The Indie Mayor
Ray Nagin tells—and self-publishes—his own story
July 11, 2011
By Diane Patrick
Nagin said that his main reason for self-publishing the book was to maintain control over "his voice" as well as control over the stories he wanted to tell.Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is the latest prominent figure to choose to self-publish a book. Released on June 22, Nagin's book, Katrina's Secrets: Storms After the Storm, covers "the intense crisis period right before the hurricane and then 30 days after," the author told PW.
In pre-publication appearances on national TV talk shows such as The Daily Show and the Today show, Nagin said that his main reason for self-publishing the book was to maintain control over "his voice" as well as control over the stories he wanted to tell.
When Nagin left office in May 2010, he wasn't thinking about writing a book at all, he said. But as he worked to put together a personal library about his two terms as mayor (he was ineligible to run for a third) and, after rereading some of the accounts, he realized he needed to tell his side of the story. "I pitched [the book] to some agents—pretty big ones in New York and Los Angeles—but they had different ideas than I had about how it should be done. Some tried to coach me on what I should say and how it should be said. Others said I needed to tone some things down and embellish certain other things. Maybe I'm a control freak, but the big thing was maintaining my voice." After reading about Amazon's digital publishing program, Nagin said, "the information about the numbers and the volume and the royalties started to get my attention." Nagin said he spoke to people at CreateSpace, learned more about the process and was impressed.
Katrina's Secrets took about a year to write, Nagin said, and the project involved collaborating with an editor and a fact-checker, and using the CreateSpace package of editing services. Nagin added that he was especially excited about the digital possibilities for the book and its availability across all platforms. Talking to PW on the book's June 22 launch date, Nagin said, "We're already getting feedback from our aggregator that the book is starting to make some noise. Since it launched, we are the third book featured in the Apple iBookstore, I am told, and it's risen to #11 on downloads." Nagin laughed and said, "I don't know what that means, but we're pretty excited about it!" That day, Katrina's Secrets was featured on the iBookstore's New and Notable page.
As for the content, Nagin emphasized that he has "a very unique perspective on that whole Katrina experience—a front-row seat at the events before, during, and after. Mine was the ultimate insider's point of view." Nagin noted that he had interacted with officials on every level—from the military to law enforcement to Congress—during the disaster. "I ended up being the last person standing because Governor Blanco and President Bush were no longer in office," Nagin said, in the long aftermath of the hurricane, which struck in August 2005.
Asked to provide a sample of "Katrina's secrets" from the book, Nagin pointed to what he called "the chaos, what was really happening at the Super Dome—and I highlight some of the heroes and sheroes in the Coast Guard, the military, and some key people in local government." Nagin said the book also outlines "what it took to restore a city that was 80% devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in history. How you stabilize it, how you clear up the debris and the mess, how you repopulate it, how you involve your citizens in the planning process, and how you get the money to rebuild.
"I want people to learn from our experience," he continued, "because we haven't fundamentally changed any laws or agencies since Katrina." Nagin added, "It's good to see the city on the verge of revitalization: $20 billion in construction activity, a totally revamped public education system, we are in a huge revitalization period."
The one-time mayor is currently promoting Katrina's Secrets on a multicity tour that he said will include stops in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Memphis—places he calls "the diaspora cities, where the evacuees went." Nagin said that for his appearances, he's printed 1,000 copies of the book to have on hand.
Nagin is already planning to write another book. "There is a second book in the works that will cover the period from crisis to recovery. Now, I'll have a [publishing] track record, so my hope is that some big publishing house will look at this and see some potential. After all, this is only half the story."