Archive | Publishing

The rejuvenating power of the interview

One of the bennies from my Seattle Times column gig is that it has led to other work. I was able to pitch some story ideas to AARP for their work/career section and two of them turned into actual assignments.

I love stories that involve several interviews and consequently varying points of view and advice. An article, which is already outlined, takes on a new shape that’s guided by each new person I interview. First up was a story on how Boomers and Gen Xers can communicate effectively with Millennials in the workplace. I was astounded by how many people wanted to weigh in the subject and in a positive way. The next story was on how to turn your love of travel into an encore career or part-time gig. I had been inspired by Ruby Montana, who now runs a kitschy motor lodge in Palm Springs, and Margaret Manning, who runs a website for women 60 and older from her home in Switzerland. Again, many people generously agreed to share their experience and advice.

Now, energized by these assignments, it’s back to the drawing board with a new secret book project, more freelance articles and publishing consulting. As Ruby Montana might say, Giddyup!

Hear a piece from my memoir during Family Matters: Works-in-Progress

I’ve written about the challenges of writing my memoir before. I’ve been knee deep in writing the manuscript and have made significant progress. But with paying gigs taking front and center, it’s not always easy to stay the course and keep things moving forward. You know, life gets in the way and all that. One of the most effective tools I’ve found to keep me motivated is to bring my work into the world through public readings. I participated in two last year and felt terrified before and high after each event. So I’m doing it again. Here are the deets:

Family Matters: Works-in-Progress
May 1, 7-9pm
The Rendezvous, 2322 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121

It’s a family affair! Well, sort of. Join 5 local writers—Allison Ellis, Jennifer Haupt, Jane Hodges, Kristine Lloyd & me—as we read brand-spanking-new creative nonfiction, all centering around our various ideas of family. Be the first to hear memoirs as they develop and take shape. If that’s not enough of a draw, it’s all going down in the Grotto, the groovy downstairs space at the Rendezvous in Belltown (there will be a cash bar and our own bartender). We aim to put the “fun” in dysfunctional during this lively, moving evening! Please feel free to spread the word.

Here’s the lineup of amazing writers:
ALLISON ELLIS writes about fashion, travel, home décor, overpriced coffee, “hot parenting controversies” and other lifestyle topics of great importance. Her essays and articles have appeared in Redbook, Working Mother, Fodor’s Travel Guides, ParentMap, and the Seattle Times. She is currently working on a memoir about her yearlong journey as a young widow in hot pursuit of a new husband.

JENNIFER HAUPT has been interviewing women who nurture the world for more than fifteen years, telling their stories in magazines and books. She’ll be reading from her new e-book, Will You Be My Mother? My quest to answer yes, which includes three stories from her own journey from daughter to mother. Author profits from this mini-memoir (available on Amazon.com) through May 2014 will be donated to mothers2mothers*, a non-profit organization that educates, employs, and empowers mothers living with HIV in sub-Sahara Africa.

JANE HODGES is the West Seattle-based author of Rent Vs. Own: A Real Estate Reality Check for Navigating Booms, Busts, and Bad Advice (Chronicle, 2012). She’s currently working on a memoir about money, eldercare, and the South. Her fiction has appeared in The Brooklyn Review and her essays have appeared in two Seal Press anthologies, The Seattle Weekly, and The Magazine.

Librarian by day, writer by night, native Alabamian KRISTINE LLOYD loves to tell stories about her family. Kristine earned her MFA at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in 2000. She has written for local blogs and Seattle Bride, and she is currently working on a memoir about the fact that her parents get laid more than she does.

JENNIFER WORICK writes about things that blow her skirt up. Named one of the four funniest bloggers in America by Reader’s Digest, she is the New York Times-bestselling author of more than 25 books, including the recent “Things I Want to Punch in the Face.” She has written for everything under the sun, including the Huffington Post, Salon, and Allure. She is currently writing There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: A True Story of Double Ds, Straight As & a Whole Lot of BS, a coming-of-age memoir.

* Since it was founded in 2001, mothers2mothers has reached more than 1.2 million HIV-positive mothers with essential health education and psychosocial support in nine African countries, putting mothers at the center of the solution of ending pediatric AIDS and keeping mothers alive. For more information visit: www.m2m.org

It’s going to be a fun, potentially rowdy, and moving evening. It’s always scary to bring such personal material into the light and it’s helped me more than you know to have friends be witness to my process and provide feedback. I’d love to see you there.

Paying the bills and providing shelter

If you’re a fan of Things I Want to Punch in the Face, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I haven’t been ill or in the witness protection program.

My heart has been elsewhere.

Specifically, I’ve been writing my memoir. I’ve talked about writing a coming-of-age memoir for years and years, working on it on and off. But I committed myself at the beginning of 2013 to make this manuscript a priority.

And believe me, it has been no easy task.

While I’ve always been able to find time to write a funny blog post here and there, it’s a whole ‘nother enchilada to write a deeply personal long-form narrative. I had to have help. I set up a small support group to help me stay accountable. We were to send each other new chunks of writing each week. I have taken one-day and ongoing workshops to give me more tools around structure, dialogue, and characters. A few friends and I have even set up public “works-in-progress” events, where we read new pieces from our memoirs.

Even with all this, I continue to need accountability. It is far too easy to let life—travel, crisis, health issues, and paying gigs—get in the way. When I have a deadline for a freelance article or need to show up for my part-time job, my memoir gets the boot.

I work around all of this, writing at night or on weekends. And I also push through the emotions that arise when writing honestly about difficult events from my past, a past that includes people who I love and hope to not hurt or offend in the process. But one of my writing instructors, a celebrated memoirist in her own right, said that the feeling of discomfort that we get while writing tells us that we are doing the right thing, we are providing shelter to others.

That is part of what drives me. Yes, I want to create a work that has value and is beautifully written. But I want to give the gift of my story to others, who can be entertained (particularly when they read about the tragicomedy that was my prom), but who can also recognize themselves in my own painful adolescence.

So I persevere, even if sometimes I have to write corporate marketing copy first. I’m bringing the same determination that saw me through my teenage years to completing a draft of my memoir by next year. I’ll keep you posted.

Seattle’s Book Ecosystem

I recently was tasked with writing an article on Seattle’s publishing scene. I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle it, seeing as Seattle wasn’t home to scores of big publishing houses and literary agencies. But it does have a thriving community around books. And when I talked with Gary Luke, President and Publisher of Sasquatch Books, everything became clear. “I think there’s less of a publishing scene and more of a book ecosystem in Seattle,” he told me. Rather than just editors and agents comingling, the publishing landscape in Seattle is more of a literary pastiche, and the result is a vibrant, active community of people and businesses coming together around books in all their various forms. “There are publishers here,” Luke said. “But along with that, I’d include bookstores, the Richard Hugo House, food bloggers, 826 Seattle, the libraries, Hedgebrook, Town Hall and, of course, Amazon.”

With this, the article took shape and the result is a profile of a literary, creative, generous, book-lovin’ community. Read the article here.

(Photo: Josh Trujillo/Seattle P-I)

A few thoughts about the author platform

As an author and a publishing consultant, I have more than a few thoughts about the importance of a strong author platform. Through the Business of Books, my partner Kerry Colburn and I talk a lot about publicity and promotion on our site. And I was recently asked to write a guest post for Five Writers, a blog maintained by, yes, five writers. My friend Brad Windhauser is one of them (check out his blog, The Bible Project, where he chronicles his journey through reading the Bible); he asked me to offer advice to authors looking to create a platform.

I jumped at the chance.

Years ago, I was interviewed by the arts editor for my town’s weekly. I talked about the various books I had published, the writing process, and my philosophy on promotion. I believe I said, “Writing the book is only half of my job as the author. Promoting it is the other half.”

That guy didn’t get me, didn’t get that publishing is a business that requires authors to think and perform beyond their manuscripts.

Times have changed and these days, if you’re an author and not promoting your book in every possible way, you are setting yourself up to fail. Editors and agents are looking for authors who can sell their book idea and themselves. When you pitch your book proposal, you want to highlight your terrific writing plus the connections you have to personally help sell and promote the book.

So if you want six tips to start building a solid author platform, check out my post at Five Writers.

What it means to be an author in 2013

It’s hard out here for a pimp.

It’s also hard for a writer. In fact, sometimes I feel like a pimp. Occasionally, I feel like a whore. Let me explain.

When I quit my publishing job to pursue a freelance career, I had a vision of sitting around coffee shops, schmoozing and writing and living off massive royalty checks.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I’ve cobbled together a pastiche of projects that keep me gainfully employed. In an ideal world, I’d be able to just focus on writing projects I’m passionate about. Again, didn’t happen. Working for yourself is hard, harder than most people can imagine. Not only do I have to produce around the clock, I also have to act as business manager and entrepreneur (enter The E Myth). An accomplished author, I still have to hustle like the rent is due.

Because it is.

While I have done many ignominious jobs that have kept me humble and solvent, these days I focus on the following:

  • Writing (and subsequently promoting) books that blow my skirt up
  • Taking on random freelance articles for beauty sites, travel magazines and a pupu platter of media outlets
  • Writing columns for today.com’s book page
  • College lectures based on my books (more on that at Samara Lectures)
  • A part-time job at THAT large Redmond tech company

In addition to the above (and I’m probably forgetting a couple of things), I have the good fortune to help other writers develop book proposals that will get serious consideration from publishers or agents. With my business partner Kerry Colburn, a close friend and fellow author and publishing professional who I met on the job 17 years ago, we started The Business of Books to share our knowledge of publishing and experience reviewing and writing countless proposals.

It’s as gratifying as anything I’ve ever done. I’ve never had much of a desire to teach, but man, is it addictive. Watching our workshop attendees be inspired and motivated has been a joy. Hearing that they landed a book deal, well, we feel like proud parents. Don’t get me wrong—they did it themselves. They polished their proposal, sent out submissions, and soldiered on through rejections.

My heart is full thinking of all of these newly published authors. And while it can be hard out here for a writer, sometimes it doesn’t feel like work.

Blogversation: How will you support your local businesses during the holidays?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation on Newvine Growing—asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the Blogversation 2012. I wrote the following post around Black Friday.

You Get What You Pay For.

Writing my humor blog and then book, Things I Want to Punch in the Face, healed me when I was grieving, and made me not only face my dark side, but get comfortable with it.

Now, publicizing the book has changed me again. It’s made me rethink my purchasing habits and the kind of person I want to be. After a month of throwing Punch Parties at local bookstores and meeting independent booksellers at various conferences, I see the magic that exists within this community. Magic that I—we—can’t take for granted.

I emceed the author’s luncheon at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association conference a few weeks ago and warmed up the crowd of bookstore owners and staff with a few Things They Might Want to Punch in the Face. First up: customers who regard their store as an Amazon showroom, coming in and snapping photos or making a note on their smartphone so they can order the book later online. This is an all-too-familiar scenario. I know, because I’m guilty as charged. At least I was. I’ve wised up because I’ve learned something.

You get what you pay for.

And what I get at my local bookshop is an experience. When you pay full price at your local bookstore, you get customer service, a wealth of knowledge, the continuing resource of a neighborhood gathering place, a full-on community.When you buy a book on amazon or another discounted retail site, you get the book. That’s it. The 30-40 percent you are “saving” is the cost of having a storefront, a knowledgeable and lovely staff, and books you can thumb through at your leisure. When you choose to “save,” you sacrifice your experience and your community.

You get what you pay for. And often, you lose what you don’t pay for.

Queen Anne Books, one of many local bookstores I’ve frequented over the years, hosted my last Punch Party in Seattle. Five days later, it closed its doors. This is deeply saddening, but not unique. It’s happening everywhere—bookstores, yarn shops, record stores are all going the way of the dinosaur.

I get it. I’m practical and lord knows, I love a good deal. As an author and a consumer, I like that amazon exists, that people can find my books no matter where they live, that I can easily ship out gifts to friends and family across the country.

But this comes at a price, and I’m not talking about free shipping.

Amazon is the hot dog of retailers: we know it’s bad for us but we want it anyway…with relish.

I’m not trying to slap anyone’s wrist as they reach for their mouse to click the BUY button. I’m just suggesting that we make more informed choices, value all that our local businesses provide to us, and as we dive into another holiday season, choose quality over quantity and save our local businesses instead of saving 40 percent off a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (which, by the way, is terrific. I have Suzanne at Secret Garden Books to thank for the recommendation).

You get what you pay for.

What goes up…

This has been a week of ups and downs, I’m not gonna lie. Mostly ups, I’m happy to report. My SoCal Punch Parties were a rollicking good time, with honest-to-God stand-up comedians gracing the stage. I was just happy to be their warm-up act. College friend and perpetual genius Tom Franck (seen punching me at right), super-nice and IMDB-as-long-as-my-arm Steve Skrovan and The Dylan Brody (who wears the hell out of a vest) got punchy last night at The York while Knock Knock founder Jen Bilik, stand-up Kevin Garbee, and author Judy Rothman of The Neurotic Parent’s Guide to College Admissions were among those who took the mic on Saturday night at Vidiots Annex and made it their, well, you know. The magical thing about these parties is that when people get up and air their grievance(s), others want to join in. It jogs their memory or lights their ire.

This is a book that brings people together.

Having thrown four Punch Parties now, I’ve seen this happen over and over. People get up and share or they come up to me and let it rip. It’s fantastic. This has happened at trade shows as well. I’ve been to three bookseller conferences—Book Expo America, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association—and booksellers and librarians want to join the party as well. From amazon to seedless watermelons, everyone has something they want to punch in the face.

Again, this is a book that brings people together.

And I’m hoping it brings Seattlites together this Friday, as we gather at Queen Anne Books for a final Seattle Punch Party and a  goodbye to Queen Anne Books, which is closing its charming doors on October 31. It somehow seems fitting that one of the final events in the store (which hopefully will find a new owner) will focus on airing your grievances. I certainly want to punch the current climate in the face that leads to small business owners having to shutter their bookstores. Online competition, e-books, the shopping habits of the average America, the economy—all these things have been monumental challenges for the local bookshop. When Things I Want to Punch in the Face hit the market, I sought out all the independent bookstores in town and worked to make each event as personal and community-based as a barn-raising or a quilting bee.

But unlike Ma and Pa Ingalls, there are myriad options for a Friday night and just as many avenues for purchasing the book. So it comes down inviting you to a good-old-fashioned barn-burner of an event, one where you can connect over commonalities, laugh, and build community.

Remember, this is a book that brings people together. It’s bringing people together this Friday, October. 26 at 6:30 at Queen Anne Books, right at the top of Queen Anne Hill. Come out and soak the punch-drunk love.

Join the Punch Party

You are cordially invited to participate in a Punch Party. I’m setting up Punch Parties/Book Signings to promote TIWTPITF and I’d love for you to participate! Here’s how it works: I’ll read a few posts from Things I Want to Punch in the Face and then cede the floor to you. Write your own short PITF essay and read it at the event.

  • Have a bad dinner at a supposedly good restaurant?
  • Tired of rude or terrible drivers?
  • Can’t stop griping about a recent trainwreck of a trip?

Bring it on. We’ll have an open mic forum at the events, punch and snacks, and some sort of game. It will be a hoot, I promise! And we’ll all feel better for collectively smacking down the little things in life that bug! And if you haven’t done this sort of thing before, this is your opportunity to test out your comic chops in front of a receptive audience!

Scheduled Punch Parties include:

  • October 5: Secret Garden Books, Seattle, WA
  • October 11: University Bookstore, Seattle, WA
  • October 21: The York, Los Angeles, CA
  • October 26: Queen Anne Books, Seattle, WA

Interested? Let me know via e-mail which event you’d like to attend and we can get you on the roster (and if you’re an author, your books in the store).

Presales bode well for Punch in the Face

I’ve always said that writing my books are only half of my job. As an author, it’s also my responsibility to do everything I can to promote, market, and handsell each title for optimal sales performance. See, I love seeing my name in print (I’m as vain and proud as they come) but if the only copies are the author copies on my shelf, there’s not much point. I want to share what I’ve created with as many people as possible. That means beefing up my amazon page, reaching out to local booksellers, seeking out every media opportunity, and trying to walk that fine line of annoying and motivating my social media networks with my frequent posts.

Of course, I do this in cooperation with my publishers. Ideally, in the world of book publicity, you want to create a blitz of publicity and marketing in a two-week period when the book first hits stores. The more media hits you get, the likelier that a potential book-buyer will hear about your book in more than one place. I think there’s a belief that you have to see something in seven places before it sticks in your grey matter. Two weeks isn’t much time to make this happen so we are working now for Things I Want to Punch in the Face’s October publicity date. We’ve set August 23 as the amazon preorder date; ordering one or several copies on this date will help amazon’s algorithmic ordering system to take notice of the book. I’m also setting up book events in Seattle bookstores and beyond. We are reaching out to long-lead media for hits in publications, on radio, and online (and if you have any suggestions or contacts for media, I’m all ears!).

I think we’ve got a shot at getting this particular book into a lot of hands (that’s my cautiously optimistic way of saying we could sell a buttload of books). My publisher (Prospect Park Media) called me today to let me know that Urban Outfitters, a purveyor of hip, funny gift books, nearly doubled their initial order, sending us back to press for a second printing. And the books just hit the warehouse this week! The books haven’t even hit the market and we’re reprinting. That’s pretty darn cool. And it makes this part of my job a little easier.