This Publishing Life

by Jennifer Lauck

Once you’ve written a book, be it novel, poetry or memoir, you’ve only done half the job. The other half is getting your book published—and then promoting it to the world.

My fourth memoir, Found, (to be released March 2011), was picked up by Seal Press out of Berkeley. This unlikely deal took place after I met Seal’s editor, Brooke Warner, at last year’s Associated Writers Program conference in Denver, Colorado. I say unlikely because Found had been rejected by most of New York, due to the slack sales of my previous book Show Me the Way.

Had I not been a student in the Rainier Writing Workshop, I probably would not have gone to AWP, that mega extravaganza of writers, editors, teachers and publishers—five thousand people strong.  In an email to all of the MFA students, program director Stan Rubin wrote about getting a cut-rate deal on the admission price and how many RWW teachers and students were going. As a writer and an introvert, I would more willingly shove bamboo into my nail beds than take several precious writing days off (and away from my children) to hang out with so many chatty strangers. But since I had Found to sell I got on the plane.

In Denver, I discovered a new publishing world had replaced the one I had known ten years earlier, when my first memoir, Blackbird, was released. Writers are now increasingly expected to do mountains of work themselves, including creating video trailers to promote their book, and organizing speaking venues. As my pal Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters and The Possibility of Everything told me:  “You are on your own, Jen.  Hire help.  No matter what you do, earn back your advance.”

Having not earned back two advances was my biggest obstacle in trying to sell my most recent memoir.  While Blackbird was a great big blockbuster back in 2000, the follow up books Still Waters and Show Me the Way were commercial flops.  With the drag in the economy, larger commercial presses were unwilling to take a gamble on me.

As I downshifted my expectations and perused possibilities in small and university presses, I heard the buzz words “platform” and “social networking.”   Cheryl Strayed, the author of Torch and the soon-to-be-released memoir Wild, told me to go “viral” which meant placing a bit of my writing in the virtual world with the goal it would spread—like mad—in blogs, on Twitter and Facebook.

Attending AWP became a necessary mallet to the head where I learned that I had to stop comparing what had been in the past, stop lamenting how things had changed and start focusing on what needed to happen to achieve successful publication.  My new book deserved no less.

I joined several writerly organizations in Portland and nationwide: Willamette Writers, The International Women’s Writing Guild, and of course AWP.  In order to get my name out, I signed up to teach for local organizations:  Literary Arts and Sitka Center.  Since my new book focuses on the issue of adoption policy in the U.S., I joined several local and nation adoption associations and began reading newsletters and attending conferences.   I blog on a regular basis, submit articles to magazines and blogs and appear frequently on Facebook and Twitter.

I spoke with writers published in the last year and asked them: “What has been the single most effective thing you have done to promote your work?”  Karen Karbo, the author of several novels, memoirs and children’s books told me she went to the writing program in a local high school in Portland and asked for an intern to help her with all her Internet interactions.

Hope Edelman told me she organized a series of salon style evenings where she offered a reading from her book, some form of entertainment (since her recently memoir is about her travels to Belize, she brings in Mayan healers or belly dancers) and a light meal including wine.  These salons had a price attached, a cover charge which included the cost of her book.

Ilie Ruby, author of the new novel The Language of the Trees told me she got herself in the habit of saying yes to all invitations to read her work, visit with readers, appear on TV spots and participate in roundtable discussions.

I’m doing all of these things now too!