Lucky for me, I met Anna Whiston-Donaldson at the Hippocampus conference for creative nonfiction writers last month. While I very much enjoyed her company over a shared meal, as is so often the case after making new acquaintances at literary gatherings, it wasn't until I came home and began learning more about the people I'd met (hello, Google!), that my interest in her work and appreciation of her accomplishments soared.
Anna was already a popular blogger who wrote about family foibles, furniture restoration, and fun thrift finds at when tragedy befell her family. What she did with her grief, on the pages of a memoir, and in many other essays and articles, is a gift to others struggling with loss.
Please welcome Anna Whiston-Donaldson.
Yesterday, September 8, was the paperback release of my memoir, . It was also the fourth anniversary of the day I lost my young son in a freak flash flood. I had no choice about the odd date coincidence, but I decided to roll with it. Having something else to take up some of my mental space on that horrible “crapiversary” turned out to be a gift.
When I think about it, the theme of “rolling with it” seemed to surround the entire paperback release.
This was a stark contrast to the focused preparations that led to the initial hardcover release one year earlier, when my publicist landed a full page article about my family’s and we tried to harness that interest in a variety of ways.
I treated the hardcover release like a full-time job, mailing Advanced Reader Copies to fellow bloggers, experts in the grief world, and other memoirists. A friend helped me rally 50 bloggers for a blog tour of reviews. A twitter novice with few followers, I set up a campaign where hundreds of people signed up to send out a pre-written tweet about Rare Bird on release day, reaching many more people than I could have on my own. I had articles ready to drop on other sites such as , and in . My publisher offered free books to bloggers in exchange for honest reviews. We also had a video book trailer to share on social media.
All of that preparation, on my side and that of the publisher, meant a strong launch for Rare Bird. The book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for two weeks and was selected one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014.
This time, however, my head was in a different space. The languid days of summer seemed to last forever, and my teenage daughter didn’t go back to school until the paperback release day, which kept me distracted and distanced from what I needed to do until it was upon me.
Have you ever seen an actor giving a press interview about a movie that was made years before, and he or she is clearly over it? I wasn’t OVER my memoir during the paperback release, but I was ready to think about what might be next for me as far as writing and speaking goes, and was able to let go of making sure each aspect of the release was exactly as I would have chosen it to be.
My baby was already out in the world, so a lot of the anxiety and anticipation about what that would mean had passed. And while the year before I’d worked like crazy to ensure it had the best possible introduction, now the baby felt like a toddler, and if that toddler wore purple and orange striped socks and wanted to strike out on its own a bit? So be it.
For example, my agent loved cover (done by a different company) so much she proposed using it for the paperback. I could not have loved my original cover more, but I felt like…rolling with it.
If a new cover had more mass market paperback appeal, then I was fine with it. It looks gorgeous, and I am grateful to even have a paperback release and the opportunity to get my story into more people’s hands in this way, as I know that is not a given.
I also didn’t hear much from the publishers or my agent during this time. Due to an office restructuring and move from Colorado to New York, my publicity and marketing team was completely new and didn’t know as much about me as the original team did. We had one conference call, a few emails, and that was it, so while they were working behind the scenes trying to set up interviews, etc, I wasn’t in on the details.
So what did I do for the paperback release? I reminded friends and followers on social media that the paperback was coming. I shared the new cover and a new video on one of the topics from the book. I ate ice cream. I waited.
I don’t know how the numbers will shake out, but I do know that something a fellow writer told me is true: no one cares more about your book than you do. The good news is there are many strategies for getting the word out about your writing. I am happy to have learned a great deal about these during the hardcover release, and I hope that my more passive approach to the paperback release does not mean that my book won’t get into the hands of those who could benefit from it.
Having a sustained focus on getting my book out there meant a great deal of time spent away from the practice of writing. Before long, I began to doubt I had one more thing to say, or that I could ever put another good sentence together. They say that writers write. My own life hadn’t reflected that in over a year, and by the time the paperback release came about, I was ready to let go a little, slow down, and try writing again.
Note from Lisa: Anna would like to talk to you, if you have any questions about her writing, publishing, or grief process. Just leave them in the comments HERE, and she'll *stop by* the blog over the next week and respond. She'd also like to send one of my readers a signed paperback copy of Rare Bird. To enter, just leave any comment here at the blog; or tweet this post, tagging @LisaRomeo, by midnight on Friday, September 18, 2015. A random winner will then be chosen. Must have a U.S. Postal address. Be sure to also visit Anna's and follow her or .