September 1, 2020 § Leave a comment
I didn’t immediately consider that the publishing house my friend and mentor, Camelia Elias, has been running for twenty years applied to me, an author with a book ready to publish. The publishing process is meant to be impersonal, distant, fraught with anxiety and self-doubt. One doesn’t simply Facebook message a friend.
But then came a pandemic. Suddenly, the proposal I had written detailing events I could do to promote my book seemed completely unrealistic and pointless. The doors to publishing either shut completely or went flying open. All the gatekeepers of those doors were left scrambling to assess how to proceed. While publishing felt stalled and unrealistic, my book still pulsed with life and the desire to be out and held and read by others.
In the midst of the great global unravelling, I enrolled for my second time in Camelia’s very popular Cards and Magic course. During a rather lusty spell for fame and fortune, I remembered the collection of her own books, books that I have held and travelled with and underlined messily, books her devoted students share and post about with unbridled ardor. I remembered that she was the Editor-in-Chief of a Danish publishing company.
I found myself fantasizing about embarking on a very public project with a very personal friend. A shift from thinking in strictly business terms. Suddenly it was very clear that the dream of a major deal paled in comparison to the desire I had to publish with a woman I respected and loved and could offer me a contract that protected my rights instead of seizing them.
Not everyone is so graced with a personal friend who is the counterpart to their goal. But I had a book, and my friend had a publishing house, and we both possessed a similar spirit of conquest. Would I stay the traditional course or say let’s go all in for our mutually unassured success? Neither course provided any certainty. That was the real trick of it. If everything was equally uncertain, why not choose the path in which I got to write a love letter to my publisher in place of the typical query and proposal?
I still had all the credentials that filled the sections of my proposal and made me a great catch for agents and publishers: an Instagram following I’d grown and tended to for years, a place where I had honed my writing skills—very publicly—by writing mini memoirs as the events in my memoir unfolded in real time. I had years of being published and interviewed and showcased for the voice and experience and perspective I brought to my subject matter. Camelia herself had personally requested I contribute to a compilation that she was compiling of her cartomancy students several years earlier. I gathered my reputation around me like a cloak and reached out.
“Why not!” Camelia exclaimed when I lyrically asked if EyeCorner Press would consider publishing my memoir. But she added, “You are a winner and a star and have a bestseller on your hands. Choosing to publish with us is very make it or break it. I am zen enough for break it, make sure that you are, too.”
My ideas of success can run wild like horses pounding their way across a desolate beach. Success feels simultaneously collective as it does extremely personal. Choosing this international and independent route would be in line with the story of my life, which is also the premise of my memoir. I have spent my entire life having to get inside public buildings by the back door when stairs prevented me from accessing the front door in my wheelchair. It’s what I know best. Magically and literally. I’d much rather be in the company of people who sneak up the garbage ramp with me and take the freight elevator to the VIP area, acting like we own the very place we were barely allowed in in the first place.
I define success for myself based on how I want to feel while I am doing what I plan to do, regardless of who gives me permission or support. And I want it to be romantic.
“I want your words to go high, go a long way, and be cherished.” Camelia said as we discussed contract details. Her love letter response.
We did magic together. Those few months when it was just Camelia, my book and me, wrapped in a honeymoon cocoon of fonts and design and strategy. I was deeply connected to every part of the process. So when it was time to release my book, my heart was strong and open and ready to let go. I still get goosebumps of fleshy pleasure over the flourishes in the font she chose that make my story look like a fairytale. A story that is truer than true.
March 22, 2018 § 23 Comments
By Sweta Srivastava Vikram
A rhyming title for an essay, you must wonder. Full disclaimer: I am a poet at heart; the crossover to writing and publishing a novel has been transformative, and I wanted to share some things I learned.
I won’t lie; it’s been exciting, humbling and exhausting. The release of my 12th book (but debut U.S. novel) Louisiana Catch, a story that centers around a sexual abuse survivor from New Delhi, coincides with the #MeToo movement. It’s on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018” list. Frankly, I don’t know what’s in store for the book, but I do know that I have enjoyed the whole process and realized a few things along the way, specifically as it relates to publishing via a small press.
The problem is you: The lack of gratitude. I have seen writers apologize for their small press partnerships and feel small…like they are embarrassed. Stop! The fact that someone took a chance on your work and wants to publish you, means a lot. Publishing is about several permutations and combinations. Working with a small press doesn’t make you any less talented or skilled compared to a writer who has a book coming out with a Penguin/Random House or Hachette. Small press has limitations, which teaches you to become self-reliant and seek out opportunities. Once you adjust your attitude and appreciate a challenge, the journey becomes more exciting. I was out of ARCs and an opportunity arose to send a few copies of Louisiana Catch to Hollywood. My publisher—Modern History Press—sent me the copies overnight (Not cheap for a small press), and I went and made the drop at the crack-of-dawn. It was like a relay race where we kept an eye on the goal and made it happen as a team.
Own your choice—Yes, for majority of us (fair to make the assumption?), there is this dream of being represented by one of the big five publishing houses. I didn’t try the agent route, very deliberately. I consciously chose to work with a small press for this novel. My last manuscript died because my then agent hit a midlife crisis after I had spent a couple of years changing the book to fit their perception of a “good book.” We went from “blah blah (Insert name of one of the top 5 publishing houses) is buying your book to popping congratulatory champagne to “I am like not sure where my life is headed.” My book sank along with my heart. I decided that I wanted to work with a press that understood my voice and stories and wanted to represent my work. Pick your route and do not doubt your decision.
Face facts—Whether you are being published by one of the top five or a small press, the chances are that you are a small fish—majority of us fall in that space. Your grandma might throw a block party in your honor but at the publisher’s end, you are one of the many authors. You have to put in a lot of work. And working with a small press, I have had a lot of say in defining what that work means. My publisher at Modern History Press, Victor Volkman, and I developed a true partnership. He acknowledged my hard work and increased the stakes. And now we have an audiobook for Louisiana Catch in the making. It’s come to a point where my publisher leaves notes, #BeLikeAhana, after one of the early reviewers of the book started this hashtag (Based on the female protagonist in Louisiana Catch) on Instagram, on my social media posts.
Size doesn’t guarantee success—I agree; working with a big publishing house often means incredible distribution system. Your friends and family will see your books at bookstores and Target and airport spaces. Let’s be honest; I would like that too. When I saw my 1st novel in a store in India, I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve worked in the marketing department for Kellogg’s breakfast cereals and let me tell you one thing—while placement seems to be everything, it also isn’t everything. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee sales. I have a professor interested in teaching Louisiana Catch to her students. If your book becomes part of an academic course, that’s when you know X no. of copies will be sold every semester, not one season.
Innovation is the name—Remember: While the budgets are limited, the intentions and efforts aren’t because a small press cares about their authors and their stories. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I decided to partner up with organizations and brands for reviews and book release events. On April 18, Lululemon Hub Seventeen in NYC is hosting the book release party for Louisiana Catch and organizations like Exhale to Inhale have helped plan the all-female panel at this party. I have also partnered up with leading yoga studios, organizations working on women’s empowerment, and independent bookstores for book launch events in three different states. I like the idea of community, so at each of these events, I’ve invited other authors or specialists to participate. My publisher has offered to get bookmarks and posters shipped to these locations.
You aren’t forgotten—Sure, many big-name magazines might not look at books from small presses and review them. It boils down to connections and budgets and priorities and the TBR pile on the reviewers’ desk. Yes, it’s frustrating and disappointing. But it’s not the end. I once cold-pitched an essay, “Familiar Dish, Familiar Friend,” to the New York Times, and it got accepted. Louisiana Catch and I have been profiled in different countries in leading ethnic and/or feminist newspapers and magazines. Not having an in-house publishing team doing all the work for me has worked in my favor. I don’t wait for things to happen; I go out and make them happen.
Embrace your true self—Working with a small press can level you like none other. It will show you what your strengths and shortcomings are. I am a do-it-yourself author. I like being organized and in control of my book and the promotional plans. My publisher honored every timeline we decided on. I wanted the book to be out in April since it’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the female protagonist, Ahana, is a sexual assault survivor; he agreed. In summer of 2017, the final edits came in. By September-October of 2017, the ARCs were ready. In October, we started mailing them out. The early reviewers have had plenty of time to review. It doesn’t mean my book will be on New York Times list or be reviewed by all the top-notch magazines; all it means is that I know that we tried our best. And, sometimes, just knowing that helps you go to bed at night.
I have been at the forefront of every decision made regarding Louisiana Catch—right from the editors to the book cover to the promotional plan to the book birthing cycle to a speaking engagement at Twitter NY. Honestly, had I not worked with a small press, I am not sure how many of these opportunities I might have pursued.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram (www.swetavikram.com), featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is a best-selling author of 12 books, five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s The Asian Writer’s “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. She writes about women, multiculturalism, wellness, and identity. Sweta, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, amongst other publications, across nine countries on three continents, is an award-winning writer and graduate of Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. You can find her in these online spaces: Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@swetavikram), and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta)
February 6, 2008 § 1 Comment
When first encountering this snippet of Lee Smith’s WSJ Interview, I thought she was being pretty negative, but by the end of the paragraph, I saw what she meant. Anyone who just experienced the AWP Bookfair saw what she means as well. Brevity, I hope, is part of the change.
Do you think it’s more difficult to get published as a new voice today than before?
Ms. Smith: Absolutely. This is the horrible irony that just kills me, as I read this very important and exciting work. Because I think we have more excellent new writers who really have something to say, writing in America than we have ever had before. But the horrible irony is that there are fewer and fewer places for good fiction, literary fiction in particular, and poetry and creative nonfiction to be published. At the same time as the number of excellent new writers is growing, our country is dumbing down. People are not reading. Consequently, publishing is in a state where they are publishing less and less serious fiction, serious poetry. So here you have all these wonderful writers with essentially nowhere to publish. And this is giving rise to small literary outlets and particularly I think too, online magazines and to blogging. So there’s a whole different kind of thinking about writing and where it will be heard and read and seen coming in now. Everything is changing.