remove them from the house and display them at The SUB. What is for sale, which for simplicity I put on my website, are further paintings from the series. I am offering a limited edition of 5 paintings for each of the flavors except Pamplemousse, which is from an edition of 20. Each of these will have a unique white-on-white background.

fnnch has certainly put a finger on the cultural zeitgeist of the moment.

Meeting Seltzertopia’s Publishers for the First Time

It has been around four months since David Behrman, from Behrman House, contacted me with interest in becoming the publisher of Seltzertopia (after a cold call proposal I sent last February), telling me that my “manuscript brought smiles to the faces of our whole Editorial team”. It has  been quite a whirlwind ever since.

First I weighed their offer against two others. Then we had to negotiate the terms of the contract. Once all the logistics were out of the way, we were able to get to work. Dena was brought on board, their Executive Editor, and together we developed a schedule – which includes the timeline for when I send them revisions and they send back requests for further revisions, the development of a publicity campaign, the timing for getting rights for photographs, and illustrations, and creating the cover design… and so much more.

And in all that time, working over Skype, we never met in person. Until yesterday.

Taking a day off from work, I drove from NYC into Jersey to step into Behrman House for the first time. Parking in the wrong location, I accidentally entered through an employee entrance, right into the heart of their warehouse (okay, maybe it wasn’t so much of an accident…). Surrounded by wall-to-wall books, boxed and neatly organized on shelving, I was so excited, imagining how, in just a year, on one tiny corner on just one of these many shelves, there will rest Seltzertopia, ready for distribution.

Once inside I met David and Dena for the first time. They were even more sweet in person and couldn’t have been more welcoming. Dena gave me a tour of their offices, meeting all the staff, and returning to the warehouse as well, to learn how it’s run. Then we got down to work.

Over the next four of so hours, we hammered out challenges we all saw with the structure of the book. When should we foreground the human interest story line and when focus instead on seltzer’s history, or the many ways we bring meaning to it? We explored three different options for restructuring the book, and picked the one with the most promise (Now I have my homework).

Over a lovely lunch, we were joined by others on the team and, after answer their general seltzer questions, I introduced this group of non-millenials (myself included) to the cult of La Croix (through the La Croix Boy music video, the La Croix Over Boys t-shirt, and fnnch’s 9 Cans of LaCroix (2017)) and then explored various promotional opportunities. My two favorites so far is a Which Seltzer are You? quiz and a campaign for seltzer-lovers to share photos in response to the prompt: “Where’s do you find your Seltzertopia?” But who know – it’s still early.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted but so pleased to be working with this incredibly talented and thoughtful group of people. They both understand what Seltzertopia currently is and, more importantly, how it can become so much more. Their feedback was always insightful, incisive, and respectful. David often checked in with me to make sure I was comfortable with whatever direction we were taking, which was very kind.

On the way home, in the car, in my head, I wrote an entirely new prologue, to sum up the new frame we want to explore for the book, and now I have to go off and restructure the Table of Contents.

David on the left, Dena on the right, some of their favorite recent books behind them.
David on the left, Dena on the right, some of their favorite recent books behind them.


Everyone switch! Now Dena on the left, David on the right, inside the warehouse.
Everyone switch! Now Dena on the left, David on the right, inside the warehouse.


The Effervescent Age