23 November 2009

If you want to be published . . . Market 1st, Write 2nd

Tic-Tac-Toe on friend's porch in Portland, OR

Tic-Tac-Toe on friend's porch in Portland, OR

Comments on self-publishing by BARBARA……..

When I decided to self-publish, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. You write it, you edit it, you pay for it – and, it comes out in the form of a lovely book. OH, how naïve. Don’t get me wrong, what I said is true. All that happens. It’s just that I put the proverbial “cart before the horse”.  Some things (which will be detailed later) I did correctly by accident; others were too little too late. But, that can be remedied if you remember that when that little seed of a novel or short story or article first tickles your brain – market first, write second. Always have in the back of your mind to network, pick up on the slightest connection in the media that may have an impact later and, no matter what anyone says, share ideas. Unless it is an idea that needs a patent or a plot that has never been written, share. Ideas are universal and the feedback you receive is immeasurable.

While at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, in 2008, I wrote the final version of the book that would be entitled Second Career Volunteer, and was inspired to write an essay which I sent to my local NPR station (WAMC, Albany, NY). It was accepted and I was invited to record it for listeners. While preparing to record, I conversed with Katie (WAMC staff) about what I had done and what the future would hold, and I mentioned that I felt Arkansas was overlooked. She said, “so write another essay and send it to me.“ I said I would think about it. So, on with my life. Since I had truly enjoyed visiting and working in the “natural” state of Arkansas and friends said they wished to visit, I decided to return in 2009 for another volunteer experience.

Now, if you look at a map, Arkansas is located to the east of Oklahoma, below Missouri, above Louisiana, catching a piece of Texas. The Mississippi River forms a natural boundary between Tennessee and Mississippi and Highway 40 runs through it, but major roads that crisscross, are more northern and southern. I sympathized with that, and the fact that I had not really heard of Arkansas prior to Bill Clinton being elected President. There were a lot of positives about Arkansas like ragged cliffs and raging rivers, down-home attitude, Shakespearean lore, and Heifer. They even give away diamonds … who knew?

When I returned from Arkansas in 2009, I wrote an essay about my hiking and sightseeing and sent it off to Katie at NPR. She liked it. I was asked to record it and again, during preparation, mentioned that the book was being published, due out in (I thought) August. I was told, “Contact us when it’s published and we’ll schedule you for the Roundtable!” Well, being on the Roundtable talk show is a very big deal. I was ecstatic. How could I have known that my original essay about volunteering would lead to an essay on Arkansas which led to an interview on a prestigious radio show? It might have been accidental, but I surmise that in the back of my mind I was thinking, reading an essay on NPR could be a good thing. It would let people know about my lifestyle and give me some practice reading on the radio. Actually I had inadvertently started the groundwork for my book with that first essay. If you want to be published, this is how you should be thinking from the day that seed germinates in your brain.

There are many other venues and opportunities that you can utilize such as:

  • Local library presentations. Libraries are always looking for programs and if you want to dip your toe into public speaking, contact your local librarian;
  • Writing groups. I have belonged to the International Women’s Writing Guild (www.IWWG.org) out of New York City for many years. The guild consists of an outstanding camaraderie of writers. A conference is held each year at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. Check it out. When I was in Alaska, I put out a call for a writing group. Twenty-five writers showed up. If you hear of writing groups in your area – join. If you can’t find one, form one. I also belong to a local writers group and HVWG (Hudson Valley Writer’s Guild);
  • Join Book Clubs for the variety of reading and for the networking involved;
  • Begin assembling an email group of addresses for your BOOK IS PUBLISHED announcement. Remember to keep each group below 100 listings. Above that presents issues when “sending”.

There is one book I would recommend: The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. It is a straightforward guide, a bargain on Amazon unlike the dozens of offers for marketing and self-publishing that inhabit the Internet. In the book is a calendar/checklist which begins “things you should do RIGHT NOW” to “after the book is published”. This calendar is an excellent guide but be forewarned, marketing can be expensive. I could not afford to join all the organizations, subscribe to all the magazines, or buy all the books – even the postage for submissions adds up, so I chose what worked for me. Make a budget and stick to it! Pay attention to expenses. Make an Excel sheet for taxes, book sales and publicity contacts/presentations. With these forms up and running prior to publishing, you will be in control.

Of course, living and working in a multicultural, multi-generational volunteer community generates a network of possibilities. While at meetings and around your hometown, keep a notebook handy to list names, addresses and related association. I have met so many people who have invited me to “be sure and visit” on my back and forth travels, had conversations with individuals in grocery aisles, touched base with people who turned out to be the friend of a friend who heard about that book …. You just never know.

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