Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Heart Harvard Book Store, and Grub Street

Last week was my official public book launch party in Boston/Cambridge, co-sponsored by Harvard Book Store and Grub Street, and it was one of the best nights of my life! The chance to share Annie Begins (now available at HBS) with friends, family, classmates, former colleagues, writer friends like Steve Almond, Chris Castellani, Jane Roper, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Lynne Griffin, Amy MacKinnon , Rishi ReddiDarci Klein, Wendy Polins, Sharon Bially, Sophie Powell and other Grubbies and friends of the bookstore was incredibly fun and absolutely a highlight so far in this experience. I learned a few things that could help other debut authors at their first readings:

1) If you are self-published (or perhaps even if traditionally published, if reading somewhere other than a bookstore), it is up to you to ensure you have enough books to sell at your readings. I did not, and my non-writer friends celebrated "you sold out! you sold out!" and my writer friends critiqued "you sold out (you idiot)!"  Of course the "you idiot" was silent, but I got the point:).
2) Don't forget your special signing pens in NYC that your brother in law and dear friends gave you as gifts, and do think in advance how you want to sign your books. I really think mine all ended up sounding like a slightly schmaltzy yearbook entry -- the literary equivalent of "you're such a wicked awesome kid!". My benchmark for book signing is Steve Almond, who writes things like "Your job is to love hard every day" or quotes Song of Songs. I even went so far as to print the lyrics of Anna Begins for inspiration, but forgot everything in the moment.
3) Be aware of who is in the audience when you decide to take a risk and read the one steamy scene in your novel. I was disappointed when my father, who is recovering from surgery, told me he couldn't make it to the reading. So, when I learned at the last minute that he was able to be there after all, it was too late to change my selection. And there he sat, in the front row, with his flip video camera that I gave him for Christmas, recording every word I said. Yep, every word.
4) Be ready for questions. In retrospect, I feel lucky that I'd done a lot of work with my publicist, Jocelyn Kelley, and with my writing buddies Alethea Black and Celine Keating, writing up my point of view on a whole host of topics related to Annie and self-publishing for various purposes. And writing this blog and teaching a session at Grub's Muse & the Marketplace conference helped me to organize my thoughts. All of this made it quite easy and enjoyable to answer questions about the writing process, the book, and self-publishing.

To everyone who came out last week, thank you! Special thanks to Harvard Book Store and Grub Street, and to Eve Bridburg for her lovely introduction. I am looking forward to the NYC equivalents, starting on July 6 at 6 pm at the Cornelia Street Cafe.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Better with Friends

Alethea Black, Michelle Toth, Celine Keating at Medi (photo by Miguel Rocha)
Months ago, my friend Alethea Black emailed me asking if I'd like to join up with her and another writer friend, Celine Keating, on a project to document our individual paths to publication (Alethea's book of stories was the most traditional, through Broadway Books/Random House, Celine's debut novel was to be published by a small press, and I was self-publishing). What emerged was a highly enjoyable months-long process of comparing notes and interviewing each other and writing and editing to produce a non-fiction article on our varied experiences leading up to our publication dates, which were all within a couple of months of each other.  That piece was subsequently accepted by Poets & Writers, and will be published this month.  Along the way we agreed that it would be fun to pitch our threesome to other venues, and we will be reading together at the Cornelia Cafe in NYC on July 6th.  Easily as important as these wonderful outcomes has been the cameraderie of collaborating with fellow writers on a shared mission to connect with readers and other writers, and I've seen this approach work beautifuly for other groups of writers who were debuting at the same time. I highly recommend finding 2-3 other writers with books coming out in close succession to act as a built-in support system for the inevitable questions and issues as well as opportunities that arise.

PS: Recently, Alethea, Celine and I met at Medi restaurant to plan our Cornelia reading and to take a photo that we could use in the promotional materials. We were planning, by necessity, to use our low-tech cameras and make due, but when we arrived at the restaurant, we found Miguel Rocha, of Medi, taking photographs, and discovered he is a photographer. Miguel took several pictures for us. What serendipity! One of my favorites is posted above.

Alethea's book of stories: I Knew You'd Be Lovely
Celine's novel: Layla