January 16, 2020 § 8 Comments
By Sweta Vikram
Remember the joy and pain of writing your novel or memoir or poetry book or short story collection or set of essays? Remember the pride, the emotional exhaustion, the enthrallment, and the physical pain of bringing your book in this world? The rush, the celebrations, the book events, the sleepless nights, the book tour, burning the midnight oil, the reviews, the media bytes, the interviews, the social media attention and all of that? But a few weeks or months later, everything begins to grow quiet. Initially, there might be gratitude for the breather but slowly the realization hits: the big day is over and there is an emptiness that envelops the author. Not everyone has a book come out every year, so how do you channel the creative energy in that moment of winding down?
My novel, Louisiana Catch was published by Modern History Press in April 2018. The book has gone on to win laurels and made home in many hearts. But let’s get real; while the book might exist forever in the literary ether, people’s minds only have so much bandwidth. Most of our books, unless you are Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway, are “forgotten” a few months after the book release day. And, if you work with a small to mid-size press, you don’t get a separate paperback release a year or 18 months after your hardcover book comes out.
But the creative heart feels restless. How do you keep your words, characters, story, and efforts alive long after the book birthday? No one but you can bring your book back to life.
Here are some possible ways to do so:
Collaborate: I recently went on a culinary and literary date with the characters in my novel Louisiana Catch. How did I do that? Well, I partnered up with culinary queen and chef Kulinary Karma. She read through the novel thoroughly and picked up on dishes and spices and herbs integral to the story—no, Louisiana Catch isn’t a cookbook. Kulinary Karma went on to create a fabulous spread based on what was mentioned in my novel Louisiana Catch. She hosted an elegant dinner party while I read from the book and talked about what each dish meant to the characters in the novel.
Innovate: I think it was Carrie Bradshaw in the popular television show Sex and the City, who said (I am paraphrasing here) that every fourth person in New York City is a writer. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, how does your book stand out? Create a niche. Not everything that we writers write is a tell-all tale about our lives unless you are writing nonfiction. But, even with fiction, there might be aspects of your writing that mirror your life choices and beliefs. What if they become your “signature” or professional identifier? For instance, having a daily meditation, yoga, and workout practice is key to my creativity. Both the female protagonist, Ahana, and male protagonist, Rohan Brady, in Louisiana Catch happen to be tuned into fitness. Mindfulness and wellness are integral to my work and teachings, which is something that my colleagues, peers, readers, and networks know. In early 2020, I will be teaching a creative and mindfulness writing workshop at an indie bookstore in NYC and creative-wellness workshops at a yoga studio in NYC. These are all opportunities for me to both directly and indirectly reintroduce Louisiana Catch to a room full of strangers.
Infiltrate: Indeed, it’s important to host literary events at bookstores and support both small businesses and your readers who shop from indie stores. Social media partnerships with book reviewers along with participating in book clubs and speaking at literary festivals are all integral to book promotions. But most of these aforementioned opportunities cross paths when your book is out. What happens a year later? You have to pay attention to the other markets your book addresses. What do I mean by that? Because the story in Louisiana Catch addresses impact of social media, women in leadership, violence against women, world cuisine, health and wellness, and women’s empowerment, I have partnered with yoga studios, organizations that empower women in leadership, restaurants, and nonprofits that fight to end violence against women to do innovative and informative events. Your readers could be in so many spaces, don’t forget that for one moment.
Educate: For the one-year anniversary celebrations of Louisiana Catch, a restaurant in Chicago hosted a party and created the signature drink—Sazerac—integral to the novel. We talked about why this drink is important to the male protagonist from New Orleans and the history behind it. I also highlighted the similarities between New Orleans and New Delhi—two out of the three cities I write about in Louisiana Catch. I have done Skype chat with book club members in Boston, Seattle, and the Bay Area 7-8 months after the book launch. Seattle Book Club organized a delicious dinner in honor of both the cultures. Yes, we talked about Louisiana Catch. But we mostly talked about current issues that were relevant to the book. Be it conversations around mental health, diversity, women’s safety, or wellness. The statistics and updates were startling to many. As a writer, having done your primary and secondary research on topics that pertain to your book, you can position yourself as a thought leader.
Honestly, you don’t have to do any of these things. But, I can promise you that your book being forgotten isn’t an easy feeling. Reviving it, every now and then, is encouraging. It takes work, but it’s worth it. Think of all the years you spent creating each sentence, section, and pages. No amount of work can be too much to reintroduce your work to the world. It can be on a small scale, but every bit helps keep your words alive. You need to do what works for you and feels authentic to you.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram is an international speaker, best-selling author of 12 books, and Ayurveda and mindset coach who is committed to helping people thrive on their own terms. As a trusted source on health and wellness, most recently appearing on NBC and Radio Lifeforce, Sweta has dedicated her career to writing about and teaching a more holistic approach to creativity, productivity, health, and nutrition. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and other publications across nine countries on three continents. Sweta is a trained yogi, is on the board of Fly Female Founders, and holds a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. Voted as “One of the Most Influential Asians of Our Times” and winner of the “Voices of the Year” award (past recipients have been Chelsea Clinton), she lives in New York City with her husband and works with clients across the globe.
January 6, 2020 § 14 Comments
By Alison Lowenstein
After meticulously crafting a brief cover letter and biographical statement, you upload your work of creative genius, along with a twelve-dollar submission fee. You press submit and enter a period of limbo when you see the essay, along with your many other submissions–ranging from haikus to flash fiction, logged as Received.
Every evening you visit the web page for the literary journal you submitted to and imagine yourself on their homepage. Fantasizing that within minutes of the essay being on the journal’s website you get a book deal or at least an inquiry from a literary agent.
Rebuilding Your Confidence:
You reread your essay to remind yourself that you truly are talented and any editor tasked with navigating a content management system to review a virtual slush pile will be delighted to read the layered work rife with metaphors and allusions to religion, literature and a variety of high and low brow works of art.
Judging Those Who Don’t Publish:
To pass the time, you silently judge your friends who aren’t vulnerable enough to submit their creative work to literary publications like you do. You think about your old college roommate who was lauded in the alumni newsletter for discovering a procedure to cure blindness, who as far as you know has never published in JAMA, while you have had three poems and an essay featured in literary journals with a circulation of over 2,000.
Your heart skips a beat when you see your status finally changes from Received to In-Progress. You imagine your essay being discussed at an editorial meeting where the words “brilliant” and “we made a serious discovery here” will be uttered several times by an enthusiastic staff comprised of unpaid grad students and a lecherous aging professor. After two months, when your status hasn’t changed to Accepted you start reading the masthead of the journal and craft impassioned letters to the editorial board about how they better make a decision or you will be forced to Withdraw the submission. You wisely never send these letters.
Perusing Social Media:
You follow many notable writers and other literary icons on various social media platforms and cringe when you see them mention work they’ve recently published in the literary journal you submitted to and haven’t heard back from in four months. In addition, you follow the editors from the publication you submitted your essay to and wonder how they could tweet several times a day, while it takes them months to make a decision to Accept or Decline on Submittable.
It’s been six months and you still religiously check your Submissions page, but there has been no change in status. You regret not sending your essay out as a multiple submission and blame your monogamous nature as a reason for this mistake. Late one night in a fit of rage, you make your way over to the Discover page and search for other journals accepting creative nonfiction. You submit to a contest that has two hours left before its submission window closes, and a series of online and print journals, spending a total of one hundred and four dollars on submission fees. The following morning you receive an email congratulating you and you log onto Submittable and see your status has changed to Accepted.
Alison Lowenstein is a freelance writer and author of children’s books, guidebooks and plays. She’s written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Modern Loss, Gothamist, New York Daily News, National Geographic Traveler, Travel and Leisure.com, and many other publications and websites. You can find her at www.brooklynbaby.com. Follow her on twitter @cityweekendsnyc.
January 3, 2020 § 17 Comments
By Victoria Buitron
When I was 15 years old, I moved with my family from Connecticut back to the small town in Ecuador where I was born. I knew that leaving my childhood home would have a myriad of consequences, but I never imagined that one of those would be depriving me of access to a library. In my naïveté, I thought that all countries and cities had libraries like the ones I spent time in while growing up, attending art classes, going to author events, accompanying my mom to her ESL lessons, and losing myself in the book in front of me. But just like that, I got on a plane, and that privilege was gone.
Though Ecuador has libraries, very few of them allow you to borrow books. My hometown had a small municipal library with outdated, fraying books, but borrowing wasn’t an option. Instead, there were open markets by unused train tracks where you could buy books. Many of them were religious books, all in Spanish, and each priced at one or two dollars. There was no author’s name or publisher listed, just the cover and the start of the book on the first page. I had seen bootleg DVDs and CDs, but it was the first time I had ever encountered a bootleg book. My parents offered to buy me what I wanted, but I said no. I could touch them, but they weren’t real.
One of the agreements with my parents when we moved was that I would go back to Ecuador only if my dog and all my books came with us. The books arrived to the port of Guayaquil a few months after we settled in. When I opened the boxes, it felt like Christmas, my birthday, and a gift from the universe wrapped all in one to keep me sane. I reread and reread those books for the seven years I stayed in Ecuador. My personal library grew a bit every time I went to Guayaquil and purchased another book. I had to carefully pick the ones I wanted to add to the collection since I no longer had the privilege of taking ten books home and bringing them back weeks later.
In 2012, when I was 22, I moved back to Connecticut, with only one suitcase and a carry-on bag to stuff all the clothes I needed to once more start a new life in another country. There was no space for the books I took to Ecuador or for the ones that were added to my collection over the years, so I picked the one book from my collection that was a mix of English and Spanish: Buffalo Bill ha muerto by E.E. Cummings, translated by José Casas. It’s one of my favorite books, anthologizing Cumming’s poetry from 1910 to 1962 with the original English poem on one page and the Spanish translation on the other. This book would serve as a reminder of where I came from and where I was heading.
I arrived to the U.S. unemployed, but I knew I didn’t need to afford books in order to have access to them. I immediately began to take advantage of my local library just where I had left off. I had to wait until I could prove I was a resident of the town so I borrowed a family member’s library card. Then I borrowed books like I was hoarding them. I attended informational sessions on applying for health insurance at the library. I renewed my passport there. I also went to free book events while I looked for a job. I read magazines I couldn’t afford to buy. I read books that had been on my to-read list for years. For the first few months, I lived with three others in a one-bedroom apartment and the library was the only place where I could get some silence and solace.
Just a few months ago, a friend and translator reached out to me with the following question: “How do you call the borrowing system libraries have in the United States?” What an odd question. “We just call them libraries,” I said. Yes, she explained, but the translation she was working on would be intended for audiences in Ecuador, and she wanted to make it clear that this particular library was an anomaly because it in fact had a “book lending program.” The memories came rushing back, and it spurred me to donate to my local library.
I then tallied up the library events I had been part of in the last year. I was a volunteer at Love All Project’s Community Storycast event in the Norwalk Library. I took a memoir workshop at the Greenwich Library by Joan Motyka. I participated in my first poetry writing workshop this past summer at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT led by Sally Bliumis-Dunn. Some of my published essays and many of the stories in my draft folders have come from inspiration from those workshops and the people I met.
Even though now I have a collection of books stored in my home, I go to the library at least once a week. As a reader and writer, the library is not a place I will ever take for granted. Someone asked me recently what places I love the most, and I said the mountains, the beach, and the library. It might have come off as a bizarre response, but for me entering a library has always felt like coming home.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator based in Connecticut. She is currently an MFA candidate at Fairfield University’s low-residency program. Find her at atravelingtranslator.com and on Twitter at @kikitraveler30.
December 16, 2019 § 17 Comments
By Nina Gaby
When I’m rejected from a lit mag or when I get a hasty “no” from a contest entry I might try to figure out what went wrong.
Or I might just slam the laptop shut and toss my phone on the dashboard and mutter about being too “painterly” which is art school code for no clear narrative arc and maybe just a messy mashup of ideas. In other words, missed the lyrical mark.
But this is the way my mind works, I argue. Like a pinball machine of thoughts bouncing off images with some jokes interspersed. How color sits next to its neighbor (see #5.) Or quotes from workshops… “the antidote to writer’s block is play”….who said that, damn, why don’t I write everything down. Isn’t flow what we are after? The intoxicant of pure immersion and the suspension of form (see #6)? But then again, form provides cohesion and yeah I cut my teeth on Kerouac, but I am not him. People want to be able to follow some pilot thread.
I had to figure out how to get there. If my mind seems chaotic you should see my studio. But there I went—to my collection of ephemera and the flow that comes from a tiny pair of manicure scissors, a vintage typewriter, a sewing machine, a disjointed set of rubber stamps.
I credit Randon Billings Noble for her precise attempts at an explaining the lyrical essay in her recent Hippocamp workshop. In clear diagram she outlined just how it works, which I have paraphrased (see #14, 15, 16.) But what else does it take to immerse? A good playlist (#2, 8)? A little yoga (see #7), some mindfulness, a good laugh (see #12, 19)? Adderall?
So for my fellow strugglers, just follow the attached steps and (#20) be beautiful.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and advanced practice nurse who specializes in addiction and psychiatry. Gaby has been working with words, clay, and people for five decades. Her essays, fiction, prose poetry, and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, journals and magazines, and her artwork is held in various collections, including the Smithsonian, Arizona State University and Rochester Institute of Technology. Her anthology, Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women, was published in 2015 and she has essays in several upcoming anthologies. More information at www.ninagaby.com.
December 3, 2019 § 7 Comments
Back when I was a professional circus performer, most of my shows were at “busker festivals”—large community events where a street or streets are closed to traffic, and shows happen throughout downtown.
(Not seeing it? Here’s an uplifting two-minute montage of the busker festival in Ontario I now direct, check out the flip at :52!)
A tradition at busker festivals is the Group Show, a closing performance with all the acts presenting 3-5 minutes each. Group Shows are fun for the performers as well as the audience—buskers bring out new material, tricks too difficult or dangerous for their regular shows, or they combine acts with other artists.
Sometimes there’s an inside joke. At a festival in Canada, performers swapped costumes and did bits of each others’ acts. Funniest of all was emcee Sharon, a not-contortionist dressed as a contortionist, running around shouting “I’m Suzie Splits! Buy my merchandise!” As she introduced each act, she added the slogan: “Next up, the amazing Aerial Angels! Did I mention you could buy my merchandise?” or “Wasn’t that juggling terrific! Buy my merchandise!”
We all loved Suzie Splits (not her real name). But what we remembered from her show was not her amazing bendy skills, but her constant merchandise pitching.
You may not be hawking souvenir t-shirts, bumper stickers or can cozies, but you might be selling something else. Workshops. Editorial services. Coaching. Writing retreats. Chances are, you’re also part of some pretty great writing communities. Which means you’ve seen the equivalent of Suzie Splits, tweeting about her book (now available on Amazon!), Instagramming about her retreat (look how pretty!), or posting about her great new service in a Facebook group (discounts for members!).
When you need that service, or have been meaning to buy that book, those announcements can be great. But most of the time, let’s face it, they’re kind of irritating. And irritation doesn’t sell books—or anything else.
How can you connect your services with your audience, without alienating the very clients you’re seeking? Some best practices:
1) Revise your bio. Every time someone sees you or your writing online, your bio should contain a clickable link to the most important thing you’re selling right now. If your website isn’t selling anything NOW, send people to the social media you enjoy the most, or a recent publication. Update Twitter/Instagram bios regularly to highlight your current work, whether that’s a new essay published or a service you’re offering.
2) Use your email signature. An automatic email signature saves time and reaches people outside your writing community. Responding to your lawn service? Maybe their daughter’s getting her MFA, or the main mower has a deep love of reading you don’t know about.
3) Promote one thing at a time. When I add my bio to a Brevity blog, I rotate what I’m pitching. Some weeks it’s “follow me on Instagram” or “join my newsletter.” Sometimes I’ll mention a conference I’m speaking at, or a workshop I’m teaching. But if I listed my whole calendar, readers would get lost in a mass of information.
4) Promote your friends…one at a time. Twitter feeds full of retweets of books for sale are worse than no promotion at all, because people mute or ignore spammy accounts. If I’m promoting a friend’s event or service, I skip promoting myself for a couple of days before and after, because I want the information to stick.
5) Ask your friends to promote you. When a friend mentions you in their newsletter, or on social media, that’s an endorsement, far more valuable than self-promotion. People want advice from their trusted friends more than an ad from you.
6) Guest blog. Writing a post for a blog with a substantial following raises your profile. Look for leaders in the writing community, like Jane Friedman, and browse their blogs. What can you write for that audience? Can you angle that topic to establish your own expertise or mention your service in the context of valuable information?
7) Most important of all: timing. At least 10 “gives” for every “ask.” This establishes you as a valuable, contributing member of the community, rather than a drive-by using the group as a captive audience. Gives can be sharing links or information, answering questions you have expertise or even just an opinion on, posting thoughtful questions for discussion, sharing funny/meaningful/frustrating/triumphant moments from your own writing process, making jokes or participating in Twitter threads.
The very best self-promotion is offering something people already want and are delighted to discover that you sell, because they already like you. They trust you. Because you’ve shown you want their community, not just their cash.
I once explained how street performers make money to a reality-show investor: “We do the very best show we can, for free. At the end of the show, people like us so much, they joyfully give us money, even though they could easily just walk away. Our job is to make them thrilled they have the opportunity to pay us.”
As creatives, that’s our job. Hang our paintings on the gallery wall for everyone to see until a buyer walks in. Donate our time and information to groups who need it, as we can afford to give it. Establish our skills and knowledge and ethos so clearly that when we do (finally!) announce a product, our audience is excited we’re letting them buy.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Rebirth Your Book retreat in Costa Rica with Allison and Dinty W. Moore coming May 2020 (please buy our merchandise).
November 29, 2019 § 7 Comments
By Marilyn Kriete
I’m still coming down from When Words Collide—a three day affair held in Calgary each summer. This year, over 800 literary souls converged to share their love of writing, books, and storytelling. I crawled out of my BC writing cave and flew to Alberta to meet my tribe
An electric buzz awaited me: these were my people! Knowing I could approach any of these 800 strangers and dive into a conversation about writing—without preamble or small talk —was mindboggling. This alone was worth the admission price, already ridiculously low. The founder’s decision to run a yearly conference where everyone donates their time, including the top presenters, keeps fees affordable for even the poorest scribbler. And the universal spirit of volunteerism adds another layer of magic to this electric event.
I dived in, moving without breaks from class to conversation to coffee grabs to private sessions. Every hour featured a difficult choice between ten diverse classes; dinner breaks were swallowed up in spontaneous connections with newfound sympaticos. The buzz kept me awake each night, thrilled by the creative energy I’d absorbed. How I needed to swim in this sea of like-minded fish!
Less than 30 of us made it to the final event, the “Dead Dog Social,” on Sunday night. Near midnight, at the hotel’s urging, we reluctantly said goodbye. The next day I boarded a plane and wrote a list of tips (and notes to self) for newbie conference attenders.
Here it is:
- Read the Program. Caffeine was in high demand, but I didn’t learn till the Dead Dog Social that free coffee and snacks were available throughout in the building I’d dubbed the “No coffee” tower—a five-minute sprint away. This info was included in the 75-page handout we received at registration… but I hadn’t read through most of it. I’d been needlessly running back to the “Coffee Tower” for refills and spending four dollars a cup.
- Plan Ahead. I perused the presenters and classes posted on the website weeks before the conference. I’d even written my choices down… somewhere. But once the whirlwind started, I was a pantser, choosing sessions based on proximity, titles, and random suggestions by strangers. This wasn’t terrible; most classes were good, and I regretted only two. But when I read the program later, I saw more relevant choices I’d missed by poor planning. We didn’t get complete maps and schedules till the conference started. But I could’ve planned better, perhaps by skipping a session to read the program and get oriented before diving in.
- Mark your special appointments in red. The conference offered pre-booked sessions with editors and agents to pitch and analyse first pages, manuscripts, and query letters. I booked four sessions and came prepared…but made a huge gaffe. In my nervousness over my first pitch session, I spaced on my second appointment that day. Fortunately, I was able to track down the editor I’d missed and reschedule a ten-minute session in the lobby. Not all editors would be so kind. I’m still cringing.
- Carry a big bag and wear a big smile. I did both. You’ll be picking up stuff as you move from class to class—books and handouts. You’ll want snacks to cover skipped lunches, and probably a sweater. A smile connects you with more people, much faster. I noticed lots of sad-faced writers sitting near the back with closed body posture. Open up! I had great fun engaging with others and making new friends.
- Attend at least one slush-pile session. Slush pile sessions are like Gong Shows, as writers anonymously submit the first page of their manuscripts for a panel critique. Even if you aren’t ready to submit, you’ll learn a lot: what agents look for, why they stop reading, and why your first page is so critical. Plus, these sessions are wildly entertaining!
- Sit near the front. Grab the best seat you can, and come ready to ask questions, comment, and encourage the presenters. If you have a question, it’s likely others have the same one: speak up! I got to meet lots of the guest authors and agents this way, and to chat with them throughout the conference by showing appreciation and making an impression.
- Don’t judge a class by its size. Some classes were standing room only, while others were sparse. But the packed classes weren’t always the best—for me. One of my favorite sessions had one presenter and less than ten participants. Her class was intimate, interactive, hilarious, and calming. She read us a brilliant short story and shared her writing journey. That class, at this point in the hectic schedule, was exactly what I needed. It felt like a lullaby.
- Initiate, initiate. Talk to the person next to you. Set up lunch or coffee dates. Exchange cards and tips. You never know when you’ll meet your next new friend or valuable writing connection.
- Pray to meet the right people. Lots of writers go to conferences to find an agent, editor, or publisher. I thought I was seeking an agent (for my two completed manuscripts); turns out what I need first is a brilliant structural editor. And I found her! I gleaned this insight from a discussion where all five panelists— extremely experienced writers and journalists—mentioned they’d sent their polished, mature work for a professional edit before Be open to fresh direction.
- Pace yourself. Or not. Some participants skipped classes and withdrew a while to re-energize (as writers, we’re mostly introverts). I did the opposite and filled each hour. Everyone got their time and money’s worth. My recovery probably took longer, but I don’t regret diving in and swimming hard till the end.
When I got home, I immediately signed up for next year’s conference, plus a smaller, more intimate conference in Kamloops, just two hours away. What joy to be with other writers! Find yourself a conference, and go.
After an unpredictable life in four continents and 16 cities, Marilyn Kriete now lives sedately in Kelowna, British Columbia, where she fights for writing space with three cats who own her office. She has two completed memoirs (seeking publication), a third on the way, and several published poems and articles (The Lyric, Storyteller, The Eastern Iowa Review). Check out her blog at purplesplashofglory.com.