Friday, June 2, 2017

Launching a Debut Novel: Working with Publicists and Promotion

It's been a month of book birth announcements.  Another student from my online classes and private coaching has just released her debut novel, Eden.  Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg has launched it with great panache too--with excellent reviews on Kirkus, Booklist, Redbook, the Boston Herald and other publications.  Writer Anita Shreve calls Eden "a masterfully interwoven family saga with indelible characters, unforgettable stories, and true pathos."  

I first met Jeannie at a storyboarding workshop I taught at Grub Street in Boston where she was working on a two-storyboard novel, exploring the financial ruin of a family's historic home in seaside Rhode Island and the backstory of the matriarch who decides to reveal a long-buried secret and introduce the child she gave up for adoption in her teens.  Weaving the two storyboards together was a challenge that Jeannie approached beautifully, and her excellent book is the result.  
Once it was finished, she looked over her options for publishing.  I interviewed her about her choices and what she eventually decided to do.  

How did you get started with researching publishing options for Eden? 
Two years ago, I met April Eberhardt at Grub Street's annual writing conference, Muse and the Marketplace.   April describes herself as a "Literary Change Agent" and she introduced me to She Writes Press, an indie press based in Berkeley, California.  I followed up with my own research on SWP, as well as similar presses.  I was lucky to have a mutual friend with Brooke Warner, the publisher of SWP, and heard wonderful things about her.  If you just follow Brooke on social media for a week or two, you will get a sense of her passion and energy and commitment to her work.
When Eden was ready for submission, I sent it to April and she agreed to take me on.  We talked a lot about my goals:  Whether it meant more to me to have the prestige of publishing with a traditional house, or whether I wanted to get my story out, have it be the best it could be, then move on to the next project. 

We also talked about how much control I wanted to retain, and how much I was willing to invest in the book. 

I decided not to hold out for a traditional house because:  a) it was a long shot,  b)  I wouldn't have control over when they'd decide to release my book, and c) I'd be doing a lot of my own promotion anyway. 

April was happy to explore any route on my behalf, but at this point in my life I was certain of which way I wanted to go.  

Tell us about the process of working with She Writes Press.   
After Brooke's initial read, she connected me with an editor named Annie Tucker who worked with me, chapter by chapter, for many months.  I feel like every suggestion from Annie really made my book better.  It was fun to work with her because she was just as excited about my book as I was.  I was close to the ninth or tenth revision at that point! but who's counting? 

The work we did was creative but was also very practical at times in terms of making decisions toward publishing, including many hours on brainstorming a new title.  Our aim was to have our work done in time for my book to be included in the May 2017 catalog because I think my release is well suited for "summer-read lists" and a Mother's Day promotion.
The other two huge things that She Writes Press offers is top-notch cover design and distribution.  I was involved in the conceptual process, and was then presented with about fifteen options to choose from. I can honestly say I loved all of them.  I polled friends and family for weeks in order to decide on which one to go with--a lot of fun. 

For distribution, SWP uses Ingram Publisher Services, the same service traditional publishers use, so from a retailer's POV, my book is no different. Ingram also has a terrific sales force and Brooke has worked tirelessly to develop a tip sheet for my book so the salesforce can go out and sell it.
In addition, SWP offers a large community of other authors to be a part of.  We are all a part of a very active Facebook group where we share strategies and help each other.
You secured excellent blurbs and pre-publication reviews for Eden.  Did you work with a publicist?
I hired Crystal Patriarche, whose firm, Booksparks, is under the same umbrella as SWP.  My project manager at SWP and my publicity team are able to work together, again, just as if they all worked at a traditional house. 

Booksparks developed my website last summer and helped me get the ball rolling in all sorts of ways in order to make my launch successful. 

Anything else you'd like to share from your experience with other debut authors? 
Make as much of investment in your book as you are able to.  I think this is important.  From editorial support to publishing, to publicity, I feel very satisfied in the process and in my book's chances to be well received.   Even though my royalties will be higher with SWP than with a traditional publisher, I don't  expect to break even on this book. If I do, wonderful!

But I'm also making this investment to set myself up for my next book  which I am hard at work on.
Eden: A Novel was released on May 2.   You can purchase it from  www.jeanneblasberg.com or on Amazon.