Believe It or Not: What Makes Us Weird Actually Unites Us

October 5, 2022 § 5 Comments

Allison Landa’s debut memoir Bearded Lady: When You’re a Woman with a Beard, Your Secret is Written All Over Your Face is a powerful first-person narrative of her struggles with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia since childhood. In the interview below, Allison and Chris Young discuss the book and the steps involved in writing, editing, and publication. 

Chris Young: From conception to print, how did Bearded Lady evolve? How did your perception of the book change over time? How long was that timeline?

Allison Landa: At first, my perception of my project was different. I had all these tropes and sidelong ways of telling the tale. I was missing the mark for the first several drafts. And how did I know when it was “right?” Therapy helped. So did my husband. He has a great ear and tells me bluntly – Nope. Kill that. All of this takes time, it takes effort. I first started writing this in 2006…so, 16 years to bring it to print.

Chris: You’ve shared with our writer’s group your years-long journey of finding the right agent and the right publisher for this book. Can you talk about how this work became a memoir? 

Allison: Knowing yourself and your vision is a critical first step – but it doesn’t always come first. Along the way came four years and three re-writes to try and fit someone else’s vision of a Young Adult book. That was painful. Ultimately, I discovered the story was a memoir and needed to stay that way. I found people who supported that and were able to get my work into print. 

Chris: You’ve mentioned that getting an MFA and participating in several writers’ residencies helped enormously in bringing this project to light. Can you share any advice you picked up and how, specifically, it helped you? 

Allison: Certainly the MFA helped me to know myself, know my book – that is step one. You learn how to take feedback – and figure out who is qualified to give you that feedback. You make friends, connections. With residencies, it’s the time and the space to do the work. No matter if you go an academic route, or a non-academic route, you have the three Cs: Commit to the work, Conceptualize (try things on for size), and Connections (share your work, and find friends along the way). If you’re finding that a particular writing group isn’t right for you, don’t stick with it. Find another one. If you’re not getting what you need from your mentor or coach, find someone else. Ultimately, you want to find people who understand your story enough to help you see it through.

Chris: How did you choose the shape and structure of this memoir? 

Allison: I’m not sure if I chose it or it chose me. I played around with all kinds of different structures, but ultimately a linear narrative felt like the most effective way to tell my story. If that sounds neat, it certainly wasn’t. I spent years shaping and reshaping the thing before it finally fell into place. 

Chris: If the takeaway is about how we are all weird – (embrace and share your weirdness!) – can you talk about how – and when – this occurred to you?  

Allison: Great question! At some level I always knew that was the bigger takeaway, but it didn’t consciously occur to me until after the book was close to done in its current form. Having written the damn thing, I was then thinking in terms of higher themes – what did I want to tell the reader? I talked with many friends about this and realized that what makes us all weird in our own ways also unites us.

Chris: I really love the cover. What was it like to select the art for this piece?

Allison: It took a few iterations to get it right. I didn’t have a specific vision for the cover, but I did know it needed to convey my story – and I also knew what I did not want it to be. I chose to stay away from clownish imagery that could downplay the significance of the book’s message. I feel that the cover says so much without being overly specific or literal.

Chris: What’s next for you? 

Allison: Memoir is a unique and beautiful genre, and I don’t use the word beautiful lightly. That said, I’m switching gears and am currently 13,000 words into a work of fiction I’m calling Conflagration. I’m excited to see where it goes. I also recently pitched Parents Magazine on a piece about having to explain death to your 6-year-old, as we recently had to put our dog of 12 years down. I had to write my way through it; it’s how I process. We’ll see if that makes its way into any other stories. Sometimes you don’t know until it happens.


Chris Young is fascinated with what makes some workplaces full of drudgery and discusses this on She’s working on what she thinks is a memoir covering the tech scene from 1999-2019, including an accidental visit to the mental health psych ward. She’s been a participant in Allison Landa’s weekly writer support group for over 2 years. 

Allison Landa teaches at the Writing Salon and was a recent member of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Her work has appeared in venues including The Guardian US, The Washington Post, HuffPost Personal, The Mighty, and Salon Magazine. She is professionally represented by Marisa Zeppieri of Strachan Literary Agency. Her debut memoir Bearded Lady is forthcoming from Woodhall Press in October 2022.  

Pre-order link! 

Allison Landa (photo credit Maya Blum Photography

The 21st-Century Book Launch

April 8, 2021 § 12 Comments

Dinty W. Moore’s latest book To Hell with It Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno dropped early. Happy readers posted selfies with their Amazon-shipped copies before Dinty himself got a published book. Other writers report Amazon jumping the gun, too. Conversely, the wrenchingly beautiful Inside Passage has pushed back a month. My own publication date for Seven Drafts moved from May to September (sorry but thanks for sticking with me, preorders!).

It doesn’t matter.

The one-month launch is over.

A book launch was once a big, splashy thing. Champagne at a fancy restaurant, or dubious cheese cubes and box wine at a bookstore, your publicist flying in, a party. Then you’d wait eagerly for reviews, write a few supporting pieces, do some interviews, and 30 days later, you were done. Either your book had flown or it had flopped.

Now, the process of a book leaving the nest is much more drawn out. There’s the happy Facebook status when you finish the manuscript, start querying, land an agent, land a publisher, or decide to self-publish. The Goodreads cover reveal. The Instagram Reel of unboxing the first copies. Tweeting nice reviews. With social media, authors have much more control over pre- and post-launch publicity (if they want it). Now, after publication, a “book launch” lasts six months. Or a year. Or two or three years, with a revival when something newsworthy and connected to your book happens in year four.

What’s changed? The pandemic was the last straw, but the haystack had been building since the early 2000s. The sheer number of books published has vastly increased. Sure, Hemingway never tweeted. But in 1926, The Sun Also Rises joined about 23,000 new titles. In 2018, there were over a million new books in the USA alone. More books are self-published, alone or through a “hybrid” publishing services company, and their authors must self-promote or hire a publicist. And unlike a traditional publisher’s marketing department, a hired publicist doesn’t quit when the next book comes out…she keeps going as long as the checks keep rolling in.

The good news is, you don’t have to cram all that publication-related stress into the 3 months before and the 1 month after publication. The bad news is that authors end up doing a lot of the launching themselves, into a much busier, more crowded market. But authors also have more outlets—many costing only your time—to get the message out.

What does the 21st-century book launch include?

  • A mailing list. Start collecting emails now. Being invited into the inbox is the absolute best way to connect with readers (after meeting them in person, when we can again).
  • A giant spreadsheet to track launch activities. As my own primary publicist, I’m listing what I’d like to do on each platform where I’m active, and roughly when. Checking off a list is easier than guessing. (I’m making this spreadsheet available next week, btw, please do sign up for my mailing list if you want a copy!)
  • Blurbs. Lots of them. They don’t have to be famous writers—many readers don’t even know who the literati are. Learn to make a quote card and sprinkle good quotes from beta readers and reviews, as well as traditional requested blurbs, across your own social media. Those authors you hope will blurb? Start gently promoting their work through your social network months before hitting them up.
  • Long-term, low-key social media. You’re less likely to wear out your audience by posting about your book weekly for a year, in context with other news, rather than blasting ads for a month while everyone mutes you on Twitter. Post more about your topic than your book. Be a PSA instead of a commercial.
  • Literary citizenship. You’re going to want online reviews, so make sure you’ve reviewed all your friends’ books before asking them to review you back.
  • If your book launched more than a few months ago, look for something newsworthy to cue renewed sales. Write a hot essay. Get a writer friend to pitch an interview with you. Emphasize how your book intersects with a right-now topic. Supermoms. Actively processing past trauma. Female rage.

Yes, a lot of this sounds transactional. It is transactional. Human nature is transactional. We feel more drive to do favors for people who have done favors for us. Think of it as deposits into the Bank of Goodwill. You may not end up withdrawing the exact same stuff you put in, but when you contribute to a community, the members are more likely to support you, whether you supported them individually or not.

Having a book is like having a baby. Interest peaks right before the big release, but your precious little damp lump also gets 4-5 more months before your cooing starts boring the crap out of your friends. Pick the platforms you actually like—publishing essays, or writing newsletters, or public speaking, if you’re not into social media—and gently participate by supporting other authors’ creations, before, during and after launching your own bundle of literary joy.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

Forget Platform—Build a Bridge

May 26, 2020 § 34 Comments

There are three big myths about platform.

Myth #1: platform = social media followers

You may have seen writers on Twitter with statistics like “20.1K followers, 20K following.” Some writers build these numbers with “#writerlift” posts (everyone follows everyone else), or use apps to mass-follow hundreds of accounts, hoping they’ll follow back.

That’s not a platform. They have racked up numbers with people they can’t actually engage with. They are followed by people who clicked as reciprocation, not genuine interest.

Even truly impressive social media followings seldom translate to actual book sales. Social media numbers reflect, rather than cause, popularity.

Myth #2: platform = going viral

Only sometimes! If you’re writing memoir or nonfiction, writing a “hot essay” can get you a book deal. For literary fiction, a powerful short story in a great literary magazine can get you an agent.

Or it may not. You can’t control what’s going to go viral. Fortunately, the ingredients of “going viral” (tap into a subject people care passionately about, write a unique take and write it well, gradually build your publication credits until you get into more prestigious and prominent outlets) are the exact same ingredients of “pursue a serious writing career.” Going viral is the icing on your cake of dedication and time.

Myth #3: platform = being famous

Famous people get book deals all the time, very often for a ghostwritten book. But famous people are not your competitors. Readers buying A Famous Person I Like Wrote This are not the same people seeking a book that will entertain them, move them, or solve their problem.

Publishers know that. The pool of time and money available for famous person books is not the same pool for not-famous authors.

The vast majority of books are written by people who were not famous before publishing, and most of them still aren’t.

So what IS platform?

Platform is how you’re going to reach the readers who need your book.

  • You’ve become a known expert
  • Your work ties into (or better yet, sparks) a cultural trend
  • Your topic, work or personality draws people to pay to find out more

For nonfiction and memoir, platform is building trust, not numbers.

Think about your ideal readers. What do they need to know? Where are they currently seeking that information? Writing articles, public speaking (when health allows) and email newsletters are all more valuable than social media. Instead of a quick scroll, you have a meaningful chance to build bonds with the people who will trust YOU to solve their problem, whether that problem is, “I need to understand beekeeping,” or “Nobody around me knows how it feels when your kid dies.”

If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, work to establish your expertise in your subject, with a wonderful essay in a good literary magazine, articles for mass media, or speaking to special-interest groups fascinated by your topic.

For the writer creating a beautiful and passionate memoir, zero followers is plenty. That writer’s platform is the excellence of her writing, her fascinating emotional journey, and (hopefully) publishing short pieces that build her readership and reputation. Having followers and fans who will advocate for your book definitely helps you appeal to publishers, but writing a great book is more valuable still.

Here’s the main problem with “building platform”: a “platform” is something you get up on and yell at people.

Instead, build a bridge.

Your bridge is all the ways people who need your book can reach you. You are making a pathway for your readers, and it’s a two-way street. You listen to them, they listen to you.

I use several bridges: In Facebook groups (not my own pages), I connect with writers by offering information, promoting their books, and supporting their writing journeys. It’s not about racking up followers, but establishing myself as someone who is useful, helpful and kind—without a specific transaction. On Instagram, I focus on mini-essays: “get to know me,” “hey I write things that make you think,” and “here’s a writing tip.” Twitter is to amplify other people’s voices, practice being funny in writing, and entertain myself. I write a mostly-monthly newsletter, with the goal of “feel better today, reader! Also, here’s what I’m writing right now.” I stay connected to family and friends, because one Aunt Tillie who makes her whole church buy your book is more valuable than 10K followers on Twitter.

Building bridges isn’t quick and easy. I usually tell writers, it’s going to take fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, for two years. Fortunately, you only need to start with fifteen minutes.

Make some lists: Who are your readers? What are they reading now? What bridges do they already use to get entertainment and information? What websites do they visit, what groups are they part of? Start brainstorming ways you can be on the other side of that bridge.

  • Can you write an essay that shows off your voice?
  • Can you write an Op-Ed on a subject you’re passionate about?
  • Can you think of a topic for public speaking?
  • Can you start a newsletter that entertains or informs your readers?
  • How can you promote or support another writer today? How can you share valuable information with people who need it?

If you’re consistently entertaining, kind, and helpful in your world, some of your connections will become advocates for your book. You’ll also know more, be a better writer, and understand your readers. Just give it 15 minutes—I’ll see you on the other side of the bridge.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

Four Simple Ways to Promote Your Book Long After Its Release

January 16, 2020 § 11 Comments

Sweta S Vikram_BrevityBy 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.

Your First Book: When the Cheering Stops 

October 16, 2019 § 21 Comments

tallmadgeBy Alice Tallmadge

At first, you barely notice the drop-off. You still check your personal email a dozen times an hour, just in case someone has weighed in. You pull up your website email daily and hover over Facebook, counting likes. You track your Amazon page more than once a week, hoping for one more 5-star review.

Yes, there’s not quite the input there was a couple of months ago, when your pub date loomed, your on-line essay showed up on Huff Po, and your photo appeared above the fold of the Sunday paper’s arts section. You got used to the kudos from supporters, the notes from strangers. The flurry was so unexpected you didn’t have time to stand back and consider how ephemeral it would be. If you had, you would have told yourself of course it won’t last. But you didn’t. Instead you learned to swim, even enjoy, those new waters. Although nerve-wracking at first—a face-to-face confrontation with an angry reader, an email rant from another, the first radio interview—you came to relish being tossed from wave to wave, having to gather your words, respond to questions, to share with others the arduous process of birthing your book.

But months pass and you finally get it. Your FB messages and website email dry up. Local book clubs no longer seek you out. The number of Amazon reviews doesn’t budge. Book sales flat-line. No more emails from grateful strangers or appreciative friends show up in your inbox. The cheering has indeed stopped.

Your friends stop asking how the book is doing, and ask about your next project. But your writing mind is as empty as a flat pocket. You can’t imagine writing another paragraph, ever. You say are taking a break. And you do. You look around your yard and realize tiny suckers have grown into veritable trees while you were fact-checking your manuscript, filling out tipsheets and tracking down chapter notes. The fence along one side of the yard leans like a warped wall. A prickly plague of blackberries covers half your backyard. The lower limbs of the front yard pine have gone yellow and vestigial.

One day you walk into the back shed and the chaotic interior stops you cold—where did this mess come from? You spend hours culling, tossing and sweeping. It’s dusty labor, but therapeutic. You find the leak in the roof, the source of the nasty smell (cat pee on black plastic), the box of party lights you thought you had thrown out.

You do all this work with gusto, but your mind clatters away. You comb through your decisions, what you didn’t do, what you wished you had done, what you wish someone had told you, whether you should do more, and what that should be. The dust covers your arms, legs and face like a second skin.

In the 18 months since your pub date, one writing friend polishes off a long essay and three short stories. Another announces she found a publisher for her chapbook. Another says she expects her book will be done by December.  Another says her manuscript is being considered by a university press. You are honestly delighted for all of them, but as they talk you feel formless and drifty. You talk about your growing brush pile, how tough it’s been to find someone to trim your trees, how you need to re-seal your backyard deck.

One day you run into a former yoga teacher, a young woman who looks frail but is rooted as an old oak, and has gathered far more wisdom than her years belie. She tells you she closed her studio, then stopped teaching classes. Now she works at a farm stand, which she loves because, she says, it brings her close to the earth.

“Sometimes you just have to let it all go, to get to the next step,” she tells me, her eyes a dancing sea of blue. “It’s tough because that’s who you’ve been for all those years, and it’s like, ‘without that, who am I now?’ But still, you just have to let it all go.” She spreads her long arms like a heron either about to take flight, or about to land.

You gather up your six ears of corn and a fat red pepper. You wave good-bye. You go home and make corn chowder and pick the last of the blackberries. You don’t wonder where you are on the spectrum – whether you’ve let it all go, or are at the beginning, or somewhere between the two. But you feel at peace. A few days later, you sit down, and begin to write.

Alice Tallmadge has been a journalist and essayist for three decades. Her memoir, Now I Can See the Moon: A Story of a Social Panic, False Memories, and a Life Cut Short was published in 2018 by She Writes Press. Her essays and stories have appeared in the Oregonian, Portland Magazine, Forest Magazine, Oregon Humanities, the Register- Guard, Oregon Quarterly, The New York Times and on Huffington Post. She is currently a grant-writer, free-lance editor, and committed cheerleader for first-time authors. Find her at




People Who Will Be Interested in My Book

May 9, 2019 § 24 Comments

Chelsea_B_BlackWhite (1 of 1)-11By Chelsea Biondolillo

This list was inspired by the bookstore events coordinator who wanted to know, “What is the target audience for your book (i.e. history buffs, scientists, gardeners, kids, retirees, etc.) and why do you think your book will interest them?”


  1. People who were children.
  2. Anyone who has ever seen a bird close-up, or who has longed to.
  3. My mother.
  4. That one childhood friend who will probably skim the pages of a copy at a bookstore, to see if she can tell whether any of the essays are from the time in my life when she is certain she loomed large. Though she’s in there, she’ll never know where exactly, so she’ll decide against buying a copy.
  5. Those of us inclined to carry a stone around, for luck or company.
  6. My ex-husband’s second wife.
  7. People who thought it was going to be a book about birds. Half of them will give up halfway through and the other half will think it’s pretty interesting for a bird book that isn’t exactly about birds.
  8. That one acquaintance who reads literary nonfiction by women writers so he can impress the kind of women who read literary nonfiction by women writers (even though they all end up going “crazy” on him). He doesn’t know yet that my book might work against in him in that regard.
  9. People who pick up feathers, even though it is against the law to do so.
  10. Students assigned it in their advanced nonfiction workshops by professors with innovative and admirable pedagogy.
  11. People who don’t normally like nature writing, but who make an exception in my case.
  12. Women who at least one person has called crazy.
  13. Half a dozen people I met once and made an impression upon, most likely in my thirties, as I was more memorable then than I’ve ever been.
  14. Anyone who starts out their days with a lot of ambition and big plans and then finds themselves sinking into the mud of their memories, the things that were said to them, by them, over them, who finds that the view of the middle distance out a picture window can be enthralling in the worst way, capturing minutes and even hours of the day before you notice it’s happened. Something important is out there, you and I both know it, we just have to maybe look a little harder or for another moment or two to figure out what it is.
  15. Owners of tattoos they don’t regret, despite the side-eyes of a certain types on public transit and in long lines at the grocery store.
  16. Owners of lonely hearts.
  17. That other childhood friend who will read her name on a page and think at first that I have maligned her. A closer read will reveal otherwise, but there’s no telling if my book will get one from her.
  18. Anyone who has run away from something.
  19. A small cadre of lurkers who have quietly and steadfastly supported me through a lot of bullshit and a few parades. They probably won’t even tell me, until I run into them somewhere unexpected, and that will be a wonderful and endearing surprise.
  20. Readers inclined to possess pretty books. It is a pretty book, after all.
  21. Those few dearest, brightest lights who are hearts of my heart. Who bolster, cajole, inspire, comfort, and champion me. Who I bolster, cajole, and hopefully inspire and comfort right back. They will tell me that everyone should be interested in my book, and I will tell them I believe them.
  22. Those of us who ran the long way ‘round until we came back home again.
  23. Those of us afraid that home has been lost forever.
    Chelsea Biondolillo is the author of the essay collection The Skinned Bird and two prose chapbooks, Ologies and #Lovesong. She lives and works outside of Portland, Oregon, in a house her grandparents built.


RX: Self-Promotion for Writers

April 25, 2019 § 10 Comments

Case_Jennifer_PortraitBy Jennifer Case


When I was in high school, ready for my first part-time job, I remember walking into grocery stores, or through the hallway of the indoor mall, willing store managers to notice me. I fantasized that I wouldn’t have to go up to the guest services counter and do the humiliating task of asking for a job application. Instead, something in my eyes and my open, receptive face would hone them in. I could just stand there, fluorescent light shining on my head, and they’d say, “Hey! We need a new garden clerk/barista/baker, and you look perfect. Would you like a job?!”


No manager, of course, ever approached me. In the end, I had to ask the customer service representatives for applications and make sweaty, follow-up calls, but this, in many ways, is how I also felt about book promotion. I wanted the end result—decent sales and the right kind of readers—but the means of obtaining that attention…? I was a high school student all over again, staring at a list of emails I needed to write, cold calls I should make, and people I should have been networking with six months ago rather than now. I sat there, frozen, not so much with fear, but something heavier and more stone-like.


The irony of the publishing industry doesn’t escape me. Writers tend to be introverted. They spend years observing the world, sitting alone, writing and rewriting their manuscripts, and yet that first year after a book is published, they are supposed to metamorphose—suddenly and completely—into sparkly, bedecked extroverts, fully capable of contacting all the important media outlets and confidently, but unassumingly, convincing others that this excerpt/interview/craft piece/reading is worth attention. As Sarah Fawn Montgomery wrote in her post on this blog, there’s a madness to book marketing, and it can be brutal.


As well-documented by many:

  • A tendency to stop responding to emails. Or to respond with over-enthusiasm and too many exclamation points.
  • Sheer exhaustion, often leading to hermitism or the reclusion of oneself in backwoods cabins, teaching jobs, or volunteer work.
  • A shrill rise in the voice that others interpret as—and may in fact be—desperation.
  • Overuse of social media.
  • Accusations of shamelessness and subsequent loss of friends (especially on social media).
  • Humility, whether reactionary or innate, potentially leading to a book that falls into the great void.
  • Paralyzing self-doubt.


Usually nothing more than bed rest, long walks outdoors, and plenty of (nonalcoholic) fluids. In severe cases, and when privilege and means allow: a publicist. Most cases, however, will resolve with the following home remedy:

  • After each painfully arranged reading you give at an independent bookstore, purchase a book. Let them form an ever-increasing stack on your nightstand. Then, in moments of self-doubt, set aside your own work, your own hopes for your work, and simply relish the work of others’.
  • Read more in the next year than you did in the two years before. Read books that have nothing to do with your own projects and do not help you understand your market or competition. Read the award-winners but also books by smaller presses. Read books written by writers with very different lives from your own.
  • Allow yourself to get caught up in these books. Stay up late, turning their pages. At times, shorten your own workday to instead simply read. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, poetry: try them all.
  • Let these books remind you of what made you want to write in the first place. That there is a purpose for their existence beyond sales figures and self-promotion. A purpose that has nothing to do with the egos of writers, but with something larger: The joy of reading words on a page. Of digging into complex truths. Of appreciating the lives of those around us. Of simply being a reader.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary. Bank account/work obligations/dependent children non-withstanding, there is no risk of overdose.

    Jennifer Case is the author of Sawbill: A Search for Place (University of New Mexico Press, 2018). Her essays have appeared in journals such as OrionMichigan Quarterly Review, Literary Mama, Fourth River, Sycamore Review, and Zone 3. She teaches at the University of Central Arkansas and serves as the Assistant Nonfiction Editor of You can find her at




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