Tracy Cutchlow contacted me through LinkedIn.
(What’s up with LinkedIn anyway?
Is anyone ever on LinkedIn?
Maybe no one, except me and Tracy Cutchlow?)
She asked if she could send me a copy of her new book. About fostering learning in kids ages 0 to 5.
I have a kid age 0 to 5.
My kid has a brain.
So I said sure, send me the book.
At this point I should tell you that lot of people send me free books. They want me to write about them. For, like, the front cover of USA Today. So they can become rich and famous off their books, with my help. I read a lot of books.
Like this one.
And this one.
And these ones (scroll to the middle).
But I almost never read the books that are sent to me by people (or publishers) I don’t know with no explanation.
Publishers and independent PR professionals, I know you’re reading this right now. If you’re not, you should be.
I have some unsolicited advice for you from a freelance journalist who loves books, reads books, and loves to promote books: Don’t send random journalists random books because you hope they’ll write about them. If you must cold send, at least include a personal note, not a 5-page single-spaced press release that includes three grammatical mistakes, about why you thought the book you have just spent $20 to Federal Express would interest the writer–in this case me–to whom you just sent it. (I kid you not, this is how many of the review books I get arrive. Explain to me how traditional publishers stay in business again?)
A large package arrived in the mail, media mail.
I had forgotten I had told Tracy I’d be glad to look at a review copy of her book and was a bit perplexed when I opened it. And a bit overwhelmed. There were two books in the package: a 300-page paperback by John Medina called Brain Rules for Baby (NATIONAL BESTSELLER is written in a red bar across the front, UPDATED AND EXPANDED. NEW chapter on SLEEP) and Tracy Cutchlow’s hard cover book Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’ve Learned so Far).
The Zero to Five book was … heavy (it’s sort of an awkward size).
I’m not afraid of heavy books. Or long books. (But the ladies in my book group seem to be. They keep rejecting my suggestions. No one, to date, has been up to reading the nearly 700 wonderful whimsical pages of The Three Musketeers or a dark brooding 19th century Russian novel.)
But this has been a hot summer.
We have fires burning throughout northern California and the state of Oregon, where I live.
And as much as I love books about child development and sitting down with a glass of white wine and reading, I confess I had a hard time cracking the spine of this book. My littlest is four and I’m not as fascinated by all things baby related as I once was. Plus I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs lately. Missing: A Memoir, written by a Lindsay Harrison, about her mom who goes missing. Another, The Girl With Three Legs by Soraya Miré about being a survivor of the worst kind of female genital mutilation, which happened to Soraya when she was thirteen. Light stuff like that. You know.
So instead of actually reading her book, I asked Tracy about my lack of time for reading her book…
Me: “Most parents I know tell me they are so busy running around after their kids that they have no time to have sex, let alone read. Why should parents make time to read and where will that time come from?”
TC: “I know, remember reading for pleasure? I’ve only just gotten back to that by going to bed half an hour earlier. It’s been three days; let’s see if I can keep it up. Seriously, I will say that “no time to read” is not about being too busy. We all love a little escape, and we definitely make time for it. It just may be Game of Thrones, Candy Crush, or something else that we put ahead of books [Jennifer’s note: I thought A Game of Thrones WAS a book. We don’t have a TV in our house. Both my husband and my best friend are obsessed with this series … of books]. That’s too bad because few things get you thinking, imagining, and feeling the way a great book does. My book is not great literature. But if you need parenting help, Zero to Five is designed so that you don’t need much time to read. You can flip it open to any page and get a tip in the time it takes you to check your Facebook page …”
I flipped it open to page 87, which has a photo of a toddler squinting at a tomato.
This page begins with a quote from Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
On it Tracy reveals that her kid “drinks a kale smoothie most days, an easy way to get her greens. (It tastes better than it sounds.)”
Though every time I read or write anything about eating whole foods and healthy eating, I feel the uncontrollable urge to binge on salted caramels, I appreciate this advice. In this age of McDonald’s in the public schools, advertising to pre-verbal children, and the glorification of junk food, one of the most radical acts you can do as a parent (and a person) is to eat real food.
It turns out Tracy was an editor before she became a parent.
She edited, among other books, Brain Rules for Baby. (The other book in my package. The book with the new chapter on sleep. The only problem for me is that my kids sleep just fine. I’m the one who can’t sleep…)
Then she had a baby.
You know what happens next, right, once you have a baby?
All the rules fly out the window.
So that is the perfect time to write a book. [Cue sinister laughter.]
Actually, for Tracy, that was the perfect time to try to figure out how to put all the good ideas about brain development from John Medina to practical use. (“When I had a baby, I was like, ‘Wait, what exactly do I do with all this information?’” she explained in another interview), which is how Zero to Five was born. More or less.
So then I asked Tracy when she first decided she wanted to be a writer and how she got started.
TC: “Ah, I’m not sure I want to be a writer. For me, writing is like running: you’re dying while you do it, but afterward you’re glad you did. Editing comes more easily. As a kid, I found myself catching mistakes on fliers, in books, wherever. I was so offended by those mistakes! I joined my high school and college newspapers. I did editing internships at newspapers during the summers. My first job was as a copy editor at The Oregonian in Portland. Within a couple years, I moved from copy desks to news websites and multimedia news projects. I was editing books on the side, including Brain Rules for Baby. That’s how I met my publisher. And he’s the one who prodded me to write Zero to Five. He loved the idea that I had to figure out how to apply the Brain Rules ideas in my own life.”
For all of you dreaming to write books, you should know that that is how all us writers get started. A publisher comes to us with a nice chunk of change and a perfect idea, hands us a check, and …
Usually what happens is this: you get the idea for a fabulous book. You write the perfect proposal. You look for an agent. Every agent in New York City and beyond sends you a canned response that boils down to, “Thanks, but no thanks,” if, that is, they bother to respond at all. (It’s harder to find an agent than it is to find a publisher.) You get discouraged and put the proposal in a drawer. Forever.
(Or, you keep trying. Like science fiction writer Octavia Butler. She was rejected for 13 years before she got a book published. If you want to be a writer you have to be willing to weather 13 years of rejection before you give up. You heard it from me first.)
Tracy’s new book retails for $19.95.
John’s bestseller, Brain Rules for Baby, retails for $15.95.
Total value: $35.90. You can go out and buy them. Go now! We know you want to!
Or you can win a free copy of one of the books, courtesy of Tracy’s publisher, Pear Press, via this very blog that you are reading right now. If you’ve made it this far, which you may not have.
Facebook is changing their rules so you can no longer tell readers to LIKE a Facebook page in order to be entered into a giveaway. Not sure how the cyber-police are going to enforce that. But whatever you do, don’t LIKE my book’s Facebook page or follow me on Facebook. (Try this on your toddler. Put some steamed broccoli on your plate and hand him one piece. Tell him that under no circumstances should he eat your broccoli…)
We’d love for you to sign up to receive Tracy’s newsletter here, but we aren’t making that a prerequisite to win this book either.
So what do you need to do to win a free copy of ZERO to FIVE?
Simply leave a comment on this blog telling us the last book you’ve read and why you liked it. Or, if you haven’t read anything in forever and plan to break the long dry spell with Tracy’s book, tell us what gets in your way of reading. Or write a long love letter to Tracy or me about why you love us so much so we’ll be biased in your favor. Easy peasy. We’ll pick TWO random winners (who will each win BOTH books, as the publisher thinks they are best read together) by Monday 18 August 2014 at midnight West Coast Time (that’s 3:00 a.m. on the East Coast for you fellow insomniacs keeping yourselves awake on your smart phones…).
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is the author of The Business of Baby, an investigative look at how for-profit medicine sways the way we parent, coming out in paperback under a new title (stay tuned) in February 2015.