My Marketing Revelation

November 18, 2013

Cover image from Sarah Pepper’s newest release.

Last week, I went to a community ed class about how to market your book put on by Sarah J. Pepper, a local author who has achieved success through both traditional and self publishing. I always wonder when I show up at these things whether I’ll learn anything new, and I always walk away from them glad that I went. Along with some potential freelance contacts, great handouts, and frantically jotted notes, I also came away with this revelation:

To really market, I need to stop writing.

Not forever (God no!) but long enough to not be distracted. Long enough to let my writing energy rest and build up. Long enough to really commit myself to marketing, and long enough to possibly see results.

This came when Sarah admitted that her husband told her she “can’t start” writing a new book until after her soon-to-be-released Death of the Mad Hatter is released. So all that writing energy goes toward … promoting the upcoming book.

I’ve never been good at marketing because I always try to squeeze it in on the fringes of my writing work (which I try to squeeze in on the fringes of my paid work). And since I don’t like marketing, it’s easy for it to fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list. It’s not so much that I don’t like talking about my work — like most writers, I enjoy that very much. But I don’t like feeling like I’m “bugging” people. And as an introvert who doesn’t really like to be “sold to,” I project that onto anyone I might try to sell myself to, and I sort of crumple up inside. And I retreat to writing. True, there could be worse ways to avoid a dreaded task. But I really, really, really need to give this self-promotion thing a try if I want to keep striving to make writing central in my life. And I do.

Now the decision point comes — I know that my focus needs to be on my Dark Crystal submission until I send it off, hopefully in early December. After that, my initial plan was to return to work on my Rapunzel novel and work on preparing my Rumpled ebook for distribution. But it may not be wise to pursue both at once, as I’m likely to hide from the ebook within Rapunzel. Still, I’m thinking a good strategy might be to complete my second draft of Rapunzel, then set it aside to work on Rumpled. I’ll probably have some fresh insight when I return to my Rapunzel draft afterwards. Now the real question is whether I can accomplish all this before next November, which is supposed to be my “on” year for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned!


Are You a Success? By Whose Standards?

November 4, 2013

I’m still a little bleary-eyed and disjointed from odd train schedules and driving throughout the night — I just got back from the annual Call To Action conference, where I came up with ideas for at least two blog posts for Young Adult Catholics, so overall, I think it was a fruitful trip. Between audiobooks on the drive and traditional books on the train (not to mention a 7-hour wait at the station), I also finished three books–one of my favorite parts about traveling–including APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, which I’ll review here by next week.

Source: Flickr: Jim Henson’s Fantastic World

On the drive home this morning, I was listening to the new biography on Jim Henson. I’m always a bit nervous when I pick up biographies of creative geniuses, afraid that I’ll feel woefully inadequate by the time I’m done. I thought that would be the case with this one; Jim was already well on his way to the legacy that would become The Muppets by the time that he was in college. But as I follow the story more deeply, I realize that success to the rest of the world and success to Jim weren’t necessarily the same thing. Jim’s characters are recognized and beloved around the world, yet he spent years trying to break beyond being “a puppet guy”–even before he worked on Sesame Street, launched The Muppet Show, or created any of his feature-length films. He wanted to expand into doing “arty” films, including experimental videography, live action, and ambiguous messaging. He only attained moderate success in that arena, with many of the projects he wrote and devoted himself to during this time failing to find an audience. Those that did find an audience met with mixed reviews, and have faded into obscurity today.

It reminded me of the article I found most intriguing in Write Good or Die, “Success” by Kristine Kathryn Rush. In it, she talked about how many writers who are outwardly successful didn’t consider themselves successes because they hadn’t achieved what they really wanted to do. I can relate to this. I used to think being published in something besides a student journal would designate me “successful.” When I hit that milestone at age 21, I wanted to have something published in a book, then write for a wider audience, then publish fiction. Around this time last year, I even ended up with my name on the cover of a book (although I didn’t write it), and I felt as though I were a “real” writer for about a week.

There are other external measures of success, too. While I’ve never made a ton of money, I’ve been privileged to find work I enjoy ever since college, not to mention work that is in my field. My current combination of working part-time as an employee for a news organization and freelancing to round out my time and my income is my “sweet spot” as far as work-life balance is concerned. By my own standards, I consider myself pretty lucky. I know others who are as smart, talented, and educated as I am who have not been so lucky in their work lives, and I remind myself often that I’ve got nothing to complaint about.

Except. I don’t really consider myself a success. My dream of publishing a novel, which I’ve cherished since I was about 10, is still out of reach. And it’s hard to feel successful after spending over half my life writing books and still feeling like I don’t have the right answer to the question, “Have you been published?” or “What have you written?” I feel that the answer to what I’ve published and what I’ve written are not really the same, although there’s the tiniest bit of overlap.

I believe that writing is its own reward; in fact, it’s so rewarding that I have a lot of trouble getting myself to devote as much time to submitting my work as I devote to writing it. The E in APE totally freaks me out. But I know that if I go through life without publishing a novel, I will feel like I’ve failed at my own measure of success, regardless of what else I might accomplish. And if I do publish one? I have a feeling I’ll be plagued by wishes that more people had read it, that it got better reviews, that it sold more copies.

This all might seem like a rather discouraging thread, but its effect on me is the opposite. It helps me keep things in perspective. Even Jim Henson received three years’ worth of rejections on a project he loved that never did get produced. I hope that at the end of his too-short life, he was able to appreciate everything he had done, and not dwell too much on what he hadn’t. I hope I’ll be able to as well.

Because ultimately, the next dream will always be out of reach. That’s the definition of dreaming. And maybe that’s why so many people who were “success stories” by the world’s standards felt like they fell short of their own. And maybe that’s not as depressing as it seems.

It’s Here: The Nov/Dec Issue of Verily Magazine

October 21, 2013

I’ve been waiting to write this post for a long time. The November/December issue of Verily Magazine is finally for sale, and it features my article, “Natural Wonder: Understand Your Cycle to Regain Your Sanity and Appreciate Your Body,” on page 87. In case the title doesn’t make it clear (and I think it does), the article is about the Fertility Awareness Method, focusing on the non-reproductive benefits, and how understanding it can give women tons of insight about their bodies.

I’m thrilled about the article, and I’m also thrilled that Verily Magazine exists. Its tagline is: “Less of Who You Should Be: More of Who You Are.” While not as overtly feminist as magazines like Bust or Bitch, what it adds to the genre of women’s magazines is distinctly refreshing. The Nov/Dec issue includes articles about female bullying, an examination of dating “rules,” the effects of pornography on women, men, and relationships, and the prevalence of rape as a tactic of war. There’s some great advice about keeping your sanity in the sometimes-insane holiday season. It has some fashion spreads and tips, too — which feature real women instead of models. There are no ads and no airbrushing.

Its target audience is women ages 18-35, which is probably why so much of it resonated with me. It reminds me of the “grown-up” version of New Moon Girls, a magazine and web community for girls ages 8-14, which I’ve worked on in various capacities for 11 years. New Moon Girls is also ad- and airbrush free, featuring girls as they are and not as the world tells them they “should be.” Both publications would make great gifts for the girls and the women in your life this holiday season.

Unruly Catholic Women Writers are Here!

October 1, 2013

A book of women’s reflections on Catholicism that I contributed to is now available for sale through SUNY Press and Amazon.  Don’t let the hardcover price alarm you — it’s available in paperback and ebook formats, too! You can download the flyer with more information here.

Fantasy … Less Worthy of Publication?

August 5, 2013

Through my library work, I have access to Penguin’s “First Flights” program, which features interviews with first-time authors. A little over a week ago, I was listening to the interview with Derek Sherman, author of Race Across the Sky.

During these chats, the interviewer almost always asks the author about his experience of getting his first book published. (Most of these authors explain the process as “unexpectedly easy,” which is rather depressing to a passionate, unpublished author! Does this have anything to do with the fact that these are the books the publisher has chosen to promote? Was publication “easy” because what they wrote “happened” to be just the sort of thing that publisher was looking for and wanting to publish? At any rate, I hope this isn’t a truly “representative sample.”)

Beware the dragons’ wrath!

When the interviewer asked Derek Sherman this question, he mentioned how Googling “I’ve just written a novel, what next?” brings up a lot of blogs from disgruntled authors complaining about how it’s impossible to get anything published unless you’re already famous. Then he added, “Then you find out they’re all writing novels about dwarves, and dragons …”

As a writer of fantasy, I wasn’t sure exactly how to take this comment. As he contrasted the “ease” with which he was published against these “disgruntled” authors, was he saying that the reason such authors weren’t getting published is because they’re writing fantasy? Is this a genre that is somehow less worthy of publication, or new talent? My husband suggested the most positive take on this comment, which was that perhaps he was saying that particular field was already so “flooded” that it was hard for new folks to break in. But I don’t think so — despite breakout successes like Harry Potter and classics like Lord of the Rings, I still think that fantasy and sci-fi remains a very niche genre. At least, through my work in libraries over the past several years, I’ve noticed that few library workers read sci-fi/fantasy (among a sub-population who are very big readers), and the sci-fi and fantasy aisles are decidedly smaller than the “mysteries” or “general fiction.”

I’m curious about other potential interpretations of this comment. Is writing about “dwarves and dragons” a justifiable roadblock in and of itself to publication? I don’t think so, and it rankles me that any author would summarily dismiss unpublished authors in another genre, while he basks on his pedestal of publication.

As for me, I’ll keep writing about dwarfs and dragons, and reading about them, too. And I’m going to pass on Race Across the Sky.

On Giving Away Books for Free

July 1, 2013

Last week, I read this fascinating article from Curiosity Quills Press about giving away books for free. The author’s strategy is to offer her books for free for the first 12 months of their release. Her reasons for doing so, including much higher reading rates and establishing a fan base for later books, are pretty compelling.

As I plan to release my first self-published ebook, the article gave me a lot of food for thought. I plan to go with Kindle Direct publishing, which means that I can only offer the book for free via Amazon for a limited amount of time. However, I plan to price it very low after that — around 99 cents — for several reasons.

  1. The book isn’t very long — about 26,500 words. Small book, small pricetag.
  2. The price is low enough for people to take a chance on it, or make impulse purchases.
  3. It’s still more than the book is earning sitting on my hard drive.

My decision to self-publish as an ebook is actually tied quite strongly to the book’s “inbetween” length — too long for short story markets, too short for novel markets, but “just right” for an ebook. Add to that some questionable practices amongst ebook imprints even with the big-name publishers, and going solo just seems to make the most sense.

And I think I might try Lizzy Ford’s strategy of getting the book into as many people’s hands for free as possible. Back when I wrote Aladdin and Gargoyles fan-fiction, I didn’t know a thing about marketing my work — all I did was write it, and push it out there for the world to see. My fan-fiction won me a lot of fans and admirers, including other authors who wanted to write fan-fic that included characters I introduced. I spent hours writing the stories and posting them, all completely for free. But the reward of being read was thanks enough. And, of course, the reward of creatively expressing myself.

At my heart, I’m still a writer who longs to share my stories. The main reason I’d like to earn money with my writing is so I could spend more time doing it, and less time doing other things to earn money. But a wider readership, even without a price tag attached, is still more than I can accomplish by keeping my stories in my own head and in my own house.

On Letting Your Writing Leave the House

January 21, 2013

Back in 2007, I made a decision that is continuing to pay dividends. I decided to let my writing leave the house.

For years I’d been journaling and writing novels and had even submitted a couple times. I’d sent a few letters to the editor and had begun to feel both that it was part of my calling to start writing for social justice, and that it was important to my development as a writer to start writing for a real audience. So, a little worried about what I might find to say twice a month, I volunteered to become a writer for the Young Adult Catholics blog.

I’ve already written about how my involvement with the blog led to the book deal for Hungering and Thirsting for Justice. It also led to me writing an article for Dignity USA about being bisexual and Catholic. And that’s what led Marie from the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing to me.

A few weeks ago, Marie was referred to me via Dignity USA to discuss her work on creating resources for religious institutions that specifically addressed the needs of ministering to bisexual persons. She wondered whether I knew of resources or of out bisexual clergy who would be willing to serve on the project’s board. I told her that I, unfortunately, didn’t know of any clergy that fit the bill and that I felt my plate was too full to serve on a board right now even if I did fit the description. I did pass some resources along and asked that she keep me in the loop as the project developed.

Last week, she contacted me again because she said my name continued to come up in regards to the intersection of a bisexual and Catholic identity. She wanted to talk to me about a way I could be involved that was “time-limited.” We set up a phone call. I expected her to ask me to share my experiences, perhaps to use as pull quotes in the guide, or to write something, both of which I was totally willing to do. But I didn’t expect her to offer to fly me to New York City so I could attend a one-day meeting with other people of faith to create a theological statement that will be the basis of the faith and bisexuality work they continue to do.

But that’s what happened. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

When she told me that I kept coming so “highly recommended,” I joked that I was probably just the only out bisexual Catholic in the world. She chuckled and said that might be true. But I know it’s not just that. I know I’m not the only one.

But I might be the only one who is writing about it. And by writing about it, I say to the world, I exist. And what’s more, others like me probably exist, too. And by telling people that I exist, I make myself vulnerable, and in some ways I’ve paid the price for that. But it’s also allowed people to find me who care deeply about the same things that I care about. And by finding each other, we can hopefully make the world better for others.

When I put the phone down, I kept marveling at how none of this would have happened if I’d kept my writing and my thoughts to myself. How none of this would have happened if I’d refused to write “for free.” More than ever, I believe that true writers must love writing enough to write for free, whether it’s in a journal or a novel that nobody sees or a blog that thousands of people see. That writing will pay dividends — whether in benefits to mental health, your checkbook — or even in helping to create the world you want to live in.