I’ve been following the power struggle between Amazon and Hachette with great interest. It’s so complex, with so many issues, and involves so many positions, voices, opinions and high stakes that I can’t take sides nor do I want to. I don’t have a dog in that fight. But I did have a thought about it. I sent my two bits to the New York Times, and my letter to the editor appeared in the August 14th paper:
To the Editor:
I’m one of the bit players in the drama of the Amazon versus Hachette epic battle. I’m what is known as an “indie author.” When publishers turned down my recent novel, Amazon provided a platform for me to self-publish it, find readers and even make a little money. For that I am grateful.
Hachette and company are battling for their authors (and themselves). Their authors are on the whole beloved, successful and financially profitable (and deservedly so). But those same publishers are the gatekeepers for books like mine (rightly so or not).
Admittedly, self-published books run the gamut from if not the sublime then certainly the worthy to the ridiculous. But Amazon, for all its faults and problems, has democratized publishing in a way that has changed the game, and that is for the good.
PAULETTE ALDEN Minneapolis, Aug. 9, 2014
I wonder if Jeff Bezos will read it.
I’d been looking forward to reading the full-page ad from a group called Authors United re: its anti-Amazon position, signed by 900 writers, which the Times said would appear in the paper this past Sunday [Plot Thickens as 900 Writers Battle Amazon].
It wasn’t there. I was flummoxed.
I emailed the Times to ask Whaddup: Maybe the ad signers hadn’t bought space in the Midwest edition? Maybe we received an early edition and the ad didn’t make it, like late sports scores?
The Times responded that the DISTRIBUTION CENTER had the sole discretion about whether to include the ad in the papers they delivered, and they hadn’t included it. WTF!
I was not happy. I emailed back that the ad was more than an ad, it was news, part of a story the Times itself was reporting on extensively. The Authors United letter was something a lot of people (like me) were quite eager to see. Someone at the distribution center had made what I considered an editorial decision not to include it.
I’d like to send you a copy of my new book of short stories–either the paperback or a Mobi or epub file which you can “sideload” to your Kindle or Ipad. Free. No strings attached.
Well, there is one small string.
I’m looking for readers and reviews. So the catch is if you like the stories, you give me a review on Amazon, and maybe Goodreads. Why reviews? Because reviews–good ones, that is–bring more readers, who write more reviews, which bring more readers . . .
I published Unforgettable: Short Stories in February. Unlike The Answer to Your Question, it’s hard to promote. I reached lots of readers and reviewers for Answer by giving away thousands of free eBooks via ads and promotions on places like Bookbub and Kindle Nation Daily. That worked well because Answer was pegged as a “suspense” book, and a lot of the subscribers to the free giveaway sites go for genre books–mysteries, thrillers, suspense, romance, fantasy. Unforgettable is the opposite of a genre book.
Nor is Unforgettable a single narrative, like a novel, which would make it a little easier to synopsize and describe. Nor does it have a specific subject, such as a memoir does.
Unforgettable is nine autobiographical short stories, all built around a single protagonist, Miriam Batson. There’s one story about a college student of Miriam’s who tries to commit suicide, which mixes erotic and maternal feelings with teacherly concern; there’s another about a job rejection that possibly resulted from sex discrimination, or perhaps adjunct discrimination, “the galley slave problem,” as Miriam’s husband puts it; there another about the death of a beloved maid from Miriam’s Southern girlhood; and another about her father’s sudden death from a heart attack.
The final five stories track Miriam’s efforts to keep her mother afloat as she is pulled under by Alzheimer’s. I’ve tried to take what were nine difficult years and shape the experiences into what art does: specifying the particular while capturing the universal.
I think Unforgettable is a good book, worthwhile reading for some readers–if only I can reach them. The way I found readers for Answer won’t work for Unforgettable. So I’ve decided to try giving it away myself via my blog and FB.
Don’t be shy about asking! Don’t feel embarrassed by thinking you really should buy the book! I don’t care! My goal is to get the book into more hands, including yours.
If Unforgettable sounds like something you might like to try (or if you know of someone else who might), email me at email@example.com or on my website contact form. Tell me if you’d like the Mobi, epub file or the paperback. For the paperback, give me your mailing address. (Sorry, I can only send in the US because of mailing costs.) It costs me about $7.00 per paperback, so I figure I can give away up to about 50 copies. I’d rather spend my promotion money this way than by buying ads directed to the wrong audience.
What are you waiting for? The price is right!
Unforgettable: Short Story Quotes from Amazon Readers’ Reviews (They’re unforgettable to me):
“Each one of these stories is a gem, drawn from the author’s own experiences. They are written with such clarity, such marvelous dialogue, and such sensibility that you feel you’re right in there with her struggles: her concern over a deeply troubled student, her anger at being passed over for a teaching position, and finally – and most especially – the awful frustrations of caring for an ailing mother whom she loves with all her heart even as she wrestles with the often overwhelming burden this kind of care involves. Despite the many sorrows in these stories, there is much joy, much humor, and the lucky decision to write it all down for our reading pleasure.”
“Finally, a collection of short stories beautifully rendered and filled with universal truths about the human experience. I am enthralled with this collection. It is the first short fiction collection I have read in a long, long time where I felt transported, consumed and moved by each story.”
“Having just gone through three excruciating years dealing with my mother-in-law’s decline into dementia, I found Paulette Alden’s UNFORGETTABLE to be a guidebook of how to comprehend grief and loss, how to understand transitions, how to make meaning and sense of our human condition. Deft and direct, this is a book that sneaks up on you. On the surface, everything seems so simple, so ordinary–dare I say it?–so human. You know the feeling: “this could be my story. How does she know my life so well?” But beneath the surface is great depth and dimension and ultimately the deep wisdom that comes with self acceptance.”
“This collection reflects the periods of certainty, vulnerability, compassion, and wonderment that have passed through the lives of so many baby boomer woman. The prose is never cloying or predictable. A collection that will stay on my shelf for rereading through the years.”
“I read this book almost in one sitting. This author has a way of immediately engaging the reader. These stories come from the heart, and I was totally absorbed by each one.”
“I once heard an editor say he most admired writers “with no hands showing.” He meant, of course, writers whose prose was so lucid, direct, and powerful that it didn’t call attention to the great skill of the writer but simply pulled you irresistibly into the story itself. That is how I felt about these stories.”
“Painful – beautiful – and an uplifting testament to family loyalty and the human spirit. If you have a parent facing the ravages of old age, do yourself a favor: read Unforgettable.”
Browsing through the February 2014 issue of the IBPA’s (Independent Book Publishers Association) magazine, Independent, I came upon an article by Joanna Penn, called “Content Marketing.” I didn’t know what content marketing was. Could it mean you were peaceful and satisfied with your marketing efforts? Not possible.
Anyway, I do know who Joanna Penn is. She’s a whiz at book marketing, as evidenced by her Amazon #1 best seller How to Market a Book. Her website for writers, TheCreativePenn.com (nice, huh) was voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for writers for three years running. She’s definitely a great resource for writers and self-publishers, admirable in her energy and expertise.
The “Content Marketing” article had a sidebar, so I read that instead of reading the actual article (I’m too busy marketing my books to read a whole article . . .).
The sidebar described the schedule Penn uses for her own content production. I nearly laughed my ass off as I was reading it! What hilarious satire!
Then I realized it was for real. She wasn’t jokin’!
Here’s the schedule she suggests for your “content marketing.” She’s used it for NEARLY FIVE YEARS:
Post 6-10 useful links, or more, to other sites and one to your own on Twitter @yourtwitterhandle.
Respond to @ comments and replies.
Post one thing on your facebook page and also on Google Plus (She schedules a lot of this, using tools such as Bufferapp or Hootsuite).
EVERY 3 DAYS
Post an article, video, or audio podcast on your blog. She usually batches the creation and prepares at least a week’s worth in advance.
EVERY TWO WEEKS
Post an audio podcast with an interesting guest (her backlist now includes more than 160 interviews).
Post a video or two. She usually does her podcast interviews on video Skype and posts them on YouTube before using them as audio and blog posts. She also posts some talking-head videos and on-location pieces.
EVERY FEW MONTHS
Do at least one live speaking event or Webinar.
Contribute a guest post or an interview to a different blog/podcast.
Write and publish at least one book. At this point, Penn is trying to up her game and produce several books a year.
I’m happy to tell you that Unforgettable: Short Stories, my new collection of (old) short stories, is now available for purchase as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback on Amazon.
To the best of my memory, I wrote these nine stories between maybe 1990, when my father died, and 2005, when my mother died. They’re autobiographical Miriam Batson stories again, my persona from the earlier stories in Feeding the Eagles. They follow Miriam into middle age, as she navigates the decline and death of loved ones, her own aging, and once again, the inevitable losses of life.
I didn’t try too hard to get the collection published back when I finished the stories. I sent it to Graywolf, which had published Feeding the Eagles, but when they weren’t interested, I saw the writing on the wall. I could not have imagined, back then, that self-publishing would be an option one day, or that I would ever partake of it. But once I got the hang of it with The Answer to Your Question, I thought about these stories. I had always liked them, they meant quite a lot to me, and I wondered if others might find something in them to enjoy and relate to. I decided to publish them myself. So with a little tinkering from the present, here they are.
The first four stories are about experiences that had important emotional impacts on me. The last five are about my taking on the care of my mother, moving her from South Carolina to Minneapolis in 1997, when it became clear that she could no longer manage on her own. I moved her first to a senior building, then to assisted living, and finally to a nursing home, where she died of Alzheimer’s. It was a long, difficult journey that we traveled together. The stories are a memorial to her and our time together. The final five stories are meant to be read in sequence.
Those of you who follow this blog know that I morphed from The Reluctant Self-Publisher into The Obnoxious Self-Promoter when I self-published The Answer to Your Question. This is where you come in. It’s very difficult to get publicity for self-published books. The regular media won’t review them, so about the only way of promoting an “indie” book, as they’re called, is via word of mouth–mainly reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as people recommending the book to their friends and book clubs.
If you enjoy Unforgettable, please do me the big favor of posting a short review on Amazon (and if you don’t enjoy it, please keep it to yourself!). A review is not too hard to do. On the Amazon product page for the book (where, here’s hoping, you will actually purchase it . . .), you scan down and click on the “Write a customer review” link. You will be introduced to some blank stars which you click on according to how you rank the book, and a space to write a review. A couple of sentences will do. You can even use a handle, Big Daddy, if you don’t care of use your real name.
To leave a review at Goodreads, you need to become a member by signing up with your email and a password, or just sign in if you’re already a member. Navigate to the page for Unforgettable: Short Stories by putting in the title. Underneath the book’s cover picture on the top left, first rate the book using the stars. The “want to read” button will automatically be replaced with a “write a review” link. Click that link. Write your review in the review box and save.
Sorry to beg, but every positive review helps, since that’s the way most readers have of judging an unknown book (plus last time I looked–five minutes ago–Unforgettable had ZERO reviews and was ranked 1,048,470 in books. Help!). Thank you if you’re able to go the extra mile(s) of writing a short review. If you search for the book, be sure and use Unforgettable: Short Stories. There are a lot of “Unforgettables” in the naked Amazon city, a number of which are bodice-rippers, which mine, unfortunately, is not.
If you have any ideas of places where I can promote the stories, especially the ones about caretaking an aging parent, nursing home placement, Alzheimer’s–(sexy, riveting stuff, huh!)–please let me know. I figure there are plenty of boomers out there who have had similar experiences, but reaching them is another matter.
Several of these stories reference the act of writing. Giving shape and meaning to experiences that were often painful by writing about them has been deeply rewarding for me. Writing is so amazing. Through writing these stories, I have experienced my own life and indeed life itself more fully, understood my own experiences beyond merely living through them, and hopefully expressed some situations and feelings that will resonate with you.
Make that ten, given that I had a whole song in the novel.
I immediately changed all the lyrics to just the song titles, which are not copyrighted, and sent the corrections to my formatter, 52novels.com, then uploaded the revised files on Amazon.
But that left the whole song, “Who’s that Knocking at My Door,” to which I had helped myself without permission. I couldn’t imagine excising that song from my novel. It’s a great song, and so perfect for the story. To take it out would leave a big hole. The only way I could see to fill that hole would be for ME to write a song to replace it . . . An even more daunting thought than the Music Industry Police knocking at my door.
I had no memory of where or how I had come upon the song. But I found a folder in the basement from 2006 that had the lyrics, printed from the www.bluegrasslyrics.com website. The author was listed as “na.” Apparently I hadn’t paid much attention to attribution back when I first incorporated the song, assuming without really thinking about it that any permission issues would be handled by the publisher–never dreaming that seven years later, that publisher would turn out to be me. Over time, as I worked on the novel, the song became part of the reality of the story. I thought of “Who’s that Knocking . . .” as folk music passed down generation to generation, authorship unknown, a song an old mountain woman like Ganny would have learned from her granny, not something written by someone who might be alive–and litigious.
I had to find the songwriter, if there was one beyond “na.” I Googled the title.
Who’s that Knocking at My Door is a 1967 drama film which marked the debut of Martin Scorsese as a director and Harvey Keitel as an actor. Did you ever see Keitel in Jane Campion’s amazing movie, The Piano? Sexy!
Anyway. The movie Who’s that Knocking . . . has nothing to do with the song I had hijacked. But it certainly messed up my search for the song. I finally found that a bluegrass band called The Dreadful Snakes had made a recording of “Who’s That Knocking . . .” The band was started by the great banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, who wanted an informal group to pick with when he was off the road. They recorded an album in 1984 called Snakes Alive, which is still one of bluegrass music’s most respected.
I loved the idea of a band called The Dreadful Snakes with an album called Snakes Alive, since my novel has a dreadful snake on the cover. I had actually found their recording of “Who’s That Knocking At My Door” to play at my publication party. But at that time, back in February, I hadn’t thought one iota about the fact that I was using the song without permission in my novel. It still hadn’t crossed my mind to wonder who had written “Knocking.”
When I couldn’t turn up the author in my Google search, I tried things like the Smithsonian Folkways and traditional music/ballad sites. I emailed bluegrasslyrics.com and Bela Fleck’s manager, asking for help in finding the author. I got nowhere. Finally, I decided to ask the music librarian at the Hennepin County Library for help, figuring he had more data bases and research experience than I did. He dug into the assignment enthusiastically, trying various searches. Then he thought to pair the term “bluegrass” along with the song’s title. Up until that moment I had assumed I had normal intelligence. It had never occurred to me to think “bluegrass,” even though I had found the song originally on a bluegrass website. Continue reading “My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission, Part II: in which I meet a Prince and a Lord(a)”
I know, I know. You’re shaking your head in amazement. Paulette made a mistake? She usually makes so many of them, how could she make just one?
Well, it was kind of a doozy, so I want credit for that.
Last January when I self-published my novel, The Answer to Your Question, I thought I’d done everything right. I wanted to handle the publishing as professionally as a real publisher would. I thought I had! I was feeling pretty cocky.
Since I figured I had this self-publishing thing knocked, I decided I’d publish a collection of my short stories, entitled Unforgettable. I was merrily steaming along toward this goal, until I read a guest post this summer on Jane Friedman’s wonderful website (“Writing, Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age”) about copyright infringement, by Brad Frazer.
Brad Frazer is an author himself, as well as a lawyer who has written on matters of Internet and intellectual property law. From what I can tell, he’s a swell guy. Not only is his post clear and informative, he responded thoughtfully to a million comments from readers like me seeking (free) answers to their copyright questions.
If I had any thoughts at all about using copyrighted material, they had to do with some vague, wishful thinking about “fair use.” Frazer explained that there are two prongs to the fair use question. To be considered fair use, the use must be for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”
Frazer explains it this way:
That’s the first prong. If your use falls into one of these categories (criticism, comment, etc.), then you move to the second prong of the test. A court will consider the following four factors to determine if your use is a fair use:
1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (emphasis added)
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
If your use falls into one of the enumerated categories AND you are able to prevail factually on at least two of the four second-prong factors, you might succeed in proving that your use is fair and thus not copyright infringement.
“And next, The Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Book of 2013 in the Suspense Category goes to . . . THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, by Paulette Alden!”
I jerk awake when I hear my name. I had dropped off during the announcement of other awards— “Best Indie Logo that Doesn’t Involve An Animal”; “Best Indie Absolute-Last-in this-Series–I Promise!”; “Best Indie Thriller In Which No One Gets Killed”; “Best Indie Romance In Which No One Gets Laid . . .”
“Did they say me?” I frantically ask my husband sitting next to me. “Did I win? Can it be? Little old moi?”
“Go get it, girl! You won!” he says, hoisting me to my feet.
I had slipped off my shoes (damn stilettos!) and now they were hopelessly lost under my seat. I scramble bare-footed towards the stage, startled and thrilled, hiking the bodice of my strapless dress over my scant bosom, hoping the thing won’t fall down (the bodice, not my bosom).
Gown: Goodwill; Hair: Great Clips; Jewelry: Walgreens . . .
“Ohmygod!” I exclaim as Jeff Bennington hands me the award.
“Ohmygod! I can’t believe I won!” I yammer. “Thank you, Jeff! I didn’t expect to win! I didn’t even prepare a speech!” (except what I wrote up and down my arms . . .50 shades of Sarah Palin.) “This is so great! And so, so deserved!” Fanning myself. Deep breath. Wow . . .
“Where to start? I want to thank my publisher, Radiator Press, who took a chance on me when no one else would (take that, Knopf!). I want to thank my husband, the other Jeff, who stood by me through my long journey from Reluctant Self-Publisher through Obnoxious Self-Promoter to arrive at this glorious moment, when I morph into the Insufferable Self-Congratulator. I want to thank the readers who actually read the book, not just skimmed it, who told me they loved it (even if they lied), and especially those who wrote reviews on Amazon when I groveled for them. Keep those reviews a’coming, folks, I’m not at my goal of 205 yet! 205, 205, 205 . . .
Anaway, I most def want to thank Jeff Bennington of The Kindle Book Review for conceiving of and birthing this award for Indie Authors. So great of you, Jeff! I want to thank the sponsors of the award for supporting the winners with great promotion prizes: The Kindle Book Review; Digital Book Today; World Literary Cafe; Kindle Boards; Author Marketing Club; Kindle Nation Daily; Free-Bookz.com. These are THE sites to go to for free and bargain books, run by folks who tirelessly boost authors by getting the word out about our books. Love you guys! I want to thank Stephen and Caleb at Venturegalleries.com for featuring my dream interview and dream review. See you over a glass of bourbon on Pawley’s Island, Caleb . . .
“Furthermore, I want to thank . . . Hey! Why is that bell going off?” Get the hook, someone is whispering furiously back stage. “Wait! I’m not finished! Thank you, Mama, thank you, Daddy, . . .thank you, Murphy. . . than . . . Ouch! That hurts!”
Later, at the gala winners’ post-awards party:
Elizabeth Gilbert comes up to me. She looks stunning! “Paulette,” she confides wistfully, “I wish I had published Indie. Then maybe I could have won one of these awards.”
“Oh Liz,” I say gently. “Your time will come. Just hang in there.”
And look, here’s Stephen King. “Hey, if you’re not doing anything later,” he says, “I’m taking a little trip to the Underworld. Care to join me?”
“Ummm, I’m not sure,” I say. “I might have to be somewhere–like home.”
“Aw come on! Be there or be square! What are you worried about? It’s just Hell!”
Just then Bill Polad taps me on the shoulder: “You haven’t signed with another studio yet, have you? I can see it already . . .” He frames his hands to form a movie screen. “We’ll open with that knock on Inga’s door . . . Inga . . .Sandra Bullock! Whadda ya think? Jean is a toughie. We need an unknown, a nobody. Somebody’s babysitter. How ’bout Zac Efron for Ben . . or maybe Robert Pattinson . . .
“Okay,” I say. “Have your people talk to my people.”
Dave Eggers interrupts to ask me shyly if he can be my friend on Facebook. “Twitter, too,” I say magnanimously.
Oh! there’s Geoff Dyer! Be still my heart. He takes his time but finally sidles over, all seven and a half feet of him. “Is what I hear via the literary grapevine true?” he asks in his sexy, British accent. “That you have a . . . thing . . . for me?”
“Maybe,” I say, not wanting to give too much away. Keep him guessing.
Just then J. K. Rawlings draws me aside and pats me on the head. “I think you have a real knack for fantasy, kid,” she says, “especially if you’re imagining me giving you a pat on the head.”
Oh it was a glorious evening!
Hey, I like winning! I want to win something else . . .
Where I can buy a lottery ticket?
(Did I mention I won ?)
Awards ceremony photo credit: James Joyce (thanks, Jim!)
I’ve been running around on the East coast the last couple of weeks, visiting the Atlantic south and north. First was the Outer Banks, which I’d always wanted to visit, and loved, and then on to Maine, for Miles and Alan’s wonderful wedding in Belfast, and then to two islands, Isle au Haut and Vinalhaven, to visit friends. Lots of lobster; in fact, I’m lobstered out for a while. This trip required four layovers in the Newark airport–oof-da. It was good to get home, although the house was hot, with both the furnace and the AC on at the same time, and no hot water. Remind me not to have “young people” dawg sit the next time we’re away. Though both the mutt and the gardens are fine, and that’s what counts. I’m happy to be back in my own bed, with a touch of fall in the air here in Minnesota. I’m looking forward to seeing a full harvest moon over Lake Harriet this Thursday.
This post is just a conglomoration of stuff!
First, if you live in the Twin Cities, I’m giving a reading at the Edina Library on Sept. 23, at 7:00, as part of the Edina Reads series. I’m looking forward to it, but afraid no one will come. If you came to my publication reading at Subtext, you’re off the hook. If not, I expect to see you there . . . (said Teacher sternly). Please pass the word to anyone you can buttonhole who has nothing better to do on Monday night.
There is still time to sign up for a FREE paperback of The Answer to Your Question on Goodreads--until Sept. 30th. I’m giving ten of them away. The last time I did a Goodreads giveaway, out of the 480 or so people across the country who signed up, one of the ten winners was a woman in my yoga class! If it was rigged, it wasn’t by me. But it does mean that you, too, could win.
Speaking of winning, Answer is one of five finalists in the “suspense/horror” category for The Kindle Book Review’s 2013 Best Indie Book Awards. I have no idea what it means, and I realize it’s not the National Book Awards, but I still want to win. I happy to win anything. Wish me luck!
I’m now selling Answer T-shirts on my website. No one wants to buy one, I’m sure, but I’m stuck with about twenty-five of the things.
Are you really SURE you don’t want one? You can be a walking ad for Answer. You’d look really good in one. I’ll sell it to you cheap if you mention you heard it here . . .
I now have 163 reviews on Amazon. I’m amazed and grateful to those who liked the novel and wrote in to say so. I also have a couple of snarky ones, par for the course, and this jewel: “I know some people are not offended by using the F word, but many of us are and it just ruins the story for me. Why use it? I can not recommend this book to any of my friends because of it, or the author, for that matter. Just a shame.” Wow, there is so little of the F word in Answer! I can’t help it: That’s just the way some characters (and writers) talk.
But the latest one is this: “I was totally involved with this book from beginning to end. Can’t wait to read another book by P. Alden.”
Well, she’s about to get her chance this fall, because Radiator Press (“It’s not cool, it’s hot!”) is bringing out another book by P. Alden, this one a collection of (old) short stories, called Unforgettable. I’ll be telling you more about it (you betcha) this fall. I’m aiming for a November pub date. I had the manuscript copy edited while I was on vacation, and now I’m doing what Oscar Wilde described as a day of hard literary work: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.”
In the meantime, 163 reviews on Amazon doesn’t mean that’s enuff! It’s never enuff, apparently. My goal is 205 reviews. It’s good to have a goal. Not 204, which is not quite enough, but 205. I’m reaching but not overreaching. So keep those reviews rolling in . . . Thanks, y’all.
I’ve been MIA from my blog and I’m glad to be back. I’ve had my hands full teaching a Stanford on-line course in the book-length memoir. The class was wonderful, I adored the students, their projects are fascinating, and where else would I get to engage with such interesting, accomplished people. But when the class ended last Friday, I was happy to get my so-called life back.
The other thing that has kept me too busy these past weeks is promoting my self-published novel, The Answer to Your Question. If I don’t do it, who will? Not only is it time-consuming to try to get the word out, but I’ve had to spend an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to get the word out. I’m having to educate myself about a whole new area of self-publishing, promotion and marketing. So why am I doing it? Because I want my novel to have the best shot at finding an audience.
Turns out there’s a lot of help out there, from those who have gone before into the dark jungle of promoting their books. They’re very willing to “pay it forward.”
Though I was familiar with “pay it forward,” I hadn’t thought of it in terms of self-publishing promotion until I read a blog post by Martin Crosbie. It’s on a great, helpful website for Indie Authors (six months ago I didn’t even know what an “Indie Author” was and now I am one . . .) http://www.indiesunlimited.com/. If you’re an Indie Author and you know it, clap your hands–and check out this site.
Martin Crosbie is one of self-publishing’s success stories; his first novel, My Temporary Life, achieved best-seller stardom on Amazon. He describes in his post how a year ago January he was flailing around, as he put it, trying everything he could to find readers for his book.
He contacted Robert Bidinotto, whose novel Hunter sold tens of thousands of books, and was an Amazon #1 Kindle seller in both the thriller and romance categories in 2011. Bidinotto was generous in his counsel to Crosbie, advising, among other things, that he change his cover image. Crosbie doesn’t believe My Temporary Life would have reached the status it did if Bidinotto and others hadn’t told him things he needed to do and if he hadn’t done them—like changing the cover. He encourages others to pay it forward by helping other indie authors learn how to better promote their books.
Joel Goldman, who is a very successful author of crime novels, has definitely paid it forward to me (Thank you, Joel!). He spent an hour on the phone telling me things to do based on his own experience promoting his books. Of course the first things he told me to do were change my cover . . . and title! I agree with him that I need to, but oof-da! I will have to build up a whole new head of steam to take those changes on.
Last Wednesday night at Subtext Bookstore in St. Paul, on a cold winter night (13 degrees), I had the publication reading for THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION, the novel I recently published. I had done a series of blog posts called “The Reluctant Self-Publisher,” noting my reservations about self-publishing. But now I’m reluctant no more. I’m so glad the novel is published, even if I had to do it myself. I’m even happy about that. The reading confirmed for me that it was the right thing to do.
I was so pleased with the venue. SubText is in Garrison Keillor’s former bookstore space in the historic Blair Arcade. It’s now owned by Sue Zumberge, who managed Keillor’s Common Good Books in that spot, and Marcus Mayer, a children’s/young adult librarian who chooses books for young readers for the store. Upstairs is Nina’s Coffee Café, and upstairs coffee drinkers run downstairs to buy books, and downstairs book buyers run upstairs for coffee and treats. It’s a pleasure to browse through a real bookstore specializing in real books: poetry, biography, literary fiction and books for young readers. SubText has a comfy, booky feel. When David Unowsky, the events manager, mentioned in his introduction that SubText was an independent bookstore, the audience applauded. I think it made people happy to be among all those books. I couldn’t have had a better place to give a publication reading.
It was absolutely heart-warming to see friends, family members, former students, clients, and folks I haven’t laid eyes on for years who came to the reading! And what a wonderful surprise to see two out-of towners from my Madeline Island writing workshop last summer: one drove down from Duluth and one up from Northfield. Thank you each and every one for coming. Please know it meant so much to have you there!
I was also very conscious of three people who weren’t there. As one of the old ballads puts it, they’ve crossed over to the far shore. Dale Davis, my high school English teacher who was my dear friend and a fervent supporter of my writing for forty-seven years, died in 2012. She came to Minneapolis from NYC for my first two publication readings. I know she would have wanted to be here for this one; my cousin, David Bates (1946–2011), retired to the mountains of western North Carolina that I described in ANSWER; we shared a love of those mountains and he kept me in touch with them. Emily Meier died of breast cancer this January. Emily, a remarkable writer who self published six of her own books, was my writing pal for over twenty years. She gave me an invaluable, in-depth critique of ANSWER early on. Emails flew back and forth between us about writing, our manuscripts, the search for agents and publishers, and more recently, self-publishing (she was my great guide, having gone before). I miss them all, and the love and support they gave me.
As people gathered for the reading, I intended to play old timey mountain music from my iPod, but I lost my mind and forgot all about it. But after the reading we did have mountain music, the keening kind where everyone sounds off-key. In the novel Ganny, Jean’s mountain grandmother, sings an old timey song that begins “Who’s that knocking on my door, have I heard that knock before . . .” I wanted to find that song to download to my iPod to play at the reading. Monroe Crossing, a bluegrass group, had recorded it, but their album with it wasn’t available on iTunes. I emailed the group to ask if they knew of any other recording of it. Art wrote back that he had learned the song from a group called – get this – “The Dreadful Snakes.” It’s on their album “Lively Snakes” and I was able to download it. Something snaky was going on . .
Several snakes did put in an appearance at the reading. There was an actual, real, rattler (taxidermied) that my brother-and-sister-in-law, Charlie and Ginger, sent over from Wausau for the occasion.
One no-count snake had never even seen pimento cheese sandwiches on cheap white bread.
There was a door prize drawing for two ANSWER T-shirts and two paperback copies of the book. Boy, was that exciting!
One of the nicest parts of this whole deal has been how supportive my family has been. Jeff, always, but my in-laws have all been so nice about the book, especially my mother-in-law Meredith. She’s read the book twice, becoming an ANSWER expert. She really gets it. She called yesterday to tell me about a quote at the end of a long review of two “ripped-from-the-headlines” plays in the NYT that I would have missed. The last paragraph quotes Susan Klebold on her son, Dylan, one of the Columbine killers: “I think I believed that if I loved someone as deeply as I loved him, I would know if he were in trouble. My maternal instincts would keep him safe. But I didn’t know, and my instincts weren’t enough.” So poignant, and so Inga, the mother in my novel.
I think guests enjoyed the Southern refreshments,
though it might as well have been a Baptist meeting, for all the drinking that went on. We carted home tons of wine.
I wrote a novel that I believed would have some value for readers, not that it’s any War and Peace. But I’ve been determined to get it out there and help it find readers. The publication reading was such a culmination for me, both of writing ANSWER and publishing it. And the responses so far from those who have read it have been so gratifying and such a boost. I just feel very fortunate to have friends, writers, readers and even strangers who have been wonderful to me about this book. Thank you.
Now, on to the next phase: marketing. Aggggh.
This weekend, Feb. 23 and 24, I’m giving away free eBooks of ANSWER as part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. I hope to get as many downloads as I can, so pass the word. And I’m giving away ten paperbacks on Goodreads.com. You can enter for the drawing up until March 5.
Thanks to good neighbor and friend Jim Joyce for the publication reading photographs.