Today I would like to take you into the year-long book launch process of one author. Since the middle of last year, I have been working closely with Miranda Beverly-Whittemore on preparing for the May 2014 release of her novel Bittersweet from Crown. We have been sharing our process publicly on a blog about the launch: sharing strategy, tactics, and emotions around preparing to connect with readers. When Therese Walsh mentioned this month’s theme on WriterUnboxed.com was “Inside Publishing,” it was as if the 100+ blog posts from the launch blog existed solely for the preparation of this very article!
What I share here will be taken from that blog and from the many long conversations Miranda and I have had. What I like most about this case study is that Miranda is a fiction author, and has been described as writing “literary fiction.” This is typically the type of writing that many authors worry if typical platform, marketing, and audience engagement rules apply.
We’ll explore that in-depth below. Also: it’s worth noting that Miranda is being published by a “traditional” publisher, and yet, everything that is shared on the blog illustrates how much work she does, and highlights the many other folks involved in the process. Publishing is a team sport (a phrase I believe I have heard Jason Ashlock say more than once.)
(note: because I have a lot of source material to pull from, this post will include a lot of links to the Bittersweet book launch blog. I do not mean for it to be a link-fest, but merely to give you access to more depth on each topic.)
I will break this post out into a few key themes, and then include quotes from Miranda, links to the blog posts where she or I discuss the topic, and then add additional thoughts and context.
THE MOTIVATION FOR A YEAR-LONG BOOK LAUNCH
Miranda has tasted failure (she may explain it that she swallowed failure whole.) Bittersweet is her third novel, and she has been very open about talking about her career thus far. A recap, all quotes from Miranda:
- “My first book was supposed to be a big hit, and was bought for six figures when I was 25, It was, if not deemed a total failure in terms of its sales (it sold somewhere around 14,000 copies), then at least a DISAPPOINTMENT bordering on FAILURE.”
- “My second book,only sold about 2000 copies, and because it was linked to my first book in a two book deal, there was a lot of money riding on it. Its terrible sales record made it, in the eyes of the publishing world, a FAILURE.”
- “I tried to pitch another book to my first publishing house, but they said no way.”
- “Next I tried to sell the first book I’d ever written, but no one would take it.”
- “I thought, I’ll just write a book I can sell! So I did. I wrote another book and then tried to sell it! Did I sell it? Nope. No one wanted it.
- It was starting to dawn on me that I had FAILED so miserably that I might actually just be a FAILURE. That’s when I stopped writing. When I started feeling gloriously sorry for myself. When I started pretending I hadn’t published two books, hadn’t ever had a taste of a career I loved, that I didn’t even love it. You know what makes a writer feel most like a FAILURE? FAILING to write.”
- “I must have stopped feeling like a FAILURE once I’d written Bittersweet, right? Not by a long shot. I tried to sell it and no one wanted it. I’d become so attached to the validation of the book publishing world that no way was I going to take a step back and pat myself on the back and say, “wow, self, you wrote a book! That’s pretty awesome!” Instead, my FAILURE became focused on outcome: would I sell Bittersweet? But my sales record was linked to my name, the book was a departure from what I’d written before, it was too intricate, it was too over the top, and on and on and on. I couldn’t sell it. The FAILURE hat was fitting me just fine.”
- “In the fall of 2012, my agent said, “You’ve got to revise Bittersweet. Look- really look- at all the comments you’ve gotten from all the people we sent it to, and revise it based on those. We can send it out in January to one last round of publishers.” I was too wrapped up in my FAILURE fog to really listen to her. I kind of sat around my house, looking at myself from all angles in my FAILURE hat.”
- “Then, some tiny, brave part of me that was sick of all this FAILURE business decided to just try to revise the book one last time, in the off off off chance that it was a book someone might want to read. It really felt like a last gasp. So I revised Bittersweet. And then one editor fell in love with it. And then she bought the book. And then it sold in six foreign countries. And then and then and then- I started to have some hope again. Some belief in myself!”
Recently, she was one of three authors featured in a Poets & Writers article and video that touched upon similar ideas:
“Although all of us had seemingly early “success” in our careers, we’ve had to relaunch ourselves for our latest books. I love how honest the article is about the ups and downs of a writing career.”
These are the events that led up to Miranda and I spending hours chatting about her next book in mid-2013 – all while walking around the floor at BookExpo. With this next book, she said that she wanted to leave no stone unturned in terms of preparing for book launch and connecting with readers. She explained how the disappointing sales of her previous books was something that – if it were to repeat – she didn’t want it to be for lack of effort on her part.
Even though she had a big publisher behind her, a lovely editor, professional marketing team, publicist, sales team, and so many others invested in her book, she wanted to also bring me in on the process.
LAUNCH: A HIGHLY EMOTIONAL PROCESS WRAPPED IN QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY
Now that we have covered “failure,” let’s dig into “shame” and “envy,” shall we? And before I do that, it is worth noting how wonderfully positive, confident, smart, and energetic Miranda is as a person. And yet, beneath the surface is a complexity of emotion that tends to happen when one moves through the publishing process.
“I’d internalized so much shame about how my books had performed, that I’d completely forgotten to be proud of the fact that I’d written and published two books in the first place.”
This is how Miranda described answering her publisher’s Author Questionnaire. But complex feelings don’t just revolve around the past, but pop up in the present in surprising places:
“The possibility occurred to me this morning: “Oh God, maybe no one will read Bittersweet.”
What sparked this? Seeing an image of postcards that a fellow author shared for their upcoming book. Miranda describes her moment of panic:
“Oh those postcards! They were so beautiful! There were so many of them! They were posted on Instagram, where I don’t even have an account! And Straub has 16,000 followers on Twitter, a number so big that it is denoted as “16K” (I have 745). Straub is so well loved and well reviewed! And oh look, here on Facebook, Riverhead is giving away a galley with a bunch of warm stuff and they’re calling it “Emma Straub’s Winter Survival Kit” and running a giveaway and Oh my God why didn’t I think of that? Look at how many people have already commented on the Winter Survival Kit!!! All those people are going to LOVE her book! They are going to buy her book, and they’ll only have enough money for one summer book and only enough love in their hearts for one summer book, and it’s going to be her book, not MY book, and don’t even get me started on reviewers…”
I think that complex emotions are part of sharing any creative work. Miranda describes the process this way:
“Here’s how a book begins: with a little tickle at the back of my neck, the sense that I have a magnificent, messy, uncontainable secret… And then I wake up one day and it isn’t private anymore.”
These very real feelings can affect actions, and even limit one’s potential if they aren’t observant and careful. Her thoughts on the decision to invest in bringing partners into the process:
“It is hard for me, after years of feeling so dejected about what went wrong with my first two books sales wise, and trying hard to sell books over the last five years… It’s hard to let go of that doubting, let-down self, the one who could only rely on herself and her work.”
Bringing other people into the process can alter the amount of pressure one feels, and provide new ways of viewing potential opportunities. I’m not sure how exactly to describe what I do with Miranda, but for the most part, she has describe me as being a “buddy” in this process. Two posts on that: here and here.
Luckily, the process of working with others around this book has indeed helped her focus her efforts:
“This year has been, I realize, about refocusing, and redefining, my writing career. For so many years, I had lost such faith in myself and in the career I’d worked so hard to build. As a result, I’d let so much of what I’d worked hard to create just slide.”
All of this can feel so incredibly personal. She once told me, “I don’t want to lose myself in this process.” Concerns over how you are perceived can pop up in the oddest places:
“My book had already stood apart in [my editor’s] head. But what if I, as a writer, could stand apart too?”
This extends to how an author represents themselves online, whether you want to call it “platform” or simply how they engage with readers. Two posts from Miranda regarding this, both on how she describes her work: post 1 and post 2.
Where a creative professional considerings these things internally, it is reasonable to assume the same analysis can apply to external appearance as well:
“I had a big meeting two Tuesdays ago with the publicity and marketing team at Crown. Needless to say I was both exhilarated and scared. So what did I project my anxiety onto? Well, naturally, my outfit. And makeup. And hair.”
Along with another post about the pre-book launch diet. The WHAT?! You heard me.
DETAILS MATTER AND MORE TAKE TIME THAN WE OFTEN LIKE TO ADMIT
What has been so fascinating to me about reviewing the posts in the Bittersweet launch blog is the depth of detail around certain topics. One is Miranda’s process of seeking out blurbs. Here’s an entire series on that, which reviews her in-depth process and some key tips for other authors:
- How to ask for a book blurb
- How to ask for favors
- A writer’s secret weapon: the thank you note
- Sometimes book promotion can feel like stalking
- Blurb soliciting is a lot like breast pumping
- Anatomy of a book blurb: Lauren Groff
- Anatomy of a book blurb: Jenna Blum
- Anatomy of a book blurb: Maggie Shipstead
- Anatomy of a book blurb: Kimberly McCreight
- Anatomy of a book blurb: Kate Christensen
What I love most about this is the context: she is not generalizing advice, she is sharing details of what the blurb-seeking process really looks like. Clearly, it is a lot of work!
Another area that Miranda has put in a lot of effort is in crafting a series of book trailers. Her sister is a filmmaker and was integral to this process:
- Collaborating with my family: book trailer edition
- Filming the book trailers
- Filming the book trailers: when the coast guard showed up
- Filming the book trailers: part 3
- Editing the book trailers
- The book trailers are finished
There was also a related side project: a website that shared stories similar to the one embodied in Bittersweet: stories of girlhood friendships called FriendStories.com.
Several posts on that effort:
- The seed of the FriendStories blog
- Brainstorming FriendStories
- The emotions underlying FriendStories
- Honing the design of the FriendStories blog
- FriendStories: from idea to launch
- Launching FriendStories
And there are all of the other considerations that one makes in the buildup to launch:
YOU CAN PREPARE, YOU CAN’T PLAN
Miranda and I had lunch yesterday, and reviewed all the OTHER ideas still on the table for marketing and preparing for the book launch and beyond. With everything listed above, there are still so many potential things we can be doing, and we continue to brainstorm new ideas. She describes the calm before the launch:
“There’s still plenty to do; goodness knows, my list is miles long. But we both realized in our conversation today that it was time to have the “launch” conversation, the “holy smokes this book is about to come out” conversation.”
And yet, with all of this preparation, we really have no idea what will and won’t work. Which of these tasks will produce any sort of meaningful return on investment. We are constantly balancing resources and expectations:
- On redefining “work”
- There is no one-size-fits-all book launch
- Getting back on track with my author platform
- On time management
- Organize, organize, organize
Even the Bittersweet blog itself, I had (and still have) no idea of it’s value in the moment or in the future. (though it has been INCREDIBLY helpful in crafting this article!) We haven’t made a big deal about it, but it does take time and creative energy. Is it worth it? Neither of us know in an objective way, but we both know it just sort of FEELS right to share the process publicly in this manner. I started the blog with this phrase: “Let the story begin…” And like many stories, simply because you don’t know where it will end, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t begin.
LET’S NOT FORGET: WRITING IS PRIMARY
Which brings me to the center of it all: Bittersweet and Miranda’s writing. She shares a lot on the blog about the editing process, making time to write, and even on working on her next book. It’s worth noting that Miranda shares Therese’s editor at Crown, Christine Kopprasch, interviewed at WriterUnboxed here.
Sorry if this post became a link-fest, I hope none of this came off as self serving. What I began to appreciate after reviewing 100+ blog posts is the value of not glossing over details with generalizations. Of illustrating how overwhelming this can be, how personal it can feel, and how much work it all is.
For publishing your own work, where does your experience differ or align with what Miranda is going through?