Getting Published: A Few Notes

Surprised. I mistakenly thought that only writers or others in literary circles could appreciate how mind-blowing it is to have someone publish your words, the toil of many years, sometimes decades. Many friends and readers, many I didn’t know personally, have been almost as excited as I was. 

Incredible odds. People don’t need to know the statistics of how many good writers there are vying for publication, how many new MFAs are getting their degrees in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction every year, how many more men are getting published than women. All of this is true. People get it. Getting a book published can be compared to lightning striking.

VIDA. However, if you want some numbers, check out this web site: VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. We Count. It’s a nonprofit that has been tracking forty literary journals and other reputable magazines since 2010. The annual VIDA Count documents gender disparities in publishing. Their numbers represent what is happening in the larger publishing world. 

Write a book? Never. Never. Uh-uh. Committing to write a book didn’t play in my imagination. When I became a writer, I wrote short pieces. I could visualize vignettes, personal essays and poetry. Never a book.

mss submit

Lightbulb. However, I started writing and something happened. I realized that my stories were not just about me. The voices of local people born and living in Hawai’i were few and far between. These voices are important in the story of America, that is, the United States of America. Millions of people have some connection to these islands. And yet, our stories are not known, not told. Stories and diverse voices are essential in understanding ourselves, our country, our world. My consciousness of the importance of literature expanded in the creative process. 

Kūlia. Persevere. I kept writing. I completed a manuscript. I started to submit it in 2014 to various book contests and wrote query letters to various publishers. Moments of deep discouragement halted my momentum from time to time, but I kept revising and submitting my manuscript over the years until Willow Books contacted me in March 2018: I had won their book contest! Finally, a publisher! My book The Lava Never Sleeps would be in bookstores out in the world. It is available as a paperback and an e-book.

yellow ginger, TLNS books

Fronds of fragrant yellow ginger grace the book table for my Santa Barbara reading.

No matter the odds, perseverance can make all the difference. Luck is good. So is talent. However, those who persevere through rejection after rejection, through disappointment and despondency (believe me, I know it’s tough!), are more likely to achieve their goals, i.e. getting published! 

 

On the Shelf

Someone wants to publish your manuscript. Hooray! Break out the champagne and confetti! It’s every writer’s dream. The book is tangible proof of all your hard work. It’s a BIG moment!

As the publication date approaches, the worry begins. Will people buy the book? Will they like it?

The author does her best setting up book events and readings, asking for book reviews, using social media. She taps into her networks and informs her various communities about her book being published.

My communities include North Seattle College where I tutor, various writing groups (Hedgebrook, my personal writing group called The Cake Quartet, It’s About Time Reading Series, Jack Straw Writers Program, other writers I’ve met at various conferences), the ta’i chi group at Lake Forest Park, residents in my apartment building, my mahjongg group. I was surprised when I listed these various groups and began reaching out to inform them about my book. They were excited for me and eager to support my book.

I printed out promotional postcards and informational flyers and distributed them. I also gave them to friends to give to their friends.

So far, I’ve promoted my book in Portland, Seattle, and New York. I recently did a reading at Elliott Bay Book Co. here in Seattle. This historic bookstore is a literary icon, so I was very pleased to schedule this event!

Authors can do a lot.

However, there’s also a lot that’s out of their control. For example, placement of books on book shelves is up to the book store.

EB author shelf

The more visible the book is, the better the odds for book sales. Because I did an event at Elliot Bay, they placed my book on the shelf for their book events.  The top shelf is pretty nice placement! (I’m aware that this will change as more current events occur, but I can say I was on the top shelf at Elliott Bay, even if only for a short time!)

At Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, I’ve been on their bestsellers shelf since early June, at least that’s when one of my friends spotted it and informed me. I am

TPB best sellers

the store’s #5 bestselling book! Very cool for a debut book and non-professional in marketing. I guess networking works!

Here’s something else I do. I prepare for each book event with the intention to give my best reading. I hope to bring a piece of Hawai’i into the room, to interest the audience enough so they buy a book or two. Maybe for gifts.

I want bookstores to sell books, especially my book!

I arrive early so I can personalize the podium. Since I like colors, I bring a few things from home. A colorful cloth that evokes the tropics or a brightly feathered hula implement. When the audience walks in the room, they will immediately get a personal glimpse of who I am when they look at the front of the room.

Testing the mic and getting a sense of the room are also important tasks to ensure my comfort.

Bookstores and booksellers are an author’s friends. It’s important to have good relationships with them. I send thank you cards after each reading and let them know I appreciate what they do, that they’ve made the time to promote my book. After all, we are partners in this book business.

My book is now available as e-books in all formats. It’s wonderful to offer these options to readers.However, I’m sorry I cannot sign e-books.

It’s at book events, whether at stores, schools, libraries, or private homes, where I get to meet my readers. It’s very moving, both humbling and exhilarating, to see the faces of readers who have spent time with and money for my book, especially when they have connected with some part of my story.

 

 

 

 

 

2019: Year of the Book

 

Mark your calendars!

March 1, 2019: Publication date for my memoir

Mid-February 2019: The public can pre-order copies from bookstores

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have had moments when I seriously doubted that The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir would ever be published. But persistence (or stubbornness) paid off.

It’s been a strange time. Between signing the book contract and the present, I have felt in limbo. I’ve been developing new writing, gathering information on marketing and promoting the book, sinking back into the manuscript during the editing process, and basically feeling like someone with multiple personalities.

Receiving the final artwork for the book cover helped to ground me. This was something physical, an important milestone in producing the book. I began to feel this is real, this is happening!

TA-DA! Here it is:

lava cover edit

 

In a bookstore, a well-designed book cover can determine whether a reader picks up a book or not. I love this cover and hope readers will too! MAHALO to the graphic artist at Aquarius Press for a terrific job.

Note: My mother made my ti leaf skirts for hula performances, as all mothers did in the 1950s. We had several ti plants in our yard, and I remember watching her cut the leaves with stalks long enough to bend. She used string to weave the stalks together. When it was done, she shredded the leaves into strands. I don’t remember if I was nervous about performing on a stage or any of the dances, but I remember the swish of these green skirts.

 

Celebration

In 2017 I didn’t feel like having a birthday. I just wanted to ignore it. I was feeling downhearted about getting my memoir published after submitting my manuscript to book contests and sending query letters to various indie presses and university presses for a few years.

Being a semi-finalist and finalist for a few contests was encouraging. I also received a lovely rejection letter from an editor who explained their process for selecting books, indicating the enthusiasm of those who advocated for my book. However, these were still rejections.

This year, I decided to attend a few writing conferences that featured literary agents while continuing my previous strategy. I was willing to keep going and try some new tactics. I also decided that no matter what, Celebration would be my theme for 2018. And birthday celebrations were in order for March! That’s what I did with a lot of help from my friends.

On the last Friday in March, I was on my laptop at home when I received a message from Willow Books Literary Awards. I felt faint and quickly forwarded it to my writing group: Trish, Ann, and Esther. “Omigod! Tell me if I’m dreaming or hallucinating!”

I needed confirmation because, even though I consider myself a careful reader, I have read and misinterpreted messages in the past. They emailed me back quickly: “BIG congratulations on winning the Grand Prize in prose!”

]PJO

I had won their book contest in prose, including works of fiction and nonfiction!! The prize included publication by Aquarius Press!! Then I started crying. It had been such a long road since I started submitting my manuscript in 2014. There were times when I felt hopeless and wanted to give up. Most writers have experienced similar dark moments. My writing group can attest to my moments of despair. They would boost my spirits and urge me to continue. Other writers would remind me that rejection was normal for writers; this was part of the job and I just had to keep going.

In fact, I had pinned Jesmyn Ward‘s PBS interview on the wall above my desk earlier in the year. I highlighted her words: “Persist. Read, write, and improve.” This is what her teachers and mentors had told her, so she was passing on their wisdom. This award-winning author also advised:

“Accept rejection until you find acceptance, but don’t become disheartened, stop writing, and remove yourself from the conversation.”

No, I hadn’t stopped. My voice is important and I want to be part of the conversation. And now my book The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir will be on bookshelves in Spring 2019. Yes, all my years of work have not been for nothing. My words will be out  there in the world–it’s beyond exciting!

I was still pinching myself even after the official announcement was posted on the Willow Books Literary Awards web site. I still feel a bit like I’m “The Twilight Zone,” but in a positive way. As we enter the fifth month of 2018, I am full of gratitude and anticipate more celebrations still to come!

 

 

 

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

These words came to me out of the ethers one summer day as I pondered how to create some income to have the lifestyle I want. I’ve proven I can live frugally, but I’d like more freedom, that is, extra cash, to spend on both my needs and my wants. Nothing extravagant, just more joie de vivre, you know?

I’m a writer, but so far no one is clamoring to give me money to write and revise my personal essays and stories. And, ironically, now that I have a finished manuscript, the hard facts of a writing life are staring me coldly in the face.

Fact #1: I have no idea when my memoir will be published.

Fact #1: I don’t know if I will make any money when it does.

Publishing is a very inexact process with absolutely no guarantees.

So, now that I’ve indulged my creative side for a number of years, it’s time to be practical and figure out how to create some income.

Fortunately I have a lot of good skills after years in office work and management. So temp admin work seemed an obvious solution. Or a part-time job. But inside I cringed. The office politics, the loss of control over my time and schedule, commuting, choosing a salary over my self-respect, horrible and manipulative bosses–all these memories assaulted me.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

These words remind me that I have choice. Fortunately, I’m not desperate or destitute. I’d just like to work at something that I enjoy, that makes me happy.

This past June, I actually worked a part-time job that was supposed to be fun. I lasted all of five weeks. I was a check-in agent on my feet for five to six hours, smiling and talking to passengers. The company really did not want us to take breaks. Most employees didn’t even though labor laws require employers to ensure that employees get breaks. After working the first day with no break, I knew I had to take a break on my shift. I had to sit down for a few minutes and eat something so I could continue to function. It’s amazing how the brain can turn to sludge in a few hours without food and water.

That’s right, no water bottles at our stations because of all the computer equipment and cables. Equipment for which we had no training. The first day was sink or swim.

Even though most of us were mature adults, we obviously could not be trusted to keep our bottle tops secured to prevent spilling.

It was very stressful and all for minimum wage. My co-workers were lovely, the company policies were not. There’s more I could tell you, but you get the picture. I was not happy. This was not fun.

I generally hate to quit. I’ve never worked in a factory or sweatshop, but this employer’s willingness to work us until we dropped and their lack of respect for their employees made me think: Sweatshop. Dehumanizing.

And so, I quit.

Working for other people can be a crapshoot. Yes, yes, I know life in general is a crapshoot. Still, in some things I still have choice. Yes, indeed, I HAVE CHOICE!

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve found my new mantra. Or maybe it’s found me.