Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Back to the Summit: In Conversation About Making a Writing Life

In January of this year, along with two dozen others, I participated in the Storytellers Summit, a limited time, online interview series presented by Julia Roberts, coach and creativity expert at Decoding Creativity

While the window for listening to all the 30-minute interviews has since closed, I'm pleased to bring you a link to my interview,  about "The Writing Life," which focused primarily on creating a workable, satisfying writing life amid the conflicting demands and time constraints of an already full life. (Warning -- I say this a lot: If you are going to write, you are going to not do something else.)

Along the way, Julia and I also touched on freelance writing, craft, revision, writing what you know, and productivity. If you have an opportunity to listen, I hope that you hear at least one thing that will help you. (And if you're interested in other interviews, the full Summit is available for purchase.)

Audio interview music by BenSoundImage: Flickr/Creative Commons - Il Microfono.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest Blogger Kate Walter on Finding the Narrative Arc for Your Memoir

One of the perks of signing on to help present a panel at a writing conference is that, even before the conference happens, you sometimes make internet friends with other writers who know your fellow panelists and/or who are also on the schedule with their own panel. That explains how Kate Walter and I crossed paths: we have mutual friends, and upcoming panels at ASJA

Kate is the author of Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing, due from Heliotrope Books in June. Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, and the New York Daily News, and she teaches writing at City University of New York and New York University. 

Please welcome Kate Walter.

       I knew something was off with the structure of the first finished draft of my memoir manuscript when an agent said my writing was strong but, "The reader knows how this will end before the narrator does.”

       Ouch! That comment sent me back to the memoir drawing board. I had to rethink my book.

      Since a memoir is not autobiography, you must find the right framework for your
story. A memoir needs an arc, a trajectory, a focus. The narrator must start some place and end up some place else. Not necessarily a physical place but an emotional place. There has to be a struggle (conflict) and wisdom gained. You are not just telling your story but reflecting upon what happened and how these events affected you and changed your life in some way.

     It took me three drafts to figure out the container for my debut memoir, Looking for a Kiss:  A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing. In the first draft I was just writing out my story and creating major scenes but it lacked a narrative thread.

     My second draft had more structure but it ended with me getting my heart broken when my 26 year lesbian relationship ended. When I shopped around this version, the feedback from agents made me realize that structure was not working either. So the rejection was actually helpful.

       The third draft, (which I sold), instead began with the break up and showed how I healed my life. I had found a universal theme. The reader is rooting for the narrator to get her life back together and laughing along with her as she tries internet dating at age 60.

        For me, I had to write all three drafts over 10 years until I  figured out the narrative arc. Meanwhile, I was also writing and publishing personal essays. Two local papers were regularly using my work, which gave me steady emotional support, and was a boost, reminding me of the value of the material.

        Writing essays, which can be woven into your memoir manuscript, and writing shorter pieces, can help you find the larger focus or container for your long memoir project. I recently reread an essay I wrote five years ago for NY Press. Looking back, I can see how the first 50 pages of my book are an expansion of this tight
personal essay.  

       Beside a little income, and the professional support of those newspaper editors, I got emotional support and feedback from my weekly writers group in Greenwich Village, run by the author Susan Shapiro. I could not have completed this memoir without the ongoing critiques from my trusted colleagues, who pulled no punches. I workshopped every chapter and then rewrote each one.

       When I finished my third draft (about 225 pages), I hired an experienced book doctor to read the entire manuscript (cost $2,000); then I rewrote some more.  After my book saw the doctor, a chapter originally in the back of my book landed up closer to the beginning in the final draft.

     The weekly group did more than critique my pages; they believed in my project and
helped sustain my morale when I kept getting rejections from agents, which was frustrating because by then, I knew I had finally nailed the structure and had a powerful book.

      That’s when a member of my group (Royal Young) hyped my book to his publisher
(Naomi Rosenblatt, at Heliotrope Books). I met her at his book party and she encouraged me to send her my manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history.

            I owe a lot to my workshop members, and I’m grateful Naomi realized the potential of my story about break up and renewal. It’s been a pleasure to work with a small independent press and have hands on involvement as my manuscript became a book. I even took the cover photo.

      From inception to publication was a long journey of 10 years, but it has been
very rewarding, and for me, cathartic. Writing my memoir was literally part of my
healing process. And as a teacher of creative nonfiction, this book will open up new
doors for me.

         I’m glad I never gave up. Maybe it’s because I’m a  Capricorn. If you
believe in your story and your voice, keep going, keep writing.

Note from Lisa:  Kate would like to give one reader a complimentary signed copy of her book when it's released in June. To enter, leave a comment here by midnight on 
Tuesday, May 12. (Must have a US postal address.)

You can connect with Kate at her website, and on Twitter, and read an interview with her at WestBeth. 

Images courtesy Kate Walter.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What Not to Say in Your Cover Letter to a Literary Journal (or possibly, to any media venue, ever)

My students often ask me about cover letters when submitting completed works, specifically what not to do. Here, a list compiled from my own limited experience as an editor wading through the submission queue (two years  and counting), along with some contributions from a handful of writer friends who also are journal editors. Yes, all of these treasures showed up in submission cover letters.

 Things not to say or do in your cover letter when submitting work to a literary journal (or maybe anywhere):

This is not what you normally like to publish….(Then why did you send it?)

I am giving you the opportunity to be the first to publish….(WOW! Really? Actually, at this point, it is the journal that may give you the opportunity.)

I wrote this for a college class…(While it may be great undergraduate work, that line doesn't inspire confidence.)

I hope you will consider publishing this in X… (when you have actually submitted to Y. Proofread, people! Especially when you are using the same template over and over, which is not a bad thing, but could lead to bad things if you are not careful.)

I'm sure you have read my work…(Maybe so. But really, let the editor figure that out. Humble always wins.)

I know this is longer than your guidelines state…(Yep, journals only publish those guidelines for their own amusement.)

Though I haven't read (name of pub) before…. (Maybe you should; just one issue maybe?)

I'm not really a writer…  (Why are you here then?)

You published something just like this in the last issue…  (Then perhaps we're done with that topic. Or is yours from a unique, fresh, or new angle?)

The enclosed story/essay is about…[followed by several hundred words of description]. (You want an editor to move quickly from the cover letter to the actual piece. And what if he/she doesn't  like the cover letter description?)

I began writing as a child…[then 200 words, tracing the path from childhood to the present day]

A professor in my (undergraduate/ graduate / MFA) class assigned us to submit something to a journal…(Even if that's the case, who really thinks such an admission in a cover letter will entice an editor to read the piece, pronto, instead of sighing and complaining about how it's too easy to submit these days, dammit? And trust me, the submission queue will, on its own, reveal this backstory. How many submissions do you think would otherwise arrive the same week from two dozen writers in the same town?)

I could revise it if it's not what you want …(Let editors decide if they want to request a revision. But also: that line suggests you are not confident it's your best work.)

We met at X conference….[Okay, but be specific, and only if it's relevant, for example: We shared a cab from the airport, and chatted about Irish dancing, the subject of this piece of work. We were seated next to each other at the X conference luncheon and you suggested I send this along (but only if he/she DID suggest that; not if you chatted about the weather). If you did discuss rain, a better strategy might be to let the editor ponder why your name is so familiar, and assume she's seen it on some good work published elsewhere!].

You probably won't have the courage / won't understand the importance of / won't want to step outside your comfort zone to publish this ….(Insulting an editor's intelligence, commitment, or integrity? Not a great opening gambit.)

You can read my bio and find links to my work at (URL for website or blog)…(No one has time for that.)

I am an "award-winning writer"… (Always a suspicious phrase. Which award? If it's not named, the assumption will be that it's from an exceedingly small contest, possibly a meaningless award. Better to write, "One of my essays/stories/poems won the X award..." Then again, most editors really don't care.)

I have been published in….(Editors really don't care)

I have an MFA from….(Editors really don't care)

…though you can, and probably should, include the three above items in the writer bio. Mine goes underneath my signature; some writers include theirs in the body of the cover letter (which I find a bit awkward, as the cover letter is a direct address, and the bio should be in third person).

So what should you say?

Dear Editor Name (it's not that hard to find it),

Please consider "Title Here" (123 words) for future publication in (name of journal, plus theme or special call, if applicable). This is a work of (specify fiction or nonfiction, if necessary).

I am a big admirer of your journal (only if it's true!), and especially enjoyed your recent X (be specific).  

Perhaps you recall (any relevant, specific, personal contact).

This is a simultaneous submission (if it is).  A writer bio follows, below.

Thanks for your time and attention to my work.



(Writer bio here, in third person. Keep it brief. And humble. And relevant. Editing your high school newspaper doesn't matter, unless you are still in high school.)

Good luck, submitting writers (and that includes me. Forever, I hope).

Images -- Flickr/Creative Commons: Writer at desk, Akeg; Letters slot, Paul Simpson; To Whom, Frankieleon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Blogger Linda K Sienkiewicz on Lessons from AWP on Book Promotion for Anxious Authors

If you've been here before, you might remember that Linda K. Sienkiewicz and I were classmates in the Stonecoast MFA program. We've kept in touch, cheering one another on in our divergent writing endeavors. When I asked for blog posts front the front lines of the AWP Conference, Linda volunteered immediately.

Linda writes and publishes fiction and poetry (several award-winning chapbooks), and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She attributes her creative drive to her artistic mother, who taught her to sew, and her father, who let her monkey around with the gadgets in his workshop. Linda's first novel, In the Context of Love, will be released by Buddhapuss Ink LLC in September.

Please welcome Linda K. Sienkiewicz.
Author Josh Isard got a good laugh at AWP when he described the conference attendees as “a whole bunch of people collectively experiencing social anxiety.” We writers are introverts who sometimes have to be dragged out of the house to socialize. Selling our own books and ourselves as writers is something we find difficult. So what is an author to do? Finding the answer was my goal at AWP this year, because I'll need to help publicize my debut novel, In the Context of Love, when it's published in September.

Publicize or Perish

I learned several pointers from Michelle Blankenship, who’s an independent publicist. After being an in-house publicist for 16 years she can now focus on a smaller number of books a year. While there are many book PR strategies available, Michelle stressed it’s important to be realistic. There is always a chance you won’t get any media coverage no matter you do, no matter who you hire, what the publicist does. Publishing a book can be a lesson in humility. If you’re self-published, your chances of media coverage are even lower, so rather than hire a publicist, she suggested hiring a marketer. What’s the difference? Publicity can’t be bought. Marketing includes buying ads and other paid promotional endeavors that target your market.

Here’s what Michelle shared:

1.    Plan early. Ten to 12 months before your publication date is ideal, six is the minimum.
2.    Make a list of all your connections, media-wise, who can help get you coverage.
3.    Ask your publisher how many galleys you will have and how many ARCs (advanced reading copies) you will get. An an author, you can also pay for additional galleys or ARCs to send out for reviews.
4.    Think about writing essays or op-ed pieces on the subject matter of your book, your inspiration, or other related topics.
5.    Write a self Q and A. Envision your dream interview. What five questions would you like to be asked?  (This can be used in an online media kit, for book clubs, book blogs, etc.)
6.    What have you written about in your book that you can speak expertly about? Watch and read the news and pay attention to popular culture for opportunities to promote yourself as an expert.
7.    Think about the back story to the writing of your book. Did you come to the topic in some unusual way? What sets you apart from other authors who have books coming out?
8.    Is your book coming out on or near any particular anniversary, holiday, or other event that you can use to your advantage? Consider even obscure events.

All of the above can and should be shared with your publicist. Michelle said you may spend more money on publicity than your book earns, but everything you throw into the water creates ripples, and that may help sell your second book. Schedule as many places as you can go for readings or speaking engagements.

Oh Bookseller, My Bookseller

A panel of booksellers from Minneapolis discussed how to partner with independent bookstores. Book selling is alive and well, but each store may have a different audience, so they stressed doing your homework to be sure your book would attract a particular store's customers. You can find lists of booksellers in any region via the American Booksellers Association, and Book Life on Publishers Weekly.

Booksellers love hosting author events, but they are busy people and dont necessarily appreciate an author walking into their store only to shove a book under their noses, so send an email first. Think of yourself as a marketer. Send information about your book, the story behind it, who you are, who your audience is, and how you plan to market the event. Be sure you include the ISBN. Then follow up with a phone call. Remember to contact bookstores before your book is on shelves; six weeks after publication may be too late. Booksellers want you in the store before too many people have already read the book.

What makes a good bookstore event? Entertainment and energy, and think beyond a typical reading or signing. Be creative. After all, we’re creative creatures, right?.

Beyond the Bookstore

A panel on Small Press Marketing suggested making a list of contests where you can submit your published book. Make videos. Do Goodreads giveaways. One author on the panel referenced a lot of music in her story, so she made a playlist on Spotify. Including a gift or token with the book you send reviewers can help get attention, as long as you don’t go overboard. One author had her book cover printed on a matchbook box, and filled the box with sticky notes. Another sent a candy necklace because there was such a necklace in the story. Book clubs are a great way to get the word out about your book. You local bookseller or library may have a list of nearby clubs. Let the clubs know you will speak for free about your novel or memoir if they choose it for their club read.

Even with the most creative marketing and publicity plan, you will still have to deal with your social anxiety. Sure, you’d much rather work on your writing, rather than dressing up to face an audience. Prepare yourself to talk confidently about your book. Practice your pitch. There’s nothing wrong in saying “I think you’d really like it.”

When you look out at a crowd of people, remind yourself that, to the public, anyone who managed to write a book and get it published is fascinating. They want to know how you did it, how you write, when you write, and what you do when you get writer’s block.

And never discount a publicity or marketing event that isn’t well attended. If three people show up, get out from behind the lectern and sit down with them for a chat. Tell your story. They’ll love it, they’ll buy your book, and hopefully tell their friends what a great person you are, and they’ll buy your book, too.

Note from Lisa: For more from Linda on the topic, read her previous post on "Shameless Self Promotion." You can connect with Linda at her website, on Twitter, and at  Pinterest.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out: Links for Writers -- April 17, 2015 Edition

> My Bay Path MFA teaching colleague Susan Ito describes an unforgettable experience (on the heels of AWP), that involves: one of her early books, a high school class in Minnesota, an invitation, saying yes, teenage exuberance, adoption stories, drama, connection, and the powerful ways that writing and story bring people together. Read it; I promise it will make you think differently about why we write.

> The Guardian's take on the AWP Conference, or as they call it, "the Comic Con of MFAs". I especially enjoyed seeing my MFA alma mater in the spotlight: "Some MFA graduates who have gone on to teach see a larger social value in their work. Justin Tussing, the director of the low-residency Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine, said the MFA’s popularity is a valuable counterweight to a pragmatic culture that values technology over art. “Like we need another app,” he joked."

> Just a few more AWP Conference related links: Carolyn Forche on why poetry still matters (as if we doubted it!);

> You'll find more links to AWP coverage around the web, in my post from earlier this week.

> Ah, the cranky tough love of an editor who cares enough to be disliked (which means loved), and who pushes her authors to write revise manuscripts that become bestsellers. I love her, and I love the final two paragraphs, too.

> A short and spot-on post by Lee Martin details "The Essay Within the Essay." Or: why we so often don't write what we thought we were going to write, and why that's often wonderful.

> For National Poetry Month, Drew Myron is giving away poetry books at her blog. While there, check out her Fast Five interviews with writers.
> Finally, here's a slide show that would, individually or as a whole, make a great writing prompt: "50 Surprising Photos From the Past that Show How Different Life Used to Be".

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - Jinxmcc

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Post-AWP Posts (In case of post-AWP Withdrawal, or Relief)

I'm beginning to see posts around the web by folks who were at the AWP Conference last week. Here's a round-up of what's come across my radar thus far. (I'll bring you more in the Friday Fridge Clean-Out.)

Over at Assay Journal you'll find nearly a dozen posts from AWP2015 covering different panels and presentations. Some of these include:  "Confronting Our Fears: Turning Adversity Into Art,"  "Time and Structure in the Novel,"  "Narrative, Lyric, Hybrid: Crafting Essay Collections into Books," and many more.

Bustle rounded up advice from two panels focused on essay writing, for their post, "How to Write a Personal Essay That Will Tell the Story the Way You Want it To,

A Minnesota news site covered a panel of prison writing instructors, another wrote about the conference's diversity presentations, and Laurie Hertzel summed it up for the Star Tribune.

Here's Dani Shapiro's report for The New Yorker website.

Publishers Weekly has two features based on AWP panels on "The Art and Business of Children's Books," and what the AWP experience means to publishers who are "Far From the Coast."

Several personal accounts of attending AWP: Sheila Squillante; three posts from Chelsea Biondolillo; Anca Szilagyi on crime fiction and independent presses; 

Finally, Bill & Dave's Cocktail Hour posted some pics of their AWP adventure, and a Brevity blog post, "So You Didn't Go to AWP" (yep, that's me!), sums up all the serious silliness attending may have brought upon you, and how you can recreate the experience right there at home (note: wine, and lots of instagram activity are involved).

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons-RogerGoun

Monday, April 13, 2015

Writers and the Road: Conferences on my Calendar, Again, Finally

Until last week, just before the huge AWP writers conference kicked off in Minneapolis, I was content with not attending. An easy way to put a huge dent in my finances (and productivity) is to attend too many conferences that involve travel. On the other hand, one way to ensure a writing career takes no risks and fails to bloom is to never get out from behind the keyboard and mingle with other writers at events where I can learn more about craft, about how other writers solve artistic and business challenges.

And yet, don't we all fall into ruts? Either running around collecting conference name tags, or staying home, saving money, remaining in our sweats, and never refreshing our responses to the question (sometimes asked sincerely, other times with a dose of snark) "And what do you write?" 

But in the final run-up to AWP, when nearly every writer I know seemed to be talking about it in real life and online--I wavered. Wished I were going to be there. Grew wistful. It is, after all, the largest and arguably most important annual gathering of writers in the country, and I hadn't attended since it took place just across the river in New York City in 2007.

My outings to writer conferences since then have been just two one-day essay conferences (good ones!), at Columbia and Fordham. It wasn't always that way. My conference drought followed three years of intense writer mingling: a low residency MFA; one AWP conference; the first NonFiction Now at University of Iowa; an ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) conference; a memoir symposium at Trinity College; a residency at a writers retreat; and various small regional conferences.

Then, conferencebudgets were redirected: to repay MFA loans; to visit colleges for first one and then another son; to college tuition, which we will be paying for at least five more years. I hunkered down.

Okay, so I couldn't jet off to AWP. But I could look for opportunities closer to home ("Bloom where you are planted," my mother always advised).  It would be even better (and slightly more affordable), I realized, to be a conference presenter. I sent off a proposal for one conference, which was accepted. In a happy coincidence, I was next invited to join a panel for another, and then was asked to speak at a third, and now I have three upcoming conferences on my calendar.

First up, the ASJA conference in Manhattan in a few weeks, where I'll be on a panel with Candy Schulman, Iyna Bort Caruso, and Paula Ganzi Licata, titled "Writing Groups: The Road to Better Markets and Bigger Bucks." 

In Auugust, it's HippoCamp 2015: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers (organized by Hippocampus Magazine), speaking about creating a productive writing life by confronting "All the Obstacles that Definitely Do and Decidedly Don’t Exist." 

In the fall, I'll be talking about memoir and personal essay writing at the annual gathering of New Jersey Women Who Write.

Two more presenting possibilities are still pending. Fingers crossed.

I'm so looking forward to these, for all kinds of reasons. Although I know a lot of writers in real life, and share meals and conversations with them, I hope to meet writers from further afield, writers I know only online. I want to shake hands, look into other writers' eyes (instead of their avatars), share a coffee, a drink, a laugh, some advice, a reality check, the assurance that we're all in this thing together.

If you'll be at any of these upcoming events, please say hello. Say more than hello.

Blooming (near) where you are planted is good advice. But next year, when AWP sets up shop in Los Angeles? I'm thinking about making the trip. Panel proposal, anyone?

Images: Flickr/Creative Commons - Name is Opp -  OneWayStock; Minneapolis - Doug Kerr.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Friday Fridge Clean-Out -- Links for Writers, April 10, 2015 Edition

> This will be useful to many writers: "How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer". 

> Seems half (or more) of the writing world is at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis this week. I'm not (and NJ has been just as rainy, grey, and chilly as Minnesota!). I'm eagerly awaiting the slew of posts I know will begin appearing around the web soon from conference goers, like this one at Assay Journal (covering a panel on "Trauma, Memory, and Reimagined Pasts").  I'll round up and pass on some others next week.

> You can follow a great deal of the action, including folks posting live from panels and presentations, over on Twitter, using #AWP2015  (and, for a bit of grumpy woe, there's #NotAtAwp15 !).

> The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers 400 free downloads of art books via its MetPublications division (scroll to the end of that Open Culture post, for a link to the Guggenheim's similar offer).

> I'm so pleased to see 20 new opinion writers have been hired by the New York Times for their rotating online roster, including Roxanne Gay, Adam Grant, Mimi Swartz, Jennifer Weiner, and Molly Worthen.

> Speaking of NYT: hankering for a byline in the travel section? This Q/A with a Times travel editor offers advice.

> I let you know a few weeks ago that Literary Hub was about to launch, and it has. So far I've been intrigued by the daily link list that comes via email newsletter subscription.

> Earlier this month, on the first day of the month to be exact, The Paris Review revealed a secret (and very funny) project for young readers.

> Finally, some fun ways to display books. And this: sometimes the Google alert for my name shows me something interesting another Lisa Romeo is up to. Like this woman, who's taken grief over a brother's death and turned it into something that serves the sport he loved.

p.s. My spring newsletter will go out in two weeks. You can sign up here, and you'll hear from me about four times a year (often with a special offer for newsletter subscribers only).

Newsletter Sign-Up

Have a great weekend!

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons - Travis Wise

Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Blogger Ann Evans on Knowing How it Feels to Win an Oscar—or Whatever

About four years ago, over a long cup of tea at her suburban home a half-mile from my own, where she was packing to move to a more urban environment, Ann Evans asked me to take a look at an early draft of a possible memoir about dating as a senior, and provide some critical feedback. I was happy to do that. In those early anecdotes and tentative reflections, I was pleased to detect a larger story lurking, and encouraged her to develop it. I'm so glad she did.

Ann's writing appears in academic and literary magazines, she has also built a career as a linguist, and is a recently retired professor. She was featured on the Discovery Channel’s "Sex in America" in 2012, and appeared on the cover of Eldr magazine’s issue on “Sex and Intimacy over the Age of Sixty.” A wife, mother, and grandmother, Ann has traveled widely and lived in Spain, Israel, Italy, Austria, Germany and Greece, and speaks six languages. Ann lives in Hoboken, NJ, with her (third) husband.

Please welcome Ann Evans

After being told (you know how many times) that it was almost impossible to get published; after both professionals and onlookers patted me on my little head and told me: “Well dear, write if you have to.", "Don’t write with the expectation of ever being published.”; and after assorted other indignities, my book was published in November 2014, by the hybrid publisher, SheWrites Press.

It felt something like winning an Oscar.

I plunged into promotion and publicity, following as much of the standard marketing advice as I could without working at it all day every day. I hired a publicist and a graphic designer and moved for a while to another mental planet. The sojourn there hasn’t been so bad. 

Writers and non-writers gave me analyses, some outlandish, about the publishing business, including intricate musings on Amazon’s mysterious algorithms. Some told me how much better it was in the old days—when Truman Capote would pop in for lunch. If I listened long enough, I’d learn a new nugget of information. I reminded myself of the first rule of writing memoir—other people are not really interested in the writer’s life; they are interested in improving their own lives and if a writer can give them some ways to do that through a good story, they’ll read the book. Each person contains their own memoir.

It was disorienting to read on Amazon that Daring to Date Again was number one in my category, “dating.” Being number one in anything was good news, but what did that mean?  Had I sold ten books or a hundred? A few months later, I set up a free account with NovelRank which estimates how many books have been sold on Amazon.  After the first blush of sales, the book’s ranking fell, nudging me to do some more marketing. 

One day I was 1,036,000th overall. I sold one book (which I learned through NovelRank), and the next day was at 365,000th. What kind of crazy algorithm is that? I have gradually deduced that it is not common to sell books on Amazon “by the boatload,” (as one webinar promised). Every sale makes an impact. My question still is whether readers pay much attention to Amazon rankings.  Number one would make an impression, but number 2,570 or 1,460,000?

Being interviewed for the radio was fun. I could sit home in my pajamas and do a crackerjack interview over the phone. Since this was my first book, I did not expect to appear on national radio shows, but discovered many internet-based shows with a large following.  Since the shows were Internet based and thus available on each station's site, I could critique them afterwards. Through NovelRank, it appeared as if each interview generated a few sales on Amazon.  

My best radio interviews felt like a schmooze, during which the interviewer's mind and mine were both palpable, without either dominating. My appreciation of Terry Gross increased.

I am still undecided about the wisdom of hiring a publicist. The radio interviews and print articles she garnered haven’t brought in enough book sales to pay her fee, and that makes me uneasy. On the other hand, readers usually buy a book only after they have heard about it several times. Through my publicist, thousands of people have heard about the book for the first time. It is up to me to find the second, third, and fourth introductions.

I thought creating the audiobook would be a breeze, but as the narrator, I had to learn how to use a microphone, avoid making mouth noises, use dynamics to make an aural point, and not to sink at the end of sentences. The measure for audio editing is three to four minutes to every recorded minute, and Daring to Date Again  will be about nine hours long. I couldn’t afford to pay for 27-36 hours of editing time, so with the help of my audio engineer, Roy Yokelson of Antland Productions, I edited much of it myself.

At first, I listened to every tiny sound and progress was slow, but I quickly got more efficient and skilled. Post-recording, Roy had to control the pacing and breaths and set it all up to comply with Audible’s specification. Today, months after print publication, we are nearing completion.  I am now ready for other audio ventures, which will go more smoothly. So why do it? Audio books are (deservedly) priced higher than hard copies or ebooks, and my 40% royalty (I chose to publish exclusively on Audible) will bring me more profit for each sale. Besides, my childhood fantasy of becoming an actress is being fulfilled.

Book reviews were another revelation. Since my book is about dating, I had to decide, for example, how graphically I would write about sex. One agent told me to “be sure to include the word ‘sex’ in the title, because people like sex.” I didn’t want the book to be pornographic though, so, as the Kirkus review mentioned, I wrote my share of sex scenes, but concentrated on “the social, biological, and emotional components of sex.” Several male readers complained about the lack of down and dirty sex scenes, but  Kirkus found my ruminations “illuminating” and “a kick.” I think I could be more graphic in my next book without slipping into porn.

Many people assume I will soon be a rich author. Ha! People introduce me as a “famous author.” Ha! I have to keep myself from laughing and honor their respect. They are setting the bar for me.

The best step toward the success that some others assume I have already achieved, in fact the only next step, is to write another book. I am hard at work doing just that.

Note from Lisa: You can connect with Ann via Facebook, Twitter, and at her website. Ann would like to send one blog reader a signed copy of her book. Just leave a comment here by April 25 (must have a U.S. postal address).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

One for me, Two for You: Writing Community and Paying it Forward (and Sideways, and ...)

What does it mean to be part of a literary or writing "community"? At every level: it means the world. To have writer friends and acquaintances who have your best interest at heart? Alliances built on the idea of mutually assisting one another as we blunder, write, and make and break our way through this life. My own literary community delivers gifts to me every day. Two very recent examples:

1. The play's the thing: Deborah Lerner Duane and I have been friends for 22 years. She's had a successful corporate, then solo PR career (during which we often collaborated when I too was running a small PR agency), then went on to complete a master's program in a totally unrelated field. Now, she will soon also be a produced playwright,( not once but twice!). Deborah and I have met for breakfast once a month, every month, for many years, a kind of two-person board of directors; we're there to encourage (often push!) one another, cook up strategies, check in on goals, set deadlines, vet plans; keeping each other honest when we say we're going to do something. Over the years, she's helped me get over many self-imposed hurdles, urged me to seek bigger opportunities, agree to do something challenging, and achieve goals. 

Last fall I challenged her to begin entering play festival script contests. We set deadlines. She wrote, entered, won. I am so proud of her, and reminded again of the power of two friends seriously committed to each another's goals. 

Did I mention that I only knew of the existence of 10-minute play competitions because a student of mine in a workshop at The Writers Circle last year was a fledgling playwright who had entered and won a particular competition, and that's how I could recommend it to Deborah – with a link at the ready – that first time we talked about her moving from writing to submitting?

2. From her to me to you, etc.: Last month, Alyssa Martino, a writer completing an MFA at University of New Hampshire, mentioned she was moving to Brooklyn, and maybe we could have a cup of coffee in Manhattan? I asked if she'd be at the ASJA conference (American Society of Journalists and Authors), and sent her the link to the ASJA Education Foundation's annual conference scholarship. You know the rest. She won, and we'll be having that coffee at ASJA next month where I'm on a panel because Candy Schulman, who I met on Facebook through our mutual writing friend Liane Kupferberg Carter, invited me. 

Did I mention I won the first ASJA conference scholarship in 2011, and only because my writing friend Erika Dreifus clued me in?  That I attended my first ASJA-sponsored event 30-odd years ago, because Bill Glavin, my college magazine professor, took the time to recommend it? And at that panel, a freelance writer named Arky Gonzalez, gave me his card and when I moved to Southern California two years later, met me for lunch and shared editorial contacts? Did I mention Alyssa was once a private student of mine? That I was so pleased to write her a letter of recommendation for UNH, where she would study with Meredith Hall, who once lectured at my Stonecoast MFA program? And who took the time to let me interview her the next year?

I have dozens of other such stories. This may sound like I'm tooting my own horn – look at me, I'm such a good literary citizen; but in each case, I was only able to do what I did because another writer had done what he or she did.

Many other people have similarly helped me in small and large ways. When I tweeted about Alyssa, she noted "writers pay it forward."

My goal is to always be paying, and not as often looking to see who pays me. Because sometimes, though only occasionally, that reciprocal payment is withheld. And it stings.

Sometimes, though happily only very occasionally, people I've assumed are part of what I'd thought of as a mutually supportive literary community have let me down. Behaved badly. Just a couple of weeks ago, in fact. When it happened, I briefly considered (hell, I wrote), a rant of a post about it. 

Then, semi-smart 50-plus-year-old human and writer I am, I put that messy, needy draft aside for a while. Yes, it hurt like hell. Then, the moment passed (okay, it took two weeks), and I deleted the draft of that whiny rant. Decided the better approach was to write this post – the one about how much I love helping other writers, and how much I appreciate when another writer helps me.