Countdown to Publication: Rip Van Winkle Goes on Facebook

The pub date for my new memoir, What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past, is September 1st.  So why am I in a state of high anxiety? It’s not as though I’m a first time author. I’ve been publishing books since 1980, and I’ve just turned seventy. Why do I feel as if I’m going on a first date, and a blind date at that? It’s because like Rip Van Winkle I’ve woken up to discover that there has been the equivalent of the American Revolution since 2002 when I published my last book, But Enough About Me.  Facebook has become a way of life, Twitter spreads news all over the world, and closer to home, Shewrites.com has come into existence—the last of these thanks to the genius of founder Kamy Wicoff, author of the witty report on the current state of American weddings, I Do But I Don’t.  (Full disclosure: Kamy and I have been real, not Facebook, friends since 2003, and we co-host a Salon for Women Writers in New York, inspired by our mutual friend and mentor, the late Diane Middlebrook). 

I guess I feel as though I’m going on a date because I’m publishing my new book in the era of social media. I have to admit that I’m not ready. I’d even say that I’m on the high end of the social media phobia spectrum. I’m as afraid of tweeting as I am of driving (I have an excuse: I’m a New Yorker and I grew up in Manhattan without a car). I accepted Kamy’s invitation to write this blog precisely because I’m not ready. Because I know that I need help and advice, and that She Writes is a good place to look for both.

Here’s what has happened thus far. My book has been reviewed, if that’s the right word, for the informative if somewhat cool summaries in Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. It has also been selected by an editor at Library Journal as a university press book worthy of attention.  My publisher, University of Nebraska, has put my book on their website and excerpted a chapter, along with the reviews.

(In the roller-coaster of emotions all She Writers will recognize, I swing from abject terror that my book will be eviscerated to sublime fantasies of ecstatic praise.)

I’m also working with a graduate student at the New Media Lab at the CUNY Graduate Center where I teach. My assistant—Claire Fontaine—is creating a website for the book, which is almost done. (Check out www.whattheysaved.com for a sneak preview!) Once a week I sit at the computer with Claire and ponder format, font, color. We look at the websites of other writers for inspiration, and freely borrow from the most beautiful ones. (Margalit Fox, an amazing obituary reporter at the New York Times has one for her book, Talking Hands, that I especially admire.)

On another front, having to do with book promotion, I’ve had an awe-inspiring half-hour phone strategy session with genius publicist Lauren Cerand thanks to a She Writes discount. And thanks to Lauren I’ve progressed in composing my “elevator speech” (a new expression for me: why is so hard to say what one’s book is about??), and I’ve started doing my homework as assigned: reading all the blogs about Jewish books (like Jewcy, and Tablet.) My book is particularly suited, as the subtitle suggests, for Jewish readers). After all, if I hope that my book will get some recognition, I should educate myself about what the climate and conversation are in my field—or should I be saying, less academically, more vulgarly, niche market? At the same time, I hope for a wider readership of those interested in family memoir as a genre.

On the up and downsides of being "tagged" by identity or niche in memoir, check out the She Writes Radio show: Genre, Gender and Race: A Panel Discussion.

Put another way, I’ve started the countdown by being a good student, or at least by trying to be. But if I were giving myself a grade, the most I could hope for at this point is a B, and I’ve never liked getting B’s. What’s keeping me from an A, even an A-? Fear.

Fear of trying because behind that fear is the fear of having failed, even before the book is out. For instance, when I received the emails from my very capable publicist at Nebraska containing the first responses, my heart was pounding: what if the reviews were negative bashes? I had a very cruel Kirkus review in 1996 that I still remember, or think I do! The condemnation went something like this: “Miller has combined the worst of two genres—literary criticism and memoir.” That was my first foray into memoir writing and my first attempt at appealing to a trade audience (the famous general reader academics long to reach), Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent’s Death. Please don’t check to see if I’ve remembered correctly. Take my word, for it—this was not the kind of review anyone would like to receive.

            At one month before publication I’d love to learn some strategies for how to proceed in two domains: how to make myself practice (as I used to practice the piano when I was a child, hoping for a gold star from my piano teacher) using the tools of social media? And how to—maybe? one day? —enjoy them? My friend the writer and filmmaker Ellen Cassedy, who is publishing a family memoir next year with Nebraska—We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust, has told me that I should look on all the work entailed in promoting a book as part of writing the book, not as something different and added as an extra burden, and even as fun! I’d like to believe her.

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Tags: #marketing, #nancycountdown, #nonfiction

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Comment by Kristin Fouquet on August 18, 2011 at 7:17pm
I hope I'm not hijacking Nancy's nice post here by responding to Janet. Ah, someone should write a book about social networking etiquette. I saw in your profile information, Janet, that you don't Facebook or Twitter. It's funny how they have become verbs. I have a cardinal rule (occasionally broken- Don't Drink and Facebook). I am not a hard sell by any means. I merely post a link to my new book along with bookstore info and those who want it, buy it. As I said, I'm not pushy and I only post things on my own wall about my books and I have been overwhelmed by the response. I was ambivalent about my first book and felt a bit ashamed trying to promote it, but once I had several great reviews, I gained confidence. I realized I had some loyal readers and I think that's what we all hope for as writers and we don't want to disappoint them. I'm sure I could sell more books if I could get over my fear of reading in public. Your psychological background interests me. I try to focus on the psychological problems of my characters. Well, I hope I answered your question. I am not a marketing savant, just trudging that long road of promotion after the fun work is done. Best wishes to all the writers here. It's challenging, but we'll all find our own way, what works best for each of us. It's nice to know we can help each other out with our words- if only encouragement, which is wonderful.
Comment by Janet Tracy Landman on August 18, 2011 at 8:20am

To fellow shy-person Kristin,

Thanks for the encouraging posting. Can you explain to me how it works when you've sold books via FB?

Janet

Comment by Nancy K. Miller on August 17, 2011 at 5:28pm

Without Claire--https://plus.google.com/113224072231745643940#113224072231745643940...-

and I'm not sure I did that link correctly--and Kamy, our fearless leader--whom you all know--I would not have been able to start this process--and I am thrilled that some of what I'm feeling chimes with others....

I honestly never thought it would be this hard! It is a tremendous comfort to hear/read  these responses--none of which is redundant. And the advice and commiseration both help!

Comment by Kristin Fouquet on August 17, 2011 at 3:37pm

Nancy, I'll confess I didn't read all the comments so, forgive me ahead of time if mine is redundant. I admire your honesty and request for help. I am quite shy, even online, but I have met some wonderful writers in the small press. I began the online social networks with MySpace then Outsider Writers, eventually Facebook and Twitter. Having admitted my shyness, I'm not comfortable befriending (or what they call "friending") people I don't personally know. Yet, the interesting thing is many people send you friend requests if they are writers. I don't write poetry, but I am friends with many poets online. When you list your genre, you will be recommended to people with similar interests. I have sold many books via Facebook. A short story of mine was published in a Czech magazine because I was "found" on FB. So, be bold and open an account and if you do, please find me there as well.

It sounds like your publisher is doing a great job. Congratulations and best wishes! 

Kristin

Comment by Jeanne Nicholas on August 17, 2011 at 7:53am

You can always open a twitter account and read everything about it.  Spend 30 minutes a day reading and posting.  Use some of the Iphone tools and computer apps that help you work with twitter.  I've had 3 accounts since the beginning and I still feel noob!  I have a business account, a personal (in my name) account, and an account that is just for friends interested in a specific hobby I enjoy.  I dont post much but I read a lot.  Good luck.  

 

Comment by Jamie Rose on August 17, 2011 at 2:26am
Janet, the beauty of FB is that you can simply "un-friend" people or even "block" them. Ah, to have this option in real life...
Comment by Mira Schor on August 16, 2011 at 4:07pm

Hi Nancy, it sounds like you are doing great, anything in Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus is great these days + a website for your book, + a Facebook page for it, all very good, you're way ahead of the game! No Rip Van Winkle you! Twitter is just like a feeding a machine, don't worry about it.

Congratulations! 

Comment by Deirdre Day on August 16, 2011 at 3:54pm

Thanks, Nancy. I 'liked' it, both with and without the quotes.

 

 

Comment by Janet Tracy Landman on August 16, 2011 at 11:37am

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for this post, and all the best with your book.

This is SO me! I'm an academic, too, plus an extreme introvert. For my first book, I somehow got through a lot of radio interviews, and it was only on one that I filled the airwaves with what seemed like whole minutes of a terrified "Uhhhhh" when I was asked an overly personal question and for the life of me couldn't think of an appropriate answer.

But FACEBOOK?! You're way ahead of me. I did finally set up a FB page a few months ago, because Poets & Writers said that I just *have* to, to market my next book (Story of a Conscience: Former Fugitive Katherine Ann Power). The sense of having my privacy totally invaded drove me to shut it down the very next day! 

   For anyone else out there as horrified by FB as me, my grown daughter has told me that, when the time comes, she can set up a FB page for me that's only for my book (which is what I want), which then I would monitor (whatever that means!)  If not a daughter, surely someone on SheWrites could get you started. 

   Here's one of my fears about FB--well, actually two. Doesn't FB announce to the world how many people have checked you out?  And what if/when it's only, say, 6?  Or can you keep that a secret?  If so, how? The other fear: Don't people leave comments?  Given the atrocious nature of public (certainly, political) "discourse" right now, that terrifies me. I've seen the most malicious comments, really ugly personal attacks--even on a website where I just wouldn't expect that: the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Why would anybody voluntarily choose to put herself out there in that vicious world, I ask.  This is a serious question. I'd appreciate your replies.

I also want to make it clear that I don't consider the whole world vicious. I like the world quite a lot! It just seems to me that the anonymity of these forums encourages people to be their worst selves. SheWrites is definitely excluded--but then we're not anonymous, are we?

Comment by Judith Newton on August 15, 2011 at 1:21pm

Dear Nancy,  How good to hear from you and I'm buying your memoir!  I know just what you mean about the Rip Van Winkle experience.  It was so straightforward to publish as an academic.  Publishing outside academe feels like playing the lottery!  I read five books on social media and downloaded tons of blog posts on it, but I have to keep rereading my notes.  I now dedicate short, fixed periods of time each day to keeping up.  Otherwise, I feel like I have ADD.  I've written a memoir too, The Joys of Cooking: A Love Story. I'm still composing my query letter, but I've been blogging bits of it at http://www.ipinion.us/Judith_Newton.html and have set up a blog at http://thejoysofcooking-alovestory.com/.  Blogging helped me rewrite and, for the most part, it has been fun. SheWrites has been a wonderful community.  I look forward to the book and to hearing more from you!

 

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