Read and Write with Natasha

A boomer author on the boomer life

April 29, 2024 Natasha Tynes Episode 54
A boomer author on the boomer life
Read and Write with Natasha
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Read and Write with Natasha
A boomer author on the boomer life
Apr 29, 2024 Episode 54
Natasha Tynes

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Can laughter be the best medicine for aging?  Humorist Neil Offen thinks so!

He delivers a hilarious and insightful take on the trials and triumphs of boomer life in his book Building a Better Boomer.

Join us as Neil shares his satirical wit and offers a refreshingly honest look at aging. We'll discuss the power of laughter, the evolution of book publishing, and even how to navigate the ever-changing world of social media.

Neil's unique perspective resonates with readers of all ages.

Support the Show.

****************************************************************************

➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Can laughter be the best medicine for aging?  Humorist Neil Offen thinks so!

He delivers a hilarious and insightful take on the trials and triumphs of boomer life in his book Building a Better Boomer.

Join us as Neil shares his satirical wit and offers a refreshingly honest look at aging. We'll discuss the power of laughter, the evolution of book publishing, and even how to navigate the ever-changing world of social media.

Neil's unique perspective resonates with readers of all ages.

Support the Show.

****************************************************************************

➡️ P.S: If you find my content useful, you might want to check out my Substack newsletter, in which I talk and vent about the writing life:


Speaker 1:

I think a platform is very important. I think word of mouth is equally important. I think reviews on Goodreads, on Amazon, on Bookshop, on Barnes Noble, those are all important as well. I think it's a multi-pronged effort. Well, I think, you know, I think it's a multi-pronged effort. You know, you keep doing as much as you can and then you keep your fingers crossed and hope that it works.

Speaker 2:

Hi friends, this is Read and Write with Natasha podcast. My name is Natasha Tynes and I'm an author and a journalist. In this channel I talk about the writing life, review books and interview authors. Hope you enjoy the journey. Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of Read and Write with Natasha. I am so pleased to have with me today writer Neil Offen, who's been a humor columnist for four decades and on two continents. He is the author of more than a dozen books and he's been a sports reporter, a newspaper and magazine editor, a radio newsman and written a nationally syndicated funny comic strip. He has interviewed Muhammad Ali, covered Apollo 11, written the Orient Express and once met Cary Grant. Wow, neil, what a resume. Thank you for joining me here today. I'm so glad to have someone as experienced as you are and it's an honor to talk to you, neil.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's a pleasure to talk with you, Natasha, Though hearing my bio it makes it sound like I can't keep a job.

Speaker 2:

Well, now, it means that you're very versatile and you have lots of interests. So this is great, that's nice of you to say. And you have lots of interest, so this is great, that's nice of you to say. And you're funny as well, you know. So that's even a better trait, all right. So, neil, you've written a lot of books, and I just want to ask you to tell us a bit about your most recent one. What is it about and what?

Speaker 1:

is the message that you're trying to convey. The book is called Building a Better Boomer. It is a humor book. And to prove that it's a humor book, I'm actually going to read you the subtitle. I have to read it because it's really long. Sure, how to deal with bothersome bodies, exhausting exercise, memory missteps, terrifying technology, impossible insurance, retirement regrets, foreign foods and, oh yeah, aging and what it is is it may. You know, I'm a baby boomer. There are still millions of us. We are the second largest age cohort in the United States, still only after millennials and we are continually getting advice about oh, we need to do this, we need to socialize more, we need to exercise, we need to eat better, we need to plan for retirement. And I kept reading all of this material and I realized we all know this. We all know, yes, it's important to get sleep, yes, it's important to exercise. Yes, it's important to have friends as you get older and, frankly, it's important. All of those things are important, you know, at any age.

Speaker 1:

And I started to think, as a person who writes humor columns, that there was an opportunity to give some advice but at the same time, to make fun of all that advice.

Speaker 1:

So I talk about, you know, the idea of you know eating well. I talk about the idea of preventing falls because, as you know, the worst part of falling is you wind up on the floor. And I try to make fun of all of these satirize, all of these pieces of information that all of us get all the time, giving that information but at the same time having a little bit of fun with it. And I think the book does have a lot of fun. I think it makes people laugh, but it also makes people understand at any age. And I think that the book is designed for boomers but, as several early reviewers have said, it's also for those who have boomers in their life, who care about boomers or who take care of boomers.

Speaker 1:

So it's not just about being a baby boomer. You know, a baby boomer is somebody in this country who was born between 1946 and 1964. And that's an enormously long period of time. But it's also a period of time that includes, you know, people who are today still working in their 50s people today who are retired and trying to figure out what to do with their lives, you know. So I recommend, you know, if you don't have a lot of friends, you know, get a dog and you know, for instance, when the dog poops on somebody's lawn you can immediately have a discussion with somebody. If the dog bites somebody, you can immediately have either a new friendship or a long-running legal case. So I try to have a little bit of fun with all that kind of information that we are inundated with.

Speaker 2:

So this is fascinating. So, all right, what was the reaction when you published the book? It was published a few months ago, right, it came out at the end of this past year. Yeah, yeah three months ago so what was the reaction from baby boomers themselves and from beyond, you know, beyond the baby?

Speaker 1:

mark karlansky, who is a new york times best-selling author and an old, old friend, said that this is the perfect book for this moment. You know, the world is under great stress. There are so many things that concern us, that worry us, that are. You know, it's difficult to look at a newspaper or a magazine or watch television news today and not feel overwhelmed by all of the sadness and all of the difficulties that the world is going through. And Mark said that this is exactly the kind of book for this moment that we can step back and laugh at something, and laughing is good. You know, we sometimes forget how important it is to just step back and smile and laugh and feel that, you know, the world isn't as awful as we think. So I think boomers have appreciated the book a lot. I think I have children who are millennials and Gen X, whatever Gen X is. I'm not exactly sure I'm Gen X, then you're Gen X. But what is that between?

Speaker 2:

Well, I'm kind of stuck between Gen X and millennial because I was born in 1976.

Speaker 1:

You're right on the cusp there.

Speaker 2:

I'm right on the cusp, yeah.

Speaker 1:

A number of millennials and Gen Xs have told me that now they really understand boomers and they've stopped making okay boomer jokes. You know, they realize. You know it's tough being a boomer. Television doesn't want us on there in their shows. Businesses don't want us working for them. You know our children don't want us on the dance floor because of how badly we dance. So you know it's tough being a boomer for 30 years. Tough being a boomer for 30 years. We were the dominant group in this country and we're now sort of character actors and we're sort of you know, we're the sidekick. Now we're also the you know the people who are, you know, the butt of okay boomer jokes. During the pandemic we were the you know, the designated victims. So it's been a tough time for boomers and I think I hope they needed time to laugh a little bit at themselves. And I think younger people when they laugh at boomers, they laugh, I hope, with a little bit more understanding now.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, my kids sometimes call me a boomer.

Speaker 1:

Well, you know, it's a compliment.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but it's funny. But it will tell them that boomers have the best taste in music. They have the best music of all generations, you know.

Speaker 1:

I'm glad you said that. You know we may not be on TV now we're not the people in beer commercials on the beach because we don't have that many tattoos and we have less hair but we are in fact the people who all those commercials that you see on TV, all that music that's ours.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 1:

The Beatles are ours, the Rolling Stones are ours, the who are ours. So you know, we may have ruined the planet, we may have been responsible for the success of Celebrity Apprentice, but we gave you great music we did. I think you owe us a little.

Speaker 2:

That's true, so okay. So when you mentioned the book, when you read part of it, you mentioned terrifying technology, and I think that's one of the sticking points where the jokes come with the OK Boomer when it comes to technology, and I think that's one of the sticking point where the jokes comes with the OK Boomer when it comes to technology. So this leads me to the question is how do you use technology to market your book? What are the platforms that you're using now to reach out to boomers and others to find out about you and your work?

Speaker 1:

Well, as you probably know, podcasts are an important part of that. You know it's earlier, you know, 20, 30, 40 years ago, when I wrote earlier books, you know, you didn't do kind of personal marketing. Now you have to yeah, you didn't do kind of personal marketing Now you have to.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you have to be on Facebook. You have to be on Instagram. I'm starting to figure out how to be on TikTok. Yeah, you have to be on Twitter, you have to do all of that. And just in general, in publishing there is so much more of a burden and a responsibility on the part of the writer. You know, your job doesn't end when the book is complete. Your job doesn't end when the book is published.

Speaker 1:

Really, in a sense, it's the hard I will admit it is the hardest part for me the marketing of the book. You know, I'm reasonably conversant with social media. I'm I'm technically I wouldn't say adept, but I'm okay and um, but I've had to learn more, um, since the book was published, because that's the way you know. Again, you know from this much better than I 15 years ago there were no podcasts. 15 years ago there was no threads, there was no TikTok. I mean, we're not talking a long time, we're talking. This is really in the last decade or so, and so the easy way to publicize and I've done a few talks at bookstores, but the really easy way to get the word out, or the easiest way is technology is using social media, doing as many podcasts as you can do. You need to be able to search for. I need to be able to search for podcasts that are relevant to my subject material I need to search for. I need also I've, in the last couple of months, a colleague of mine and I have started a new website called Writing About Our Generation.

Speaker 1:

It's a reference to a who song, in case you were wondering, and it's a place where we write about things that concern our generation. We've gotten other people. We ask questions, both of our generation and others. For instance, what's the best live show you've ever seen? Or who's the most famous person you've ever met? And we're trying to bring people in and once they see my stuff, hopefully they'll go find the book, they'll go buy the book. I also do a lot of writing on Medium, using as many digital publications as I can to get my name out. I try to encourage people I know who have bought the book to do reviews on Goodreads, on Amazon, on bookshoporg. So it's really For me at least, and I don't know if other writers feel similarly it's more work than the writing. It's less fun than the writing, but if you want your book to get out there and you want people to read it. You want people to buy it. It's absolutely essential to do.

Speaker 2:

Do you use Substack? A lot of writers now are on Substack, you know.

Speaker 1:

I have thought about it and I know a lot of writers do with the new website Writing About Our Generation, where it sort of does the same thing. So I think at this point Substack would probably be redundant, but it's something that I'm keeping in my back pocket, thinking that that might be a thing to do, depending how Writing About our generation goes, if we can in fact generate sufficient readership. I think I'll probably stick with that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's a very active sub-stack. There's a lot going on.

Speaker 1:

Part of the great thing about technology is that there's so much stuff out there. The difficult thing about technology is that there's so much stuff out there. Yeah that's true. I mean, I'm sure this is true for you. I could spend the whole day just scrolling through different publications that come into my email. I subscribe to a number of Substack newsletters. There's a lot of stuff and it's hard to carve out a niche, and it's a continuous battle.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so where do baby boomers hang out? Is it still the like stereotype of Facebook? Is that like Facebook is for baby boomers hang out? Is it still the stereotype of Facebook? Is that like Facebook is for baby boomers?

Speaker 1:

No, most of us hang out at the hospital. You know, I think, yeah, I think it's true. You know, I mentioned in the book that you know, as soon as boomers got on Facebook, everybody moved to Instagram. We got to Facebook, everybody moved to Instagram. We got to Instagram, everybody moved to TikTok, to TikTok. Yeah, we get to TikTok. God knows where everybody else could be. We are one step behind. You know, I mean one of the challenges of boomers. You know you probably and surely your children grew up with all the technology. Yeah, we didn't.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I didn't.

Speaker 1:

You know, I remember when television was black and white and we were lucky to get three stations and now, you know, I have 120 different streaming options. You know the technology we need. The technology is remarkable. A couple of weeks ago I was communicating with that colleague of mine with whom I'm doing writing about our generation and we Zoomed together at a really great Zoom and in about the middle of it I realized it was Friday where he was and it was Thursday where I was, because he was in Australia and I was in North Carolina and we took it for granted. You know, this is an extraordinary thing, that we could be 10,000 miles away and have a perfectly normal conversation.

Speaker 1:

And I think boomers in particular have that sense of awe about technology. I think we also have a sense of the fragility of technology. I think part of our problem is we wonder gee, if we hit that key, we're going to break the internet, and I think that's part of the reason people make fun of us, that we're you know. It's part of the joke of if we can't figure out how to do something, we call our kids or we find an 11-year-old walking down the street to think. So we find an 11-year-old walking down the street. Please help me with my Facebook profile.

Speaker 2:

I want to change it. That is funny. So, all right, I want to ask you a bit about your publishing journey. Do you have an agent? How did you get? If you do, how did you get the agent? Do you self-publish? Do you have a publishing house, all that? So let's start from the beginning.

Speaker 1:

Okay, well, let me let me talk both about books I've done earlier and now. So I did have an agent. I used to live in New York. It's a lot easier to have an agent there because that's where a lot of agents are, so I had an agent there for many years.

Speaker 2:

How did you find him? How did you find that agent?

Speaker 1:

He found me. I was a newspaper writer and columnist in New York. He saw my name, got in touch with me. He had a book idea for me. We're talking many, many years ago and we got along well and through him I published half a dozen books with major houses, with William Morrow, with other places. My wife and I, many years ago, moved from New York to live in France for a decade. We still worked both of us she's a writer and an editor as well for some American-based publications but we were far away and this was pre-internet and pre-smartphones and so our connections to the publishing industry were much less than they were. So my agent ultimately was an older man passed away.

Speaker 1:

When I wanted to do this book, I looked for an agent. I looked at query tracker. I had friends who had agents and who recommended them. I got in touch. Over a period of I would say, a year, year and a half, I got encouragement from a number of agents, but ultimately no one wanted to take it and what I was told was mainly that my platform wasn't big enough. So this book I tried it with a number of publishers who you could approach directly without an agent. I got very close with a number of publishers an agent, I got very close with a number of publishers, but again, the lack of a significant platform was an issue.

Speaker 1:

Ultimately, this is self-published through a publishing house called the Paper House, leased up in the New York area in New Jersey, and I think they did a good job. I think it's a highly professional job because I've written a lot of books and because I've been a writer for many, many years. I have a built-in editor in my house. My wife is a professional editor and has been for many, many decades as well, so the quality control on the book, I think, is as good as a traditional house. But I think part of it also is that the publishing industry has changed over the last decade or two and it is more difficult for a book that doesn't have a tightly defined audience and mine is a very broad audience, but it's not tightly defined and that also, as I noted, I don't have a significant online platform. So I decided that I would publish it myself through the paper house.

Speaker 1:

I am pleased with how the book came out. Everyone who has read it thinks it's really good. I think it's a really funny book. I'm proud of it and would I do it this way again. Yeah, I would do it this way again. I think it's a quality piece of work, both from my end and the publishing end.

Speaker 2:

So when they tell you you don't have a big platform, do you feel that's like a right criticism these days? Because I heard this from a number of authors who got the same response from agents and the idea is that if you don't have a platform, you pretty much don, you don't exist. And do you think that's fair? Or do you think?

Speaker 1:

No, I don't. I mean there was a story oh this is six or eight months ago in the New York Times about influencers on TikTok. People with massive, massive followings and publishers were very interested because of their enormous platforms. Yeah, and it turned out that did not translate to those things, that the people who were followers of an influencer on TikTok that's what they wanted. They followed TikTok. Similarly, you know, on Instagram it doesn't necessarily translate.

Speaker 1:

I think for publishers it's easy for them to say well, you only have 5,000 followers on Twitter and therefore that's not enough. You know, I think the consolidation in the book industry has hurt books and authors that don't fit into an obvious category, people who don't have a big platform. I mean, you know, there are all sorts of examples of writers. Probably the most popular best-selling author in the United States today for fiction is Colleen Hoover. She had no platform. You built a platform through her books. I think publishers sometimes get it backwards. They want the platform before the books. I would hope that the book creates the platform, but I'm probably, and I'm sure, a lot of other writers feel the same way. A platform doesn't guarantee success and I don't think the lack of a platform guarantees failure.

Speaker 2:

That's true, very good way of putting it. So, based on that, are you trying to build a platform?

Speaker 1:

Sure, I mean what we were talking about before. You know, I post more often on Facebook because that's where the boomers are.

Speaker 1:

I've joined, you know, a number of online boomer-oriented books. I'm doing as many podcasts as I can do. I created this website called Writing About Our Generation, which is really directed to that demographic. I'm doing whatever I can, you know. Can I do more? Yeah, I could post more often on Facebook. I could send out to my email list more often. I think sometimes you get to a point of diminishing returns, though People get an email every day. That may be saying that's enough. I think I'm getting the word out. I think a platform is very important. I think word of mouth is equally important. I think reviews on Goodreads, on Amazon, on Bookshop, on Barnes Noble those are all important as well. I think. You know, I think it's a multi-pronged effort. You know you keep doing as much as you can, and then you keep your fingers crossed and hope that it works.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah. So for you know, you've been in the industry for a very long time and for someone who's just starting, so let's say so. You know I also coach aspiring authors who do not know where to start. And what would you tell them?

Speaker 1:

I would first tell them the reality that the publishing business is much more difficult than it used to be. How so completely given up on first novels, on books that are written by people who don't already bring an audience with them, bring a platform with them. I think that the publishing industry, by being more consolidated, it's sort of like the movie industry, you know, in a way, small movies aren't made. Everybody wants to try to make a blockbuster. That's the bad side. I think there's also a good side that with technology, there are so many more ways of getting your message, getting your book, getting your work out there, whether it's Substack or TikTok or all sorts of digital things. You know, today everybody's a publisher. You know we can all get online and you know, on our new website we've gotten people responding from India and people responding from China.

Speaker 1:

Um, that's a wonderful thing. There are more alternatives. Traditional publishing is harder, Alternative publishing is much better. It used to be also that, both self-publishing and well, there wasn't hybrid publishing until the last half a dozen years, Ten years, yeah, yeah, but self-publishing was vanity publishing it was. You know, my life as a veterinarian, you know, by Bob Jones.

Speaker 1:

Yeah yeah, you know, the books were not professionally done. They were, you know, books that were really for the family.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Not to be sold commercially. That's no longer true. There are a lot of self-publishing operations like mine that do a really good job, that have good designers doing good covers and doing good interior design that IngramSpark, which I'm sure you know.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I know that's a really good distribution basis for self-publishing as well. So I think there's good news and there's bad news for someone wanting to publish. The bad news, like I said, is that publishing with the New York major houses is much more difficult now than it was even 10 years ago. Alternative publishing is much better. There are more options. There are more journals. If you're a short story writer or a nonfiction journalist or a nonfiction journalist, you can publish in all sorts of really good, well-done journals to get your name out there. There are a lot of places that you can go to that you no longer need an agent for. Having an agent is really good. That will help you. In fact, it's the only thing that will help you get into the major traditional houses, but you don't need an agent to publish.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's true. So what are you working on these days, like you're done with baby boomers? Are you busy marketing?

Speaker 1:

Like I said, I'm spending a lot of time marketing. I'm writing about our generation, and that's a twofold thing. I'm writing for that because there are things that I want to say and because I think it'll help bring attention to my book. I'm writing a number for Medium. I will mention parenthetically that three months ago, almost to the day, I had a massive heart attack. I'm sorry to hear that and I'm doing fine, which is remarkable. And so I've been writing a lot about what it meant to essentially die.

Speaker 1:

I died on the table in the hospital where they had to shock my heart and give me CPR, and, as I've written, I've now been given this extraordinary gift and I'm trying to figure out how to unwrap it. I'm trying to write about what it means to being given a second chance, really, and so I'm writing about things that I care about. I'm still writing a lot of humor, because I'm a funny guy and I like to write about humor. But you know, as we said before, writers never retire, we're always writing. So I'm you know, I don't know if there's another book in me. I hope so, and it may be a completely different book. It may be about what it means essentially to die and then to be given a second chance at life. I've written a number of pieces along those lines and I'm sure I'm going to write more.

Speaker 2:

Well, I'm glad you're okay. So how can people reach you if they want to buy your books, they want to get in touch with you.

Speaker 1:

Well, the book is again Building a Better Boomer. It is every place where you can buy books. It's on Amazon, bookshoporg, which is for independent bookstores. You can order it from your local bookstore. Ingramspark is the distributor. I have a website. It's Neil Offen. It's Neil. It's Neil Offen, writing about our generation is also a place to get in touch with me. If you want, you know, just knock on my door. I live in Chapel Hill, north Carolina. Just not too early in the morning, please, you know, and you know all these ways you can get in touch. The email is buildingabetterboomer at gmailcom. I would love to hear from people who are interested in reading the book or who have already read the book or who want to read more of what I've written.

Speaker 2:

Sounds great. Well, thank you very much, neil, for this fascinating and enlightening discussion, and to all the boomers out there, we wish you the best of luck. And you do have the best music.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely, and we're only letting you, millennials and Gen Xers, because we're good people. You can keep listening, but just remember we gave you that.

Speaker 2:

Yes, you did.

Speaker 1:

We may have ruined the oceans and the climate, but we gave you really good music. Also, I should point out, we also gave you bell-bottom pants and I want to really apologize for that.

Speaker 2:

Well, this has been wonderful, Neil, and thank you for joining me and for anyone listening or watching. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Read and Write with Natasha and until we meet again, Thank you for tuning in to Read and Write with Natasha. I'm your host, Natasha Tynes. If today's episode inspired you in any way, please take the time to review the podcast. Remember to subscribe and share this podcast with fellow book lovers. Until next time, happy reading, happy writing.

Building a Better Boomer
Navigating Publishing in the Digital Age
Traditional vs Alternative Publishing
The Legacy of Music and Apologies