self-promotion, bookselling, blah blah blah

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As you probably know, I am in the middle of launching my new book, THE BOOK OF LANEY. It is a young adult novel and so a bit of a departure for me. I am extremely proud of this book and I hope those of you who have read it will believe me and know this to be true when I say it: I have a mission for this book. My mission is that if reading this book can lift one young person (or person of any age!) out of darkness and offer them hope, then I will feel I have done my work well.

Since I am my own publicist, I have been working hard, as I always do, to get the word out about THE BOOK OF LANEY. I have sent out many pitches and for all that have been responded to favorably, 10-20 or more have either been denied or ignored entirely.

For all the booksellers, libraries, people in the media, reviewers, who have responded favorably or reached out so far: THANK YOU! I am truly grateful to you (which I hope you know already but I want to say it again here). I know what it takes for you to do the work you do and I appreciate that you continue to fight for literacy and literature and the future and young people and hope.

I read a few blog posts recently that were making the circuit. Two different writers talking about what to do and what not to do when one promotes one’s book. There was some decent advice (though a bit snarky in tone) from the perspective of these writers. However, I come at promoting my work not just as the writer, but as someone who knows what it is like to promote the work of others. Someone who knows what it feels like to be pitched day in and day out.

I have been on the receiving end of the pitch and I know what worked for me and what didn’t. I try to remember my past experience with each pitch I make myself. Honestly, to call what I do a pitch is not accurate. What I do is get in touch and give some information and try to be as pleasant as possible and never, ever, ever demand anything.

So here’s my story: Twenty years ago, I was living and working in Boston. I was a writer in my heart and trying to find ways to sustain myself, but I wasn’t doing much writing. What I was doing then was making a living. What else I was doing was learning. For a time, I was the Regional Promotions Director for Tower Records New England. What this meant was that I was responsible for in-store/off-site events and off-site sales for the three New England stores (Boston, Cambridge, Burlington). All day, every day, I had people pitch me: indie record labels, big record labels, radio stations, distributors, artists themselves (musicians, writers), publishers, book distributors, etc. I, in turn, pitched events to these same people when they had work coming out we thought would be a big draw or when we thought they were hosting an event we might want in on. My team (all two or sometimes three of us) and I were responsible for promoting, publicizing, and managing these events.

During my time, we hosted Marilyn Manson, Nancy Sinatra (when she was in Playboy… THAT was an interesting in store), Marianne Faithful (for her book. She was allowed to smoke in the store because she was Marianne Faithful), etc. etc. No end of famous people.

I remember and have fondness for all of the people who were pleasant to us. I worked with those people many times because they were pleasant, polite, and nice to work with. There were assholes, too. The assholes were rude, demanding, and had the expectation that something should be done for them. The assholes… we didn’t work together much. I avoided the assholes. I lost their messages. I didn’t return the calls.

Remember, this was before social media. This was before Amazon. If you wanted your stuff to be sold, you pretty much needed it to be in a brick and mortar store. And you pretty much interacted face-to-face.

I learned so much from this job (and subsequent jobs in which I promoted and publicized other things) but the key lessons I learned are this:

1) No one likes a pushy sales pitch. NO ONE. Pushy sales pitches are not normal human interactions. They are not love. The people who spoke to me with love and honesty and who got to the point quickly about the artist they were representing were the ones who opened my heart. Even if I didn’t respond to that particular artist the fact that they so believed in that artist and their potential, moved me and brought me to action. So if you are your own publicist (as I am mine), try your best to get to the point and to do it in a way that is open and be honest about yourself. You don’t need to pitch yourself so hard that you come off sounding false.

2) Be a human being and treat others as though they are human beings. I was on a panel once and I responded to a question (don’t even remember the question) that writers should treat agents and editors like human beings. The follow up question was: “What do you mean like human beings?” Not even kidding. Basically, you know how you like to be treated. If you are like me, you like to be treated as though you have thoughts and feelings that matter and as though you are not just on this planet to serve others. Well, that’s the way we all want to be treated. We want kindness and respect and honesty and generosity of spirit. I know I responded best to those people who approached me as if I were a living, breathing creature. The people who took the time to learn my name and know some things about me.

3) As for social media: do it if you like and it feels right to you. Don’t do it if you don’t. Back in the 90s we had to hit the streets with paper fliers and hand them out to people. NOTHING is more humiliating and humbling than having people ignore you when you stand before them with a flier in your hand. Your outstretched hand. Social media can be like that. You might just be tweeting about your book and you think that’s cool but you don’t realize how many people are averting their eyes from you and your outstretched hand. It’s okay, though. It’s cool. Do what works for you and don’t let people make you feel ashamed for doing whatever you feel like you need to to get yourself out there.

So I’m here in these trenches with you. I am trying  to get this book into as many hands as I can–not just because I want to do a good job for my publisher and my editor (because I do) but also because I want it to be read. I want it to make a difference in the world. We all want that, right?

My AWP Schedule (please commit this to memory!)

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A week from now, many of us will be in the thick of the annual AWP conference in Minneapolis. By this point, we will be exhilarated, exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, possibly hungover (especially if you drank that shot that was offered to you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!), missing our families/pets or families and pets or missing no one. We will also hoping to connect with old friends or friends we’ve only known online or writers/editors/journals/presses we admire from afar.

I am excited that I’m going to be there but I’m also preemptively missing my family even though I am still at home. I will need a hug when I see you! And I hope that I will get to see you. I arrive Thursday afternoon and leave Sunday morning.

Here’s my schedule:

April 9th, 2015, 7:30PM: Reading at ELJ Wild and Harvest Reading, Magers and Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN

April 10th, 2-4PM, 2015: signing THE BOOK OF LANEY at AWP 2015  Conference at the Engine Books/Lacewing Books booth 652, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 10AM-12PM, 2015: signing THE BOOK OF LANEY at AWP 2015 Conference at the Engine Books/Lacewing Books booth 652, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 3PM-4PM, 2015: signing I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND at AWP 2015 Conference at the PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press booth 1122, Minneapolis, MN

April 11th, 4PM, 2015: Reading at Four Presses Present a Hotel Room Reading, Le Meridien Chambers, Minneapolis


pub day: today is my butter

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Last weekend, I made a double batch of zucchini bread because we have a busy week ahead. My son is in his second play and has seven performances between tomorrow and Sunday. I wanted him to be able to have something homemade in his snack and lunch so that even though he was busy, he would know he was loved and that I was thinking of him.

Unfortunately, I messed something up in the mixing and baking and the zucchini bread is, frankly, sort of gross. However, I have found that if you cover it with a lot of butter, it’s not half bad.

As I was choking down my butter-covered zucchini bread this morning, I realized that this is pretty much how I’ve made it through my life: examining my mistakes and failings and then trying to find a way to fix them, even if that means covering them with butter to make them more palatable.

Yesterday became a weird day and at some point I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I went to bed feeling horrible. I had a fever and my whole body was sore. Before I fell asleep I kept saying to my husband, “I feel like I am doing everything wrong.”

Even though it is raining out today and our big, ugly brown snow banks are melting all over the place, today is a much brighter day. Some sleep and perspective taking have been just the butter I needed.

Also, I have so much to celebrate: my third book–THE BOOK OF LANEY–is officially published today. I am extremely grateful to Lacewing Books for bringing it into the world and I am grateful to anyone and everyone who reads this book. For all of the work and the disappointment and the rejection and the self-doubt that goes into the making of a book, this day, when it is officially placed into the hands of readers, is the day that makes it all worth it.

I am taking this day. I am claiming it even though maybe I screwed something up in the mix yesterday, making that day come out a bit crumbly. Today I am going to say that I am doing things right. I’m taking this day and I’m covering yesterday with as much butter as possible and I’m saying thank you to you for sharing today with me. Thank you.







* in case you are wondering… all of that butter in the photo came from my freezer. I am a butter hoarder. Not proud of it. I just don’t want to run out. I also hoard toilet paper and canned beans. Make of that what you will.






Spark, by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

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I picked up Courtney Elizabeth Mauk’s debut novel SPARK in the early evening, expecting to read a few pages and did not put it down again until I had finished it three+ hours later. It’s a glorious, fast-paced read, filled with beautiful language, tightly-written scenes, and unforgettable characters.

For all of her life, Andrea has known one thing for sure: she was born to save her brother’s life. As such, she is the ultimate codependent, who only really comes to life when her brother is nearby so that she might save him. In fact, it seems as though she has been in a chrysalis all the years he has been away from her and it is not until he comes back into her life that her carefully wound, seemingly happy life, begins to unfurl. And then it begins to unwind and unwind it does.

At first, Andrea seems tentative about having her recovering pyromaniac brother to come and live with her and her boyfriend, and yet she prepares the apartment as one would do for a new infant; nesting and getting rid of anything that might cause him harm. Once he moves in, she takes things even farther, pushing away her boyfriend so that he might not do the harm she perceives him and his work capable of.

Essentially, she becomes her brother’s mother and following in her own mother’s footsteps–codependent, a helicopter parent. She does not and cannot exist without her brother and his disease.

She also cannot live without his fire. Even though he has spent the past 20 years reforming himself, she doesn’t believe that he is truly healed and when the papers start reporting suspicious fires around the city, she convinces herself it is him. Even when she can find no proof in his room or on his person, she believes he is guilty. She even goes so far to bring matches back into the house, as though to tempt him and have him fail, because like most codependents, she is as addicted to his disease as he is and as much as she wants to save him, she can’t fully live without the threat of him falling back into illness and danger.

Still, Andrea does find an outlet in two other women who people her world. First, there is Rain an aging actress whose dog she walks. Rain is hedonistic, independent, full of love and life. She is everything that Andrea is not. And yet even though Rain is fully developed, Andrea still cannot resist the urge to sometimes take care of Rain. To coddle her. To climb into bed and spoon her, as her sense of boundaries are so horribly skewed.

And then there is Sally, the night person. Andrea’s dark other half. She meets Sally while out walking one night and soon becomes addicted to the dangerous and exciting life Sally offers. Sally may or may not truly exist, but what is clear is that she represents both the unraveling of Andrea’s mind and also her opportunity for escape. She can choose to go on worrying over her brother and her mother, or she can embrace this darker, more carefree side of herself and let go.

You, my friend, will have to read the book to see what she decides.

Read it.

I’m Reading at Newtonville Books tonight at 7PM!

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The first of my readings for Echolocation is tonight at Newtonville Books, an awesome bookstore which is supportive of independent presses. Go, Newtonville!

Here are my responses to the Newtonville Books Questionnaire.

Hope to see you there!