Friday, April 29, 2005

What does a publisher do for an author? Part II

I missed posting yesterday. I hosted a big poetry program at Barnes and Noble, with guest poet Janet Carr Hull coming from South Carolina (see April 26 for full details). We had many poets and guests come out, and it was absolutely exhilarating.

I can’t talk about publishing without talking about validation. One of the greatest things Ocean Publishing has done for me is to validate my work by association with a quality press. Now you can possibly do this for yourself if you publish your own book. The best means of validation is having your work published in respected journals, magazines, and newspapers. By “respected,” I don’t necessarily imply “nationally distributed.” There are lit journals that are tiny, but a clip from some of these can be a plum for the academically-bent. By acknowledging publications in your book for anything you’re reprinting, you get to ride the coattails of quality.

Jeff Bahr, a talented poet, has done the lit world a big favor by creating pages devoted to print journals. He ranks them. Visit Jeff’s site: Jeff is an accomplished poet and he is also very cute. Read some of his poetry. For info on journals, click on “Submission Resources.”

If you’re into mainstream writing, go for popular magazines like Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, and the essay page in Woman’s Day. Or opt for smaller, regional magazines. The tradebook I use for this purpose is The Writer’s Handbook published by Kalambach, publisher of the nation’s oldest trade for writers, The Writer. I've written for both those publications, but I used them long before I was published there.

My main quibble with many of the writers I meet when I speak at conferences involves credentials. I cannot see how a person can tackle self-publishing a book if he or she has never been published anywhere. I'm not saying it's impossible to succeed without establishing your credentials. I am saying it's unlikely.

Okay, keeping it short. Bottom line on Part II: an author needs validation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What does a publisher do for an author? Part I

I was talking with a fellow author yesterday. Her book is about to be released by a small press. She asked me what she might expect from her publisher in terms of marketing, and what the publisher might expect of her. It turned out to be a long conversation.

Another friend of mine mentioned that my blog posts are too long. So I’m breaking up my response to my fellow author’s questions.

An author’s expectations of course depend on the size of the publisher. A large house has more resources. But even big publishers do not knock themselves out for most mid-list authors. Case in point: one afternoon I went to a bookstore to meet an author whose book had been widely touted in the news. He’d been on major television programs and interviewed by several nationally circulated magazines. When I arrived, he was uncrating his books. He’d brought them with him on the plane. We talked at length in between visitors to his table.

He shared with me the following facts: (1)he’d paid his own travel expenses, with no expectation of reimbursement; (2)he needed reviews; (3)he was very much involved and on top of his publicity. I made the following mental notes: (1)he did not have any display posters; (2)there were no bookmarks on his table; (3)he stood to greet visitors rather than sitting down.

His publisher is an imprint of one of the very big publishers. I am deliberately keeping his name private. I did not ask for his permission to print what he told me.

I followed his title. It’s a nonfiction work marketed to a specific niche, and although never a best-seller, continues to sell at a consistent pace. The book was released first in hardcover, and no expense was spared on production. It is a lovely book.

Bottom line: in addition to paying for the book’s production, the publisher did arrange some very visible publicity. But the author himself was doing most of the grassroots legwork to sell his book. And his publisher has very deep pockets.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow. I will try diligently to keep these posts shorter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Author on Skates

The pre-release launch is a done deal, and the tour is heating up. The last 2 days have been a whirlwind of activity. We’re booking events daily, so I ended up changing my author calendar to a 2-month format. It just wasn’t logical to cram so much information into a single page. I’ve also created a tour page where you can see photos of my stops along the way, and some notes about my events.

Today is a busy day because I’m preparing for a Poetry Extravaganza to be held Thursday, April 28, (7-9:15 p.m.)at the Barnes and Noble location in Mandarin. We’ll celebrate poetry’s designated month with many special guests, including Dorothy Fletcher and Janet Carr Hull. I do a special poem for National Poetry Month each year. If you’d like a sneak peek at the poem I’ll present Thursday, visit my National Poetry Month 2005 page. I always make a poem card and print it to hand out at random. Last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a news anchorwoman hold up my poem card and make nice remarks of it during the evening news.

Besides all that, I’m getting ready to head to Brunswick, Georgia, for a weekend workshop at Hattie’s Books, meeting a few reporters in-between for interviews. As president of the writers' booster club, I'm helping to plan a special residency that Pulitzer winner Franz Wright will do for Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.

Busy girl. Busy world

Saturday, April 23, 2005

A launch to remember

I walked into Barnes and Noble here in Jacksonville last night 7 minutes late for my book launch. I was late for my own wedding many years ago too, and that turned out well, so I didn’t worry too much.

The store really went to a lot of trouble—flowers on the table, a big in-store and window display with my book, refreshments. I’m very grateful.

Many people came, and I lost count of the books. It was a very good night, a very good launch, a very good good. Despite some challenges over the last couple weeks, it all came together in a perfect sort of way.

Next up is my April 30 signing at Hattie's Books in Brunswick for the Georgia launch ( The store is really unique, located in the historical section of this old city by the water.

So now, I'm officially on the road with Killing Earl.

Friday, April 22, 2005

5 hours

I don’t think writers do waiting very well.

My big day is finally here. I re-read my book last night. One writer I admire read a review copy last week. “I couldn’t put it down,” she said. So when I look at the book and feel vulnerable in a very absolute sort of way, I recall her words. They are comforting.

This morning is busy with final attentions to upcoming events. My April-July calendar pages look like somebody threw splotches of ink all over them. I am not neat with a calendar, and the date spaces aren’t big enough to hold the information neatly. Excuses are a writer’s dearest companion.

Tomorrow I will post a follow-up to my national book launch. If this were poetry, I could come close to telling you exactly how many books I will sign tonight.

But this nonfiction book is new ground for me. Although I’ve written many nonfiction articles, I’ve never written a book in that genre. How things will go is a complete tossup.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

24 Hours

One more day and I’ll be signing copies of my new book Killing Earl.

I really think I should go purchase a lucky pen. Or some new clothes.

But there’s too much paper sitting here on the desk.

The tour is coming together—I’m booked at the Savannah Barnes and Noble for July, as well as Books and Books in Miami. In between, I’ll go to one of my favorite places in Florida, Fernandina Beach, to sign at Don Shaw’s Books Plus. Those will be the second leg of the tour, once all the April/May events are done. I’m looking hard at book festivals, many of which are glutted with authors and somewhat overrated as far as the impact on book sales, in this author’s opinion. I admit I find author selection processes confusing.

I realized yesterday I will have to purchase a laptop. I’ll need it to finish the next book and to keep up with email, that ever-growing phenomenon I confront each morning.

Email is a blessing and a curse. I do email triage every single morning. Gotta’ answer: anything from my publisher, media, festival directors, events coordinators. Can wait: poems from readers, off-the-wall requests from people who send too many emails, questions about political matters. Delete outright: solicitations for drugs that treat erectile dysfunction, messages that want to give me money from Nigeria, and any email labeled “fwd.”

I’ll be glad when 5 p.m. tomorrow comes. Today is like planning the final touches for a party and hoping the guests will show up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Watching the street

Okay, so I’m doing what a writer should never do. I’m watching the street. I’ve got three projects open on my desktop and I still find an excuse about every half hour to go to the door and peek out the little side window.

Book posters are supposed to come today. Barnes and Noble needs them for the window display. Fed Ex called yesterday when the posters were supposed to be here. They had my address wrong. Is this an omen? Fed Ex never gets addresses wrong.

When I first started freelancing, delivery trucks and postal delivery people were the highlights of my day. Everything related to my livelihood had to be delivered. The only thing that’s changed is now I also watch my email, as though I were standing at an imaginary window in cyberspace, watching for the little icon to float into my inbox, a missive possibly from that special book festival director who gushes, “Oh, yes! Ms. Day we positively must have you at our event!”

Writers are pathetic, yes we are.

There’s a nice writeup in Jacksonville’s daily newspaper about Killing Earl. Great shot of my daughters, both of whom contributed to the book. The story is the second one in the column, not the one about ice skating. Southerners can't skate on ice, not without a whole lot of training, anyway.

I finally finished the handout I’ll place on my table at the Friday launch. It’s for a special National Poetry Month program I put together. Still slogging through email. “Aren’t you excited?” a friend asks.

“I’m a basket case,” I replied.

Writers are pathetic, yes we are.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

3 more days

We cut the launch close to the print date. My publisher and I both knew we’d be cutting it close, but Killing Earl was interrupted by both God and man. I told my daughter Earl almost killed her the first go-‘round, and now he’s gunning for me.

I was winding down the first draft of what would be a six-draft manuscript as the hurricanes were engulfing Florida last year. We survived the power outages, damage to property, and petty annoyances with gratitude, because none of us were hurt and we still had a roof over our heads.

Then I sent the manuscript to Dr. John Campo, the physician who agreed to write my introduction. After reading it, he offered comments. One, in particular, made me see the book in an entirely different light. “This is your story, a mother’s story,” he said, maybe not exactly in those words, but in a similar fashion.

So I rewrote the last half of the book, switching chapters around. The story evolves over a 2-year time span. One of my publisher’s readers felt the timeline needed to be clearer.

Then two different developments in medicine occurred, and both needed to be written into the book. Finally, we had the manuscript in a form that could be edited. Once we’d proofed the galley, I breathed a pretty solid sigh of relief. And like any good writer, I began to work on my next book. Meanwhile, the review copies went out. This gives an author something new to worry about: how the book will be received.

Now there are 3 days before April 22 when I walk into Barnes and Noble to sign. I keep thinking I need to get a “lucky” pen. I tried that with A Poetry Break, but I kept losing the pen.

Most of this morning has been spent talking to media people in other cities and sending news releases and contact information out for the April 30 event in Brunswick at Hattie’s Books and the May 7 event in Orange Park at Books-A-Million. Multi-tasking, I’m setting up signings in Savannah, Miami, and Greenville, as well as other cities. Somewhere in between all that, pages for the next book are scrolling through my psyche. And somewhere in between all that, I need to update my Net site, pen a new article for an editor, and answer a few of the 752 emails sitting in my in-box.

Plus I have a board meeting at my daughter's school tonight. Mandatory.

I’m thinking the burger joint down the street may be hiring, a tempting proposition. I could get discount burgers, paid sick leave, and health insurance--maybe even write a book "Memories of a Burger Maven."

It'd probably sell a zillion copies, allowing me to retire in style.

Monday, April 18, 2005

What is a publicist?

A publicist is a creature midlist authors dream about. I have my own personal version. She is dressed in one of those casual/dressy sort of outfits that says, "I am not in banking. I am my own person." She is brilliant, and knows book section editors at newspapers and magazines. She knows them well enough to call them and invite them to lunch at some trendy place in the historic section of any city, anywhere USA. She is your advocate--wherever she goes, there is background music that screams, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." And if you're doing a book launch, she will step in as soon as that strange-looking little man pulls a 300 page manuscript out of his briefcase and says, "Would you take a look at these poems? My family says they're brilliant."

Ah, the dreams of a midlist author. The reality of course is that we handle our own publicity, whatever we can get. News releases, chance conversations with media personalities, personal invitations, book marks, posters--you name it and we're in charge of our own destiny.

I think most of us hate that part, the part that makes us try to get our books noticed. Aiming for the mind or imagination of the average information-bombarded American is tricky. I once told my publisher that when someone asks me to sign my poetry book, I have this deep-seated gratitude. I have watched famous authors like Nicholas Sparks sign their books. I once interviewed him for a now defunct Net news site. He was polite, but not extremely grateful. He had this cool breeze attitude that suggested, "Buy it or not, up to you."

Then I think is that what we're all after? Is that why we do what we do, this coupling with a keyboard in an obsession a shrink could have a field day with? So that someone will notice and one day we might have a publicist doing the book advocacy dance for us? So that we get reviews without beating our heads bloody against an imaginary wall stacked with best-sellers that tell us how to lose weight, and for crying out loud, how to have a life with purpose?

In the middle of this meandering post, I keep hearing the same questions. Will this book be different? Because it's true, will it be more widely received than poetry? What's the difference between a poet and a writer of nonfiction?

I reckon I am about to find out.

And I more than likely will never have a publicist. Truly.

But then there's the prospect of an agent. Who knows?
Some of my friends mentioned I should clue my guests in to pages about my new book. You can read about Killing Earl at my Net site,

Sunday, April 17, 2005

In the beginning

The fun part's over. Now the work begins.

On my desk, there's a review copy of my new book. It's a standard review copy--black and white cover listing nuts and bolts info like the ISBN number, category, and wholesaler. My publisher is a small press, but he does things very professionally. He doesn't know I've read that review copy at least six times in the last ten days. I've read it enough to know I have no idea how this book will be received.

The book tour starts April 22. Barnes and Noble has gone to a lot of trouble to host the launch here in Jacksonville. I got lucky. The alternative newspaper, the one everyone in Northeast Florida reads, did a nice writeup and even included the author photo that a genius photographer named Michael Glinski shot. Nobody ever made me look that good, even my mother when I was born. The daily paper blurbed the booksigning in today's column, so that's a good thing. Lots of people have told me, "I'm definitely coming to your launch party."

But every author, regardless of who publishes the book, gets that tour angst thing going, I am certain. Even authors whose houses can assure book orders from major library systems and book clubs. A small press author is doubly challenged. There are no slick publicists, no chummy relationships with major reviewers, no abundance of book store owners running to their display windows to slap up 4-color posters that announce the latest book, say from that well-known celebrity whose last book, Eat Everything in Sight, Including 45 Chocolate Chip Cookies Every Single Day, and Stay Thin as a Reed, sold half a million copies.

It's tough here in small press world. When the poetry book came out in 2004, I really didn't know what to expect. When it sold enough copies to be called a "poetry best-seller" by a representative of a major chain, I couldn't help but laugh. "Poetry" and "best-seller" go together like ammonia and bleach. But I took that little book from Jefferson, Texas, all the way to Hawaii. I can't think of a single negative event. People enjoyed the book. I think because of the section with the sonnets. They get the rhyme and meter thing going in your ear. I had fun with poetry. Nobody expected it to blow itself to the cash register and out the door. There wasn't a lot of stress.

This book is different. For one thing, it's a personal story, and it's about my daughter. It's also about a mystery illness that causes a lot of debate among doctors. The publisher is printing a big run. It's nonfiction, and every section, fact, and clue has been checked, double-checked and triple-checked by three pairs of eyes. So I'm sitting here wondering how it will be received. What will people say? Will the launch be a success? Will the book fulfill its purpose of helping other children who may experience the illness my own daughter had?

Who knows? Friday will tell the tale, and I guarantee you, this will be a long week.