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5 Tips on Self-publishing from a Haven Writing Retreat Alum

Books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums!

Not everyone who comes to Haven Writing Retreats wants to write a book, or if they do, necessarily publish it.  Some come just to learn how to better express themselves, or to use writing as a transformative tool in their lives.  Others have a book in them that they absolutely want to publish.  Some go the traditional route.  Others self-publish.  The stack of books you see here shows a great variety of publishing choices.  Not all of these books were written at Haven!  Many were written before, but they show the dedication and diversity of the people who have this kind of commitment to their craft.  May they inspire you to believe in your ability to do the same! (publishing credits below)

We have just a few more spaces left on our 2016 Haven Writing Retreat calendar!

September 7-11 (full with wait list)
September 21-25 (one space left)
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To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

Here’s what recent Haven Writing Retreat alum, Laura Lovett, has to say about her publishing journey.

by Laura Lovett, Author of Losing Cadence– Haven Writing Retreat alum

So you’ve written a book…now what?  Some authors try to get a literary agent and go the traditional publishing route and others skip this altogether and go the self-publishing route.  I tried to get a literary agent and was unsuccessful (after 100 query letters in the U.S. and Canada!), but I didn’t let this stop me.  My novel was ready to go and I knew it was a unique and gripping story that begged to entertain readers.  Therefore, I forged ahead into self-publishing and I’m glad I did.  This is what I learned and what you need to know when considering self-publishing

1.    Edit, Edit, Edit!

Okay, so we’re supposed to be talking about self-publishing, but I couldn’t help myself when it comes to the importance of editing.  I suggest that you edit your own manuscript until you can’t see straight and then hand it off to a professional like I did (Sheryl Khanna, Writer, Editor and Publicist).  Professional editing services will not only find all your grammar and spelling mistakes (yes, there are still loads in there), but it will also deal with content and consistency issues, and polish your manuscript so that the story shines and moves.  If you cannot afford a professional editor, ask people you know and trust to review your manuscript. When it comes to editing and reviewing a book, the more the merrier to get the best end result.  You don’t want to be roasted on Goodreads.com for having errors in your book; I have read a few of these and it is most distracting and definitely takes away from the story and the author as a serious storyteller.

2.    Do Your Research

When it comes to self-publishing you can do it all yourself, which is a lot of work but will save you a lot of money, or go through a self-publishing house.  I did not have the time nor the inclination to go it alone, so I purchased a package with a large, American self-publishing house.  There are many different self-publishing houses out there from small to large, but do your research as the services they offer differ greatly, as well as the price and royalties.  Some self-publishers will format your book, help with your cover design and get you online with all major booksellers, while others go even further and offer everything from extensive editing and marketing packages to everything else in between.  I chose iUniverse.  As a Canadian author, iUniverse offered a self-publishing package for $3,000 which guaranteed me in-store shelf placement with Chapters Indigo, the largest Canadian bookseller (similar to Barnes and Noble in the U.S.).  This was a major selling feature for me and tipped the scales in favor of iUniverse.

3.    Beware the Upsell

Some of the larger self-publishing houses, like iUniverse, have huge editing and marketing teams.  If you need these services, it is great for one-stop shopping, but it can get quite pricey.  A full publishing, editing and marketing package could cost you well over $10,000.  If you have bottomless pockets it’s a great and easy way to go, but if you do not, the constant upselling is not only annoying but can slow down your project.  By being clear about your budget up-front, and researching the services you can do on your own versus where you need professional support, you can avoid getting pulled into unnecessary costs.

4.    Distinguish Yourself Through Cover Art

The first thing a potential reader sees is your cover art…it summarizes your story in an unforgettable image.  This is where many self-published authors fall short; they have a great manuscript but their cover art is an afterthought or rushed to meet a deadline.  Even though iUniverse offers cover design services (in fact, they were included in the publishing package I purchased), I wanted a custom cover so hired my own designer (Corey Brennan, ELEVATE Design). Whether you do it yourself, have a friend help or use professional design services, start thinking about your cover well ahead of time.  Just because you are a self-published author doesn’t mean that your book has to look any less appealing than the current New York Times Bestsellers.  Position yourself to standout with a killer cover that begs to be picked up. I felt I achieved this with Losing Cadence’s cover, and I smile every time I see it in someone’s hands.

5.    Marketing

So you’ve written the next New York Times Bestseller and with book in hand you think you’re finished.  Think again, as you’re only halfway there.  Marketing is a huge area where many self-published authors also fall short.  If you are not marketing savvy, many of the larger self-publishing houses offer marketing and publicist packages, but be careful as they are very pricey.  If you are doing this part on your own, which I did with the help of my Publicist (Sheryl Khanna, Writer, Editor and Publicist), you need to get out there and sell, sell, sell.

  • Get a Web site and/or Facebook page and Twitter going.  Social media is going to be your new best friend.  But only use the social media that you (or your publicist) have time to maintain as you do not want it sitting stagnant.  This is why I have yet to get a Twitter account going!
  • Set-up an author page on Goodreads.com – check mine out at www.goodreads.com/AuthorLauraLovett. My profile is gaining good traction and you can see the importance of reviews and ratings in building credibility and interest in your book.
  • Host a book launch and invite everyone you know; yes, everyone.  Don’t be shy, include your neighbors, your co-workers, your hairdresser, etc.; tell everyone you meet about your book.
  • Ask everyone who has read your book to write a review and/or post a rating on Goodreads.com, as well as their favorite online bookseller.
  • Schedule book signings with local bookstores (you may need to be persistent as they sometimes need to be pushed or reminded).  Essentially, get your book in as many bookstores as possible.
  • Don’t forget the local library or book clubs…get your book in there too.
  • If you have not already done so, start networking with local authors and writer’s groups.  Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat in Montana was my first foray and an invaluable experience for learning more about the art of writing, meeting other writers and networking.
  • Do a virtual book tour with bloggers who blog on your genre.
  • Submit your book for applicable awards and competitions.
  • Read Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn – it’s a great resource for independent authors.
  • Do radio appearances.
  • Shamelessly plug your book to one and all.

losing cadence

Pros and Cons

One of things that I love about self-publishing is that you no longer need to rely on difficult-to-get literary agents to publish your work.  And, self-publishing has changed dramatically in the past few years so that it is very hard to tell a good self-published book from a traditionally published book, which is opening the world up to books that we never would have heard of ten years ago.

Self-publishing can be pricey and, like I said above, the upsell can be a bit bothersome.  You also need to be on top of all the details and push back when necessary.  For example, iUniverse originally set the price of my book far too high – so high in fact that I was priced right out of the market – I had to negotiate the price of my book down to a reasonable level for my readers and this took quite a bit of work.

Would I self-publish again?

I’m currently working on the sequel to my first book, Losing Cadence, and I am definitely going to try to secure an agent again, but if I am unsuccessful, I will once again forge ahead into self-publishing.  Knowing what I know now, I will do even more research, and compare more self-publishing houses, as I may not go with iUniverse again; the jury’s out on them as my experience was a mix of positives and frustrations.

I encourage authors to not let an unsuccessful attempt to secure a literary agent stop you from publishing or even writing.  Move onwards and straight to self-publishing either on your own or with a self-publishing house.  You’ll be glad you did when you’re holding your book in your hand or see it on the shelf at a local bookstore.

Laura Lovett is a psychologist and entrepreneur. An accomplished author in the academic and business world, she pursued her love of creative writing to pen her first novel, Losing Cadence, a psychological thriller.

Laura lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband and three children. In her spare time she loves playing squash and spending time at the family cabin in Montana.

Visit Laura at www.facebook.com/Author.Laura.Lovett

 

Some of the books published by Haven Writing Retreat alums:

Sukey ForbesAn Angel in my Pocket (best-selling memoir)

Laura Lovett– Losing Cadence (novel)

Frances StrohBeer Money (memoir)

Justine FroelkerEver Upward (self-help)

Angela Leigh Tucker– Me Now– Who Next? (memoir)

Maria O’RourkePrepare Your Heart to be a Great Mom, Prepare Your Heart for a Great Christmas (devotional)

Fateme BanishoeibTea of Tibet (poetry)

Katie Andraski– The River Caught Sunlight (novel)

Jill BurchmoreGroovin in the Canyon (memoir)

Byron ThompsonBuild Your Dream (self-help)

Kathryn Stockett– The Help (#1 New York Times best-seller– novel)

Cyndi NienhausThe Silent Schism (religious)

Sally Stevens– Poems from the Road (poetry)

Amanda BevillWorld Spice at Home (cookbook)

Justine Froelker– Taking Flight (workbook)

Laura ProbertWarrior Love (self-help)

Linda Lester– Blossom (children’s book)

Sarah ScottThe Wild Table (cookbook)

 

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To a Young Writer

I was recently asked to write down some writing advice to a young person who loves to write and needs some guidance. There’s practically nothing I’d rather do. Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” largely shaped who I am as a writer and a person today. The following is what came out of me. Please feel free to share it with anyone– young, or old, or in-between who needs a little help in this category. Writing ain’t for sissies, and we need a little hand-holding/nudge every-so-often. yrs. Laura

Write what you HAVE to write.

Don’t give up.

Write and write and write.

And write.

Don’t believe in writer’s block.

Don’t worry about getting published.

When you think you’ve gone deep enough, go deeper. And then go deeper.

Think of yourself as an archaeologist and you want to crack the case on the cavewoman.

What did she worry about? What did she do to find comfort?

Tell people, “I am a writer.”

Hold your head up high when they look confused, and even judgmental.

Allow yourself to be misunderstood in life and on the page.

Believe in yourself.

Only you can tell your story the way you can tell it.

When you sit down to write: get butterflies in your stomach. Feel like it’s a snow day.

Always believe that you have something to say.

Always know that you have nothing to say.

Say it anyway.

Be brave.

Be kind to yourself.

Believe. Receive. It’s all happening.

All you have to do is show up.

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A Look Into Self-publishing

People have asked me over and over why I’ve written so many books and never considered self-publishing.  I think the answer was really just this:  I was chicken.  Sure, I said I was attached to the idea of traditional publishing.  I wanted that status.  That support.  That level of editing and publicity.  That “institutional” backing and affiliation.  Eventually, I got all that in spades.  It was an embarassment of riches, really and I am so grateful to the great Amy Einhorn at Putnam and the wonderful publicity and marketing team at Penguin.   I love my agent and I treat her better than I do most of my best friends.  I like the feeling of people being For me and these people were just that.  They believed in my book and my message.  But every-so-often I wonder what would happen if I slapped one of my novels on Amazon and flew solo.  I admire people who take that tack.  But I admit to still being a chicken.

I have a friend who is NOT a chicken and we have had some interesting conversations about self-publishing.  I’d like to share our question and answer with you.  Feel free to ask her about her experience.  She has written a beautiful book, and I’m happy to introduce you to my friend, Brigetta Schwaiger.

Book Description:

Anna Broxton’s marriage to the top Tommy John surgeon in the West and their idyllic ranch life in the Flathead Valley of Montana makes most women envy her. That is, until one simple moment changes her family forever.

Unable to bear the presence of her once adored husband, she abandons her life and finds “her nowhere” a small organic farm on the Southern tip of Sweden. There, she tills the soil, plants seeds, learns to pickle cucumbers, and fights her attraction to a younger man.

Her unlikely friendships with two unique women awaken her to suffering other than her own and help her face her part in the tragedy. She returns home to find her husband has found his own nowhere and must fight for whatever love remains in the gaps of their shattered family.

“Her Nowhere” is a tearjerker about relationships and what they can survive—if we let them. It is appropriate for book club discussion about our own unique tragedies, how we respond to them, how they shape us, humanitarianism, organic farming, and the imperfection of motherhood.

Why did you decide to self publish?

I always wanted to write a novel, but there was some fear in me associated with that dream. So, for many years I just didn’t do it. I thought it would be too hard to get it published so I just didn’t invest the time. For me, it was freeing to choose to write regardless if there would be any recognition or possiblility of publication or any monetary compensation. I wanted to write it because life is just a vapor so why not choose your dreams while you can.

When I finished and let a couple of family members and friends read it, they were very responsive and loved the story. I began the process of researching agents, contructing perfect query letters, sending them, waiting for responses and it became a full time job. I have four children and honestly, it seemed like a waste of my time. Like I was parading myself when perhaps nobody was even watching.

So, I tucked my novel away in the corner of my desktop and left it alone for a few years. One day, I was inspired to come back to it and re-read and edit once again. I found that I loved the story and knew it should be shared. I started researching ebook publishing. I realized it was something I could control and I’d been hearing that even when a big house picked up your work, you ended up doing most of the promotion anyway.  It was a way to get my book off of my desktop and offer it to whoever might want to read it. Simple as that.

 

How did your move to Montana from California inspire your writing?

That’s such a good question because it had everything to do with my writing. I always say Montana gave me the space I needed to write and create. In California (and I love my home state and my peeps there) it was just crowded, squished, noisy. And I never realized how it adds unknown stress until I moved to Montana. It also helped that I didn’t know a soul here when we first moved. My characters in Her Nowhere were my first companions in Montana.

What was the process like logistically?

I won’t lie. It’s a lot of work and you have to be committed to editing, finding good readers to edit, researching best ways to create covers, learning how to format your text, then checking and double checking. Mostly its a lot of researching online and learning from others who have done it. There is help out there, but you have to take the time to find it, read it, and apply.

What has the response been so far?

It has been incredible. My sister’s friend read it and said- “It’s my favorite book of all time. I want a signed hard copy. If it was in print, I would give it to everyone I know. It is so healing with all the loss I’ve had in my life.”  And I thought- That’s my hope. So if it’s just for her, just for one, then that’s enough.

An Amazon review from Sue Keating said, “Anyone who was lost and found will relate to this novel. Well written and plot driven, Anna is lost, found and redeemed. A global book that affirms that giving is the best way to receive.”

Another reader stayed up until three in the morning reading it on the cracked screen of her  iPhone. Love that! People are telling me that once they start it, they can’t put it down. But, I also get some complaints about puffy eyes the next day. Or readers looking like they’ve been beat up. It’s a real tear jerker. Within the first two days it was in the top fifteen in the Paid Kindle Drama Category and at one point was number one on the Hot New Releases in Dramas.

What have you learned so far?  What advice would you give a writer who is at the beginning of the self-publishing process.

If a writer knows self-publishing is for them, they should read through Kindle Direct Publishing’s information first. Become familiar with formatting on .doc, which converts easily to the Kindle. If you format it right the first time, it can save you a lot time. I’d also tell them to look through the covers on Amazon and pay attention to the images that catch their eye. A good cover is very important.  I’m a photographer and have enough experience on Photoshop that I was able to create my own, but you may want to hire someone if you don’t have those skills.  And make sure you edit, edit, edit, then upload it and read it through on your ebook device to search for weird formatting issues and typos. Also, have a few close friends read it on their ebook device too. Then, you can make any corrections needed before you start publicizing. There are many self-published books with a ton of grammatical errors and typos. You don’t want to be one of those.

How much time do you find yourself doing promotion—Facebook, Twitter, website, mailings, blogging, etc.?

It is time consuming, but I haven’t kept track because I practically live on Facebook and Twitter and on the blogs already. I am co-owner of a New Media Company called FlyGirls Media (www.FlyGirlsMedia.com) and we run social media campaigns and workshops for clients. So, this part comes naturally to me. I started in social media with a mom blog I’ve written for over three years now. I recently took a six month break, but I missed it so I’m back at it. You can find me at www.TransparentMama.Blogspot.com.

Have you been able to land any media on your own?  Have you (or are you considering) hiring a publicist?

I won’t hire a publicist. I will focus on promoting through social media, Facebook Ads, and my good friends who will introduce me to the readers of their blogs. I am also taking advantage of the KDP Select program. It is a program through Kindle Direct Publishing that allows you five free promotional days over a 90 day period. The catch is that you have to be exclusively with them for 90 days and you become part of their lending library. My first promotional day on Amazon is this Saturday (5.18.12). My book will be offered for free that entire day and hopefully gain some valuable exposure.

Talk to me about this oft dreaded word “Platform” that the publishing world now basically requires before they’ll take a risk on an unknown writer.  Do you think you need that platform with self-publishing?

That remains to be seen. I don’t know. It’s such a hard thing because fiction writers are often holed up writing alone so it’s difficult to develop a platform before anyone has seen their work. I’m hoping this first book will show its worth and THAT will give me a platform.

Thank you, Brigetta!  See you on the baseball fields and best of luck to you!

Bio:

Brigetta is a writer, photographer, blogger, and co-owner of FlyGirls Media, LLC. She has four baseball loving energetic sons and somewhere in a paper pile there is documentation showing she graduated with a degree in English from UCLA.

She studied in Sweden and Europe and after living in Los Angeles most of her life, packed a U-haul with her husband and carted her family off to the amazing town of Whitefish, Montana.

 

 

 

 

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Writers: Q&A with editor Kim Ludlow

Kim at work in New York City. That's her dog, Dex on her screensaver...

Q&A with Kim Ludlow, editor and founder of Ludlow Editorial.

 

What excites you about book editing?

I love finding the right language for an idea or feeling.  I love organizing and reorganizing the puzzle pieces of a story to see how structure changes the experience. It starts with intention. In conversation, I listen for what people are trying to communicate; on the page, I look for clues to what drives the writer to tell her story.  Recognizing these intentions honors the writer, and opens the door to understanding the life of the story.  For me, the mystery of why we tell stories and the challenge of how we tell stories is a perfect marriage of the heart and mind.

 

What led you to provide this service for people?

Honestly, the fact that I love doing it is one thing.  The fact that my peers consider me very good at it inspires me to offer it up as a service.

 

You are one of the most intuitive editors I’ve worked with.  Tell me about how intuition plays out in your work with writers.

Much like what excites me about the process, when I read someone’s work I concentrate on what the writer is trying to say. I let my instincts respond first to the words, then to what I hear behind them. Whether I’m thinking about James Joyce, or a new writer’s first draft, the important question is “what is this writer trying to communicate?”  Whether the piece achieves the writer’s goals at that moment or not, the question remains the same.

 

What are some of the most common pitfalls writers face?

I find that writers (experienced and not) often struggle with the same problems.  Some of them are: losing the tension and structure of the story, have an unclear narrative point of view, undeveloped characters, pacing, and unnatural dialogue.  It’s often a good idea to read your work out loud to yourself.  It’s amazing what you can hear that you don’t recognize on the page.

 

Where do you find writers often get stuck in their work?

This is as varied as the writers who write.  It’s often a question of story structure and what makes the story feel “alive.”   It’s easy to get bogged down in something that doesn’t move the story along, or that the writer is attached to, but doesn’t belong.

 

How do you help a writer get unstuck?

I tend to dig into the sentences and paragraphs fairly deeply for content, and use examples in the text to show what is and isn’t working and why.  Then I describe the larger context of the story and how those examples hinder or help the author’s intention.

 

What are some powerful questions you can give people who are considering writing a book or are already at work on one?

Have you ever read a story like the one you want to tell?  How is your story different?

What is the most important event in the story?  When does that event take place in the story’s timeline?

Know where your narrator is in time.  Is she in the middle of the story (she knows some things, but not others).  Is he at the end looking back?  How far away from the events is he?

 

When is it time to hire someone to help you?

I think my skills are best applied to a working draft (short story, opening chapter, 1st draft of a script).   I can always tell someone if I like their idea or not, but it’s once the idea starts to take shape that the constructive questions and discussions can begin.

 

Any other advice you can offer writers?

Read.  Read.  Read.
Know the genre you’re working in.
Know how things are usually done so that you can take advantage of the established form, or know why you do it differently.  If you’ve never written a story before, look at some of the books on basic story structure and the tools of story-telling available to you.  Then write.  And write.  And rewrite.

Thank you, Kim!  Kim can be contacted at her website and to those of you looking for editing help, I strongly recommend her services.

yrs.

Laura

 

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A Lifeline for Writers

If you want to skip my rant below, just go here for the LIFELINE!  http://everythingyoushouldknow.com

 

Platform?  Say What?

For all you writers out there, here’s the deal– with a golden solution at the end:

(The news as it was delivered in June, 2009…and what happened when I paid attention)

“What’s that you said?  Platform?  I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right.  Must be the truck that just ran me over.  Could you come again?  I think what you said is that it’s practically impossible to get my books published in today’s market without a Platform.  Is that correct?”

Big-time New York publishing-world person responds.

Turns out I heard right.

“I need to sit down.  I think I’m going to throw up.”

Big-time New York publishing-world person says something about it being good news.  That I don’t have to throw up.  That social media is the new frontier and it’s full of Platforms.  Exclamation point.  Smiley face.  Like she’s just come back from a blogger’s convention or took a hit of Ecstasy or something.

“Good news?  It’s just that…well…I was under the impression, nay delusion, all these years that if you want to write books…uh…you write books.  In the wee hours while the children sleep.  During your break at the restaurant on the back of bar tabs.  On your hand in the car.  In hiding over Christmas break in your childhood closet.  And if you’re lucky, at a proper desk with inspirational quotes around you and a dog at your feet.  Sometimes for eight hours straight forsaking all others, even your sick mother.  And at least for what it takes to get you five pages.  Double-spaced.  Times New Roman.  12pt.  Every day, no matter what, for years and years.  And years.  What a fool am I.”

Daunting list is delivered in what sounds like a cross between Pig Latin and Sanskrit.

Shallow, rattled, authorly breath.  “Huh?  Blog?  Social media?  Brand development?  Promotion?  These words aren’t even in my dictionary.  I’ve been neck deep in narrative drive.  Plot points.  Characterization.  Dramatic tension.   Empathy.  I need an aspirin.”  I hang up less politely than I’d like.

I take to my bed with the covers up to my chin and stare at the ceiling for a good long time watching my future flicker past in Blue Ray, and of course, I don’t know how to turn it off because of course, I’m a techno peasant, as my friend Lee Woodruff likes to say.  But I don’t know her yet.  I don’t know that I’m going to be published in a few years and meet fabulous people like Lee Woodruff.  All I know is this:  It’s true—I’m never going to get published.

Then I call big-time New York publishing-world person back.  She answers; uses a tone I strike with my children when they’ve had a nightmare.  She is kindly prodding me to join the world of the living breathing adult 21st century writer.  But I’m not exactly there yet.

“What do you mean no one will publish my books and short stories and essays and poems because, wait say it again—I just need to make sure I heard you right:  I don’t have a Platform?  Like a train platform, where lovers leave and re-join each other in tears and blowing hooded capes?  Where soldiers return from war and businessmen and women go to and fro with briefcases and cell phones, tipping hats, politely nodding?  Or like platform shoes?  Tall and ankle-breaking and sure to go out of style?  Or like platform tennis—a cage with hard paddles and balls that don’t bounce?”

Her voice is the voice of the adults in Peanuts holiday TV specials.  Suddenly I want a Dolly Madison doughnut.   Instead, I sit up and try to become mature.

“Okay.  Platform,“ I say like I’m swallowing that aspirin, not that Ecstasy.  “Could you please tell me just what the F*** you mean by a Platform?  In the nicest sense of the word F***.”

And I learn.  I learn fast.  Because this is like an intervention and I realize I’m going to have to go to writing rehab and I know that if I don’t go, this writing dream might die.  Here’s what I learn:
If I want to get my books published…it would behoove me to build a brand.  To be an expert at something.  To get on the speaking circuit.  To have a website and to have something to sell there like a course on something.  I have to blog.  I have to Tweet.  I have to Facebook.  And I’m not gonna matter to anyone unless I have 20,000 followers who are waiting with baited breath for my monthly newsletter.  Among other things.  That’s what I hear for now.  Nowhere is there any mention of novel-writing.

“I miss my typewriter,” I say, pulling the covers back up to my chin, grieving all my book babies who will likely never see the light of day.  “What’s the world come to?  What would John Cheever and Raymond Carver and JD Salinger do?”

She plays hardball:  “Well you could try to send something to The New York Times.  Or The New Yorker,” knowing full well that the chances of that something getting published in those somethings is thin.  “But the social media Platform is easier to navigate.”

Good Lord.  Say it ain’t so.

But if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a quitter.  I know I have to at least investigate this modern world that I inhabit.  In the traditional sense of the word, a platform is sturdy, if I think of it that way.  A launching pad.  A place for new beginnings.  A place where helicopters land and take off.  A place where triage happens.   And my books are in critical condition.

So I start a blog and I find I actually have something to say.  And a few people actually read it.  I actually even like writing those posts.  They’re short and great writing warm ups and usually have a photo in them.  I love photography and I’m very visual so this genre sings for me.  Not sure if anyone’s listening but at least I’m in control of getting my work out there wherever there is.  At least I’m on a Platform.  And I join Facebook and Twitter and I realize I’ve been really alone all these years in this office, writing books about made up people in made up lands.  Social media is so…well…social.  I actually like this Platform thing.  I write something and I put it out there and people read it.  Wow.  Wow wow wow.

All-too-quickly the honeymoon is over.  Because I learn that there is no Platform band wagon.  You have to build it brick by brick and it takes time.  Lots of time.  A lot like writing a novel.  But there isn’t really time to write a novel with all this finding friends on Facebook and Twitter, and blogging and newslettering…and why bother anyway, because apparently no one’s buying books by unknown authors and no one’s reading them.  Even though I read them.  But apparently I’m not “normal.”  I am beginning to build up a whopping dose of resentment.  Resentment is bad.  I take a pause and go back to a novel I was working on before the Social Media witch landed on my house.

And then it happens.  I get in some power tools and large machinery, and my platform is big and bright and shiny…because one afternoon, I decide to put my forehead on my writing desk and weep.  And in total surrender, I write the short version of a memoir I finished a few months prior…and send it, yes, to the New York Times.  The Modern Love column, to be exact.  And the next day, I get an email:  they want it.  They actually want it.

The morning that essay hits the newsstands, I have three hits on my blog.  By the end of the day I have 3,000.  Major national television calls my home phone.  I’m not even listed.  My agent goes out with the full length memoir.  In forty-eight hours I get a book deal at a major publishing house.  And my whole life as a writer changes.  The Platform works, turns out.

But remember, I’m an English major type with absolutely no business experience, never mind sense.  Two seconds ago I didn’t even know what a W-9 form was.  Or an LLC.  Or what the word fiduciary or even fiscal mean.  And here I am, me and my Platform, and just like I didn’t know how to build one in the first place, now that I have one, I have no idea what to do with it!  I learn the hard way.  I learn alone.  I hire my ex-nanny to be my assistant.  We limp along together in the world of Platform and heck—we do okay.

And then I meet a woman called Arielle Ford.  A writer.  A publicity whiz.  Here are a few of the people whose careers she has helped launch:  Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Neale Donald Walsch, Debbie Ford, Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav, Dean Ornish, Joan Borysenko, Louise Hay, Jorge Cruise, and don Miguel Ruiz.

Arielle generously teaches me a thing or two and after a few years and a lot of hard work learning how to do triage on my Platform…I have the honor of participating in what I consider to be the singlemost helpful tool kit around when it comes to actually making sense of all this stuff writers are supposed to be doing when we’re not writing—pre-book and post-book.  This tool kit is Arielle’s way of shining light on what feels like utter darkness for most of us writers.  Oh how I wish I’d had what I am about to introduce to you years ago:

It’s called EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW and it’s an extensive course on the publishing world with pearls of wisdom from top-selling authors and speakers.  I am thrilled to be able to give you this lifeline and I am honored to be one of its interviewees.  Please…if you are in the dark, struggling and stubborn like yours truly.

Click here now:   http://everythingyoushouldknow.com/. 

It very well may be the best money you’ve spent on your writing career.  Conferences, retreats, lectures, how-to books all serve their purpose, but this is GOLDEN information that you won’t find anywhere else.  I am not a salesperson.  I get nervous laughter when I’m in that position.  But I am so blown away by the power of the tools in this marvelous tool box Arielle has created, that I am happy to be a megaphone for it.  CHECK IT OUT and tell all your writer friends that they don’t have to be in the dark!

Also, I’m GIVING AWAY two free tickets to Arielle Ford’s 21st Century Book Marketing live event in San Diego on October 14-16, just LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW on this blog post. This is a $994 value that I’m giving away for free! Two days of learning how to use everything she teaches you!

Go here to explore the video and EYSK.

Here’s to changing the tortured artist paradigm!  Here’s to empowerment…and light where there was darkness.

Yrs.
Laura

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A Book’s Life


This is a writer’s dream– to witness one of his or her books being or having been devoured. Dog-eared. Bloated from a bath-tub session. Coffee stains. Red wine stains. Tear stains.

Today I received this gift in the mail. It’s a photo of my book, loved and worn by a faithful reader. I really do believe that the book takes on a life of its own. I really do believe that ultimately it’s between the book and the reader.

People ask me all the time what it’s like to have written a memoir about something so deeply personal.  My answer is this:  if you write with compassion and responsibility, you can write about anything.  People are hungry for heart language.  People want to know they’re not alone.  That is a writer’s job.  This weekend I’ll be teaching a memoir writing workshop in Montana for the Authors of the Flathead.  The truth is, no one can really show you how to write your truth.  To me it’s about learning how to get out of your own way by asking powerful questions.  It’s about understanding the sacred space of creation.  You sit in your quiet room somewhere and you release the work with the intention that it will help someone out there.  That it will land in someone’s lap and heart.  That you will give them cause to pause.  Dog-ear.  Underline.  Join in the dance of the collective We.

So for all you writers out there, look deeply at this photo.  You are doing important work in the language of heart.  Your words matter.  Believe in your book.  It wants you to.

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On The Road: (or Where am I?)

You may think the road is glamorous…but think again.  There are lessons in limos that you might not expect…

Origninally published in Author Magazine

I’m home now after two months on the road promoting my book, and every morning, I wake up with a start: Where am I?
I could be anywhere. I could be in a Hampton Inn in Dayton, Ohio. I could be in a Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. I could even be in my own bed. And it’s an interesting experiment lying there, daring the early morning birds, living into that not knowing.

I’ve known exactly where I am when I wake for many years. I am in my bed in Montana, once again waking to the same cool celadon green of my walls, the same mahogany antique desk that I’ve ruined with hot tea mugs, the rings to prove it. There is a stack of books covering those rings, and I’ve read too little of those words, and so usually, I awake to guilt. Guilt in the rings and books and inevitable dust—a dead fly or two on the window sill. I feel guilt, but I feel comfort. I am the keeper of these inanimates.

In My Dinner with Andre, Andre has to climb mountains to know that he exists. Wallace Shawn is happy to wake up to the cold cup of coffee from the day before in his New York City apartment. In both cases, these are proof that they are alive. I have been alive then in dead bugs and low grade guilt. But I’d like to have kinder proof, so usually I try to think of a few nice things to say to myself. Sometimes I think of people to whom I want to send loving kindness. Either way, there is always this butterfly flicking around in my rib cage: when do I get to write? That question is what quells it all. And it is with that question that I get out of bed and enter my day. It is in answering that question, that I know where I am.

I had a friend who spent a lot of time and money getting her masters in creative writing. At the end of it she realized she’s not a writer. “I dreaded every minute of it,” she said. “Really,” I said. “I feel like a little girl getting away with something every time I sit down to my writing desk.” It felt that way in 1988 when I realized I am a writer and it feels that way in 2011, and if I know anything about myself, it will feel that way as long as I live.

As I’ve said before, writing is my practice and my prayer. My meditation. My way of life and sometimes my way to life. It is the holiest ground I know. And so, you might wonder what happens when you wake up day after day on the road in a startle, wondering what you will see when you open your eyes and really not knowing what the answer is to the question, once you get around to it: when do I get to write? Because the answer most likely is: this summer. And summer is months away.

So do you feel sorry for yourself? Or worried for yourself like your grandmother worries for you? Maybe a little. Your life, for as much as your dreams are now realities, is dearly out of balance. Writers have nervous breakdowns on book tours because of this imbalance. Their personal lives suffer. Their children suffer. Mothers without their children suffer, whether or not they are writers. I have a writer friend who doesn’t call her kids when she’s on the road. “It upsets them,” she says, and she’s right. Better to extract yourself and to leave them be. They don’t need the reminder. It doesn’t feel good hearing your voice. It feels sad. For both of you.

It’s true that I bring my journal with me when I travel. But it’s also true that I don’t write in it. I can’t quite ask and answer my good questions. I can’t quite go into the woods of my heart and depict my wanderings well or even at all. It’s too painful. It’s what my friend with the MFA felt when she sat down to write. I think that for me, it’s because novels hatch in journal entries. Or at least short stories and essays. And I can’t afford that to happen. Because I can’t take their hand and breathe air into their lungs. They will be like my children. Abandoned for now.

So I am out of practice on the road. I am disoriented. Where am I? This is not just a question of toilet and nightstand and lamp and toilet paper. This is deeply psychic. Where am I? What CAN you take with you? Well here is my answer:

Every so often, like the Pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim who travelled with his book and his knapsack, trying to learning what it is to pray without ceasing, we need to find the wilderness that is us. To give up our earthly possessions and even that cold cup of coffee and those dead flies that remind us we are alive, and climb our Everests like Andre or take to wandering with one single intention like the Pilgrim. We need to forget what Monday is from Tuesday and what Portland is from Jacksonville, and just be Somewhere. It’s nice to become aware of a comfortable bed because of the uncomfortable bed in which you slept the night before. It’s nice to know the difference before you even know where you are longitudily and latitudinaly speaking. A good pillow leaves you wanting to weep in gratitude. The smile from a cab driver. A wink from the woman at the train ticket box. The way the waitress calls you “hon.”

At home, you don’t notice these things quite the same way. You know exactly where you are. You berate yourself for being forty-five years old and still not having the wherewithal to keep a stock of tampons in your medicine cabinet. You feel guilt over ruined antiques and pressure from dead flies, and you forget sometimes that they are reminders that yes, you are alive. You can’t think about being alive. You have so very much laundry to do.

And yes, you are home. You have a place to practice your prayer. And the road reminds you: you have your room of your own…and you are so grateful for it because you forgot: a long time ago, you pined away for that room. You wrote inbetween shifts at the restaurant and while the babies slept. You have your desk that awaits you. You have your work. You have a life in balance, for the most part. You know where the toilet is. The road has been a great teacher: you need to be OUT of balance every so often, so that you know what balance is in the first place. You need to learn to be grateful for dead flies by climbing the mountain. There are times to live and times to write and times to do both. And so to the road, and to all those hotel rooms and that new question (Where am I?) which for many weeks this last year have replaced my usual question at waking (When do I get to write?)…Thank you.

And now it is summer.

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Lost in Translation?

A lot of things have been blessings in disguise from this journey of book, but one of the greatest ones has been knowing that my words are reaching people all over world.  Wow.  Wow.  The UK has been amazing. So have been the Auzzies and Germans. Thank you.

Hearing from a blind woman in Israel who tells me that my book helped her through the greatest loss of her life and that is the death of her seeing eye dog to cancer.  This is the power of story.  To know that my words, written here in my small room in Montana, are being translated around the globe:  well that is just hitting me.  And it’s hitting me hard.  Today I got my words in Chinese. 
And recently in German. Soon in Dutch, Italian, and in Taiwanese.
Universal truth is universal truth.  It crosses oceans and countries and cultures.  Thank you.

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Here’s to the Midwest!

Being a gal from Illinois, having spent summers in Wisconsin, and having attended college in Ohio, I simply cannot wait for the midwestern leg of my book tour which is in just a matter of days! The full frontal horizon so honest and straight-forward. The flickering rows of corn reminding me of my father and his farm roots. The little towns and the mom and pop cafes with red velvet cake and grinders. The dignity of its cities. What a perfect way to enter into what will be almost two months of readings and events from coast to coast. A friend from Wisconsin sent me this the other day and it just had me in head-shaking, wide-smiling bliss. Scroll down to take a look! Here’s to the Midwest! yrs. Laura

April 6, 2011    4pm
Denison University
Herrick Hall
100 W. College St
Granville OH
Beck Lecture Series

April 7th, 2011    7pm
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
2692 Madison Road
Rookwood Pavilion
Cincinnati, OH
Discussion, Signing, Q&A

April 8, 2011    7pm
Books & Company
4453 Walnut St
The Greene
Dayton, OH
Reading, Discussion, Signing

April 9, 2011      1pm
Penguin Bookshop
420 Beaver Street
Sewickley, PA
Reading, Signing

THE MIDWEST AND ITS TAVERNS:

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Advice From the Now Writer Me…to the Then Writer Me.

By Laura Munson (in several incarnations)

Published in Author Magazine

Okay.  You know those words that you fling into the ocean and the sinking sun every time you’re standing on an eastern facing beach?  Those sometimes spoken, sometimes thought words that come out like a beggar’s prayer?  I know you’re kind of embarrassed by them, but let’s just fess up.  As an exercise.  Please help me be published to wide acclaim.

Well guess what?  After 20 years and 14 books…it happens.  And I’m here to tell you…it’s not the story you think it is.  Your writer friend was right when he said “The only difference between being published and not being published is being published.”

Really?

Really.

But don’t I feel magnetic and energized and fabulous?  Isn’t it the most fun of my entire life?  Don’t I jump up and down? Doesn’t it feel like Christmas?

I’m a bit afraid to tell you.  But I feel that I must.  It was fun.  For one entire second, when your agent called and told you there was an offer on your book.  You were on your treadmill, and you took your feet off the conveyor belt and you stood quiet and said, “Hang on.  I just need a moment.”  And she waited.  And you cried.  And that was it.  You went back to your fast walk and your agent went back to business.  The fun moment wasn’t so fun.  You took it and you wept.

What about all the readings and the fans, and the media and the limos, and seeing all my old friends?  What about going to all those cities and speaking in all those beautiful rooms and meeting all those amazingly inspiring people?  Wasn’t that fun?

Wasn’t I happy?

Not exactly.  You felt like you’d ditched the part of you that you knew and trusted and loved and had worked so hard to build inside yourself.  The writer.  You felt out of balance and you missed writing.  You missed the work.  There wasn’t time for the work.  You were so set on the idea that you had one shot at it.  One shot at putting yourself on the map as a published, successful author.  And if it meant that you packed on 10 pounds and went loose in the gut, and didn’t eat breakfast, or even lunch sometimes, or play with your kids, or if you lost out on weekends and sleep and social engagements…it was a small price to pay for being a country on that map.  Plus you needed the money.  But it was always about more than the money.  It was about living a myth.  Keeping it alive.  Because surely the myth would somehow save you.

That’s really fucking sad.

Ah…but here’s the secret, and it’s good news if you look at it properly:  Ready?

I’m not so sure.

Tough.  Repeat after me:  There is no such thing as success.  I’m here to tell you.  It’s a lie.  An illusion.  An interpretation of events that feels mostly like total shit, because the self behind the ego knows the truth.

I feel like throwing up.  If this is true…how on earth did I finally understand it?

Glad you asked.

One day you were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, at home, before the family woke up. You hadn’t been awake more than three minutes when you realized you had a grimace on your face like you were being pinched, and your shoulders were up by your ears, tight and braced.  You were worrying about a reading in Connecticut that was at a private club where 150 women had pre-paid $75.00 which included a signed copy of your book, and lunch.  You were worrying that they’d be disappointed that they spent all that money just to see you.  You were worrying about the ten pounds you’d gained and what you’d wear—what looked authorly and had success written all over it.  You were sure that you’d be the worst dressed woman there.  And what if you found one of your books in the Ladies room afterwards on the back of a toilet like someone had decided they didn’t want it after all, after seeing you speak in that horrible outfit?  And geez—don’t published authors have enough money to hire a personal trainer? What a let down you were.  Who did you think you were?

And then you started to smile.  And to laugh.  That event already happened!  Almost a year ago!!!  People loved you.  They told you so.  They bought extra books for friends and family and their book groups.  And yes, you did find a book on the back of a toilet in the Ladies room, but you gave it to the woman at the front desk and she wept she was so thankful.  She’d heard about your book and wanted desperately to read it but couldn’t afford a $24.95 hardback.  So there.  You were worrying about something that was not only ancient history, but was also a smashing success.  And you realized you were holding all those speaking engagements in you still.  Hoarding them like you’d need them for later should the end of the world come, aka the end of your career, and you needed ammo, fuel, cover, proof.

And so you decided to re-live each one of your readings.  Starting right at the beginning.  All 50 some odd of them.  You needed to go through them and remember what there was to remember, without judgment, but with a seeking mind and an open heart—yeah, I probably shouldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt and a long skirt if it’s going to be 94 degrees with 100% humidity and the reading is outside under a tent!   Ya live and learn.  Maybe it’s okay to omit the swear word in your book the next time your reading is in a CHURCH, but oh well.  I’m pretty sure God’s heard it before. You needed to unpack that suitcase you’d been hauling around with you all over creation, hot little roller wheels and all, and put it to rest.  Even if it took you all morning.  And it nearly did.

And for the first time in a long time, you breathed a fresh free unencumbered sigh of relief.

Wow.  That sounds exhausting.

Maybe so.  But you’re at the beginning of this adventure.  You have time to change your story.  You don’t have to spend years tormenting yourself, unpublished or published, telling yourself that you need to prove yourself.  Because you proved what you thought there was to prove, and it didn’t solve anything.  It didn’t heal anything.  It didn’t erase anything.  It didn’t change anything about how you feel and how you fear and how you love.  All that proving—yes, that is exhausting.  And you need energy to live your life the way you want to live it.

All that happened is this:  you wrote something.  Somebody liked it enough to put cardboard on each side of it and let a lot of people know about it.  And you got paid for it.  And you are known for it.  Otherwise, it’s just the same as ever:  getting back to work on what you know and trust best.  The writing.

A hearty  p.s.

I am about to go back out on the road for the better part of April and May (schedule is here–come say hi!)…and I have decided that the real reason it’s not all the fun the child in you had hoped for, is because of the attachment to having it be that mythic success.  So it is in letting go, that I journey out on the road this time.  The same philosophy and practice that I write about in my book, but have only recently understood how to put to practice in my post-published life.  And something tells me…IT’S GONNA BE A BLAST!!!)

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