Wednesday, December 10, 2008

THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS, with author Rachel Resnick

Rachel Resnick’s debut novel, GO WEST YOUNG F*CKED-UP CHICK: A NOVEL OF SEPARATION, not only landed her on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list in 2000, it also taught her first-hand how involved an author must be in promoting her own work. She’s applying what she learned with her latest book, the provocative memoir LOVE JUNKIE, released last month to rave reviews, which has helped to create a buzz that continues to fill her schedule with television, radio and podcast interviews; panel discussions; signings and myriad other book events.In addition to her books, Resnick, a Los Angeles-based writer, has published a number of articles and essays in newspapers and national magazines, as well as stories in literary magazines and anthologies. She has taught creative writing since 1995 at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, USC Professional Writing Program and other universities, and operates her own luxury writing retreat and private coaching program, Writers on Fire.

What were the top 5 things you did to market your most recent book after publication?
1. Stayed on top of incoming press, with Google Alert and manual checking
2. Disseminated incoming press via Web site, other social networks (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace), via word of mouth to fans as well as publicity team.
3. Started a blog on my Web site.
4. Insisted on book tour and book party for morale and for spreading the word bit by bit nationwide (in cities only where I had support already).
5. Went to a therapist (self-care).

What were the best things you did before publication to prepare?
1. Hired a web designer.
2. Hired an online publicist.
3. Created a book tour and book launch, and an inventive strategy for creating buzz.
4. Hired personal publicists.
5. Personally spread the word via online, via friends.

You must prepare FAR in advance of your publication date. Minimally six months prior. Use your creativity the same way you do in your writing, but direct it toward marketing.

As I said above, I hired other professional people to help me instead of trying to do it alone or only with the excellent publicists at Bloomsbury. They rock, but they have to handle a lot of books at once. And if your book isn't chosen as one of the "anointed" books with a ton of money set aside to promote, you damn well better pull out the stops yourself. I didn't depend on any one of these talented professionals alone to strategize nor stay on top of constant communication or updating. I think successful book promotion requires constant refining of goals, and integrating of reviews, news, sales patterns and reader response. It requires your constant attention. Some people say the writers' real job begins once the book is completed. Once you have poured your heart and soul into the book, you must shift gears entirely. It may be awkward. Even embarrassing. Too bad. It is crucial. Today, publishing is in crisis. They literally do not know how to sell books anymore. The old models aren't working. Book reviews and venues are disappearing daily, as are bookstores. You have to think outside the box, experiment, and figure out the online world. You've got to get involved.

Added 12/11/08: Then there's image. Even if you're only giving bookstore readings, it pays to pull your look together. If you're like me, while writing you've been dressing like crap. Pajamas, sarongs, sweats -- whatever's comfortable for facing the daily existential abyss of the blank page. Now that you're reemerging into the world and meeting the public, it's your job to get your look polished. It's revealing that I forgot to mention this important aspect the first time I answered your excellent questions! But getting a fantastic professional author photo -- which includes hiring someone to do your hair and makeup along with a great photographer -- is key. You'll be living with that photo for a long time. In the case of LOVE JUNKIE, when I started getting media attention -- including even television -- I realized I needed to step up my game even more. I was clueless, so I hired some consultants for a crash course to help me learn how to do my own hair, makeup, and choose a simple wardrobe that I could use as a uniform for the book tour. What a relief. I still suck at getting my picture taken. As these consultants/photographers said, unlike the quiet, pliant, photogenic actors they usually work with, I made too may faces, thought too much, and generally wouldn't stop moving. Still, all you can do is your best. Try to relax! And breathe. Knowing you look as good as you possibly can helps take some of the pressure off writers when they finally emerge from their shadowy creative caves into the public light.

Did you work alone on your book promotion strategy, or in conjunction with a publicist?
I didn't work alone, but the same way the book was ultimately mine, the publicity campaign is ultimately mine as well as a joint effort. I have to be the one to keep all the elements in place in the big picture. What are my goals? What's realistic? I am always open to gathering information from fellow amazing writers and promoters, and also from the professionals with whom I'm lucky enough to work.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started promoting your book?
I’m in a good position with this book because I learned the hard lessons with my first book, GO WEST YOUNG F*CKED-UP CHICK. I learned that you have to start preparing at least six months in advance. Any later is, frankly, too late. By the time I started with GO WEST, it was too late. I also learned back then you have to do it yourself, and you need professional help. I tried so hard to promote that book – my first book ever! – that once it was published I got myself sick. I shot my adrenal system and was ill for a full year afterward. You do not want to do that. This time, I got smart. I’m way out on a limb with hiring these people. I’m not loaded. I don’t have a trust fund. I’m investing my advance in making this book happen. You have a very small window to give your book a chance. Six weeks, maybe, from publication time – unless it develops legs. A lot of it is about having faith, gambling, and for me adding yet more debt. By the way, I would never have made the same kind of expensive effort for my first book, because it simply didn’t have as much potential for broad appeal. It wouldn’t have been worth it.

Was promoting a nonfiction book different from promoting a novel?
It’s very different promoting a nonfiction book, because you usually have a topic in addition to narrative. In my case, I’m very lucky that the topic of love and sex addiction is in the news currently. This is the kind of thing you have to be aware of, and to capitalize on. It seems that the time is ripe for people to learn about this addiction, and the time is now to promote discussion. That is exciting. Then it becomes about an issue. It becomes about you as an author being of service in furthering education and adding your voice to a cultural discussion, in whatever small way. That’s stimulating, and gratifying, and keeps the focus off you as an ego-driven author. You are being of service. This is also a beautiful principle of the twelve-step programs that have helped me so immensely. I firmly believe the books we produce are no longer ours once we complete them. Then they belong to the readers. We authors become merely ambassadors. And marketers.

How do you balance writing with the business side of being an author?
Balance is very tricky. I’m an addict, so I am all about extremes. I lost all sense of balance with my first book. With this one, I’m making a conscious effort to try and balance the constant work of promoting with basic self care. I’m trying hard to eat and eat right, to exercise, to make downtime, to sleep. I don’t always succeed! When I was writing this memoir I thought I had narcolepsy. I found I would go unconscious around the material it was so hard to write. Re-creating the scenes literally retraumatized me. Part of the writing process included insanely long naps. Now I find I’m an insomniac. I’m constantly anxious about what’s next, what I have to do, will it all work, and will it pay off. I just have to make a conscious effort to take care of myself and only do what I can without hurting myself.

Any other advice for newly published authors?
The most important thing is to write well. To go deep. Don’t hold back. Unleash everything you have onto the page, and create a book that you can be proud of and stand behind. That is your job as an artist, and the foundation for promoting. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Otherwise you become merely a circus barker, a snake oil salesman. In this case, you are simply doing your complete job as a writer in the modern world, which these days also requires you to be a damn good businessperson. As I learned in facing my addiction, I have only myself to blame. It’s my job to take responsibility for myself as a woman seeking intimacy and health, and also as a writer seeking to share my work with as many people as I can.

5 FAVES

Favorite item on your writing desk: A tailfeather from my former scarlet macaw, Ajax
Favorite way to procrastinate: Facebook or trashy TV
Favorite literary character: Fuckhead from JESUS’ SON
Favorite CD: LOVE JUNKIE mix tapes people are making for the Web site, including anyone from Nillson to Me’Shell N’Degeocello to PJ Harvey to Amy Winehouse.
Favorite snack: Young coconut, the kind where you have to hack it open, drink milk and spoon coconut flesh,

For more on Rachel Resnick and her books, visit http://www.rachelresnick.com/.

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