Knocking on Your Door (On Reframing Self-Promotion)

When I was 11 years old, I started a neighborhood newspaper (named, not so imaginatively, Neighborhood News). It was my first foray into self-publishing, if you don’t count the “novel” I wrote when I was eight. That 20 page homage to The Secret Garden (named, not so imaginatively, The Secret World) ended up in my school library, but that was because my teacher had the pages spiral bound within a laminated orange construction paper cover--I wasn’t involved in the publishing part. 

I took my newspaper very seriously. My first headline was “Girl Stuck in Elevator!”, based on my friend Julie McAffery’s harrowing ordeal in our building. I wrote the advice column (both the questions and the answers), drew the comic strips, cribbed recipes from my mom’s box of Weight Watchers cards for the cooking section, shared neighborhood gossip in my own dishy version of Page Six, created classified ads (mostly to offer my babysitting services and try to sell old toys) and interviewed neighbors who had lived on the street for decades and could speak to how it had changed. I involved my sister as co-editor, which mostly involved my ghost-writing articles for her, something I was happy to do. I was a shy girl, but somehow writing made me bolder than I would be otherwise--it gave me the courage to talk to people, to sell subscriptions door to door.

I am hoping to tap into some of that same boldness now that I have plunged back into self publishing for the first time in decades, after having several books published by large presses. I recently released my novel, The Book of Live Wires (the sequel to my Bellwether Prize-winning novel, The Book of Dead Birds) as an ebook, and am trying to screw up the courage to knock on more people’s virtual doors. Self-promotion does not come easily to me--I am still a shy girl at heart--but I know it is vitally important, especially when publishing work oneself. And I love this book--I love how it gave my writing back to me (I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month in 2002 to get me out of my first ever case of writers’ block--you can read a bit more about my process in my first NaNoWriMo blog for She Writes), and I love that it helped me catch up with my beloved characters from The Book of Dead Birds. I am excited to share the novel with readers after all these years, even though I truly had written it for myself. You don’t have to have read The Book of Dead Birds to enjoy The Book of Live Wires--it is narrated by Darryl Sternberg, Ava’s love interest from Dead Birds and now her husband and the father of her baby, and is a novel about love, identity and family secrets. NY Times bestselling author Peter Nichols calls it “A dark, funny novel of singular and heartfelt characters, in a story that moves as swiftly and true as the flight of a hawk.”

My friend and first reader, the amazing Writing Warrior Laraine Herring, sent me a link to a great post by Justine Musk, Are Fiction Writers Screwed?, which is helping me redefine my relationship with marketing. Justine Musk suggests that rather than look at marketing our books as a selfish, horn-tooting, platform-building practice, we should see it this way: Making an emotional connection with those people formerly known as your audience whom you’re meant to serve both as a writer and a storyteller. That appeals to me deeply. That’s what writing is about--making that emotional connection, serving the reader with our words. It makes sense that marketing can be a way to do this, too. 

I will be giving away several electronic copies of the book, as well as a grand prize--a copy of The Book of Dead Birds and a rare physical edition of The Book of Live Wires--through She Writes on Friday, and hope to see you then. It is my little gift to readers and this great She Writes community for all you have given me. Here I am knocking at your door--what else can I do to serve you?

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Comment by Ann Douglas on January 26, 2012 at 8:40am

Gayle, if you simply let people know that your new book is available, people will want to buy it. You are a wonderful writer and a lovely person. That's a terrific combination on social media. 

Comment by Petrea Burchard on January 20, 2012 at 4:55pm

Hi Gayle,

I read The Book of Dead Birds. At a writers' conference in Pasadena in...2003? 2004? gave an inspired workshop. I bought the book, you signed it, I brought it home and read it and loved it. If The Book of Live Wires is as good (and my bet is it's even better), then you have every reason to shout it out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SheWrites and every other place you can think of.

I put an early piece of my own handwritten literature on my website. It's one of the most visited pages.

Comment by Holly Lauren on January 19, 2012 at 12:15pm

Thanks for the great reminder that it's the readership that matters...not the market. Best of luck!

Comment by Sarah Paul on January 19, 2012 at 9:07am

I love your newsletter! You should publish it, all of the copies in a volume. They are charming and just lovely. I would love to read that little book! Try putting it on Kindle???   Your friend Sarah

Comment by Jayelle Hughes on January 18, 2012 at 5:16pm

oh how cute! I used to be like that, we were very ambitious and creative youngsters

Comment by Lynne Favreau on January 18, 2012 at 4:37pm

My daughter also wrote her own newspaper, and a book about tornadoes when she was eight, so cute. Now nearly sixteen, she writes great song lyrics and poetry. I can't wait to see how far she takes her writing.

I have a hard time convincing my fellow writers that they are not "bragging" while promoting their book. That fear of sounding conceited, or arrogant has to go. "...redefining my relationship to marketing." is exactly what they need. Excellent post.

Comment by Susan Rich on January 18, 2012 at 4:13pm

Hi Gayle -- lovely!

Comment by Judy Reeves on January 18, 2012 at 2:18pm

Gayle, your newsletter is charming. I love our 11-year-old selves. So brave, so bold, so "anything is possible." I also love your book, Fruitflesh, which I continue to use as a juicy creativity snack. Thanks for this post and congratulations on your newest.

Comment by Tema Merback on January 18, 2012 at 2:10pm

I self published my novel In the Face of Evil.  I have self-marketed for one year now, not my favorite thing to do.  Finally I have begun to see a glimmer of light as my book has just been recognized as a Finalist by the National Jewish Book Council.  Suddenly things are looking up!

Comment by melyssa williams on January 18, 2012 at 1:15pm

Oh my, reading your "newspaper" brought back memories.  I too published my own, with my little sis, and all our penpals.  Such fun.

I'm just finishing my first novel and I'm already dreading the self promotion part!  I too, am a shy girl who can write all day long and say what's on my heart, but I don't know how to go about the promoting/selling part.  I can't sell a glass of water to a person on fire.  


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