An Interview with Jen Leo, editor of Whose Panties are These, and Sand in My Bra
One of the hardest working book editors found out and about today is, without a doubt, travel writer Jennifer L. Leo. Jen has just come out with two books that have taken the travel world by storm. The first, Sand in My Bra, has won major awards including the top prize from the North American Travel Journalist Association and hit multiple bestseller lists.
More than 35,000 copies have been sold and are on bookstore shelves. The follow up, Whose Panties are These, released in September, is well on the way to topping lists of favorites everywhere.
Both are published by independent travel publisher Travelers’ Tales and are filled with adventures, or Ms.-adventures of women circling the globe. If that weren’t enough, Jen also blogs daily with updates for writers and travelers on her site WrittenRoad.com, a place I check daily to gather info and giggle. GoNOMAD recently caught up with the globetrotting Jen to ask her what is going on in her life, what became of the infamous Bramobile, and, better yet, what lies in her future.
Really? The number of men reading Sand in My Bra, and Whose Panties Are These? shocks me, too. During the tour for Panties, there were significantly more men in the audiences than at the events for Sand last year. Maybe it's because the current title has gone below the belt. I like the image of men sitting at their computers late at night searching for something dirty to look at, then finding our Panties book and getting completely sidetracked. First they laugh at the title, then they start to read about the stories, and before they know it, they're ordering my books for their wives, girlfriends, and daughters. You think we make these books to sell to women? No way, this is my effort to train men the world over to give better presents to the women in their lives.
You have co-edited several books for Travelers’ Tales before, such as A Woman’sPath: Woman’s Best Spiritual Travel Writing. With the last two books, Bra and Panties you were the sole editor. You hit the road with a vengeance. Was that a turning point in your compiling and editing?
Co-editing A Woman's Path with Lucy McCauley and Amy Carlson, guided by Lisa Bach, gave me a taste of editing the books. We had notions of me doing a humor book well before we came out with Sand in My Bra, but I needed to grow into the position first, partly through traveling on my own and experiencing my own misadventures and seeing how travel is, and can be, funny.
The first thing is to pick and choose what best fits your talents, your book, your schedule, and your budget. And in the long run, your audiences will much appreciate your mood if you don't expect your publisher, big or small, to be doing it all for you. Yes, some publishers have large marketing budgets to throw at your campaign. Some might even have the money to buy bookstore real estate—that's when a book is displayed as a feature title at the end of a shelf or at some front tables.
For those just tuning in, we got someone off Craigslist.org to paint a twenty-year-old Isuzu bright pink for the Sand in My Bra tour last year. We were collecting bras for the backseat, but sadly it never made it past the events in California. To keep the spirit, we slapped some signs on a rental that said "The funniest book this year!" and flapped our way across the country with brassieres in the back window and draped on all seats
James and Larry are great people and good friends. I met them a year after I graduated college from USC. I spent the winter in Lake Tahoe and wanted to move to San Francisco. Out of money, the only way I was able to do that was to take a job as a nanny in Marin. When I got hired, the dad in the family said, "You just graduated from USC, obviously you don't want to be a nanny for the rest of your life. What would you really like to be doing?" I told him I wanted to get into travel writing and he replied, "Wow, my college roommates just started a travel book publishing company." Small world.
As for what I've learned…I don't know where to begin. I can tell you that the best writers immerse themselves in language. Both writing—and almost more importantly—reading. Travel writing and editing is not rocket science, but to improve, you've got to do it all the time. And years later, I can tell when someone is going places with their writing. The obvious sign is that they're obsessed. They don't stop.
One of the main reasons I started Written Road was to give people a way to turn their travel writing dreams into reality. So, my favorite stories about contributors come from the ones who are making their first start. Deanna Sukkar, for example, was working in Wide World Books and Maps when I came in to do an event for Sand in My Bra.
Another first timer story that cracks me up is about Elizabeth Asdorian. Elizabeth had never read at an author event before, let alone had her travel writing published. I invited her to read at Get Lost Travel in San Francisco, and she said yes, despite being nervous. She had the best read of the night and the audience was roaring. After she finished it was my turn. "Oh great, I laughed. How am I supposed to follow that!"
The word is out that there may be a third book coming. What will be its focus?
When I left to go on tour for Whose Panties Are These? we were not yet talking about the third book. It was safe to assume that if Panties did anywhere near as well as Sand had, we'd do a third. But it was too soon to tell. Then, a funny thing happened. I couldn't go anywhere without someone asking me what the third book was going to be called. I started to tell them that if we did a third we would probably depart from the underwear theme. Heck, we'd done top and bottom, hadn't we covered it? Apparently not. The fans wanted another book and they wouldn't settle for anything less than more undies. "You haven't done them all, " one Seattle woman said. A variety of women heartily agreed.
So, I opened up a call for lingerie titles on Written Road. It didn't take long till we received a winner. Within a few weeks of returning from the tour, James told me he wanted to get to the third book sooner rather than later. It'll be called The Thong Also Rises. The focus will be similar, and I love the way you penned it, Ms-Adventures! I'm fast at work on it right now so we can get it out on bookstore shelves by next summer. The deadline for submissions is January 15. I'll do my best to make sure these stories are just as outrageous, if not more so, than the last two books.
Jen Leo's work has also been included in the Traveler's Tales anthologies "Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I Know why", "A Woman's Passion for Travel,"
Lonely Planet's Best of Las Vegas, and World Food Guide to Hong Kong, and Time Magazine.
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