Please welcome author Abby Fabiaschi to WU today! Abby’s debut, I Liked My Life, releases in paperback this week. It has earned a starred Booklist review (“Warm and hopeful, this marvelous debut stands next to novels from Catherine McKenzie and Carolyn Parkhurst”), was named one of PopSugar’s best books (“A heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming read about life, death, and family”), and became a Goodreads Choice nominee!
From her bio:
Abby Fabiaschi is a human rights advocate and co-founder of Empower Her Network, a nonprofit that paves a path for survivors of human trafficking with a will for independence. In 2012, Abby resigned from her executive post in high tech to pursue a career in writing. I Liked My Life is her first novel. She and her family divide their time between West Hartford, Connecticut, and Park City, Utah.
We’re thrilled to have her with us today to talk about her experience with a hard-to-define story.
Have a Tough-to-Describe Book? One Approach
In the hardcover copy for I Liked My Life, the second sentence reads:
“Maddy is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch … until she commits suicide, leaving her husband and teenage daughter heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened.”
It would be right then— despite the fabulous author blurbs and catchy cover— that I, as a reader, would say, oh hell no. Here I am, tasked with balancing motherhood, marriage, and a career, convincing myself that the struggle is where the beauty lives while ignoring the suspicion I might be under-appreciated. Why would I pay money to hear about a woman who didn’t buy it and decided to teach everyone a lesson?
The sale would already be lost. But if I had read on— perhaps in bewilderment of why anyone would buy this depressing, indulgent novel— I would have gotten to this line a few paragraphs down:
Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find her perfect replacement.
That’s when I’d have laughed out loud in the bookstore. Was ‘depressing paranormal disaster’ a new genre?
A Shaky Start
The book went to auction with four major imprints, but two editors bowed out, saying they loved the story but had no idea how to convince people to read it.
My novel was first listed on Publishers Marketplace as paranormal. (There is nothing wrong with paranormal, but someone expecting a paranormal story would not enjoy my book, and many people who would enjoy my book don’t search under paranormal.)
“St. Martin’s Press knows they bought a commercial fiction book, right?” I asked my agent.
“Yes,” she assured me. “They’re on it. There will be a reprint shortly.”
And there was … but the experience made me appreciate the validity of the feedback from the two editors who loved the story but opted out. I needed a plan to alert readers my book wasn’t what it seemed. Here’s what I came up with.
On the book tour, I started talks with something like, “Before sharing the inspiration for the novel and its path to publication, it’s customary to offer a brief description of the story, which I dread because the book sounds depressing. So, let me first assure you: I Liked My Life is an uplifting tale of human resilience.”
Asking for Help
I’ve found the best way to solve a problem is to tell people there’s a problem. When reaching out to friends and family to beg for reviews—we all do this, right?—I requested they point out the concern and assure readers the book isn’t as it seems. It also helped that many Goodreads reviewers did this on their own. The result was that, early on, I had a lot of reviews start with statements like, “ I promise this isn’t a suicide book!” Or “I was hesitant to dig in because it sounded SO SAD but I’m so glad I went for it because it wasn’t.”
Relying on Readers
Do y’all remember the Care Bear Stare? The Care Bears were an 80s cartoon and near the end of every episode, when times were tough, the bears would link arms, stand tall, and shout CARE BEAR STARE. Their pure hearts would then rain desired goodness on all who needed it. Book clubs have serious Care Bear Stare power. My novel is a book that some people need to have handed to them by a fellow readaholic who says, “Just trust me and read it.” I met with over 50 book clubs (in person and on Skype) this year and it was doubly impacting: They bought a lot of books and wrote a lot of reviews.
Driving the Narrative with Ads
Wouldn’t it be great if all the major reviews came out before your book launch so you had fabulous ammo? It would also be great if you could give birth telepathically. The Associated Press review for my debut came months after the pub date, as did Star Tribune’s. By then, the tour was over and I was drowning … err, I mean, swimming … in book two. It would have been easy to enjoy the small spike in sales that week and move on, but—because you never know what type of cake is going to entice someone to break their diet—I bought ads on Facebook highlighting the words that a trusted source said might make someone bypass the story copy altogether.
“Impossible-to-put-down.” – The Associated Press
I kept it simple, those few words and a link to Amazon. They ended up being the posts that got the most engagement.
Has anyone else hit this issue? Or, perhaps have a storyline that, at surface level, sounds like something that has been overdone? How did you handle it?