Category — On Publishing
This is an excerpt of L.J. Sellers’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about self-publishing and her path to an Amazon book deal. For more book promo information, and to read L.J.’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series as well as standalone thrillers. A Readers’ Favorite winner, L.J.’s novels have been praised by Publishers Weekly, Mystery Scene, and Suspense Magazine, and her Jackson books are the highest- rated crime fiction series on Amazon.
Q: Tell us about how your first book came into the world, and how this led you onto the path of being (and remaining) an independent author.
A: I self-published my first Detective Jackson novel in 2007 after receiving rave rejections from major publishers. That was before the Kindle was released and print-on-demand publishing became available to individuals, so I spent a small fortune on a print run of 3,500 mass-market paperbacks. Then I worked like a madwoman to find a distributor and reach out to bookstores. I got lucky, and the novel was well received and reviewed. So I wrote two more books in the series, which were picked up and published by a small press. I spent ten times as much money promoting the books as I made in royalties. Despite the wonderful reviews from readers, I strongly considered giving up the series and even wondered if I should continue writing fiction. Then I was laid off my newspaper job, and the year 2010 looked very bleak for me.
But during those years, e-books had emerged as a growing market, and POD became a viable option for print books. So I started looking at my options and decided to upload my unpublished stand-alone thrillers to Kindle to see if I could generate some income. I quickly realized I needed to leave my publisher, get the rights back to my Jackson series, and self-publish every story I had—both as an e-book and as a POD print offering. Which I spent a good chunk of the year doing. After I uploaded the fourth Jackson novel in late October, I turned down freelance work for nearly a month and spent eight hours a day promoting my novels. I wrote blogs and articles, posted in forums, bought a few newsletter ads, and gave away hundreds of e-books on Goodreads and LibraryThing.
The results were astounding. By the end of the year, my series was a Kindle bestseller, and I was making a living selling e-books. Since then I’ve published another five books, and I’m living my dream of being a full-time novelist. But that term is a little misleading. Because I was self-published with ten books on the market, I spent as much time running my business as I did writing the next novel.
But all that has changed. Last year I signed an eleven-book contract with Amazon Publishing—nine backlist titles and two new novels. For the record, it’s the only publisher I even considered selling to. Amazon’s contracts are writer-friendly and generous compared to other publishers. And now that the new versions are on the market, Amazon is heavily promoting them, and my sales have doubled. I’m finally free to write full- time. My lifelong dream.
Q: What has been your biggest marketing challenge?
A: The biggest challenge in marketing is to keep finding new opportunities. Because what worked in 2010 quit working in 2011 when every other author started doing the same thing. And what worked six months ago is no longer as effective now. The market is constantly changing, and the competition is fierce. So I continuously have to find and try new marketing ideas, and it’s time consuming.
Q: What advice do you have to offer authors who plan to self-publish?
A: The first thing is to have your work evaluated by objective professionals in the industry to determine if it has commercial potential. If your novel is marketable, then you have a green light to make the investment you need to be competitive. At that point, you need to decide what your goals are. Do you simply want to publish your book to see it in print for family and friends? Will fiction be a sideline, or do you want to make a living from it? Determining what you want out of the self- publishing experience will help you decide how much time and money to spend. Because if you want to sell well and earn a living, the next step is to invest real money in editing, cover design, professional formatting, and promotional spots. You also should commit to spending a couple hours a day on promotion—social networking, blogging, posting in forums, and querying book reviewers. If professionals don’t consider your work to be marketable or you don’t have the time and money to invest at an appropriate level, then you may need to accept that writing novels is a hobby and whatever you invest may never be recovered. That may sound harsh, but it’s the reality of a very competitive market.
October 29, 2013 Comments Off
The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, by Dan Millman and Sierra Prasada, is a helpful guide for beginning writers that focuses on five stages of creativity.
Dan Millman, well known for his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, has teamed up with his daughter, journalist Sierra Prasada, for this new book on writing, creativity, and publication. They include their personal journeys as well as tips and guidelines for authors beginning their own journeys.
The first stage, Dream, is about defining one’s story — finding ideas that stick and going from there to defining character, finding plots, considering setting. I especially like the concept of “dreaming in dialogue,” which encourages the writer and his/her alter ego to have a role-play type conversation that helps in discovering characters’ motives, plot twists, etc.
The Draft section is about telling one’s story, from beginning to end, and this section covers topics from using the senses to doing research. In the Develop section, the authors raise the question of hard work versus talent, revision (and reinvention), and the importance of never giving up.
The Refine stage covers sentence-level editing, from trimming to punctuation, and the Share section addresses how to publish and market your work, as well as how to handle rejection (there are some wonderfully inspiring rejection stories here!). One thing I think will be particularly helpful to new writers is the authors’ notion of Nine Sales — that is, the myriad ways in which all writers must sell their books, from selling it to themselves, to their literary agents, and to their editors, all the way to their sales reps and their readers.
Throughout the book, Millman and Prasada remind us to go back to story whenever we’re stuck — to ask the important questions, such as “What’s the story about?” and “Who’s our audience?” For those writers who are new to workshopping or seeking/giving feedback, the book includes what questions to ask your prospective readers in order to get the most constructive feedback possible.
The Creative Compass features a helpful FAQ index near the beginning of the book, referencing such immediate questions as how to find one’s voice as an author, when to ask for feedback, and how journaling may be useful. Inspiring quotes by authors pepper all pages of the book, and a section at the end devotes five pages to quotations. The Creative Compass is an inspiring guide for anyone just beginning to explore their creative selves through writing, as well as those who are just beginning to get a sense of the stories they want to tell.
October 24, 2013 Comments Off
I was delighted to chat with Pamme Boutselis at The Penmen Review about the joys and challenges of writing, book marketing, being an editor, and more.
A million thanks to Pamme for this Q&A!
And writers: Check out The Penmen Review, which includes not only articles and resources for writers but is an online magazine featuring poetry, fiction, and essays, and more (check out the submission guidelines here).
October 18, 2013 Comments Off
This is an excerpt of Susan Rich’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about book promotion, asking for what you want, and unique ideas for book events. For more book promo information, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, The Cartographer’s Tongue: Poems of the World; Cures Include Travel; The Alchemist’s Kitchen; and the forthcoming Cloud Pharmacy. Her poems have been published in the Antioch Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry International, and The Southern Review, among others, and her fellowships include an Artist Trust Fellowship from Washington State and a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa.
Q: What are the most successful things you’ve done to promote your books?
A: I learned this from a poet friend, and it’s very simple: “Ask for what you want.” Be clear on what makes an event or a project a positive experience for you. When one festival in Vermont invited me to read, I wrote back to say I’d love to come but I needed accommodation for my stay. At first the organizer said that he couldn’t accommodate me, but a few weeks later he came through with rooms offered to the festival by a lovely hotel. Since then I have asked museums to host events for free and hotels to give over their penthouse for a performance. There is no shame associated with asking for what you want—and this works especially well when working with other writers.
Here’s one example. For my book The Alchemist’s Kitchen, I decided that I wanted to set up a national tour. This goal sounded overly grandiose to my ears and to my budget (poets are not sent on tours by their publishers), but it was what I wanted: a new challenge. Over a two-week period, I visited San Diego, Boston, and Miami for events in each place. In each city I had friends to see, so I knew it would be fun no matter what else happened. In each city I read with other writers and made contacts that led to other projects. Going on the road facilitated new contacts and new places to do book promotion—because I asked.
Q: What aspect of book promotion has surprised you the most?
A: I’m always surprised that book promotion is actually fun. I am an introvert at heart—happiest with my own company. The idea of “selling” myself makes me want to run off to another planet. However, after several books I’ve found that when a book comes out, I look for other “new” authors in the same position so we can help each other. The writers I’ve met are overwhelmingly a generous lot. We share creative promotional ideas and our favorite bookstores to read in. This goes a long way toward casting the whole expedition as more of an adventure than a burden. My newest idea, “borrowed” from Colleen Michaels, a poet in Salem, Massachusetts, is to create an “Improbable Places Poetry Tour.” Colleen and her students at Montserrat College stage poetry readings where you least expect to find them: a flower shop, a Laundromat, a store window, and a bank. I’m working on an event right now that takes place in a hotel penthouse.
For those of you in Seattle, Susan will be participating in LitCrawl Seattle on Thursday, October 24, 2013 — she’ll be reading at Poco Wine + Spirits (at 1408 E Pine St.) with Karen Finneyfrock, Rebecca Hoogs, and John Duvernoy.
October 17, 2013 Comments Off
I’m so happy to be a guest blogger on the fabulous website Writers Helping Writers, where you can read an excerpt from Everyday Book Marketing on how to create a great author website. (This excerpt was printed in Author Magazine in September, and I’m grateful that it has the chance to appear again on this wonderful site for writers.
Spend a little time checking out Writers Helping Writers, and you’ll find a wealth of information, from recommended books to online classes to resources for writers. You can also sign up for a free e-newsletter. The site’s founders, Angela and Becca, are both authors who generously share all they know about what it means to be a writer. Enjoy!
October 15, 2013 2 Comments
It’s been a great pleasure to talk about Everyday Book Marketing as well as to hear what poets and writers are finding useful about it…and this week I’m especially grateful to the poets who have embraced and chatted up the book.
A million thanks to Susan Rich for this generous review on her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen (which includes a link where can download a free excerpt of Everyday Book Marketing). And if you already have a copy of the book, don’t miss Susan’s Q&A, which is filled with invaluable advice for all authors.
Thanks, too, to Kelli Russell Agodon, another Q&A contributor with priceless advice, for her review on her blog Book of Kells.
And thanks to Jeannine Hall Gailey for taking the time to chat with me about book marketing, from blogs to reviews to events, on her blog.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to explore these blogs (all great examples, by the way, of how authors can create and maintain successful blogs!) and enjoy what you find there.
October 13, 2013 Comments Off
This is an excerpt of Kim Wright’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about her adventures in publishing, from a Big Five house to self-publishing, from nonfiction to fiction. For more book promo information, and to read Kim’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Kim Wright has been writing about travel, food, and wine for more than twenty-five years and is a two-time recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing. She is the author of Love in Mid Air and the City of Mystery series. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Q: What are the biggest differences between promoting a book published by a big publisher versus promoting a self-published book?
A: At the time that my novel Love in Mid Air came out in 2010, I had a reasonable amount of support from my publicity team at Grand Central. Especially the online publicist, who helped to arrange a blog tour that was quite successful.
But things have changed significantly at the Big Five houses since then. Budgets are shrinking and heads are rolling and any staff left is criminally overworked. What I understand from my friends who’ve more recently gone with a Big Five house is that you just can’t count on getting anything in terms of publicity, especially if you’re a midlist or new writer. That’s one thing that’s always been a bit mystifying about the big houses.
They spend the majority of their promotional efforts on authors who are already established—’cause yeah, Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult really need those ads—and debut writers struggle along on their own.
Of course, the one advantage the Big Five can still give their authors is distribution to bookstores, so if you go with a big house you might have readings, signings, a launch party, etc. There might be efforts made to get you reviewed in newspapers and magazines.
But the key word in both of those sentences is “might” because, once again, these things don’t happen as much as they used to. I don’t know anyone who’s done a book tour during the last two years, no matter how they’ve published.
So … bottom line, there’s not as big a difference as there used to be. Most of the promotional work falls to the writer whether you’ve gone Big Five, small press, or self-pub.
Q: How is marketing fiction different from marketing nonfiction?
A: The biggest difference is that it’s easier to zero in on the target reader and market for nonfiction. For example, each year for thirty years I’ve updated my travel guide for Fodor’s, titled Walt Disney World With Kids. Based on the title alone, it’s not hard to figure out who’s going to buy this book. You’re either going to Disney World or you’re not. You either have kids or you don’t. And a lot of nonfiction is like that. It’s very easy to target a book precisely to its intended market and very easy to build an author platform.
Fiction is trickier. Look at the title of Love in Mid Air— what the heck does that mean? Or the first book in my self-published mystery series, City of Darkness. The titles are evocative but vague. You need explanation before you could guess who would want to buy the book.
So I think fiction requires a little more finesse to market. You have to explain the book in a way that pulls people in and convinces them that even though they don’t need to read this book, they might want to.
To read Kim’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
October 11, 2013 Comments Off
This is an excerpt of Ashland library manager Amy Blossom’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how to approach libraries for events. For more book promo information, and to read Amy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
And save the date! I’ll be doing a book marketing event at the Ashland library on Wednesday, October 9, at 7 p.m. Click here for more info.
Amy Blossom is the manager at the Ashland Branch Library in Ashland, Oregon, and serves on the board of Friends of the Ashland Public Library. She is the host of Open Books, Open Minds, a local television program featuring interviews with authors from the Southern Oregon community and beyond.
Q: What is the best way for a local author to approach his or her local or regional library?
A: A personal approach is much better than a cold e-mail. It’s so easy to dismiss an e-mail, whereas a phone call or even stopping in allows for a personal connection. Then, after an initial conversation, I like to get a follow-up e-mail with all the details.
Also, authors should be sure to have a hook—a way to let us know what the book is about and why it would be of interest. We get a lot of requests, and it helps if your book or presentation has a fascinating angle to it.
If you’re a new, unknown author or a self-published author, show that you are prepared to help bring in your own audience—if no one knows who you are, it’s hard to get people to show up for an event. Joint events or group events have the potential to bring in more attendees, so you may want to team up with someone, not only to be sure you get enough people but also to broaden the exposure you’ll get for your own book.
Q: What are some of the ways in which authors can support their local libraries?
A: Offering an event is in itself a great way to support the library. We also appreciate it when authors donate a copy of their book. Donating a copy along with ordering information, especially for self-published authors, is a wise idea because most libraries like to have local authors in their collections.
Keep in mind that most libraries require that self-published books meet the same criteria as other books; for example, there needs to be a strong local interest, or the book should have received at least two professional media or industry reviews. So it’s a good idea to ask about such requirements when you consider donating a book to your local library.
I recently read a study noting that library users buy more books than any other type of book buyers. People often don’t think of library users as big buyers, but being big readers in general, they are. So even if you may not sell a lot of books at an event, just by being there, you can still gain readers down the road.
October 2, 2013 Comments Off
This is an excerpt of photographer and essayist Rosanne Olson’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about author photos. For more book promo information, and to read Rosanne’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Rosanne Olson began her career as a photojournalist after receiving her master’s degree in journalism. Since starting Rosanne Olson Photography, she has photographed portraits as well as advertising campaigns for the New York City Ballet, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, and Children’s Hospital. Her award-winning work has been featured in Communication Arts and More magazine, among others, and she is the author of the book This is Who I Am.
Q: What do you think makes a good author photo?
A: The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos? Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.
September 26, 2013 Comments Off
I’m thankful to Vickie Aldous at Ashland Daily Tidings for her wonderful column on Everyday Book Marketing — check it out for info about the book, as well as insights from L.J. Sellers, Jenna Blum, and Zoe Ghahremani.
September 24, 2013 Comments Off
This is an excerpt of author Wendy Call’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about creating a budget, doing a book tour, and how to put yourself out there as an author. For more book promo information, and to read Wendy’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Wendy Call is a writer, editor, translator, and teacher of creative writing. Her narrative nonfiction book, No Word for Welcome, won Grub Street’s 2011 National Book Prize for Nonfiction and the 2012 International Book Award for Best History/Political Book. She is co-editor, with Mark Kramer, of Telling True Stories, and her nonfiction, translations (from Spanish) of poetry and fiction, and photography have appeared in more than fifty magazines and literary journals.
Q: Tell us about how your book came into the world.
A: My book began as a series of twenty essays and narrative nonfiction pieces that I wrote while living and working in southern Mexico. I had received a two-year fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs, and they published my writing. I returned to the U.S. in the summer of 2002 and began to put together a book proposal, to seek an agent, and to learn the deep difference between a collection of five-thousand-word narratives and a single ninety-thousand-word book—as well as the difference between writing a book and publishing a book.
On the publishing side: I approached nearly fifty agents before I found two—in the same month, after nearly five years of sending queries—who were interested in representing my book. I chose the agent who had more experience selling narrative nonfiction. She circulated the proposal (and later, the full manuscript) for about a year, and was on the verge of giving up when the University of Nebraska Press tentatively offered me a contract. The contract, contingent on a significant revision, included no advance. Because of the peer review process (common at university presses), a year elapsed between my agent sending UNP the proposal and the press sending me a contract.
Q: What aspect of book promotion surprised you the most?
A: As naïve as it sounds, the sheer quantity of work shocked me. I began working on promotion part-time six months before my publication date, and full-time about three months in advance, and that was not soon enough. Other than my hometown Elliott Bay Book Company, the first six bookstores I approached turned me down. Even those “No, thanks…” replies came only after many, many hours of figuring out whom to contact, crafting personal query letters, sending review copies, seeking a local co-sponsor, answering detailed questions, or trying (over and over) to get the right person on the phone.
Q: What advice do you have to offer new authors?
A: This is no time to be shy. Nor humble. Put yourself out there; push yourself a bit past your comfort zone. When this seems impossible, ask an extroverted friend to coach you. (I have a quote from Sandra Cisneros—who is deeply generous as well as brilliant—on the cover of No Word for Welcome only because a fearless friend talked me through composing the e-mail to her and then pressing “send.”)
Make sure to let everyone you have ever met, and have an e-mail address for, know about your new book. I found that I couldn’t predict with any accuracy which friends and colleagues would be interested in No Word for Welcome and happy to lend a hand in its promotion.
Devote as much time and money as you can possibly afford— but only what you can afford—to promotion. Set priorities, but try a variety of strategies. For example, I devoted $500 of my budget to submitting my book for awards. My publisher offered book copies for six award submissions. I wanted to submit to a dozen different awards, so I bought the book copies for the other six awards, and I paid all the submission fees. It seemed like a strange way to spend five hundred bucks, but it was worth it. I won two awards, bringing a bit of renewed media attention to No Word for Welcome nearly a year after its publication date. (One award came with a $1,000 check, so you might say I doubled my investment.) Even if I’d not won either award, the submission process put my book in front of movers and shakers in the literary world.
September 17, 2013 1 Comment
This is an excerpt of Jackie Bouchard’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about e-book publishing and promotion. For more book promo information, and to read Jackie’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Jackie Bouchard is the author of What the Dog Ate, first published as an e-book and later in paperback, and the forthcoming novel Rescue Me, Maybe. Jackie has lived in Bermuda, Canada, and the east coast of the U.S. and now lives in San Diego with her husband and her rescue pup, Rita. Her work has been published in San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Writers Ink anthology, A Year in Ink, Vol. 3. Visit her online at www.jackiebouchard.com.
Q: What made you decide to publish in e-book format?
A: Way back in the spring of 2008 when my manuscript was “finished” (I say that in quotes because I was too much of a writing/publishing virgin at the time to realize how much work it still needed), I sent it off to an agent I really liked whom I’d met at a writing conference the previous year. I’d read a key scene in a session she led, and she’d invited me to submit it to her when it was done. She rejected it, but sent me some great suggestions. So I worked hard, sent it back to her in the fall of 2008, and she signed me! Oh, what exciting times … and then, the market crashed. By the time we finished putting the final tweaks on the manuscript, we were pitching it in early 2009. Not great timing in any industry, let alone publishing. Even though I got good rejections, they were still rejections. I tried to put the book out of my head and get on with the next one. Then, in January of 2012, I had dinner with my agent, and she encouraged me to self-publish it. Another author she represented had self-published his first book, so with his guidance I was on my way to formatting and self-publishing my first e-book.
Q: What aspect of book promotion has surprised you the most?
A: The aspect that surprised me the most is that it really can be as simple as making new connections. I’m not a good salesperson, especially when it comes to selling myself. I thought I would really hate this whole marketing/promo part of the writing “biz.” Sometimes I do start to get down about the business side of writing, but then I remember to just try to get out there and connect with people—other writers, other book lovers, and other dog lovers. If I approach it with that mindset, it makes me feel that it’s something I can accomplish, and actually enjoy doing.
September 12, 2013 2 Comments
Authors: If you don’t already have a copy of Everyday Book Marketing, win a copy from this Goodreads giveaway!
September 6, 2013 Comments Off
Today I’m very happy to post my Q&A with Tom Lombardo, a poet, essayist, and freelance medical writer who lives in Midtown Atlanta. Tom’s poems have appeared in journals in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and India (translated to Hindi and Mayalayam), including Southern Poetry Review, Ambit, Subtropics, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature, Atlanta Review, New York Quarterly, and many others. He is also editor of the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life Shattering Events, and he runs the Poetry of Recovery blog.
Tom’s new book, What Bends Us Blue, has been praised as “remarkable” (Thomas Lux) and “exquisite” (Cathy Smith Bowers). Clifford Garstang recently reviewed the book on his blog, calling it “a lovely collection of poems…both sad and hopeful…and there’s also a great deal of humor.”
Q: Congratulations on your new poetry collection, What Bends Us Blue, whose title I immediately fell in love with. Can you tell the story behind it?
A: Thank you, Midge. In music, especially in blues and jazz, notes may be bent upward or downward, on guitars or other stringed instruments or on harmonicas, saxophones, clarinets, and other reed instruments. It’s a way of taking the note up or down a half-step or more without changing the string or the holes. The musician will bend the string with a finger or bend the reed with the embouchure of the mouth and the speed of exhale or inhale. This technique was popularized by the Mississippi blues men of the early 20th century, so it is associated with blues, but it has crossed over into jazz and other genres. So…what bends us blue, literally, is bending a note to achieve a bluesy sound. What bends us blue, figuratively, is what What Bends Us Blue is about.
In 1992, at a table in a two-room flat in Prague, I wrote the first poem that became part of What Bends Us Blue. It was seven years after the death of my first wife, Lana, in a car accident. The poem was about her death, and some of it was in her voice. It was an awful poem, much worse than a rough draft, but that poem, scores of drafts later, entitled “Elegy on a Visitation,” has been published in a journal, is in What Bends Us Blue.
Over the next several years, I wrote a few more poems, some of them about Lana and her death and my recovery, some not. Then, a creative burst between 2001 and 2011 when I wrote hundreds of poems, many of which appear in What Bends Us Blue. The collection centers emotionally on loss and recovery, but it also looks at What Comes Next. As I was a young widower, the course of my life changed dramatically. It’s not unlike experiencing a divorce, I would imagine. You think you’re going in one direction, then Bam!, you’re not, and you’re lost for a while. When your life is shattered by an event, you come to a point like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” You face a choice. A new direction. You can sit at that fork your entire life, or you can move on. That is a key theme of What Bends Us Blue, the moving on. Life wants to live. In my case, I remarried, had two children (who are now teenagers), and some poems of What Bends Us Blue give the reader a view of redemption.
Q: The collection has been praised for, among many things, the diversity of the poems — which range from satire to irony to heartbreak. What were the challenges of putting together a collection with such emotional breadth?
A: Let’s put aside for now the challenges of writing the poems themselves. Once I had the poems in hand, I built a collection. I had been submitting this manuscript for several years to contests and open submissions, and it was rejected over and over and over. Then, I turned to April Ossmann, former executive director and editor at Alice James Books, which awards the prestigious Beatrice Hawley Award each year to a book of poetry. April became my editor. The first thing she did was cut one-third of the poems I had included. Like most poets, I found it difficult arranging my poems into a coherent collection, even though I’ve been an editor for more than thirty years. But I’m smart enough to listen to a good editor. The poems April cut were good poems, had been published in good journals, but they were clotting the collection, disrupting the flow, distracting the reader. In this case, less was more. April also did some rearranging of the poems, creating an interesting arc that I had not considered. My arrangement was linear, telling a story from A to Z. Hers maintained the story arc but was somewhat less linear, becoming more impressionistic, which fed the emotions. And achieved better balance of heartbreak and humor and fantasy. The collection succeeds because of its humor and flights of fancy, which offer readers some relief from the sadness and grief, and the balance was the beauty of April’s arrangement. She found exactly the right pacing. What’s ironic is that I do this kind of editing in my work with other poets as a poetry series editor for Press 53 (Winston-Salem, NC). It’s difficult to do it with your own poems. But that’s what good editors do—step back, objectively view the collection, suggest cuts and new arrangements that make sense for the whole.
Q: Speaking of being the poetry series editor for Press 53, can you tell us about your process of acquiring new work. What makes a poem or selection of poems stand out among the rest?
A: I’m always looking for new poets for Press 53. Journals—paper or online—and submissions and recommendations from trusted sources. I will probably read 300 submissions each year, maybe more. We received more than 100 during our open submissions last year (we ask for a 10-poem sample), from which I selected two. I also solicit samples or full manuscripts from poets I read in journals or who have been recommended. In addition to selecting poets from Press 53’s home base in the Carolinas, I make a concerted effort to build Press 53’s poetry catalog across the U.S. I’ve selected poets from Portland, OR; the San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles;, Houston; Louisiana; Atlanta.
In my reading of submissions for Press 53, I reject a lot of poetry because it contains no figurations. It’s prose with line breaks, and it fails to elevate from prose. That’s an important lesson for all poets to understand. Poetry is essentially figurative language. Metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, synesthesia, imagery, intensity of senses are the keys to authentic poetry. So to answer your questions, submissions that use figurations stand out. Submissions without figurations—rejection.
Q: How does editing poetry affect your own writing?
A: I’ve been editing for a long, long time: newspapers, magazines, Internet. My career has been editing. Many of my professional skills transfer over to poetry editing, though the forms obviously are different. I feel like I was born to edit. My tombstone will read: I edit, therefore I am.
The most important thing I’ve learned as an editor that has transferred to my own writing is that I must write for an audience. A reader. What I write must be understood by someone else. Poetry is a form of communication. That is so fundamental that you would think it’s obvious. But I see too many manuscripts in which the poetry is written for the poet himself or herself, the reader ignored. Only the best poets and writers do it well, some of them may just do it naturally, a gift from the gods. Another important editorial skill: I fully understand and embrace the revision process. I write in order to revise. Good writing is the result of good revisions. Some poems of mine are published in their hundredth draft. To me, revisions are fun. I love to revise. Love it, love it, love it. The writing opens itself up to me as I revise. Being an editor, I’ve spent my life revising the work of others, so I truly enjoy revising my own work.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a novel. I’m about half finished. Soon, I’ll query agents and publishers.
I’m also producing frequent items for the Poetry of Recovery blog, which is an offshoot of an anthology I edited in 2007. After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events comprised 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations. The poets wrote of recovery from grief, war, exile, divorce, abuse, bigotry, illness, injury, addiction. The Poetry of Recovery blog presents poems from the anthology along with an interview with the poet. I also feature new collections or readings by the After Shocks poets.
I’m putting the finishing touches on a chapbook due out next year from Kattywompus Press (Ohio) entitled The Name of This Game. It’s based on my experience playing football for eight years in high school and college, during which I experienced a number of concussions. The poems capture the violence of the sport and the damage it may cause to a young brain. The concussions fuzzed up mine through my early twenties, and I drifted a bit. My brain clarified in my mid-twenties, and I found direction to my life. Now, I’m waiting for dementia to kick in. The title of this short collection is from a quote from one of my coaches: “The name of this game is to hurt someone.” Indeed, coaches actually speak in luscious metaphor and simile. “Charge to this spot like a dog on a porkchop.” “Cover this guy like a cheap suit, like dirty shirt.” That coach got me a college scholarship as well as some great lines of poetry, so I can’t complain too much about football, though the injuries concern me enough that I encouraged my son’s early interest in tennis. He’s quite athletic, but he ain’t goin’ anywhere near a football.
I’ve also spent a lot of time lately arranging readings and workshops to promote What Bends Us Blue. The book’s Facebook page will list the specific details, places, and times of my readings. But note that I’ll be reading this fall in Atlanta on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12; in Charleston, SC, on Oct. 14; in Asheville, NC, on Nov. 3; and in Cary, NC, on Nov. 17. I’ll also be reading at the Press 53 offices at the Community Arts Café in Winston-Salem, NC, as soon as I can arrange that. I also have a radio interview scheduled for Oct. 28, 9 p.m. Eastern, on RN.FM. You can listen here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rnfmradio.
Keep an eye on Tom’s book’s Facebook page for more details and future events.
September 5, 2013 2 Comments
This is an excerpt of Susan McBeth’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about how authors can connect with readers through nontraditional book events, and how authors can plan the perfect event to promote their books. For more book promo information, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Susan McBeth is the founder and owner of Adventures By the Book, which provides opportunities for readers to connect with authors through events and worldwide travels. She has worked as an event coordinator for more than twenty years, including as director of events and marketing at an independent bookstore, and has hosted events ranging from small, intimate gatherings for debut authors to large-scale events with high-profile and bestselling authors. Susan is also hosting the Southern California Author Academy, a monthly series of interactive workshops on book promotion for authors, beginning September 29, 2013, in San Diego.
Q: In what ways can nontraditional book events be good for sales and exposure?
A: Nontraditional book events are a fabulous way to increase sales and exposure for a variety of reasons. Keep in mind that the most successful events are those in which the author and the reader make a connection on some level. And when that magical connection occurs, you are more likely to generate increased book sales and exposure, as these readers will want to share with others the “experience” they just had.
Q: What are a few examples of non-bookstore events an author might try?
A: The best kind of nontraditional book event is one that is a good fit for an author’s particular book, keeping in mind that the primary goal is to make a connection with the reader.
For example, say you have written a lighthearted, fun piece of fiction. Since the best way to connect is to envision what it is you want your readers to feel or experience when they read your book, try to anticipate your demographic. In this case, your audience will likely consist of women who want to laugh and be entertained. A happy hour event would be a great fit, then, because it has the same goals in mind. And if you are not an experienced or naturally gifted speaker, sipping a glass of wine and sitting informally amongst a group of readers is much less intimidating and more natural than lecturing in a more formal setting, and allows you an opportunity to chat one-on-one with readers. And when readers share a glass of wine and some appetizers, they already start off an event having a good time and possessing a mindset that the fun will continue, so your connection has begun even before you start speaking.
For more advice from Susan, and to read Susan’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
Click here to visit Susan’s website.
September 4, 2013 Comments Off