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How to “Sail” Through This Storm: Interview with Olympic Sailor and Novelist Carol Newman Cronin

[1]After sailing for the USA in the 2004 Olympics, Carol Newman Cronin [2] shifted gears and became a writer, penning four novels (and counting…) with themes tied closely to the sea and coastal life. Her latest, Ferry to Cooperation Island [3], releases on June 16.  

Like most authors this year, Carol had no idea what the whims of Mother Nature had in store as she looked ahead to her launch date. The date had been carefully planned to fall right before the now-postponed 2020 Olympics. Carol had a series of launch readings in appropriately coastal settings scheduled for the summer.  And then…

But as a sailor, Carol knows a thing or two about adjusting to Mother Nature’s whims. She’s inspired on both water and land by the motto, “When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.”  Her wisdom has far-reaching implications for all of us, whether we’re currently launching books or in the trenches with a WIP. 

I’m  happy to share this inspiring interview with Carol. 

Q: How did you react when you realized that Coronavirus was going to profoundly change your plans to launch Ferry to Cooperation Island?

CNC: At first, there was denial: surely it will all be over by June! Once reality set in that this was going to change, well, EVERYTHING, I started to research how other authors were handling online book launches. Then I freaked out, because the possibilities are so limitless right now—and there are so many authors launching their own books into the same “space.” Fortunately, one author-friend reminded me to focus on what was really important to me and to FERRY, and let go of the rest. That was a reminder that this book isn’t going to change the world—though I like to think it will make a small dent in our global negativity. 

A few weeks ago, I finally shifted all my launch-party energy from “maybe we’ll be able to meet in person” to “we’re going virtual.” The date remains the same, June 18, and you’re all invited! 

Q: So far, what has changed for you?  What hasn’t?

CNC: First of all, all the regattas I planned to sail have been pushed back until 2021 (just like the Olympics), so my schedule’s wide open for book signings! As far as the launch party, I was really looking forward to physically associating FERRY with my own town’s actual ferry service, which runs from Jamestown to Newport in the summer and was part of the book’s inspiration. That will have to wait until it starts running again. 

The best change of all is that more people are finding or making time to read again. I chat more with neighbors walking by, and a surprising number are actually interested in reading my latest piece of #coastalfiction!

What hasn’t changed is the incredible support I’ve received all along this journey from other writers, many of whom I met at the UnConference last November. 

Q: Aside from major disasters like Coronavirus, what other writing-life “storms” have you sailed through?

CNC: My early fiction writing could be compared to a series of squalls. I’m self-taught, and every time I shared what I thought was a finished draft, an editor or agent or fellow author would rip it apart—kindly for the most part, but it still stung. Thanks to all that push-back, I learned how to tell a story that others (not just me and my mom and my husband) could enjoy and get lost in. In hindsight, it was well worth working through all those editing “squalls”!

Q: Sailors are trained to adapt to a constant barrage of uncertainty.  What did that training look like, and how has it helped you as a writer–both now and in the past?

CNC: I learned seamanship along with my ABCs, so I don’t remember the process. (I do remember the first time I sailed on my own, and that incredible sense of independence and being in charge.)

But even as a little kid it’s pretty obvious that when the wind shifts, there’s no point in getting mad at it; all we can do is react in a way that helps keep our boat safe and happy—trimming that sail, again! That has definitely helped me maintain perspective through the past few months and years, as expectations of authors and “what works” in book publishing and marketing shifts and evolves.

Q: What about when things spin out of control? What has your experience at sea taught you as a writer?

CNC: Again, there’s no point in getting mad at a wind shift. All we can do is control what we can, and let go of what we can’t. We have no say in the weather or the wind (or the virus), but we can control our own reactions to each.

Q: Another sailor’s term I’ve heard is: “Keep your bow pointing toward the mark.” That seems especially relevant right now.  How does this translate for writers, especially in these times?

CNC: Sailboat racing (at least the kind I do) involves going around a series of marks aligned to the wind direction. You can’t sail directly upwind (or, in light air, directly downwind), so you have to tack or jibe to make progress. In shifty winds, it’s easy to get caught up in the momentary frustration of a wind shift or lull that seems personally designed to set us back. The solution is to focus instead on what really matters: making as much progress toward the mark as possible in our current conditions, even when those conditions might not be the same as the boats around us. An easy way to assess whether we’re doing that is whether our bow is pointing toward the mark. 

For writers, it’s useless to compare ourselves to others because everyone’s writing and experience are different. Which is why it’s so important to spell out specific writing goals. We might not have a mark that is a physical object in the water ahead, but we can set ourselves a personal definition of “success in publishing,” and keep our focus on working toward that.

Q: You’re about to launch your fourth novel. What advice do you have to debut authors as their launch approacheswhether that’s now, in the throes of this storm, or in a future “new normal?”

CNC: I really think a lot of our old “normal” is now a thing of the past: both aspects we loved and some that we’re glad to see go. This brave new world seems like a fantastic opportunity for new authors to gain visibility. If everyone has to launch online and national book tours are no longer an option, ingenuity and creativity become much more important than big marketing budgets. 

The biggest piece of advice I can offer to debut authors, no matter when their first book will launch, is that the work is what matters. Before my first launch, I thought that a book’s success could be measured by how many people showed up for the party. What I now know is that only a handful of readers will have had the chance to read the book by then—and reader impressions are what really matter in the long run. Great writing touches readers long after the parties and the book tours are over, and I’m still getting comments (and even the occasional review) about the impact of my previous books. 

Though we all need to celebrate with readers whenever we have an excuse, it’s not the party that matters. I like to tell my engaged friends to focus on a successful marriage rather than the wedding details, and it’s the same thing with our books; if our writing outlasts the seven-year itch, that’s the best measure of success.

Over to you, WU Community: What writing life storms have you sailed through? How have you navigated and kept your bow pointing toward the mark?

About Sharon Bially [4]

Sharon Bially (@SharonBially [5]) is the founder and president of BookSavvy PR [6], a public relations firm devoted to authors and books. Author of the novel Veronica’s Nap [7], she’s a member of the Director's Circle at Grub Street, Inc., the nation’s largest independent writing center, and writes occasionally for the Grub Street Daily.