March 22, 2014

Writing Tip: Is Self-Publishing in Your Future?

Self-publishing is arguably the hottest topic for writers today. I was part of a panel this week for Chicago Women in Publishing along with Mark Levine of Hillcrest Media Group, content and social media strategist Paula Krapf, and Richard T. Williams of Independent Publisher's Group (IPG), discusssing two of the biggest self-publishing challenges: book marketing and distribution, and we all had unique perspectives.
Everyone wants to know, once you have your book in hand, how do you sell it. How does it get to be a best seller?
I wish there was a magic answer to that question. There are so many factors: talent, professionalism, great editing, the ability to tell a good story, beautiful design...and even if you have all of those there's no guarantee of anything. I know I don't have to tell you that.
The biggest factor, the one we have no control over, is sheer luck. Luck that someone important sees it, that the timing is right, that it resonates with readers, that you're in the right place at the right time... 
There are many, many talented people whose work goes unnoticed because they weren't lucky enough. And you can have a little luck, like I did (not that I think that was 'little,' but in the grand scheme of things) and still your book will languish on the shelves. 
But if you don't try you are guaranteed to fail. 
There were lots of great ideas and suggestions that came out of the CWIP discussion, and Mark, Richard and Paula can help you to market and distribute your book. They all offer a wide array of packages that will stay within your budget. And the fact is, you either pay money to have it done or you spend a lot of your own time doing it on your own. 
Obviously I think self-publishing is a viable option for writers since I self-published my own novel before I got a book deal with St. Martin's Press. 
Before you decide to DIY, tho, here are the three most important questions to ask yourself:
1. Have I written the best book I can write?
2. Are there others who think so (relatives and friends don't count)?
3. Has it been professionally and meticulously edited?
If the answer to those questions is yes, and you haven't been able to get traditionally published, then go for it. Just don't think you're going to get rich from your writing. Unless you're very, very lucky.

March 16, 2014

A Love Letter to Nancy

I'm so jealous of Stacie, who thought of writing a blog post about her (my) friend Nancy before I did. That's not to say I won't copy the brilliant Stacie and write my own post - just because everyone should know Nancy Hirsch. She's who we should all strive to emulate.
Nancy is a marvel: she's 81 years old and I dare you to keep up with her. Here's only some of what she does:
She represents various artists around the world and arranges gallery showings, she leads tour groups to Oaxaca, she does bookkeeping for a stable of clients, she works in a dress shop, she supports and promotes local restaurants and shops in Santa Barbara, she takes care of her three beloved puppies and her lovely museum-like home that's filled with art and furniture she's collected over the years (each piece has a story)...okay, that's enough for now, right? Don't you feel inferior?
There's no end to Nancy's talents and as far as I can tell there's no slowing down for her.
And her past is almost as fascinating as her present. If you're lucky enough to spend time with her you'll get to hear how she raised four boys as a single mom in Hollywood, working in the entertainment industry, and then New York...a story she needs to write (I hope to help her with that).

And...if that's not enough she's beautiful inside and out; she's in great shape, has a tattoo (and had a streak of purple in her white hair when I met her) and she wears gorgeous funky clothes...
Yes, I'm gushing. Nancy Hirsch is a role model for all of us. And I want to be her when I grow up.

BTW, if you think you might want to visit Oaxaca Nancy's scheduling trips so CLICK HERE for more info. No American knows the area better.

March 12, 2014

Movie Review: The Lunchbox *****

The Lunchbox is a wondrous film filled with sweetness, passion and emotion. It's about Ila, a beautiful young Indian woman who prepares gourmet food to send to her husband, an office worker, hoping the food will magically heal their distant relationship. She is guided in preparation by her upstairs neighbor, whom we never see but who shouts directions down to her and sends various ingredients via a basket that she lowers through the window. It's a cute device.
A service picks up the lunchboxes from all the wives in town and delivers them to the company, distributing them to each man at his desk. Ila's lunchbox, somehow, goes to the wrong man. While her husband eats cauliflower every day (giving him gas, he says), an unknown man quite happily eats Ila's gourmet meals (you will want to go out for Indian food after seeing this movie).
Ila quickly understands that it's not her husband who's devoured the contents of the lunchbox - since it is nearly licked clean. So she puts a note in the next one. Soon, Ila and Saajan, a windower, become pen pals of sorts. As the communication grows, so do their feelings.
The actress who plays Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is luminous on screen, and Saajan is played by Irrfan Khan, one of my favorite actors. You might know his face - he was in Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire among numerous other films.
The theme of this movie reminds me of Her, in that both films are about our need for connections, and how we find them in surprising ways.
Incidentally, the lunchbox itself is an ingenious and convenient contraption; it's made up of metal cylinders that nest together to form a tower of food bowls, and it's held together with a device that unsnaps at the top. Very cool.
For those of you who don't like movies with subtitles, I have to tell you that you are missing out. Try it with this one. After a few minutes you won't even notice you're reading, and the pay-off is great. Foreign films are so much less commercial than American films (generally speaking) and have so much more heart.
Five out of five stars for The Lunchbox.

March 2, 2014

Writing Tip: Just Do It

The more you write the better you get. This is not big news. It's not the next Big Thing. It's just truth. Writing
is not about the right inspiration or whether you write first thing in the morning or late at night; it's not about if you write longhand or on your computer; it's not about what genre you's just about writing. The plain, simple truth is the more you write the better you get. And it doesn't matter if you're writing fiction or in your journal or a magazine article or an email. Pay attention to your writing and write the best you can.
Charles Finch, author of The Last Enchantments and numerous other novels, says, "Writing is like a forehand or driving a car or playing guitar.  Practice makes you better." 
There is nothing more true than that.
And here's the best advice I ever got, from my former writing coach Jerry Cleaver:
"The difference between a writer and a published author is that the author didn't quit."
So, keep writing.

Check out the truth in his article from Writers Digest: 
This week I’m publishing a new novel, The Last Enchantments, about an American abroad at Oxford (kind of a Brideshead Revisited remix).  It will be the eighth book of mine released by a big New York publishing house, but I think it was only somewhere around the fifth or sixth that I stopped feeling like an impostor.  There’s no magical change you feel when your first book finally sells – the same doubts are still there, and definitely the same feeling that you’re a kind of crazy charlatan, trying to trade words out of your brain for money.

But for all that that’s true, the more writers I meet, the more I notice that there are some crucial differences between the professional ones and the ones who want to be professional.  I hope that doesn’t sound condescending – every professional writer used to be an amateur writer, after all, and often the distinctions I’m talking about don’t have anything to do with talent as much as with attitude.  These are the five that I’ve noticed.

When beginning writers approach me, they often want to know where I get my ideas (Pottery Barn, I tell them) or my inspiration.  By contrast, I think published novelists understand that you can’t really get help with inspiration.  No five-minute conversation at a signing is going to make it easy to write a great book.  It has to come from within. 
But you can talk about process.  That’s why, when I talk with other published writers, it’s often not about high-flown ideas on writing but about the mundane, workaday tools we use to do our job.  What pencils do you use?  What reference books are at hand while you work?  Coffee or food or nothing?  Music, no music? 

There’s so much you can’t control about writing that it’s crucial to control what you can.  The less time you spend thinking about how you write, the more time you spend thinking about what you’re writing.