This past Monday night, I did not want to attend Forest Lawn’s annual “Lights of Remembrance: An Evening of Honoring the Memories of Your Loved Ones.” I was tired (hadn’t slept well the night before) and felt like I was getting sick. I also didn’t want to drive twenty plus miles at night to a place I’d never been, or go alone (my husband was too tired and my friend declined). I wanted to stay home, lounge by the fireplace, and watch The Crown.
I also did not want to kick off my holiday season with sadness. I did not want to do the grief dance. (My mom died seven years ago, in December.) I did not want to be reminded about the ways I’d failed her.
But Melissa Gould was the guest speaker. I had to go. Melissa is a former student of mine, whose memoir Widow. . . ish, is being published by Little A books next year. Witnessing her journey has been remarkable. Here she is at the podium Monday night. My photo doesn’t capture it, but she was radiant!
When she first showed up in my class, Melissa had recently lost her husband and was grieving. An award-winning screenwriter, Melissa’s inclination was to write fiction, but she needed to tell her own story. She didn’t yet understand the value her personal narrative held, nor the healing that would come as a result of sharing it. But she showed up in a big way (even when it was scary).
She began her process by writing simple exercises from class prompts, which over time became seeds from which essays sprung about her life as a young widow. Her essays have since been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Girlfriend by AARP, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere.
In addition to all the other reasons I didn’t want to go, I told myself it would be better if I got dressed up. I thought the event was happening at a sanctuary, which made it feel like an occasion, but the last thing I felt like doing was putting on heels or makeup.
But then I realized that allI had to do was show up. I set aside the need to “dress” and instead put on comfy leggings, boots, a sweater, hat, and scarf. No make up.
When I arrived, I discovered the event was being held outdoors, and saw other people dressed casually. Here’s the dramatic backdrop for the event:
A choir sang, Melissa read her poignant work, poems were shared, and then Melissa led a “silent reflection,” a guided meditation in which she invited the audience to close our eyes and imagine ourselves in a room with a deceased loved one.
I was with my mom in New York, in our old living room.
“Can you forgive me?” I asked.
“For what?” she said.
“For not being more present in your life, especially as you aged.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” she said.
I felt the truth of that statement.
Then I heard, “You were there for me in countless ways, large and small. You were a wonderful daughter.”
I realized that we all do the best we can, given our consciousness and circumstances—and that this applies to me as well as anybody else. It also occurred to me that I’d been weaving (and believing) a “not-good-enough” story in my role as her daughter, and was finally able to release it.
Tuesday morning I put the candle from Monday night’s ceremony on my altar, placed an empty chair beside it, and invited my mother to join my meditation. During the journal writing that followed, I wrote her a long letter. And she “wrote” back. I heard her voice and wrote what she said.
Since then I have felt her presence strongly, but instead of feeling familiar sadness, regret, and shame, I am filled with love and joy! What a sweet way to kick off the holiday season!
I keep thinking how I didn’t want to go to the event and the one thing that dragged me out of the house was that I wanted to show up for Melissa. She had demonstrated incredible tenacity, courage, persistence, and faith. This is worth celebrating.
I was also grateful to receive an email from her saying that she was moved to see me there and that my presence had been a gift. She told me how writing continues to heal her and is yet another gift.
What strikes me is that gift-giving is fluid and creative, and we sometimes don’t even realize what we’re giving—when or to whom. But also, we never know when we’ll receive a gift. I showed up for Melissa, and she showed up for me—and for everyone gathered to honor memories of loved ones. The gift I received from her was both unexpected and priceless.
This is what’s possible when we show up for ourselves and for each other.
Stories nourish, heal, and uplift us all. Monday night reminded me that we rarely know the power of our own stories—until we share them!
If you have a story you’d like to share, or if you’d like to explore what’s possible for you through writing, check out my upcoming writing circles. Start the new year (and decade!) with the gift of creative expression and healing.
My memoir, Raw, is on sale for $9.99 (no tax or shipping) until December 21 if you buy it directly through my website. Order your copy today!
Sometimes I want to lay down my ambition, hit cruise control, and glide through life. But as an author (and human being) there’s so much I don’t know and want to learn. Case in point: I had a wonderful experience publishing my memoir with She Writes Press. I’ve come close to selling out my 1000-book print run—except for a few boxes left in my garage, which remind me of this important fact: books don’t sell themselves.
The realization that I (along with most authors today) need to take responsibility for the business part of my writing life has been sobering—but also, surprisingly fun. I’ve been reading marketing books the way I used to read craft books as a young writer—inhaling them with wonder and awe. But these days, more than ever, authors are expected to sell their books, no matter how they publish. Knowing as much as we can about publishing and book promotion is essential for success, not to mention peace of mind.
Dan Blank, author of Be the Gateway, has been on my radar for years. His book sat on my shelf unread. When I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, I couldn’t put it down. Just as I was beginning to become curious about blogging and newsletters and wanting to understand these tools better, Dan offered a four-week workshop on this subject, so I signed up.
I didn’t expect what came next.
Dan had me evaluate my priorities, craft a mission statement, and get clear about what I was doing and why.
And then he challenged—disrupted—my ideas about author marketing.
Disruption is your friend.
I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me something that contradicts what I believe to be true, my default position is to become defensive. This makes learning difficult. But the reason we hire coaches and teachers is to learn from them. It made sense to set my ego aside and listen to, and at least try, Dan’s suggestions.
This instruction challenged me most:
Dispense with your fancy, designed newsletter and send out a plain text email. Reach out to the people on you email list as a person, not a brand. Really? I thought, recalling how I’d paid my web designer to create a spiffy Mail Chimp template that reflected my brand, complete with banner, logo, and author photo. Dan said that I didn’t need these advertising bells and whistles.
But the thought of showing up without them—just me (as if I’m not enough without my “brand”)—made me nervous. I didn’t feel completely naked, but I definitely felt vulnerable—and scared.
That’s when I realized it was easy to hide behind the window-dressing of my newsletter/brand.
I asked myself: What do I like to see in my inbox? I had to stop and think about this. I knew what I didn’t like: anonymous advertising and people overwhelming me with information, offers, and promotions. By contrast, I realized that I looked forward to Dan’s emails, as well as others who regularly offer valuable insights (and free) advice and suggestions that enrich my life and work. People writing from their hearts about what they’re seeing and learning, and sharing their hard-earned discoveries with me. I savor this type of human connection. And then this became clear:
The definition of marketing is connecting with people in a human way and doing it as authentically as possible.
Many authors don’t realize that marketing can be as innovative and raw a process as writing. The difference is that instead of communicating just with yourself (and your higher power), you’re communicating with others. Sixteen (instead of the usual five or six) people on my email list replied to my first (experimental) plain text email. They responded with great ideas, conversation, and support. More people opened that email, too. And a few people even shared it with others! Hearing that made my day. Someone enjoyed what I wrote so much they felt compelled to share it! Amazing. I felt rewarded for my courage and grateful to Dan.
The deeper reason I hired him is that I’m working on a proposal for my new book, and although I have confidence in the material, I realize that my author platform may not be robust enough to attract a traditional publisher. And, regardless of how I publish, I want to learn more about finding and building an audience for my work.
The title of my new book is Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. Between the books I’m reading, the Nonfiction Writers Conference I attended last week, and the work I’m doing with Dan, my mind is flickering with marketing ideas. For example, last week I heard that there’s a “National Hammock Day,” which “commemorates the universal symbol for relaxation”. Who knew? Perhaps publishing my book on or near this date might provide publicity opportunities? Although my book is geared toward writers, its message of resilience, flexibility, and cultivating freedom and peace of mind extend well behind this niche. Several ideas come to mind: I could write and pitch stories about relaxation to media outlets when my book launches—and every year after on my book’s “birthday.” I could reach out to special sales clients for bulk sales. Maybe writing associations, organizations, nonprofit groups, or even writers’ clubs might want to purchase copies to give to their author-members as a welcome or thank you gift? The possibilities are fun to consider. And, of course, if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
But getting back to blogging and newsletters. I’m not saying I’ll never send out another designed newsletter, but for now I’m challenging myself to show up “plain”—just me and my thoughts about my unpredictable journey, in conversation with beloved readers and friends. One of the things I discovered about myself while speaking to a writing mastermind colleague recently is that I’ve spent too much of my life hiding and trying to look good and it’s time to stop and just be me.
Here’s the mission statement I wrote for Dan’s class:
I believe in the power of writing to heal and transform lives, and I view publishing and book promotion as opportunities to deepen self-awareness, nourish meaningful connections, and delight in peak experiences while being of service.
Dan also encouraged me to get clear about my blog’s subject matter, which wasn’t hard to nail down. My blog explores intersections between the writing life, spirituality, and personal transformation and growth. That’s what my new book is about, too. I want to give this project its due. I want to give it space, let it breathe. I’m not in a hurry. Tim Grahal encourages authors to build an audience well before their book launch.
Is this easy? No! Does it diminish your overall creativity and writing output? No! Does it make you immune to vulnerability? No! But, honestly, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. I’m human. I vulnerable. I’m afraid. I take chances. And I sometimes fall on my ass.
There’s no one right way for authors to market their books. What works for one person may not work for another. The key, as I’ve said, is to come from your heart and to be authentic.
This past weekend, while visiting the Descanso Gardens, I took this photo. Bridges literally connect us from one place to another. They are also great metaphors for psychologically transporting us from where we are to where we'd like to go. People can be bridges. So can unexpected situations, or sudden insights. While writing this post, it occurred to me to do some additional, authentic marketing by putting my memoir on sale for the holidays.
Raw is available for $9.99 (no tax and free shipping)—if you buy it directly through my website. I’d be happy to sign the book to you or a friend or family member before mailing it. This offer is good through December 21. If you haven’t ordered a copy yet, please do. And if you read and enjoyed Raw, please consider buying a copy as a holiday gift. Your support means more than I can say.
Thanks for being part of my journey!
These are my favorite books that lay out today’s publishing landscape: The Business of Being a Writer, by Jane Friedman and Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing, by Brooke Warner.
These books are excellent for marketing: Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide, by Fauzia Burke; Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book, by Tim Grahl; and Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience, by Dan Blank.
Do you ever expect yourself to have all the answers? Do you become frustrated and impatient when you don’t know what to do about something in your writing or in your life? Do you get hung up on doing things “right”?
On this week’s mastermind call for women writers, after sharing questions I had around marketing my work, a colleague jokingly said, “You mean you don’t have all the answers, Bella?”
That’s when it hit me: I expect myself to have all the answers and when I don’t, I angst, thinking that I’m getting life “wrong.” Lurking beneath this irrational thought is a need for control. Digging deeper, I find the old, conditioned (mis)belief that somewhere, deep down, I’m not okay—and I need to do something!
This is a lie, an illusion, a trick of the ego.
In Native American lore, the coyote is the trickster. He’s a clever fellow who knows how to express himself, but he’s sneaky. He appears when we least expect it—and fools us. He makes us believe things that aren’t real. He distorts and deceives. For writers, the trickster/ego might say things like Why bother writing? Nobody cares. What do you have to say that could possibly matter?
Writing—and sharing your work—is an act of generosity of spirit. One writer in our mastermind group said that she’s come to think of marketing as a way to love people, because she’s sharing her stories. Sharing our stories is also a way to love ourselves. Stories help us understand the world and our place in it. Stories make us more human, more alive, more courageous, and more loving.
As writers, we make up stories on the page but also in our lives. It helps to be aware of the stories we repeat in our heads rather than become fused with them. We do this when we identify with inner narratives that limit us. For example, many of my students and clients become consumed with stories about what they think they “need” to do. Their to-do lists make them feel as though they are living in a pressure cooker that's about to explode.
Non-Doing is Your Release Valve
The way to ease this pressure is to realize when you’re making up rules or regulations and enforcing them. Ask yourself, “Does xyz have to be done right this minute? Can it wait until tomorrow? Or next week? Is this a ‘must’-do or a ‘want’-to-do? What do I believe accomplishing xyz will achieve? What if I’m okay right now in this moment and don’t need to do anything?”
Dr. Gail Brenner, author of Suffering is Optional: A Spiritual Guide to Freedom from Self-judgment & Feelings of Inadequacy, says, “In the space of non-doing there’s a great perfection in things as they are.”
If deep down, underneath our frenetic thinking, we are fine, then there’s nothing for us to protect or defend. Nothing to do. We can just be. And from this place of being we are free to do what we want (within reason and law) and not pretend that our lives—or our well-being—depend upon it. In other words, we can lighten up!
Another woman from my mastermind group for writers works at a homeless shelter, where she has a “listening post.” She shows up and listens to people. She doesn’t offer advice or try to fix anyone. She just listens.
We can all do this for ourselves: just listen. Our inner tantrum-throwing toddler will eventually get tired and our wise self will emerge to remind us that we are all connected and made of the same miraculous stuff. Underneath our urgency and fear, peace and love reside. When we look in this direction, we realize that we are okay no matter what’s going on. We are more resilient than we think.
Next time you’re feeling pressured to do things “right” or you’re not sure about a next step, consider this: What if there is no “right” way to do things? What if the “right” way is whatever is in your heart? What if you simply choose to trust yourself and follow your inner guidance and wisdom? The great Persian poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” And Hamlet reminds us that “there’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Thought is our inner coyote. It helps us navigate our life, enables us to howl when we must, and even helps cultivate awareness. But when you learn to become a neutral observer of its shenanigans, you gain freedom.
We have to exhale in order to inhale. Let go. Trust life. We may not have all the answers, but the truth is that we do not need them. Learning to live in the questions, befriending uncertainty, and patiently waiting for answers to arise in their own sweet time is a nourishing and liberating practice.
Last week on my mastermind call for women writers and coaches we stumbled into an interesting conversation around this question: “Does writing always have to be ‘fun?’” One writer said something I’ve heard many of my students and clients share: “I’m not crazy about writing, but I love having written.” We all agreed that sometimes writing is fun—but not always—and for some it’s rarely fun.
However, we acknowledged that writing is compelling and engaging; it provides an ineffable satisfaction; we enjoy finding ways to communicate our craft. Some of us felt that our writing process was sacred, holy, and healing. One woman compared it to parenting, which, ideally, is based in love. Neither parenting nor writing is all fun and games, though; there may be equal parts bliss and frustration, joy, and torment—there’s work involved.
This resonated with me and reminded me of a chapter in my forthcoming book: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book, in which I encourage writers approaching publication to remember why they write. This helps us stay grounded in and connected to our values as we put our work out into the world. It’s a stabilizing practice.
Of course, we all write for different reasons. Here are a few I mention in my book:
• I write because I love stories.
• I write to see what I’m thinking.
• I write to document my experience or someone else’s experience.
• I write to heal.
• I write to change or inspire (myself or others).
• I write to teach or educate—or to learn.
• I write so that I won’t forget.
• I write for posterity.
Don’t get hung up about whether or not your writing is fun. Look at what it gives you. Think of it as a relationship in which give-and-take go hand-in-hand. Consider that there will be good times and bad. This is normal.
That said, you are more likely to enjoy your writing when you allow yourself to write what you want to write with no thought to outcome. Try releasing judgments and expectations toward yourself and your writing. Let your writing exist on its own terms. When you approach your writing open and curious like a child, when you show up and let yourself play and explore, you’re more likely to have fun. The key is to hold it lightly, to let your writing lead you once in awhile. Relinquishing control of your writing, at least sometimes, may be just what you need to rekindle an old flame or encounter a new one!
Sometimes, in the lives of writers, even when things are going well, we become fearful. I see this in myself and also in my clients and students. No matter what’s going on, the inner critic rears its—predictable—ugly head and says things like, “I can’t do this!” and “Who do you think you are?”
When my students and clients come to me with these worries I tell them what I try to remember to tell myself when I’m struggling in this way: Just because you hear those words in your head doesn’t mean that they are true. Leave those thoughts alone. They are not personal. It’s universal doubt and we all have it. Just let those thoughts be. It’s normal to have them. But you don’t have to feed them, or engage them, or believe them. Think of limiting thoughts as clouds—bad weather—that has nothing to do with who you are or what you’re capable of. You are the unobstructed, blue sky.
Your feelings come from your thinking. You may not be aware of your fearful thoughts but your body is a wonderful barometer. Let it be okay to feel what you feel. Move toward your uncomfortable feelings, rather than trying to resist them or push them away. Put one hand over your heart and another over your belly. Breathe. Be with your physical sensations while simultaneously withdrawing your attention away from your thinking. Let the story of why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling fall away. Doing this allows you to feel your emotions and then let them go. They pass more quickly, and on their own. Don’t resist or fight them. Let them be. They will pass, as all thoughts and feelings do when we leave them alone.
Fear is good. It tells you that you are living fully, putting yourself out there and growing. I love what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, says about fear. When she starts a new book she knows Fear is coming along for the ride. After all, she’s heading into unknown territory. She tells Fear that he can sit in the back seat of the car for the journey. If he behaves himself he may be allowed to sit in the passenger seat, but he’s not allowed to navigate. And under no circumstances is he to go anywhere near the steering wheel!
We don’t have to let fear drive the steering wheel of our lives. I once dreamed I was entering a sharply curved freeway off ramp when the steering wheel of my car came off in my hands. Oh, shit, I thought, I’m gonna crash. But I didn’t. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to try so hard. I could let go a little—okay, a lot—with both my writing and my life. And as I started loosening my grip, things became easier, more spacious, and slowly, over time, I became freer. It’s a practice. One worth cultivating if you’re looking for freedom and peace within your own body/mind.
How do you relate to your fear? I’d love to hear from you!
Recently a client in her mid-sixties, who was feeling daunted by the work involved with writing, publishing, and promoting a book, asked, “Am I too old to write a book?”
“Absolutely not,” I told her.
I have another client, Irene Sardanis, who published her first book, Out of The Bronx, a memoir, this past spring, at the age of eighty-five. She’s having the time of her life celebrating and promoting it. Has it been challenging? Yes. Has it been hard and scary at times? Yes. Did she have moments when she didn’t think she could do it? Absolutely! But writing and publishing this book has been a highlight of her life. She has grown on multiple levels. The experience has enriched her and has provided wonderful opportunities she hadn’t previously imagined.
It’s not surprising that many women hit their stride and make some of their most meaningful contributions later in life. Many have been taking care of the needs of their families while also working outside the house, which leaves little time for reflection, or the time, space, and quiet that writing requires.
The trick when beginning any new project is to take it one step at a time. Allow yourself to be a beginner. This means opening up to not knowing. It probably means asking for help. It will require you to show up in whatever ways make sense in any given moment.
This will likely feel scary, but that’s a good sign. Fear tells you you’re living fully, putting yourself out there and growing! It’s exciting to expand—and who says we have to stop learning at a particular age! There is no cut-off number for creative productivity unless we ourselves create one. Older women have wisdom and valuable experiences to share.
Writing, publishing, and promoting a book is multi-faceted. Savvy authors know themselves, their values, and their audience. They study the business of writing as well as the art and craft. Some even discover that they enjoy it all! Worlds expand and careers may take off at any age.
It’s not about what we cannot do; it’s about what we can do. And more often than not we’re capable of much more than we think—because we are unlimited beings. Be gentle with yourself as you reach beyond your comfort zone. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll be guided—and holding your finished book in your hand will bring you unimaginable satisfaction, gratitude, and joy! And that will be just the beginning . . .
For more inspiration check out this article on women who published their first book after the age of seventy! https://www.bustle.com/p/women-writers-who-published-their-first-book-after-they-turned-70-18701995
Years ago, my writing mentor suggested I turn my blog into a book. At the time I didn’t understand why that might be a good idea. That stuff’s done; ancient history, I thought--yesterday’s news. But after my memoir was published and I’d spent several months promoting it, I wasn’t ready to begin another writing project. I needed time and space.
I took long, leisurely walks. I wrote in my journal. I sat in silence. I let myself slow down. I listened.
And then one day my blog-to-book project, which felt like it had been if not stalking then at least following me, tapped me on the shoulder. I turned. It stared into my eyes and whispered, “It’s time. Revisit those posts. Do it now.”
It was not the kind of message that feels anxious and unsettling; rather, it came as a clear directive, from a wise, loving source that seemed interested in helping me help others.
Book Writing Made Easier
Before I knew it, I was off and running. The project took over. Although I spent long hours in my office, I never felt like I was working; it felt like I was taking dictation. As I wrote, I felt like I was being given everything I needed. Even when questions arose, their answers sprang to mind before I had time to ponder them. The words were there. Thoughts flowed. New stories came pouring out. It was the easiest writing I’d ever done, and it felt like I’d been given a gift: a new manuscript. Soon, with the help of two trusted colleagues, its title was born: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. This project emerged within weeks rather than years—although I’d been writing my blog for over a decade. Small steps taken steadily over time add up to a formidable journey.
Part of me wanted to dismiss and diminish my accomplishment, but then I realized that I’d be an ingrate if I allowed myself to discount something that had felt divinely inspired. So I didn’t take that bait. I remained grateful for the experience, as well as everything I’d learned along the way. I’d discovered why it had been a good idea to turn my blog into a book, and I’d also learned how to do it.
Why Turn Your Blog into a Book?
How to Turn Your Blog Into a Book
Be Open to Change
While your blog is likely filled with great content, especially if you’ve been writing it for years, it may not translate into a book right away. As you work with the material, it will take on a new shape. Be open. Listen. Trust what comes forward. If you’re lucky, you’ll be guided every step of the way and your book, which originated in your blog long ago, will gel into something greater than the sum of its parts.
If you’ve been blogging for years, you may have the substance of a book partially drafted. Culling, organizing, and expanding this material is a gift you give yourself as well as your readers. —But only if you’re called to do it. When thinking about what to write, follow your enthusiasm.
Don’t turn your blog into a book because you think you should.
Do it because the work feels relevant and alive.
Do it because you are not done with the work and the work is not yet done with you!
Post Script: Where Do You Hang Your Hammock: How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book is due out next year.
How many times have you read a triggering comment on your Facebook feed? By “triggering” I mean you read it and have a visceral response, such as your heart starts pounding, adrenaline kicks in, or you feel like hurling obscenities.
This doesn’t happen to me often, but it happened recently in response to this post:
“I came into my office this morning and found flowers from my husband for our anniversary, but I finished my first draft of my new book yesterday so I’m feeling doubly blessed. I had no idea I was going to finish writing the book yesterday. I’ve been writing like crazy for weeks, and then yesterday in the late afternoon I realized I was done! 245 pages. 61K words. Such a strange feeling. I’ve been consumed by the need to get this out of my body and onto the page. I’m relieved and deeply grateful. Now it’s in my editor’s hands and I can do things I’ve been putting off, like grocery shopping!”
The following morning, when I checked my Facebook feed I was delighted to see that an old high school friend had commented on my post. But my happy feelings dissipated when I read his message:
“Meant with admiration, respect and love, but you’re beginning to piss us all off with your constant abilities to create and run laps around us! Oh... and of course, congrats!!!”
Obviously he was joking. Right? Still. I felt provoked and had no idea how to respond. Who is this “all of us” I’m “pissing off” by sharing my hard-earned success? I wanted to tell him that if he was indeed pissed off—even mildly—that I am not pissing him off; he is pissing himself off with whatever he’s thinking, which has less to do with me and more to do with himself. Perhaps he’s dreamed of writing a book himself. I once read a letter that he’d proudly shared online that he’d written to his local newspaper. So perhaps I’d stirred the writer in him who’s telling himself he’s not doing enough. I don’t know.
But his issues aren’t my responsibility. Mine are. Feeling curious about my own agitation, which I knew was about myself and not him, I explored my feelings in my journal and realized that his comment smacked of the shaming (and all-too-familiar) who-do-you-think-you-are question. It’s a warning to stop shining your light, and says: It’s not okay to be who you are. Don’t brag. Keep your good news to yourself or others might get jealous.
Shining your light and living your dreams takes courage and grit. People who do not live this way, those who avoid taking personal and professional risks, who do not dare to leave their comfort zones, or examine limiting beliefs, may harbor resentment toward those who do. I can’t say that this was what was going on with my high school friend, but this was how it felt to me.
Meanwhile, I still didn’t know how to respond to his comment. I didn’t want to give it my thumbs up. I hadn’t liked it. I considered ignoring his message, but that didn’t feel right either. I like to respond to people who make the effort to comment on my feed, plus, underneath those two toxic lines I felt genuine warmth and good wishes. I wanted to say something honest, real, and encouraging because it felt like his comment had come from a place of insecurity. People don’t say things like that—even in jest—when they’re feeling great about themselves.
Finally, I posted this:
Thanks, Henry (not his real name). I appreciate your good wishes. It may look like I possess a “constant ability to create,” but this book, although it came together quickly, has been ten years in the making and reflects decades of hard work, discipline (from “disciple,” meaning “student”), sacrifice, insecurity, failure, persistence, courage, and faith.
His response: “O.K. I can breathe and relax now.” He included two emojis: one laughing and the other blowing a kiss, which warmed my heart and made me smile. I “liked” that comment.
I had a moment of wondering, What if my book hadn’t been a culmination of years of hard work? What if it had been born on the wings of inspiration? But that’s not my point. My message is this: we all possess a “constant ability to create.” We create all the time. But we also get in our own way. It takes commitment, dedication, and much more to produce a finished manuscript. Refuse to don the mantle of shame when, after years of effort and endurance, someone suggests you shouldn’t share—or even revel in—your hard-earned success.
I felt nervous writing this piece and was reluctant to share it with my editor. But her response was, “I like it. It’s an important topic.” And later, when I sent it to Christelle Lujan, the content marketing manager at Shewrites.com, who usually doesn’t comment on my posts, she had this to say: “This was a great piece, Bella! Loved how you handled that and love your thoughtful response. I have another writer friend who just suffered a similar “love you, but” scenario on social media and it seems to be the new “camouflage trolling.” Like her, I'm glad you didn't let it stifle you. It’s there for the people it can inspire, not for the people who see it as a threat! (I know this was unsolicited, but felt the need to lend my support of you too!) Thanks Bella.”
I wanted to share this because it’s inspiring to me the way women in the Shewrites.com and She Writes Press communities support one another. I’m grateful to be part of this caring, dynamic, and encouraging sisterhood of writers!
I’m proud to share that my publisher, She Writes Press, was recently selected by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards as the 2019 Indie Publisher of the Year. This is a huge honor and I’m proud to be a She Writes Press author.
If your search for a traditional publisher isn’t panning out the way you’d hoped, you might want to consider independent publishing.
Some authors today don’t even shop their manuscripts to traditional publishers. This was my choice for my award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy. I discuss my reasons in my January 22, 2017, post, “She Writes Press, Yes!”
Many authors today choose independent publishing for a variety of reasons: to maintain ownership of their work, to earn higher royalties, to have greater creative control over their projects, to be part of a community of writers, to engage in a collaborative process, or to expedite their publishing process.
At the end of the day, what’s important is producing a professionally published book. Most readers don’t know or care how a book is published, unless they stumble over unedited text, typos, amateurish design work, and other common pitfalls of self-publishing.
One viable option is to go with a hybrid press, such as She Writes Press.
Hybrid publishing is a model in which authors pay up-front costs in exchange for a significantly higher percentage of royalties. It’s called partnership publishing because the publisher brings their professional experience to the table, while the author retains “authority” and ownership over his or her work.
Hybrid presses are different from hybrid authors. A hybrid author may have one or more books published traditionally, and others published independently, either self-published or with a hybrid press.
Not all hybrid presses are created equal. Some companies claiming to be hybrid publishers are, in fact, just printers, offering zero editorial guidance, quality control, or distribution.
In February 2018, the Independent Book Publisher’s Association (IBPA)published a list of nine criteria defining what it means to be a professional hybrid publisher. The criteria requires that hybrid publishers behave just like traditional publishers except when it comes to business model. IBPA says, “although hybrid publishing companies are author-subsidized, they are different from other author-subsidized models in that hybrid publishers adhere to professional publishing standards. Regardless of who pays for editorial, design, and production fees, it is always the publisher that bears responsibility for producing, distributing, and ultimately selling professional-quality books.” Here is IBPA’s Hybrid Publisher Criteria:
• Define a mission and vision for its publishing program.
• Vet submissions.
• Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs.
• Publish to industry standards
• Ensure editorial, design, and production quality.
• Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.
• Provide distribution services.
• Demonstrate respectable sales.
• Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty.
If you’re considering a hybrid publisher, look at their body of work. If possible, hold their books in your hands. How do they feel? Do their books look and feel like you’d want yours to look and feel? Speak to authors who have published on that press. Ask questions about their experience. Did they receive everything their publisher promised? Was it a satisfying partnership? What did their publisher bring to the collaboration? Did they provide distribution? Many don’t. If that’s the case, did the author have a plan in place for how to sell books? It’s good to think about this even if you have a traditional publishing deal, because these days, unless you’re a big-name author, the brunt of the sales work will fall on your shoulders.
Whichever publishing path you choose, you will learn a lot along the way. It helps to understand, especially if you’re a first-time author, that you’ll be on a huge learning curve, and although you may feel pressure to go fast, it can help to slow down. Most agents will tell you their best advice is “don’t rush.” Your work needs to be polished to stand out. The same is true for publishing. Put your best foot forward no matter how you publish.
Another indie path to publication is to self-publish. Since you don’t know what you don’t know, learn as much as you can about what it takes to create a book. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Start with the writing. Hire a great editor. I can’t tell you how many self-published books I pick up that are written by earnest, hardworking people with compelling stories to tell, or important information to impart, but their books are filled with verbal clutter, redundancies, narrative inconsistencies, spelling errors, and typos. I’ll slog through a chapter or two if I know the author, and then give up. It’s too much work. So hire a developmental editor to help you with your story, a copyeditor to correct grammar, and a proofreader to catch small errors or typos. After you’ve done that you can give your manuscript to fellow author or English teacher friends to comb through one last time to catch any lingering typos. Many sets of eyes are needed for this.
Book design is also essential. Don’t believe that old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. You can, and readers do. Book and cover design is an art. And your cover is what gets your book into readers’ hands. It’ll be worth your while to hire a designer for the cover and interior of your book. Together you can make decisions about paper, fonts, spacing, gutters, artwork and photos, and more.
You’ll also write descriptive copy and cover copy, solicit blurbs, obtain permissions, apply for an ISBN number, and a lot more.
Self-publishing can be costly. Many authors today are launching crowd-funding campaigns to support their writing projects. Artists in other fields have been producing independent work for decades. Your project is worth investing in. Give your publishing process the same care and attention you gave your writing. Your manuscript will benefit and so will you—not to mention your readers.
Indie authors: what say you? What have you gotten out of independent publishing?
What author, at one time or another, hasn’t imagined the following scenario, or some version of it: You finish writing your manuscript and send it off to a handful of literary agents. You’re offered representation. Your agent loves your book and can’t wait to sell it. He or she has great connections and promptly sells your book to a New York publishing house. You sign a contract, receive a generous advance, and make minor tweaks under the tutelage of your brilliant editor who totally gets you and your work. You adore the cover the publisher comes up with, which perfectly captures your book’s essence. You start writing your next book while your publisher’s robust and energetic publicity team plans your book tour and places your excerpts and articles in glossy magazines. Your publisher’s PR team arranges interviews for you on national media. All you have to do is show up. Your book is received with praise. You are a successful author. You have arrived. All is well. Now you can relax, sit back, collect royalty checks, and keep writing in silent, solitary bliss while your book becomes an international bestseller.
If any part of this scenario has happened for you, bravo and congratulations! That’s amazing. I’d love to hear your story. But I don’t know anyone who’s experienced this fantasy. Instead, I’ve heard way too many nightmares. And I’ve experienced my share of disappointment and rejection.
Ironically, for many authors, and especially for aspiring authors, waking up from unrealistic publishing dreams, and then confidently laying them down, may be the best strategy for becoming a successful published author. It’s fine to hope for great things, and it’s fabulous to dream, but if you cling to your fantasies—which is more common than you might think—you may miss out on real-life opportunities.
The outcome of your efforts is not in your hands, but here’s what is: showing up; doing what you love and loving what you do; allowing yourself to be guided by your own wisdom; having humility—and a willingness to learn and grow every step of the way. Even if you are offered what seems like a perfect deal, publishing, regardless what path you take, is about what you make of your experience.
If you’re thinking about publishing a book, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the current state of publishing. The best book I’ve read on this subject is Brooke Warner’s Green-Light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing. Brooke breaks down complex ideas. Her book is both comprehensive and comprehensible. Even so, I suggest reading it more than once. I buy them in bulk and give them to my students and clients.
Like I said, it’s okay to dream. I encourage it. You need to dream to have a vision to stretch into. I dream all the time. But if your dream doesn’t show up the way you expected—if it doesn’t look the way you imagined—consider alternative options that keep you moving in the direction of your dream or goal. The last thing you want to do is hang your freedom and peace of mind on the vagaries of the publishing industry!
On a recent episode of her podcast, “Write-minded,” Brooke compared landing a traditional publishing deal to attending an Ivy League college. It’s competitive. Students who walk those hallowed halls aren’t guaranteed success, joy, or anything else—even among the small percentage of the population that gets in. In today’s publishing landscape, “admission” criteria often has less to do with your intelligence, creativity, or even the value of your project, and more to do with your author platform. Author platform is the size of your audience. Who you know still matters, but who knows you matters more. Traditional publishers need to sign authors who can sell books. But Brooke’s point is that there are plenty of stellar schools out there beyond the Ivy Leagues, and being denied entry wouldn’t cause you to give up on your education. You’d go somewhere else. You’d keep learning and growing.
The same is true in publishing. Don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater. Publishing is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are more opportunities to publish now than ever before. The key is to do what works for you. If something isn’t working on your path to publication, step off the trail. Find another.
Rumi, the great Persian poet, reminds us, “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there’s a field. I’ll meet you there.” Release whatever blame or shame may be bubbling beneath your social media façade.
There’s no “right” way to publish a book any more than there’s a “right” way to live a life—except to do it your way.
*My forthcoming book, Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? How to Find Freedom and Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book, is divided into five parts: Dream, Nourish, Write, Publish, and Promote. This post is an excerpt from the “Publish” section.