Today’s featured debut author, Terri Giuliano Long, tells an amazing story of perseverance for her novel, In Leah’s Wake. Her love of the written word coupled with her optimism and determination should be a lesson to all writers to fight every step of the way for their book — from the writing to the publishing to the promoting. As Terri says: “The reality is, we can either promote the book we’ve put our heart and soul into creating or watch it languish.” Amen.
Name: Terri Giuliano Long
Name of book: In Leah’s Wake
Book genre: Mainstream Fiction, Family Saga
Date Published: October 1, 2010
What is your day job? I’m a part-time lecturer at Boston College, where I’ve taught writing for 15 years. Other than teaching, occasional marketing or editing work, I spend nearly all my time writing. I’m currently at work on a second novel.
What is your book about? In Leah’s Wake is a story of a family in collapse. Sixteen-year-old Leah, a star soccer player, has led a perfect life. When she meets a hot, older guy, a former roadie in a rock band, she begins to spread her wings. Drinking, ignoring curfew, dabbling in drugs—all this feels like freedom to her; her parents, naturally terrified, thinking they’re losing their daughter, pull the reigns tighter. This is unfamiliar territory for the whole family. Unfortunately, they get it all wrong, pushing when they ought to be pulling, and communication breaks down. Soon, there’s no turning back. Twelve-year-old Justine caught between the parents she loves, and the big sister she adores, finds herself in the fight of her life, trying desperately to pull her family together.
What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you? For a lot of writers, it’s facing a blank screen, revising, dealing with rejection. I struggle with all of this, too, to varying degrees. For me, sustaining belief—not in the project, but in myself—is, by far, the biggest challenge. I wonder if I’m on the right track, constantly second-guess myself, which results in periods of, let’s just say, creative procrastination.
What motivates you to write? Love. I can’t think of any better way to put it. I love to write. I’ve been writing all my life—living inside my head, making up stories.
Did you experience writer’s block? Yes, occasionally. I’m only ever truly blocked—can’t string words together at all—when I’m anxious, if I’m worried about someone I care about. When I first sit, I sometimes feel blocked, the nasty editors on my shoulders heckling: A writer? Are you nuts? Nine times out of ten, I dig in; the writing may be choppy at first, but eventually I regain fluidity. When the demons get too loud to ignore, I read. Reading, like meditation or yoga, sends me to my happy place. In my experience, years working with professional and emerging writers, a block is almost always caused by self-doubt. The trick is to find a way to settle your mind, calm yourself, get those nasty editors off your shoulders. For me, reading provides an escape. For others, walking, meditating, listening to music can help.
How long did it take you to write this book? Do you hear that? It’s me, laughing. Seriously, three months to write the first draft, about five years of revising.
Why did you decide to self-publish this book? In 2006, the book was under contract with an indie publisher. Shortly before the release, things fell apart. Not long after (unrelated to me), the company folded. I sent the book to a few agents, received lovely, complimentary responses, but no offers. I really believed in this book. I’d received so much encouragement over the years, from agents, editors, readers, writer friends—I’m grateful, truly grateful to all of them—that I had a hard time letting go. For years, I tried to revise. Eventually, I realized I was writing in circles. The book had changed, but gotten no better. Reluctantly, I put it away.
Last year, after several false starts, I finally gained traction on a new novel, a psychological thriller, Nowhere to Run. Like In Leah’s Wake, Nowhere is, at heart, a family story. I anticipate finishing the new novel this fall. I knew I’d need a platform and hoped that self-publishing In Leah’s Wake would help me build one.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s easy and/or fast. Occasionally, an author, like the self-publishing sensation Amanda Hocking, claims to have written his or her book in a few weeks, a month, and people, maybe because they want to believe this, get the idea that you have only to channel the muse and the words spill out. If only. Most of us spend many long months, if not years, drafting, revising, editing. The sister misconception is that writing isn’t hard. These people think writing is effortless—for the gifted. While it’s difficult to sustain the necessary energy, confidence, attention to write a novel, craft can be learned.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I wrote the first draft as my MFA thesis, so I was under the gun. The writing was dreadful, but it was a breathy process; when I finished, the novel had characters and a general shape. I spent the next several years immersed in the book, developing the characters. I was with them all day; they took over my dreams. I almost believed they were alive, that Cortland, the imaginary town, was a real place. It was an adventure, and I loved every minute.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? Until recently, other than my website and two ads, I relied entirely on word of mouth. Initially—this is embarrassing, because it’s so silly—I was too self-conscious to promote myself. I placed the ads, with links to my website, and my husband, Dave, sent books to a few people. Then my daughter, bless her heart, put a link to my site in her email signature. Gradually, friends and family heard I’d published a book. In December, my sister Audrey posted a link on her Facebook page. My cousin Amy did the same. Two amazing women—I am hugely indebted to both! My parents (I hadn’t even told them) spread the word to extended family, friends.
Shortly after the holidays, Stacey Miller (S.J. Miller Communications) began work on promotion. Stacey walked me through the process of getting the paperback listed on Amazon and into distribution. She’s created my media kit and is in the process of launching a PR campaign. Stacey is a lovely woman, and a brilliant strategist, with years of outstanding success in marketing both traditionally and self-published books. Her own, 101 Recipes for Microwave Mug Cakes: Single-Serving Snacks in Less than 10 Minutes and 101 Recipes for Gluten-Free Microwave Mug Cakes: Healthier Single-Serving Snacks in Less than 10 Minutes have been Amazon and B&N bestsellers. I’m so excited to work with her!
Two weeks ago, I activated the Twitter account I registered in 2009. On Twitter, I met Emlyn Chand, president of Novel Publicity. Impressed with Emlyn’s blog, I contacted her for help with social networking. Emyln is so creative and smart, so knowledgeable in all aspects of Web promotion, and her enthusiasm is positively contagious! She’s already ramped up my Twitter account and built a Facebook author page. Her company will create a promotional trailer for In Leah’s Wake as well as a taped author interview. She’ll also do book club outreach, arrange a blog tour, host me on her website, and promote me on Twitter. I feel incredibly lucky to have met Emlyn! Stacey and Emlyn are, absolutely, my dream team!
I’ve also contacted several Amazon reviewers, who’ve generously agreed to read the book and write a review. We’re promoting through as many channels as possible, hoping to create some noise—enough, if I’m lucky, to interest readers.
What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? My advice for all authors, self or traditionally published, is, first, mobilize your networks. Spread the word to family and friends, send books to people who might be interested in reading, ask others to spread the word for you; ask friends to post reviews.
Next, and this, in my view, is one of the smartest things a writer can do: hire a PR firm you feel comfortable with and trust. Work hard with your publicist to promote your book. Over a million books are published each year, the majority of which sell very few copies. If you’re a name author or received a hefty advance, your publisher will promote you. For the rest of us, if we don’t take PR into our own hands, we’re likely to receive little or none. The reality is, we can either promote the book we’ve put our heart and soul into creating or watch it languish. There are various types and levels of promotion, so you don’t have to spend a fortune.
If you can’t afford or don’t care to hire a publicist, do the work yourself. Create a website, build your social network, contact reviewers, bloggers; reach out to book clubs. Stacey’s book, How to Market, Sell, Distribute, and Promote Your Book: Critical, Hard-to-Find Information for Authors and Publishers, available through Amazon, offers a wealth of information. You can also find information online. Check out Seth Godin and Jon Konrath’s blogs. It’s hard work, and it takes time—as long as a year or more, I’ve been told—but it can certainly be done.
Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? Goodness, yes. That’s my husband’s and my favorite expression. We want so badly to believe in pure luck. I don’t think it’s because we’re lazy or don’t want to do the work. I think it’s because most of us have no clue how to turn hard work into success. There is no formula, no guarantee that if we do X, the result will be Y. We can work for years without ever achieving our dream. We all know of wonderful books that no one wanted to publish. We hear of someone who suddenly rises out of nowhere to fame and fortune. The story, however improbable, sticks. We want it to be true: after all, it might have been us. Not everyone who works hard ultimately succeeds. But anyone can get lucky.
Anyone can win the lottery, sure. And anyone can be struck by lightning. But the likelihood is infinitesimal. If you think creatively, plan, work hard, stay flexible, and respond to changes that inevitably occur, you set the stage, so if luck does smile, you’re able to recognize the opportunity; you’re prepared to seize the moment.