Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Husband's Memoir and Legacy

As many of you know, I am working on a new book which includes excerpts from my late husband, John M. Cavalieri's, memoir.  John's memoir was never published and for years it languished in a bedroom closet tucked behind his West Point memorabilia and scrapbooks. 

From time to time, I would pull out the black binder and begin reading yet again.  I always found in those 300 plus pages something new about the man I had loved, his days as a cadet at West Point, his keen observations about corporate America . . . and finally how hard he tried to beat cancer and stay with the boys and me.  His writing was riveting, honest and emotional.  He knew how to create scenes, use dialogue  . . . and stay true to his voice as a man and as a writer. 

The work literally seemed to have a life of its own, crying to be heard.  As anyone who writes memoir knows, we do so because it is therapy, a spiritual practice,  a story crying to be told and we are the only ones who can tell it.

For me, it had always been a dream to see his work published, but the question was how I felt his book required some editing and refocusing since it had been written 20 years ago.  So I began thinking about creating a story  - dipping a toe into the invented, the remembered and the imagined - where John's "life" is told through the main male character in my novel; a character who like John believes in honor and duty to family and country.  A man who feels as comfortable in denim as a uniform  . . .  as comfortable in California as on the streets of South Philadelphia.
Now through the new publishing dynamics that I have written about before, John's dream that he could share his story - especially his battle with cancer, can become reality. 

I realize this project is one I must undertake with great love, caution, patience and prayer.  For in many ways, I am reliving again my life with John and that is both painful and sweet. I am also entrusted with his most precious words in a book that was his legacy to his sons and me and to his readers. 

As he wrote in 1992 in the Foreword:
"At the urging of a friend, I am writing about my journey.  I realize now that my medical problems and my mental and physical journey might help other people facing the same battles."

Monday, August 19, 2013

The New Author Success Story

One of the things (among many) I learned as an independent author is that your book does not have a shelf life.  Thanks to the new publishing dynamics, the days where a book debuts, takes off or doesn't in six to eight weeks, and lands either on the bestseller list or the discount tables of bookstores are about as dated as a landline.

The shopworn publishing adages about success or failure have also been upended.  Promoting your book, fostering connections, blogging about writing, building an audience, getting out in the community and sharing the genesis of works-in-progress are all ways to keep the momentum going - for however long you, the author, desire. 

This was more than apparent yesterday when Slants of Light  collaborators  (Edda Pitassi, Ginger Murphy, Candice Swick and myself) joined other authors and entrepreneurs at a state park complete with views of lake and wooded hillsides.  Promoted by local author and psychotherapist Michele Paiva who was launching her book Rescue Your Relationship,  the event allowed each of us to showcase our businesses and books by decorating a blanket with a theme. 

Our theme centered around the Women's Writing Circle's  joy of collaborating, the elegance and romance of red roses; the "fruits" of our labor - baskets of lush purple grapes and gold plums, an apt metaphor for our work, were also displayed  by our books on a bright yellow blanket.

Our small gathering at the book launch "picnic" slowly got to know each other. Together we learned about each  other and felt that spark that synergies were evolving - a woman offering Reiki, wellness workshops and angel card readings also has a book club.  Our book with its writing as a way of healing theme got her thinking it might be a perfect choice for that club.

Recently, I came across this article by blogger Joanna Penn which sums up ways of viewing author success in the new publishing world.  http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/08/14/successful-self-publishing/

Titled "Redefining Success," the article makes the case that this is indeed a new world - a rollercoaster ride -  a metaphor I have used before on this blog for self-publishing.  There are ups and downs, highs and lows, disappointments countered with elation just around the next turn. One of the sentences in Penn's article particularly resonates:  "Now, if you sold even a single book to someone you didn’t know, then you, my friend, have beaten some serious odds.

I believe the "odds" of  selling more books to strangers than you ever dared hoped or dreamed can be beaten by embracing some of the following:

  • Don't just dream the dream, live it and publish that book.
  • Believe in your book and its value to readers.
  • Share your joy of being a published author over a cup of coffee with a friend, a chance encounter with a stranger, a community gathering, a picnic in the park.
  • Have fun with your marketing endeavors.  This isn't life or death, this is only one day, an experience to be relished and remembered. 
  • It's not about sales, it's about connections.
  • Stay in touch with your creativity and keep imagining new ways to foster and present your work.
  • Don't focus on how many books you sold or didn't sell.
  • Concentrate on the people standing in front of you.  Each person has a story to tell.  Value each other's gifts and talents.
  • Be aware that synergies and alchemy are ever-present.  When you least expect it, someone you met months ago, calls or emails about your book, an upcoming writing workshop, a read-around.
  • If you like to write, start a blog.  I love this blog and the interaction it gives me with my readers and writers interested in the Circle and finding their voices through writing.
  • Don't get hung up in comparisons or "hype" of how much you should or should not sell to be considered a publishing "success." 
  • EVERY book you sell says you are a  success.

Meeting new people, sharing stories, finding in them the human connection is what this "business" of authoring is all about. Be filled with deep gratitude for each and every reader.

Remember this if nothing else: Success is how you want to define it.

As always, your thoughts are welcomed.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The New Publishing Dynamic

There's nothing like reading your work in front of a live audience and hearing comments afterwards.  This past weekend I read from my memoir Morning at Wellington Square and really appreciated the immediate feedback, the support and validation that my story resonated and touched a chord.

This is the joy of the new publishing dynamic; not waiting years for your work to see the light of day, but sharing with an audience and potentially new readers who might be interested in writing their own journeys or just appreciate yours.  We know this in the Women's Writing Circle when we go out into the community and read our work.

But authors these days are facing more challenges than how to turn a phrase; whether to write a chronological story or one that plays with words and explores a stylistic approach.  We are confronting the new publishing dynamic.

A highlight of the IWWG Conference for me - where I read the excerpt from my memoir -  was the “bonus” lecture offered Saturday afternoon by April Eberhardt, a literary agent who has embraced with invigorating enthusiasm the new publishing options.   This includes traditional publishing, small presses, partnership publishing (such as SheWrites), self-publishing and hybrid publishing, (where a traditionally published author decides, for example, to self-publish a Kindle Single through Amazon).
Costs are associated with all but traditional publishing. And few, if any, of the other options offer advances and some require payment in return for assistance with author platform, marketing, cover design and editing.
April Eberhardt was a breath of fresh air in what I felt was a bit of  “stagnant” atmosphere at IWWG's three-day conference in Madison, New Jersey  with its emphasis on meeting literary agents, and adhering to the old rules of publishing.  What does this mean?  It usually means waiting three years from literary agent to editing to book publishing, as one agent told me.  Add to that poor royalties and no control over your work.    Traditionally published authors make 10 to 15 percent on each book.  Self-published authors get as high as 70 percent on each book sold.
Eberhardt noted if a book doesn't sell after six weeks (hit blockbuster status or a close equivalent), traditional publishers have been known to fold up the tent on the book; worse, if the book "doesn't earn out" the publisher's initial investment, they won't take a risk on a 2nd or 3rd book, which, of course, makes sense. It also means a lot of fine books get tossed in a forgotten heap since the publisher bought the rights to the book they published but which posted weak sales. (Owning the copyright to your work and having creative control over your book makes self-publishing even more attractive.)   Publishing is, after all, a business.
Self-publishing is not easy; no walk in the park as anyone who has done it knows.  It takes courage and imagination, along with a strategy and vision and the confidence and perseverance to see a finished quality product through to the end.  It is by no means the choice for everyone. 
As a journalist I mastered early on how to write a press release and craft condensed, to-the-point writing.  I felt these skills were crucial in writing my synopsis and other promotional materials for my books. In addition, I already knew people in the writing community, which made it easier to find an editor, trust her and meet with her in person. This figured prominently into my decision to self-publish back in 2010 when I published my first memoir, Again in a Heartbeat through CreateSpace, which is the self-publishing arm of Amazon.  The other, of course, was getting on with it and sharing my memoirs, which I hoped might help others going through similar journeys.  In the summer of 2012, I published Morning at Wellington Square, the sequel to Again in a Heartbeat, also with CreateSpace.
"Discoverability is the challenge," Eberhardt noted.  If your goal is to move from self-publishing to traditional publishing, those publishers (Random House, Harper Collins, etc.) only consider an independent author who has sold at least 20,000 books.  This is a dramatic increase from "the olden days"  (two weeks ago), she said, when selling 5,000 or 10,000 copies was the threshold.
The five "musts" for any independent author:
  • Write a good book.
  • Hire an editor, copy editor and proofreader.
  • Create a "killer" cover.
  • Develop your marketing skills.
  • Commit to quality.
Those embracing the new publishing dynamic can move forward, SELL BOOKS and GET THEIR WORK IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE.   Selling to independent bookstores on consignment, being creative with your marketing skills to include but not limited to author book fairs, being on Goodreads, mastering social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn,) are musts for the serious writer with an eye toward publishing. 
The key in my opinion:  Keep the door open to all possibilities, but understand what each offers and assess your comfort level and monetary commitment to your book.
Whatever you do, know this.  In the final analysis, "no one knows why anything sells," Eberhardt said. 

Amen to that!
Thoughts, comments and experiences with publishing?