Adventures in Book Promotion and Genuine Connection

October 22, 2012

Last weekend, I went down to Illinois for my cousin’s wedding. My grandfather was with us, and he was very concerned about whether my cousin was marrying another Catholic. After he asked some nosy questions and was assured that the couple were both Catholic, he relaxed — even after I expressed my confusion about the fact that the ceremony would be an outdoor wedding — which the Catholic Church usually won’t officially bless.

At the reception, my parents and I found ourselves assigned to the same table as Rev. Cronan, the priest who had performed the ceremony. My mom, who is one of the most talkative introverts I know, immediately struck up a conversation with him. He explained that, although he was ordained a Catholic priest, he now belongs to a “reform” Church group, where he ministers to people in the Catholic tradition, even though he resigned as a Catholic priest due to disagreements with some official Church teachings.

Seated at the other end of the table, I could only catch this conversation in bits and pieces, but I could hear enough to know that this was a priest after my own heart — one who loved his church too much to stand by when it doesn’t live up to its own teachings.

I leaned over and whispered to my dad, “Mom should be plugging my book!”

He said, “You should be plugging your book.”

But an introvert who is still squeamish about all this promotion stuff is not a good candidate to plug a book from across the long-end of a table, or even to get up and interrupt a fruitful conversation. So instead, my dad offered to switch spots with me, so that I could more organically become part of the conversation (it helped that I had already caught my mom make several references to “my daughter,” who I assumed was me, since her other two daughters are not explicitly involved in Catholic issues).

From my new seat, I was able to enter into a fascinating conversation about Church justice work, and introduce Hungering and Thirsting for Justice quite organically. From that, I learned that Rev. Cronan had also done some work in Catholic publishing, and that he had written a prayer devotional book for a publisher that was run by “official” church leadership. In the midst of that experience, he was told not to use the word “justice” anywhere within the course of the book.

Writing reflections on the Bible, the Gospels, and Jesus’s message to us … but without ever once using the word “justice,” which, apparently, is just too controversial. (A similar thread came up in Kate’s and my interview with Daniel Horan.) It made me realize again how lucky we were to work with ACTA Publications, who not only plastered the word “justice” on the cover, but who let us use words like, “women’s ordination” and “reproductive rights” and “feminist” — without deprecating any of those things. I suggested that, if he ever wanted to try his hand at spiritual writing again, and maybe even use the word justice, he might check out ACTA as well.

In the end, I gave him the copy of the book I’d brought to show some family members. He accepted graciously, and even told me that it will be helpful for him in a project he’s about to undertake working with young adults who are interested in joining the Catholic Church. I was glad I got the opportunity to share about the book, but even more, I was inspired to meet someone else who cares deeply about the same issues that I do. I was reminded again that this is ultimately why I write, and why publication is important. My priority isn’t selling books (which probably means I’ll always have a “day job”), but in forging these connections, in bridging these gaps between one soul and another, and another, and more of whom I may never meet.

When I received my box of five contributor copies at the end of September, I wondered what the best home might be for them. I kept one, gave one to my family, plan to send one to my old parish in Duluth, and gave one to Reverand Cronan. That leaves one more, which I originally meant to give away on Goodreads. Now I’m not so sure. I might wait for the right connection to come up instead.


Two Podcasts about the Book

October 15, 2012

Last week, the Dating God podcast featured my co-editor Kate Ward and I discussing Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. You can listen to or download the podcast here. Doing the interview was a great experience — I did it holed away in a study room at the Marshall-Lyon County library while Kate did it in person with Daniel Horan in Boston. The wonders of technology! (As an aside, I’m excited to have learned about this blog, so that I can download a bunch of the fantastic podcasts to listen to while I walk my dog.)

Kate Ward also appeared on her husband’s radio talk show last week, which you can listen to here. (Kate’s interview begins about 42 minutes in, and she does a great job of pulling out many of the themes and stories in the book.)

Learning on the Job: Book Promotion

August 20, 2012

With our book Hungering and Thirsting for Justice due for release next month, my co-editor and I recently received some distressing news. The booksellers that usually carry presenters’ books at the national November Call to Action conference will not be setting up a table in the exhibition hall this year. That means that our book won’t be available for sale throughout the duration of the conference, but only during times that we’re able to personally staff a table that will also be used by other presenters (which means that, even if we have the capacity to staff it throughout the conference, it would be unfair for us to dominate space others also need for selling their books.)

We’ll be having a conversation with the publisher soon to determine the best way to get the word out about the books and to sell the books without an official bookseller present. We’re talking about making buttons and business cards so that we can promote it throughout the conference even if the book itself can’t be on display the whole time. While I was initially a little devastated by the news, now I’m seeing that it will be a good opportunity for me.

You can hardly read anything about the writing industry these days that doesn’t stress the importance of self-promotion. The idea always makes me curl up a little bit inside. But I’m a writer, I want to protest, not a marketer!

Except that, nowadays, to be one, you need to learn to be both. And this is a good place to start for several reasons:

  1. Since the book is an anthology, in addition to my wonderful co-editor, I also have ten talented writers who care about seeing this book succeed, and who will all have their own ideas and contacts;
  2. We’ll be at the largest national gathering of progressive Catholics in the U.S. Most of our writers would identify themselves as progressive Catholics, and most of the stories in the book speak to that experience. In other words, we’ll be blessed with a particularly receptive audience;
  3. The CTA community has fostered the co-editor, most of the writers, and me as we seek spiritual homes. Bringing this book back to that community feels like a tangible opportunity to say, “Thank you.” So not only will the community have an interest in it, but something of a personal investment as well.

Part of my squeamishness with self-promotion has to do with the fact that I don’t like to be sold to. I’m the type who won’t enter a store if it’s fairly empty, even if the contents greatly entice me, because I don’t want to be the focus of the sellers’ attention. Although I like independently owned, community-supported shops, I also appreciate the anonymity of big-box sellers. I often receive the highest possible I score on introvert-extrovert continuum tests.

But I’m continuously reminded that not everyone is like me. In fact, very few people are (only 4% of the population has the same Myers-Briggs profile as I do, for example). A lot of people like to be approached and helped while they’re shopping; many people appreciate learning more about something that is in line with their interests, and interacting directly with the creators of a product. I have to bear this in mind, and not carry around guilt that I’m “bothering” people when I set out to share news about something that is important to me.

This book is important to me — and no matter what happens, it has that in its favor. I’d love to hear comments from more veteran writers and self-promoters on the most graceful way to do this, as well as feedback from others about how they feel about being approached regarding something that may be of interest to them.