Attention, J.D. Salinger and all you authors out there who have trouble completing more than one book a decade (or three). Jennifer Worick has little patience for you because she's too busy getting published—about 20 books, by her count, over the past half-dozen years. She's the first to admit that tally comes mostly as co-author of various short guides and humor books, often based on ideas not her own. But lately, she's been the one out there flogging The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Dating and Sex at remote college campuses. "I'm huge in Kentucky this year," she says, laughing, while sitting at Zeitgeist Coffee, on a break from touring.
For Worick, the question is not whether the world wants to read another sensitive, coming-of-age account about an aspiring writer living in the heartland and her issues with her mother. Instead: Ask whether there's an identifiable book-buying demo of readers who, when confronted with a display at Barnes & Noble for Nancy Drew's Guide to Life, might think, "Hey, I used to love those books as a girl, and this looks funny." (Sample wisdom: "When bound and gagged, you can still tap out HELP in Morse code." Whether this applies to S&M is not addressed.)
Worick has identified those readers, learned to match marketing niche with subject and author, based largely on her background in publishing. "That was my favorite part of the job—brainstorming," she recalls. Based here in the '90s with Kirkland's Becker & Mayer! (a division of Chronicle Books), she then went back East to edit at an imprint of Perseus Books. There, she recalls, she got roped into contributing to the first Worst-Case Scenario guides because the two male co-creators "thought they needed a single woman for publicity purposes. That just led to me quitting my job." She finally went pure freelance and returned to Seattle two years ago. Today her bailiwick is "nonfiction humor books for women," encompassing other tongue-in-cheeky titles like The Action Heroine's Handbook, The Stuntwoman's Workout, and Girls' Night In: Spa Treatments at Home. (Hey, a freelancer's gotta eat!)
This fall, the Wallingford-based Worick has two titles out, one of them from Skipstone. (No, that's not a software company, arms manufacturer, or subprime lender; it's Mountaineers Books' new "lifestyle" imprint.) Backcountry Betty: Roughing It in Style ($14.95) gently prepares women in what might be called the Match.com demo to date and endure what might be called the Uptight Seattleite demo. In the woods. So, for example, the helpful glossary clarifies that "heat exhaustion" does not mean "Clive Owen was in my dreams"; and the backcountry cooking section features an excellent number of mixology suggestions for adding booze to the Crystal Light in your Nalgene bottle. (Editor's note: To enjoy a patented Wilford Brimley by campfire, add one part Country Time lemonade mix to however much vodka you can see in the dark. No cheating with your headlamp.) Wry illustrations by Seattle's Kate Quinby help set the tone.
For crafty types, Worick also has The Prairie Girl's Guide to Life: How to Sew a Sampler Quilt & 49 Other Pioneer Projects for the Modern Girl (Taunton Press, $14.95), which is exactly that—Nancy Drew on steroids.
Though she's mostly hidden behind characters like Prairie Girl and Backcountry Betty, Worick eventually wants to create her own brand, some kind of new Erma Bombeck. Still, she's cautious about being trapped with the wrong one. Recalling a past meeting to discuss collaborating on a fitness book with Richard Simmons, she notes, "He has to live that persona 24 hours a day."
Eschewing fiction, Worick has no desire to add to the chick-lit canon. "I can't see one more hot-pink book" cover, she exclaims. Though she concedes the dating/relationship category "is evergreen" (like diet-health books).
For now, it's enough to maintain her various blogs and update her Amazon.com author page. She knows that marketing, after the writing, is the second half of her job description. Though she doesn't write until the publishing contract is signed, she adds, "I probably have 10–20 ideas on a to-do proposal list."
Will those ideas result in books as long and substantial as War and Peace? No, but neither is your bus ride.